by Sacheverell Sitwell
Illustrated from Photographs
by A. Costa, Richard Wyndham, and others
B.T. Batsford LTD., London, 1938

Gipsy Madonna


At the first mention of going to Roumania, a great many persons, as did myself, would take down their atlas and open the map. No one would bother to do this over more familiar, countries. For Roumania, there can be no question, is among the lesser known lands of Europe. Everyone has heard of Bucarest and Sinaia; we all realize that there are oil wells in Roumania; and then, of course, there are the beautiful costumes worn by the peasants. And that, for the vast majority of persons, is all that they know of Roumania.

It is far away. If you embarked on the train, determined, for some obscure reason, to continue in it upon the longest journey possible in Europe, the probability is that you would step out, four days later, upon the platform of Constanta, on the Black Sea, finding yourself, though you might not know it, at Ovid's Tomi. That is, of course, unless you include Russia and Siberia as being in Europe. It is a matter of principle. Most persons are satisfied that Europe ends at the Dniester and the Black Sea. So that Roumania is at the far end of Europe.

When the journey to Roumania was suggested, I was more than delighted at the prospect. And this was largely because I had no knowledge whatever of what lay in store for me. Knowing France and Germany, Italy and Spain, Greece and Portugal, the Scandinavian countries, and having seen, I believe I may say with truth, nearly all their buildings and their works of art, there was a delightful uncertainty where Roumania was concerned. I made up my mind not to read any book about Roumania before going there, in order to let it come as a surprise; and having read, since my return, all the available books upon the subject, I realize that English literature is nearly silent where that country’s concerned. There is more than one good history of Roumania, in English, but hardly any book that describes the country and deals with its character and with its works of art. Hurez, perhaps the most beautiful and typical of Roumanian convents, I can frankly confess I had never heard of until the day before we visited it. This is a sensation that is hardly to be obtained in any other country in Europe. How many people, again, have been told of the Danube Delta and its extraordinary landscapes? There is a refreshing absence of insistence upon these things. They allow themselves, still, to be discovered.

During four weeks that we spent in Roumania, it rained one Sunday morning. My mosquito net, convoyed with extreme trouble across Europe, was not once requisitioned; not even in what would have seemed, to my suspicious mind, the malaria ridden swamps of the Delta. Roumania, then, is very different from Venice in September. It is wise, though, to preserve ordinary precautions about the drinking water. The only difficulty about Roumania, from the point of view of the English traveler, is the length of the journey and the expense of getting there. On the other hand, living costs less, once you have arrived, than in any other country of Europe. And it is no longer necessary to go by train. The last short stretch of road is nearing completion, or may be finished by the time these lines appear in print, and then there will be uninterrupted road communication between Roumania and Western Europe. I suppose it is seven, or eight days' easy motoring from London to Bucarest.

The traveler’s first impression is of the potential richness of the country. Anything and everything will grow, somewhere in Roumania. And there is not only oil; there are, as well, rich deposits of coal and iron. But this book is not concerned with those things. Its business is with the living people, and with their past, as expressed in buildings and in works of art. From the human point of view it may be said, at once, that the potential riches are there, too. There can be but few lands with so excellent a peasant stock as Roumania. This is the true wealth of the country, for it is its future. The peasants have come down, unspoilt and uncontaminated by the Industrial Age, of which, indeed, there is hardly a trace to be seen. Greater Roumania has a steadily growing patriotic sense in which the minority populations, with hardly an exception, are prepared to play their part. There will, before long, be twenty millions inhabiting this country and, slowly and gradually, their general personality is beginning to emerge. They are, ethnographically, a Latin race, and this makes them different from their neighbours. It may be worth pointing out, here, that the acceptance, after the heroic age of Stephen the Great and Michael the Brave, of Turkish suzerainty by the Princes of Moldavia and Wallachia, has had to its credit the result that the political, ethnical, and religious entities of the two principalities survived through three centuries of wars between the three great neighbouring empires, Russia, Austria, Turkey; and that the two principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia, were never annexed by Turkey, as were, for centuries, Serbia and Bulgaria, and, even, for more than one hundred and fifty years between the two battles of Mohacz, as was the greater part of Hungary. The independent, national style of Roumania appears in such buildings as the convent of Hurez and, of course, in the painted churches of the Bucovina. These are still more interesting; in fact, they are the chief contribution of Roumania to æsthetics, and take a high place, as I have sought to prove, in the world of Byzantine art to which, in principle, they belong.

Bucarest, as a town, has a most distinct personality of its own. Count Keyserling, that great discerner of realities, has noticed that the special wit and suppleness of mind of the higher classes of the population, in Bucarest, is a Byzantine legacy. I believe this to be true. A character, such as that of Bucarest, is not created in less than many centuries, however few may be the traces of antiquity in the town itself. Of one thing, at least, there can be no doubt. The cohesion, the welding together of Rou­mania, during the last seventy years has been due, in large part, to the reigning family. Much valuable work had been accom­plished, in the years before this, by Prince Alexander Couza, who united the two principalities. But internal politics made the election of a disinterested personality an absolute necessity. Prince Charles of Hohenzollern, of the elder branch of that family, was invited to Roumania in 1866 and, under his ægis, the country became a kingdom in 1881. His Queen, who is better known as Carmen Sylva, was a person of rare poetical talent and one who, it is evident, fully appreciated the latent possibilities of the country over which she was called to rule. King Ferdinand I, the nephew of Charles, or Carol I, succeeded his uncle in 1914, at a time of utmost difficulty. The greater Roumania that emerged from the War is his handiwork. Queen Marie, also, is immutably associated with this.

It was as recently as 1930 that King Carol II returned to his country. No more than seven years ago; but, during that short time, immense progress has been made in every direction. Roumania has, never before, known such prosperity, and this, It is immediately obvious, is the result of wise rule. Every Roumanian will tell you that King Carol is their ideal ruler. 'He is just the King we want' was said to me by innumerable persons, all of whom expressed anxiety that I should be fortunate enough to have the honour of being received by him. To my great satisfaction this was made possible, and King Carol was kind enough to receive me and engage me in a long conversation. This took place in one of the smaller castles in the park at Sinaia. No one else was present, and the conversation ranged over an inconceivable number of topics. The resemblance of King Carol to the Hanoverian family is striking and, if I may say so, is of comfort to an Englishman. After a few moments it was borne in upon me that this is the ablest man in his country and, after Kemal Ataturk, perhaps the person of most ability in Eastern Europe. King Carol spoke with affection of his son, whom by all accounts, not only Roumanian, the country is lucky to have as its heir. He has been educated, according to a system specially devised by his father, with a group of children taken from every class of the community, including the Hungarian minorities. King Carol would seem to have been determined to give him the best education possible, upon democratic lines. We spoke, also, of music, in which, I feel certain, the æsthetic future of Roumania may be concerned. For these are the lands in which music is indigenous. King Carol revealed himself as fully conscious of, and upon the look out for, these possibilities, and when I ventured to remind him that the great Anton Rubenstein, were he alive now, would be a Roumanian subject, gave me a last proof of his comprehensive knowledge by telling me, at once, the name of the obscure Moldavian village, Wechwotynetz, or its present equivalent in Roumanian, that was the birthplace of this greatest of virtuosos.

In writing this book, which must be forgiven for a certain superficiality after only four weeks spent in the country, there has been a stress or over-emphasis upon the picturesque elements of the land. These may be the first things that strike a stranger; but, also, may I say to Roumanian readers that it is some of these first impressions that endure. When all is said and done, the integrity of the peasant population, the popular music of which I became so fond, the country fairs, the picturesque Laetzi, the lovely landscapes of Oltenia or of the Delta, these, after all, are Roumania. It is delightful that there should be good roads and an excellent train service; but these things are concomitant and a proof of wise government. What is more important, both to Roumania and to the world, is the preservation of its true character. For Roumania is still unspoilt. Perhaps there is no other country in Europe of which this is true to the same extent. More than this, under good rule, it has limitless possibilities from its untired human stock, who have come safely through the nineteenth century in their pristine state. Let us hope that there will never be a town in Roumania with a million inhabitants. Bucarest must be getting near that mark. For there is always misery in very large towns; and the good fortune of Roumania lies in its mountains and its plains. And this must bring us back, once more, to our general contention. What is permanent and unforgettable in Roumania is the great plain of Transylvania, the woods of Oltenia, the swamps of the Danube Delta, the valleys of the Neamt, painted Sucevita and Voronet, and the wooden houses and gay costumes seen upon its roads. That is the permanent Roumania; while the modern Roumania of factories and model flats is only its amelioration into twentieth century conditions of civilization. We prefer the old. And it is that which will last, tempered by the new.

Girl of Bucovina

The Danube at the Iron Gates

The Shepherd's Horn, Western Carpathians

Roumanian Church Profile, Curtea de Arges

Roumanian Church Profile, Jassy