by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, May 14, 2018
To mark Romania's independence day (each year on May 10 it celebrates freedom from the Ottoman Empire, earned in 1877) here are a few quirky facts about the country.
1. It’s home to the world’s heaviest building
Bucharest’s vast Palace of the Parliament, begun during the final years of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s rule and not finished until 1997 (seven years after his death), is 240 metres long, 270 metres wide, 86 metres high (12 storeys), and cost a staggering €3 billion (£2.5bn) to build.
The other numbers are remarkable. As many as 100,000 people worked on the site, hundreds of whom are thought to have perished. It has 1,100 rooms (the vast majority of which lie empty) and an annual heating bill of $6m (£4.63m), equivalent to that of a small city. There are eight underground levels, as well as a nuclear bunker linked to other government buildings by 20km of tunnels.
It all adds up to an area 365,000 square metres, second only to The Pentagon as far as administrative buildings are concerned, and it has a volume of 2.55 million square metres, a shade more than the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Inside you’ll find 3,500 tonnes of crystal, 480 chandeliers and 1,409 ceiling lights, while 700,000 tonnes of steel and bronze was used for monumental doors and windows. Guinness World Records recognises it as the heaviest building on the planet.
2. And the world’s most beautiful road
In his search for the “world’s best driving road” Jeremy Clarkson declared that he had found it in the middle of Romania – in the form of the Transfagarasan highway. Whichever way you look at it, it is an extraordinary feat of engineering: a stretch of tarmac packed with tunnels, viaducts and bridges and which takes the skill of navigating hairpin bends to new heights. The road was another Ceaușescu creation. He wanted to ensure that in the event of a Soviet invasion there was a speedy way of escaping through the strategic (and scenic) mountain passes of the Southern Carpathians (not that it was ever used for that purpose).
3. They love a drink
Romania is the fifth booziest country in the world, behind four more Eastern European states: Belarus, Russia, Moldova and Lithuania. As the map below shows, the average Romanian consumes 14.4 litres of pure alcohol each year, compared to 11.6 litres in Britain.
4. Visitors might spot Europe’s largest mammal
Tipping the scales at 1,400lbs, the European bison was nearly hunted to extinction, but in recent years has been reintroduced to several Eastern European countries, including Romania.
“We encountered a herd in a forest clearing near the village of Armenis, in the Tarcu range of the Carpathian Mountains,” wrote Mark Stratton for Telegraph Travel back in 2014. “Staring towards us in docile fashion, tails metronomically swishing at flies, they were protectively encircling a newborn calf. Beneath tassels of shaggy fur their powerful, beefy shoulders and bulbous humps elevated them from family saloon cow to V8 turbocharged bovine.”
The country also has Europe’s largest population of brown bears.
5. It’s the real home of Borat
In Sacha Baron Cohen’s film, scene’s purporting to show Borat’s Kazakh hometown were shot in the village of Glod, Romania, while its Roma residents were cast as extras. Those same extras later took (unsuccessful) legal action claiming they were unaware of the film’s subject matter.
Other films shot in Romania include Cold Mountain and, er, Anaconda III starring David Hasselhoff.
6. Bucharest has one of the world’s prettiest bookshops
Cărturești Carusel opened in 2015 in a restored 19th century building. It contains more than 10,000 books, 5,000 albums and DVDs and a top floor bistro.
7. Its 4G network is the envy of the world
Romania is one of the best places in the world for 4G speed, occupying an impressive fourth place out of 78 nations, according to OpenSignal. Users in the country can expect speed of 35.61 Mbps, on average, compared to just 21.16Mbps in the UK.
8. The rail network is also impressive
Romania's 22,298km network is the 15th most extensive on Earth, even though it is only the world's 81st largest country in terms of total area.
9. There’s a dead ringer for the Arc de Triomphe
Who needs Paris? Bucharest has got its own.
10. And an answer to Mount Rushmore
This sculpture, on a rocky outcrop at the river Danube’s Iron Gates gorge, was made between 1994 and 2004 and depicts Decebalus, the last king of Dacia, who fought against the Roman Empire.
11. It also ripped off the Hollywood sign
Brasov and Rasnov have LA quaking in its boots.
12. It’s the surprising birthplace of good coffee
Francesco Illy, the founder of the Italian coffee roasting company, was actually born in Timișoara, Romania. He later moved to Vienna, and then the Italian city of Trieste. He didn’t make a 2006 list of the 100 Greatest Romanians, however, which was topped by Stephen the Great and featured the likes of Nadia Comăneci and Gheorghe Hagi.
13. They made the world’s largest flag
A five-ton flag that measured 349 metres by 227 metres, and used 44 miles of thread, was unfurled in Romania in 2013. Well, why not?
14. And can boast a few other quirky records
Romania was also responsible for the world’s longest sausage. How long? You wouldn’t believe us if we said 39 miles – but it’s true. It will take a determined butcher to break that record.
Guinness World Records also recognises the Chestnut Festival in Baia Mare, Romania, for creating the largest bowl of goulash (7,200 litres), and Romanian firm ING Asigurari de Viata for printing the world’s largest legal document (nine metres x six metres).
15. They’ve invented plenty
And not just long sausages. Nicolae Paulescu discovered insulin (though two Canadian scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 for their studies on the hormone), Henri Coandă has been credited with inventing the modern jet engine, and Petrache Poenaru created the fountain pen.
The country has four Nobel prize laureates: George Emil Palade (medicine), Elie Wiesel (peace), Herta Müller (literature) and Stefan Hell (chemistry).
16. Its churches are spectacular
Romania has seven Unesco World Heritage Sites, including the eight churches of northern Moldavia, covered in wonderful frescos (the Voroneț Monastery has been dubbed Romania’s Sistine Chapel), and the wooden churches of Maramureş, of which there is also eight, including Sapanta Peri, which claims to be the tallest wooden church in the world.
17. And there’s one very strange cemetery
The Merry Cemetery in Săpânța eschews sombre memorials in favour of colourful tombstones.