Invitation to the Carpatians
The river Prahova Valley and the Sinaia Town
Until mid-19th century, the upper
Prahova Valley, known to that date as The Plaiul Prahovei,
was an uninhabited glade snaking along the Prahova River,
which was flanked on its banks by the Bucegi and Garbova
massifs of the Southern Carpatian Mountains.
By foot or on horseback, one had to take up a trail
in order to get to the Plaiul, the only way of approach
through the straight from either end of the gorges.
Previously, in that place there was only a monastic
establishment of Christian-Orthodox monks, raised by
Spatharus Mihail Cantacuzino in 1695 and called The
Sinaia Monastery. The ruler built it up to show his
gratitude to the Lord (as he was chased by the Turks
many years before, he found refuge into the mountains
and was given shelter by the hermits).
Spatharus Mihail Cantacuzino was born in a big family
of boyars and rulers of the Walachia, whose works and
foundations marked a flourishing stage of art and culture
in late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The Prahova road was the shortest avenue that connected
Bucharest to Brasov and since earliest times it had
accommodated a relentless two-way circulation by merchants,
who charted commodities in big wagons to the Plaiul.
Once at their destination, they would load their stuff
on horse-back, walked the horses some 60 km across the
Plaiul, and passed the load onto wagons awaiting at
the opposite end.
In 1866, prince Carol I of Hohenzollern, who was to
become Romania’s King, visits the Sinaia Monastery and
becomes profoundly impressed with the marvel of the
scene. From that day on, he and his wife, Queen Elisabeta
(poetess Carmen Silva), will frequently come here to
spend their summer holidays in the monastery’s cells,
in the center of a magnificent scenery of vistas.
One day, as they used to stroll around the monastery,
they saw a glade drained by a creek named Peles, and
that appealed to them so greatly that soon they ordered
a summer house built for themselves, The Royal Court
and their guests.
This marked the bebinning of the construction of the
Peles Castle (1875), which lasted eight years, disrupted
only by the independence war (1877-1878).
On October 3rd, 1833, the royal couple and a congregation
of domestic and foreign guests came to assist at the
inauguration of the castle.
Seen from the outside, the Peles Castle is an architectural
gem, a palace emerging from a fairy tale.
In silhouette against the massive walls of the Bucegi
Mountains, in a glade engulfed by deep coniferous forests,
the Castle breathes the idyllic elegance of German Renaissance,
in an unfailing communion with the environment.
The works began under the coordination of Wilhelm Doderer,
an architect from Vienna, who later passed the baton
onto architect Ioan Schultz of Lemberg and sculptor
Martin Strohr. The Castle is a blend of a variety of
interior styles: from the Italian and English Renaissance
to the Baroque and Rococo, in harmony with each other
thanks to the lavishness of framing and woodwork, the
mural paintings and the intarsias, the stained-glass
windows, the carpets and the furniture, along with valuable
pieces of art and museum collections.
The King always made his presence felt to keep a close
eye on the progress of works: in-roads and paths of
access, the buildings - houses, the Guard Corps board,
the stables, the parks and the fountains (all constructed
once with the palace), the interior decoration, the
paintings, the arms collection, the furniture, the carpets.
His vision and guidelines would never VACANTAp the smallest
Deeply in love with the construction, from 1896 until
his death in 1914, Carol I, together with the Czech
architect Carol Liman, conducted a relentless work to
enlarge and enrich the Peles Castle and make it look
as majestic as it does today.
In the lapse of eithteen years, from fall to spring,
when the royal family lived in Bucharest, the pace of
reconstruction at the Castle became hectic, with works
at full sway, and when the warm season came, the entire
activity was brought to halt and the place perfectly
tided up to accommodate the King until next fall.
At this time the honour hall came to life, and so did
the weapons and trophies rooms, the Florentine, Moresque,
French, Turkish halls, as well as the theatre and the
music enclosures, the council hall, the library, which
all made The Peles move so much from its original pattern.
Seen from the outside, the central tower belies additional
height and paraphernalia alteration. Around the palace,
there is a display of terraces set up on three levels,
with rails, flights of stairs and marble-carved fountains,
adorned with statues produced by the artist Romanelli
of Florence and stone-cut busts brought from Venice.
During the same time, King Carol I has a second castle
built further up the Peles, which he offered to Prince
Ferdinand Of Hohenzollern (his nephew and heir to the
throne) and his wife, Princess Maria De Wied (by father
decendence, niece of Queen Victoria of England and,
by mothe decendence, of the Russian emperor Alexander
This is the Pelisor Castle, which was opened in 1903,
much smaller than the Peles, yet providing for more
intimacy, with a canopy of harmonious, lively colours,
from the glazed tiles on towers’ roof to the framing
of external wood beams, from the windows and the balcony
to the white wall-sides and the carved stone at the
As shining and cheerful as The Peles, the interior of
Pelisor bears a much heavier imprint of modernity. Padded
walls resplendent in bright colours, moulding ceilings,
ironworks, carved gold-plated furniture, carved doors,
warm-coloured drapes and tapestry add tranquility and
a refined sense of elegance to the building.
Designed by architect Carol Liman, The Pelisor Castle
hosted in its 70 rooms King Ferdinand and Queen Maria
and their children Carol, the future King Carol II,
Maria, the future Queen of Yugoslavia, Elisabeta, the
future Queen of Greece, Nicolae, Ileana and Mircea.
As we said above, before the Peles Castle was raised,
the summer house of Carol I and Elisabeta was sheltered
by the precint of the Sinaia Monastery.
They lived in the newly-constructed cells, which composed
the second quadrilateral (compared to the old monastery),
holding in its middle a new church, bigger than the
foundation that Spatharus Mihail Cantacuzino had erected
150 years before.
The eleven summer seasons spent by the sovereigns at
the monastery, in the simplicity of the white-painted
cells, the quietness and beauty of the place and the
fondly memory of their daughter Maria, who was always
having a happy time when she came to the monastery,
made the Queen-poetess, Carmen Silva, utter: "The most
beautiful memories of my life are those that I spent
at the Sinaia Monastery”.
As the sovereigns had desperately grown in love with
the monastery and since the church they used to congregate
at on festival days fell short of Royal House’s standards,
once with the erection of the Pelisor, master-builders
raised the big church of the Sinaia Monastery. This
church was designed by architect George Mandrea, who
gave the exterior wall-sides a typically-Romanian architectural
style. Belts of red bricks stretching beneath the cornice,
niches housing painted saints, and, underneath, another
belt, a bunch of twisted ropes of green enameled ceramics,
give the exterior decoration a sense of completion.
At the entrance, monumental stone-carved columns of
Brancoveanu style (after the name of ruler Brancoveanu’s
Epoque) and three towers with golden chains on top of
domes lend greatness to this Christian-Orthodox religious
Danish master-painter Aage Eoxner gave the interior
painting the touches of the neo-Byzantine style. At
the entrance, on the wall, portraits of Carol I and
Elisabeta and their baby-girl Maria were painted to
remind of the years spent by sovereigns at the Sinaia
After the royal family began the construction of the
Peles Castle, in a pursuit to establish their residence
at Sinaia, many politicians and top businessmen decided
to build leisure houses up there. Over the last 25 years
of the 19th century, the glade that stretched along
the river Prahova and meandered around the monastery
became the town of Sinaia, a modern one, dotted with
elegant villas located in parks and garden flowers,
with cobble-stoned streets, ten hotels, a hydro-therapy
Bath facility, a casino, a large central park where
the Royal Guard’s fanfare gave concerts, and numberless
sport fields for horse riding, chasing, skating and
cricket, and, years later, tennis playing.
Sinaia was the first town illuminated with electricity
in Romania (1890).
Blessed with the aestethic refinement of its location,
so obvious at every step, by the year 1900 this resort
of the Romanian aristocracy was baptized the Pearl of
After 1900, the number of villas and tourist and sports
facilities increased manifold. Among the newly-emerged
constructions it is worth-mentioning the Hotel of Bathes,
which provided helio and hydrotherapy, the luxurious
Palace Hotel and the Casino. The last two buildings
are located in the central park and connected by an
underground tunnel to facilitate access to the gambling
on hostile weather.
Resembling Monte Carlo’s building, the Casino has majestic
roulette halls, bank facilities, chemin de fer and entertainment
rooms, which attracted hordes of holiday-makers on Christmas
and Holy Easter.
The increasing tide of tourist straming into Sinaia
made the authorities of the Epoque set up a special
train connection originating in Bucharest (120 km),
which circulated on a daily time-table, reached Sinaia
at 4:00 PM (when Casino opened) and started back to
Bucharest at 10:00 PM (when the roulette closed), on
the same day.
Whoever traveled from Budapest (Hungary) to Sinaia and
backward, did not need to produce a passport at the
Advertising publications issued by the Palace Hotel
and the Casino always mentioned: "Sinaia is on the route
of the ORIENT EXPRESS train”. This was not a fruitless
invitation, as travelers on that train always got off
to check in the Palace Hotel and visit the Casino.
Shut-down more than 50 years ago,for most of the time
at the communists’ behest, the Casino has now fallen
under the liability of Town Hall notables, who intend
to restore it to its former glory and make it a must
for all travelers to Sinaia.