The Spray discovered no new continents on her voyage, nor did she seek new worlds. But to find one’s way to lands already discovered is a good thing. No king, no country, no treasury at all, was taxed for the voyage of the Spray, and she accomplished all she undertook to do.

JOSHUA SLOCUM, the first man to singlehandedly
circumnavigate the globe from 1895 – 1898

EMERALD WINDS waft o’er the oceanic expanses of Carpathian forests, I sense their fierceness and power. The time has come to raise your flag, little brother! Sail and become a child of Carpathia! You have no more excuses; I have so praised the pilgrim games, Romania, and her mountains even more. The sooner you set sail, the more likely you are to glimpse that land as I have known it. Hesitate and you may forfeit all and have nowhere to go. For even in Romania, people are destroying the wilderness at incredible speed; that which has been called progress hurtles ever onward like some unhuman force, a charging, unstoppable boulder. But a beautiful sort of poverty is still to be found among the Romanian mountains, as is the solitude of Asia-like plains. Shepherds there still speak a clear, hard Roman tongue and their boots, coats, and cheeses are still homemade. 

Many more beautiful lands likely exist whose mountains are mightier, valleys longer, pastures and forests vaster, and lakes deeper. But, for now, there are no other such places you can go to whenever you wish, whenever you feel burdened and wistful or yearn for mountain summits, solitude, freedom. Decide to go, and in a few short hours you are sitting aboard a train, celestial carriage, bound for Transylvania, Wallachia or Moldavia. No need for prior self-abasement, months of begging, bribery, and extortion. And none of the disappointment that awaits when your request to travel to mountains far afield is rejected. Freedom and independence, yet another reason I love Romania! And once you have circumnavigated all the Carpathian Mountains and played all the games, you will better understand the verses of poet Friedrich Nietzsche from his century-old book on holy Zarathustra, “My wild wisdom became pregnant on the lonesome mountains; on the rough stones did she bear the youngest of her young. Now runneth she foolishly in the arid wilderness, and seeketh the soft sward—mine old, wild wisdom!”


Nothing twice, all things but once behold
Ever onward – ne’er back o’er tracks gone cold.


To conclude this Carpathian account, I have appended a few more precise and useful lines on the Romanian side of the Carpathian arc. As far as I know, this marks the first attempt in Czech to clearly, though somewhat schematically, classify individual Romanian Carpathian mountain ranges. Though this is but a simple summary, it was no easy task mainly due to the varying opinions of Romanian cartographers and publications, of which I have read many and in which I always encountered greater or lesser deviations. I drew from the following titles to great extent: ROŞU, A. – Geografia fizică a României, Bucureşti, 1973; COTEŢ, P. – Geomorfologia României, ibid., 1973; ONCESCU, N. – Geologia României, ibid. 1965 (3rd edition).

Of the entire Carpathian arc which is commonly divided into either three parts (the Northern or Western Carpathians found in Czechoslovakia and Poland, reaching as far as Dukla Pass; the Central or Wooded Carpathians from Dukla Pass onward in a line connecting the headwaters of the Tisa and Prut rivers; the Southern or Romanian Carpathians found primarily in Romanian), or two (the Northwestern Carpathians and the Southeastern Carpathians, where the boundary is formed by an imaginary line between the Carpatho-Ruthenian (Zakarpattian) cities of Mukachevo and Stryi), only the third, or if you like, the second arm of the arc stretches into Romania, though by area it is the largest. The geological genesis of the Carpathians has been dealt with sufficiently in geology textbooks.

The Romanian Carpathians are traditionally divided into three larger groups: the Eastern, Southern and Western Carpathians. There is, however, considerable difference of opinion among experts regarding where the respective borders of these Carpathian groups lie. The old border between Eastern and Southern Carpathians – the Prahova River Valley – is rarely used today. Geomorphologists have moved the boundary further westward to the Dâmbovița River Valley and Rucăr-Bran fissure (a designation I have kept to as well), and geologists go even further to the west considering Piatra Craiului to be a nappe of the Eastern Carpathians, while regarding a shoulder of the Perşani Mountains as part of the Southern Carpathians. Geologists count what are sometimes called the Banat Mountains to be part of the Southern Carpathians, while geomorphologists claim they belong to the Western Carpathians.

I have incorporated the geological perspective into the map by arranging individual mountain ranges according to their formation. This has proved especially useful as it pertains to the much more geologically complex Eastern Carpathians, which can be roughly divided into volcanic, Crystalline-Mesozoic and flysch zones. The Southern and Western Carpathians are geologically simpler, formed, broadly speaking, of bedrock. These divisions roughly correspond to the Czechoslovak Carpathians, though they are naturally not overly precise since some ranges (Perşani, Bodoc massifs among others) are not geologically monolithic.

For that reason, I have divided the Romanian Carpathians into 71 different ranges. Several of them (nos. 9, 12, 27, 29, 36, 40, 55, 56, etc.) are distinguished only in scholarly literature, and their distinctions are insignificant to the visitor. There is no definitive or uniform number of ranges since different maps and sources designate the boundaries at various places. In addition, the ranges have often been divided into individual massifs, even ridges, so orienting in mountain systems and their synonyms can prove very difficult.

The highest peak in the Romanian Carpathians is located among the Făgăraş Mountains (Moldoveanu 2,543 m.a.s.l.) while the overall highest Carpathian peak, Gerlachovský štít, lies in the Slovak High Tatras. Fifteen Romanian summits reach an altitude of more than 2,000 meters (nos. 5, 11, 20, 21, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52) while four stretch above 2500 meters (20, 42, 48, 50). The Hăşmaş Mountains are regarded as the area’s main watershed, a “confinium triplex” or triple divide (similar to Králický Sněžník on the Czech – Polish border, except that all Romanian rivers flow into the same sea.)

For the visitor and reader of Romanian maps and guidebooks, I offer a few lines on the proper use of Romanian grammar in nomenclature. There is little difference in using the definite and indefinite forms (Făgăraş or Făgăraşul, Retezat or Retezatul, etc.), though the first is more common. However, using the bare genitive (2nd case) for which Romanian has masculine and feminine endings, -ui and -ei respectively, e.g. Făgăraşului, Retezatului or Rodnei, Bistriţei, is incorrect without adding the word “munţii” or “mountains.” Thus we can use either the nominative (1st case) – Făgăraş, Rodna, munţii Făgăraş, munţii Rodna – or the genitive – munţii Făgăraşului, munţii Rodnei – which translates directly as “mountains of Făgăraş” and “mountains of Rodna.”

In the last decade, Romanian spelling has undergone some changes. For example, in place of the somewhat old-fashioned “î” they have begun using “â” (except in certain instances like at the beginning of proper nouns). But since this book was first written under the old rules, I have left the original spellings unchanged.

It is interesting to note that Romanian has only used the Latin alphabet since 1860. Before that, the Cyrillic alphabet (a Greco-Slavic script created at the turn of the 9th century) was used for writing and printing and is still used in countries like Serbia, Bulgaria, and Russia.

In conclusion, a few words on Romanian pronunciation so you can ask your way if you need to, little brother. Shepherds in the Şurean Mountains could not tell you how to get to the town of Cugir until you pronounced it “Koojeer.” They simply would not understand, and no doubt you would lose your way.

Romanian pronunciation is actually quite simple: Ᾰ is simply the short “a” in “around;” Â and Î are pronounced identically and amount roughly to the “u” sound in the word “burn” or the “eux” sound in the French word “deux;” CE and CI are pronounced “-che-” and “-chi-” respectively, otherwise C is pronounced as “-k-.” The same is true for GE and GI the pronunciation being “-je-” and “-ji-“ while in all other situations, G is simply -“g-” as in “girl;” the letter J sounds like the “j” in “Jacque”; consonants Ş and Ţ are “-sh-“ and “-ts-” respectively.

And that is really all you need to know to read names on Romanian maps and find your way through the land.



1 Munţii Oaş
2 Munţii Gutîi
3 Munţii Ţibleş

4 Munţii Bîrgau
5 Munţii Căliman
6 Munţii Gurghiu

7 Munţii Harghita


8 Munţii Maramureş
9 Munţii Ţibau
10 Munţii Obcina Mestecaniş
11 Munţii Rodna
12 Munţii Suhard

13 Munţii Giumalău-Rarău
14 Munţii Bistriţei
15 Munţii Giurgeu
16 Munţii Hăghimaş ( = M. Hăşmaş)
17 Munţii Perşani

Munţii Bîrsei (18-19):
18 Munţii Postavarul
19 Munţii Piatra Mare
20 Munţii Bucegi
21 Munţii Leaota


22 Munţii Obcina Feredeu
23 Munţii Obcina Mare
24 Munţii Stînişoarei
25 Munţii Ceahlău
26 Munţii Tercău (= M. Tarhaus + M. Goşman/Geamăna)
27 Munţii Berzunţ (= M. Tazlău)
28 Munţii Ciuc

29 Munţii Nemira ( + M. Oituz)
30 Munţii Bodoc
31 Munţii Baraolt
32 Munţii Vrancea
Munţii Buzăului (33-35):
33 Munţii Penteleu
34 Munţii Podu Calului
35 Munţii Siriu

36 Munţii Întorsurii
Munţii Doftanu (37-38):
37 Munţii Ciucaş (+ M. Teleajen, M. Grohotişu)
38 Munţii Gîrbovei (= M. Baiu)


39 Munţii Piatra Craiului
40 Munţii Ţaga
41 Munţii Iezer-Papuşa
42 Munţii Făgăraş
43 Munţii Cozia
44 Munţii Căpăţînii

45 Munţii Lotru ( = M. Ştefleşti)
46 Munţii Cindrel (= M. Cibin, M. Sibiului)
47 Munţii Şurean (= M. Sebeşului, M. Oraştiei)
48 Munţii Parîng (+ M. Latoriţei)

49 Munţii Vîlcan
50 Munţii Retezat
51 Munţii Godeanu
52 Munţii Ţarcu
53 Munţii Cernei
54 Munţii Mehedinţi


Munţii Apuseni (Western mountains, 55-65):
55  Munţii Meseş
56  Munţii Şes (= M. Plopiş)
57  Munţii Padurea Craiului
58 Munţii Codra Moma
59 Munţii Vlădeasa

60  Munţii Bihor
61 Munţii Gilău
62 Munţii Muntele Mare
63  Munţii Trascău
64 Munţii Metaliferi
65 Munţii Zărand
66  Munţii Poiana Ruscă

Munţii Banatului (Banat Mountains, 67-71):
67  Munţii Dognecea
68  Munţii Semenic
69  Munţii Aninei
70  Munţii Locva
71  Munţii Almaj


I’ve been asked to do a lovely task: play the game of Herodotus the historian. What a good thing too, for history is nearly as important as fairytales, concealing the world’s essence within. But because the books I read on the subject were voluminous and the game was meant to be short, I had to trim down the history of Romania and take the golden path of brevity.

DACIA. Land of the Dacians, an Indo-European people that emerged in this part of Europe from Neolithic mists and, after much blending with other tribes and nations, has remained here to this day. Historians officially call them Geto-Dacians, though it is not certain if they were originally two related tribes (like the Dudlebs and the Luchans) or if they are one and the same nation, called differently by Romans and Greeks. They were descendants of the northern branch of Thracians who flooded the entire Balkan region thousands of years ago. Centuries passed and the Thracian king, Burebista, tried to unite all the Geto-Dacian tribes (among them the Carpi, after whom the Carpathians take their name) that resided in the territory of modern-day Romania into a sovereign and independent Dacian state. He succeeded for a time, but not all Dacians were happy with the centralizing tendencies, and in 44 B.C., Burebista was assassinated and the state fell. Around that time, the Dacians first encountered the Roman Empire, which had by then established the province of Moesia south of the Danube River. Greek colonization of Romania’s Black Sea region had begun three-quarters of a millennium earlier with the harbors of Istros (today called Histria) established at the mouth of the Danube in the 7th century B.C., Kallatis (Mangalia) in the 6th century, and Tomis (Constanţa) in the 5th century. The Dacians were a warlike people, and so were the Romans. Decebal, leader of the Dacians re-formed and lead the Dacian state between 87 and 106 AD, establishing Sarmizegetusa in the Orăştie Mountains as the religious and political capital. An era of wars had come. At first, the Romans seemed to be losing, then they got the upper hand. Despite Emperor Domitian’s victory in 88 AD, and Trajan’s in 102 (see the Adamclisi monument in Dobrogea), Dacia remained unconquered. The Romans built a bridge over the Danube at the Iron Gates and defeated the mountain city of Sarmizegetusa in 106 AD during the Second Dacian War. As a result, Decebal fell on his own knife, and the Dacian state became a Roman province for the next 169 years. The Romans were skillful colonizers and 40 km southwest of the Dacian capital, they established another city also called Sarmizegetusa (today a Roman archeological dig). They founded other towns and settlements as well, mined for gold, imported citizens from all across the empire and settled war veterans. This brought about a unified language: vulgar Latin, which to this day, remains the language of Romania (enriched by Slavic and Germanic expressions, and the remnants of the now-extinct Dacian tongue). Român – Roman. But the rest of the uncolonized Dacians, along with other invading tribes so vexed the province that by the year 272, or more precisely 275, the Romans had left completely. Of all of Dacia, only Dobrogea remained part of Rome, and today’s Romanians can take pride in their ancestors’ heroic past, the most glorious time in their history.

WALLACHIA. One of the three major geographical regions in present-day Romania, it stretches from the Carpathians to the Danube, divided by the Olt River into Oltenia or Lesser Wallachia (west of the river) and Muntenia, Greater Wallachia (east of the Olt). The origins of the name are Germanic since, for the Teutons of the time, the word Wallachian was synonymous with the word Vlach and used for all Romanic tribes. I shall now attempt to bridge swiftly the nearly ten centuries that separate the departure of the Romans from Dacia and the establishment of the first principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania, though history has not been overly forthcoming in this regard. After the end of Roman domination, the Dacians, by far the most numerous ethnic group in the region, lived in commons initially with shared property, herds and fields. The Migration Period had a profound influence on the land lying between the Carpathians and the Black Sea since, from about the 4th century AD, innumerous tribes, with names almost mythical, settled or passed through the region: Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Huns, Gepids, Avars, Lombards, Slavs, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Pechenegs, and Cumans (Polovtsians, Kipchaks) after which Romania was often called Black Cumania between the 10th and 13th centuries. For a time, the territory of Romania belonged to the Kievan Rus (northern Moldavia), then to the Principality of Halych, then to the Bulgarian Empire, falling subsequently under Byzantine influence; it was ruled by both Tartars and Hungarians. Today’s Romanians are a combination of mainly Dacian blood mixed with all the tribes above that speak the Roman tongue.

The modern-day region of Wallachia became a principality in the 12th century, and in 1324, ruler Basarab I threw off Hungarian domination, bringing independence to the land. The capital city was Curtea de Argeş which still stands today at the south-facing base of the Făgăraş; Bucharest became the capital much later, established as such by the Turks for its location: resting in the flatlands it was difficult to defend. From the end of the 14th century to the year 1878, the Turks were the main actors in this region of Europe. Though the Wallachian Voivode, Mircea the Elder, (whose illegitimate son was notorious Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula) defeated them in 1394, the Turks soon returned to the Balkans, flooding all of southeast Europe. For centuries, Wallachian (as well as Moldavian and Transylvanian) voivodes, boyars magnates and aristocrats were forced to tack between the Turks (in 1545, Wallachia became a vassal state of Turkey, but was initially largely autonomous) and their enemies the Russians, Austrians, and Hungarians. Often divided, they were bloodily defeated in countless uprisings, battles, and rebellions (e.g. Oltenia belonged to Austria for part of the 18th century, etc.). After numerous uprisings, the Turks revoked the autonomy of the local nobility (or “boyars”) and between 1715 and 1821 (1711 in Moldavia) installed Phanariots – rulers of Greek origin named for Phanar, the quarter of Constantinople they came from. They guaranteed that the heavy imperial taxes the Turks (otherwise benevolent toward the religions and liberties of occupied nations) exacted on their vanquished territories would be duly collected and delivered.

Ever more similar political fates with neighboring Moldavia led, in 1859, to the establishment of a personal union between the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia under Moldavian prince Cuzou and, in 1869, to the unification of both lands, as yet subject to weakening Turkish influence and growing Russian might, into the principality of Romania.

Wallachian influence even stretched as far as Moravia. From about the 12th century, they moved gradually with their herds along the Carpathian arc up to the northernmost edge of the Carpathians in Slovakia and Moravia (Wallachian colonization) where they blended with the local inhabitants, leaving many residual Romanian herdsman expressions.

MOLDAVIA. Named for the Moldova River, it originally stretched between the rivers Siret and Dniester, and in days of old was sometimes referred to as Multania. Western Moldavia spreads between the Carpathian Mountains and the river Prut (which formed a boundary with the former USSR), while eastern Moldavia, also called Bessarabia (apparently for the Thracian Beser tribe [1] that once inhabited the region), lies betwixt the Prut and the Dniester, and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 became part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which included the Pridnestrovian and Gaugaz Republics, [2] with the capital city in Kishinev. Moldavia is a fertile land that has historically belonged to, or at least fallen under, the dominance of Russia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, and Turkey. In 1538, the kingdom that had been established there in the 14th century became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. Famous voivodes of the region include Dragoș, Alexander the Good, Stephen the Great, and Petru Rareș. In the 15th and especially 16th centuries, Eastern Orthodox architecture (Moldavian monasteries) blossomed in the region. For many years, the capital city was Suceava but was later moved to Iaşi. As in Wallachia, the land was swept by conflicts between boyars, voivodes, and their Turkish occupiers, while a segment of Moldavia (see Bukovina) remained in Austrian hands between 1774 and 1919 after they defeated the Turks. A source of constant friction between Moldavia and the neighboring Russian Empire was Bessarabia, which Russia occupied several times in 1787, 1812, 1829, and as part of a treaty after expelling the Turks in 1878. After World War I, however, Bessarabia fell to Romania (over 50 percent of the population was Romanian), but the annexation was not recognized by the Soviet Union which, first in 1940, and then definitively after the Second World War made it a part of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1861, the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia united in the principality of Romania.

TRANSYLVANIA. A land embraced from the south, east, and west by the Carpathian arc. After which seven castles it takes its name I have not discovered. [3] Though perhaps it comes from the old name for the present-day town of Sibiu – Sibinburg. The Romans called the region Transsilvania (an important mining area in their province of Dacia), which means “Land beyond the forest”, beyond Carpathian walls, Hungarians used the name Edély (pronounced approximately “erday”), Romanians Ardeal, and Germans Siebenbürg. For centuries, Romans, Hungarians, Germans, Austrians, and Turks struggled to dominate the region, and it was not until 1919 that Romanians were finally victorious. Even the illustrious former crown city of Transylvania was known by many names in many tongues: Latin – Apulum, German – Karlsburg or Weissburg, Hungarian – Gyula Fehérvar, Czech – Karlův Bělehrad, Romanian – Alba Iulia. Transylvania fell under Hungarian influence in the 12th century as an independent principality or voivodeship in the Kingdom of Hungary, and as such, was afforded its own parliament and voivodes (magnates). This status continued until 1541 when it was taken over by Turks whom Transylvanian voivode Jan Hunyady had successfully repelled in 1456. The Turks chose a more moderate form of occupation and Transylvania became an “autonomous principality under the suzerainty of the Porte” (Porte = the name for the gate to the palace of the sultan, later a name for the Ottoman Empire). Austria and Hungary alternated in dominance over the region, one side uniting with the Turks against the other; Transylvanian nobles, too, were split, some favoring the Turks, others the Hapsburgs. At the start of the 16th century under Voivode Jan Zápolský, the principality expanded its territory to include eastern Slovakia and the town of Košice, while under Voivode Báthory, Transylvania united with the Polish Empire. The land was inhabited by four nationalities: Hungarians, Germans (brought in as colonizers from various parts of Germany, especially Saxony, by King Géza II in the 13th century) Szekelys (descendants of Hungarians and older Turkish tribes) and native Romanians who, though far more numerous, had no political power. Between 1686 and 1699 after Turkey’s defeat, Transylvania gradually fell under definitive Austrian control, bringing about what are known as the kuruc [4] uprisings (kuruc = forces of Hungarian nobleman Francis II Rákóczi who led the anti-Hapsburg rebellions). The situation in Transylvania, however, changed very little overall and, with an ever-growing national awakening of Romanians and not a few uprisings (in the Western Carpathians for example), Transylvania remained part of Austro-Hungary until its collapse in 1919 whereupon it was given to Romania. And there, aside from the Hungarian occupation of 1940-1944, it remains even today.

BANAT. A flat fertile region between the Lower Tisza, Mureş, and Carpathian Mountains. The name is derived from the word “ban,” a high-ranking military governor in charge of provinces in the southern reaches of Hungarian lands. It was completely destroyed during the Ottoman wars and resettled in the 18th century by Serbs, Romanians, Slovaks, Czechs, and Germans after the expulsion of the Turks. Upon falling into Turkish hands in 1552, the former Hungarian region was renamed Temesvár pashalik (pashalik = territory governed by a pasha or local ruler who answers directly to the sultan) called for its capital city – Banat. The northern part was later renamed the Pashalik of Varat (after the city of Oradea). In 1699, the Turks were expelled from Hungary and Transylvania (following the Treaty of Karlowitz) but still clung to Banat; after two more wars with Austria, they would lose that too succeeding the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718. Banat remained under Austrian military rule until 1751, and subsequent civilian governance was administered mainly by Hungary, though between 1849 and 1860, this responsibility fell to Austria. Banat became part of Romania in 1919, while the western segments between the Tisza and Danube Rivers (called Vojvodina) were forfeited by Austro-Hungary to the newly formed Yugoslavia, or more precisely, Serbia.

BUKOVINA.  The northwestern area of the former Principality of Moldavia, it was acquired by the Austrian Empire in 1775 following victory over the Turks. Though at first a part of Galicia, it became a nominal duchy within the Austrian Empire in 1849. Although the name Bukovina is quite new, wooded areas along the Moldavian-Polish border had been commonly called that since the 15th century. In 1919, the region was turned over to Romania (with the exception of four Polish municipalities), including the capital city of Chernivtsi. After the Second World War, the region’s northern area was annexed by the Ukrainian SSR, and what was left remained part of Romania. About a third of the population of Bukovina is made up of Hutsuls and Rusyns.

DOBRUDJA. A grassland region between the Danube and the Black Sea. Dobrogea in Romanian, a name hearkening back to 14th-century Bulgarian boyar Dobrotitsa. Essentially uninhabited till the end of the 19th century, it was a corridor for countless war parties, conquests, and migrations. A narrow strip of coastland was colonized by the Greeks in the 7th century B.C. (harbors of Istros – Histria, Kallatis – Mangalia, Tomis – Constanţa). Despite the Romans withdrawing from Dacia, they continued to cling to Dobrudja (part of the province of Moesia they called Scythia Minor after the ancient inhabitants of the region). Until the 14th century, the territory was part of the Bulgarian Empire and its battle for regional influence against the Eastern Roman Empire [5] and the Cumans.  After that, the Turks occupied the region, and it became the Sanjak of Dobrudja (lying within the Pashalik of Rumelia) for centuries to come. In 1878, after the defeat of the Ottomans, much of Dobrudja was ceded to Romania through the Treaty of Berlin, though a small segment also fell to Bulgaria. As a result, from 1912-1919 conflicts arose between the two countries (each occupying the other’s territory), but Romania succeeded in clinging to its part of Dobrudja and the Black Sea coast.

ROMANIA. Became a country in 1861 through the uniting of Wallachian and Moldavian principalities (though Wallachian voivode Michael the Brave, or Mihail Viteazu, briefly united Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania to fight off the Turks at the start of the 17th century). After lengthy talks, Moldavian prince Colonel Cuza [6] was chosen as the first unifying ruler of the Romanian principality. However, in 1866 he was forced, by mounting interior and international pressures, to pass governance of Romania to the foreign rule of Karl von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. A year prior to the 1878 expulsion of the Ottomans, which largely succeeded due to assistance from the Russian army, the Principality of Romania proclaimed itself a kingdom (ratified by its parliament in 1881), and Prince Karl von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen became King Carol I, who ruled until his death in 1914. He was succeeded by his nephew, Ferdinand who, after two years of hesitation, joined the allied forces (England, France, etc.) in 1916 in declaring war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, thus entering World War I. Though Romania was swiftly defeated and three-quarters occupied by enemy forces, the Romanians heroically defended their last stronghold in Moldavia, and after the war, the Allies declared that by halting the onslaught of enemy forces, the Romanians had shortened the war by several weeks, perhaps months. As a result, in 1919 Transylvania, Banat, Bukovina, and Bessarabia were ceded to Romania, doubling its territory and number of citizens. Rather astonishingly, when King Ferdinand I died in 1927, his son Carol forfeited the throne to his six-year-old son Michael (and an appointed regency) and departed the country. Not until 1930, satiated by the western bon vivant lifestyle, did he return to rule Romania as King Carol II. His reign was not a happy one, however, and in 1938 he transformed what was a constitutional monarchy into an ever-deepening dictatorship. The eight previous years had been spent cooperating with the Gardă de Fier, or Iron Guard, a fascist movement and political party that first terrorized communists, then Hungarians and Jews, and finally the Romanian population itself. After initially attempting to join forces with them, the king began violently suppressing the group, even having their leader, Codreanu, shot “while escaping.” Unsurprisingly, the Gardă reacted with assassinations and ever greater terror in the streets. With the start of World War II in 1940 and the Hungarian occupation of Transylvania, Carol II lost control of the political situation at home and decided to emigrate for a second time. Before his departure, he formally conferred kingship to his son Michael, though real power and the title of Conducător – Leader of the State – was held to General Antonescu, war hero of the First World War. He, too, proved unsuccessful in fully mitigating the murderous Iron Guard, later joining forces with them because of shared sympathies for Hitler’s Germany. Side by side with Germany, Romania joined the assault of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Despite re-occupying Bessarabia, which the Russians had taken in 1940, their army suffered heavy casualties across the Russian Front. A day after the Red Army victoriously crossed into Moldavia, Romania erupted in anti-government, anti-German rebellion (August 23, 1944) [7].  At King Michael’s command, Antonescu was arrested and a democratic government appointed. However, democracy lasted less than a year, and at Moscow’s orders, a communist government, with Petru Groza at its head, was established. A 1945 attempt at returning to democracy was violently suppressed by the ruling communists, and a mock trial of General Antonescu was held where he was sentenced to death and shot on June 1, 1946. On the thirtieth of December 1947, the monarchy was dismantled, Romania was proclaimed a people’s republic, and King Michael I left the country. Forty-two years of brutal communist rule later and following a week of bloodbaths and murders perpetrated on the citizen population, the last dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceauşescu, was shot and killed along with his wife on Christmas of 1989. This land of bankrupt economic and moral relationships has been struggling to return to civilized life since 1990. Evidence of this can be seen in the return of King Carol II’s remains from Portugal in 2003, where he died in 1953. Additionally, his son, King Michael I was allowed to repatriate in 2002 after living in emigration in Switzerland, and all his property was returned.

Romania became a NATO member on March 9, 2004 and joined the European Union on January 1, 2007. It currently remains outside the so-called Schengen Area.

[1] Translator’s note: Current scholarly research suggests Bessarabia was named after the Wallachian Basarab Dynasty which ruled the region during the 14th century.

[2] Translator’s note: The Pridnestrovian and Gaugaz Republics are referred to together as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic; it is an unrecognized breakaway state within the country of Moldova.

[3] The Czech word for Transylvania, “Sedmihrady”, is a translation of the German “Siebenbürgen” or “Seven Castles”, a name commonly used for the region in other Slavic languages as well.


[4] Pronunciation: “koorootz”

[5] Also called The Byzantine Empire.

[6] Alexander Iona Cuza – Prince of Moldavia, Prince of Wallachia and Domnitor of Romania.

[7] King Michael I, son of Carol II, led a coup against Conducător Antonescu.


Wonder not at all I have seen on my journeys or at the lands I have visited; for everything I have seen, my horse has seen too, and wherever I’ve gone, my bags have come with me. Wonder instead at all I have learned of exotic lands. Because there is no greater or lasting delight than to keep learn.

An abbé and traveler, XVII century 

It was years ago that I sat down to write Carpathian Games for my friends Leopold Kukačka and Vláďa Slouka of Ústí nad Labem. With great devotion, they had just put out the first Czech language guide to the Romanian mountains, for at the time, ranges in more distant lands were difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary pilgrims to visit. I was assigned one mountain range which they asked me to describe as precisely and thoroughly as possible, omitting no signpost, forgetting no bunk bed in any mountain cabin. That approach, you may imagine, went against my very grain. And besides, I probably would not have been up to the task since I had crisscrossed the Carpathians mostly without a map, and never slept in a cabin. It is testimony to the nobleness of their souls, then, that they published four editions (in 1982, 1986, 1988 and 1989) of Carpathian Games at several hundred copies apiece, despite it bearing so little resemblance to their original vision. I am much indebted to them. Carpathian Games, therefore, was not samizdat in the true sense, that would be too strong a word, but neither was it a book printed in normal fashion. Both of my friends risked trouble and sanctions, and for that, I am very grateful. In order for the book to come out as it did, however, I had to adhere to strict, unbendable rules: thirty-two lines of type for each and every mountain range, whether big or small, beautiful or ordinary and a precise length of the manuscript, set to the page. I had just been reading the remarkable writer Nikolai Leskov, and caught myself saying with Alexander of Soligalich that it was precisely the length that should “suffice the devoted servant”.

My friends were also responsible for the book’s graphic design. The first edition was illustrated by Petr Chvojka, the following three by Zdeněk Urban. I merely harvested the undeserved fruits of their labor (for without friends there would be no book), receiving the most wonderful letters from timid, gracious people all across Czechoslovakia. It was due to those letters that I realized the only forgivable reason to write books is to make people better, to help them discover the good in themselves. All else is worthless.

I traveled to Romania every year for twenty-six years – with a few breaks here and there – and spent many months of my life there. On mountaintops, in lowlands, in the Danube delta. Sometimes alone, more often with rover scouts from Liberec who had lost their stomping grounds after scouting was banned in 1970. Together, we discovered the poorest, emptiest corners of Europe, just as Captain Cook in the 18th century discovered the Pacific islands. He was not the first person to set foot in Hawaii, just the first European. For hundreds of years, people of only slightly darker complexion than his own sailors had lived in the South Seas and rejoiced in volcanoes and deep rainforests. Yet he was – just like us – an explorer!

I loved Romania very much, a land where mountain folk and country folk lived modestly, struggling to make an honest living, and youngsters in towns were not rude and rough and did not ruin what others had built. A friendly land where we could freely wander, eat and sleep, and where we learned the truth of the antique philosopher’s words, “Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient.” Before 1989, there were few such lands, and it would be ungrateful to forget that.

Then, with the ease of gods, someone tore down the wall, and the world changed remarkably. One month to another, one week to the next. The Carpathians became deserted. Those who had not been allowed to go anywhere else suddenly, breathlessly, flooded wealthier countries in Europe and North America like happy indigent lemmings. But the time will come again for the Carpathians, for the mountains of Russia and Asia too, and their plains and steppes, because most beautiful of all is to wander through poor and deserted lands that have not yet lost their distinct and ancient appearance.

There is yet another way the world’ changes have ushered in a new era: for the first time since it was written, Carpathian Games was be published – in print! Skauting, Miloš Zapletal and Jaroslav Šťastný’s Liberec based publishing house issued the book twice, once in 1992 and again in 2000, in an edition called Skautské cesty (Scouting Journeys). The new editions contained dozens of old engravings of Romanian mountains I had found by coincidence in a twenty-four volume collection called Die österreichisch-ungarische Monarchie, published in Vienna between 1887 and 1902.

In 2006, Vestri, another Liberec based publisher, graciously published the seventh edition of my manuscript. Thanks to the owner-editor-and-publisher-in-one, Carpathian Games became a book for the first time. Hardbound and with superb graphic design by Miroslav Fulín, it contains gorgeous color photographs that, for the first time, let you experience the captivating Carpathian beauty for yourself. I am ever so grateful.

Ten years have gone by, and Vestri has decided it is time for the eighth edition, this time differing from all previous versions at least as regards graphic design. To illustrate it, the publisher asked our mutual friend, Ludvík Kunc, expert and admirer of Carpathian landscapes, nature and its four-legged dwellers bear, lynx and wolf. His watercolors gave the book a new face, and I am much indebted to him. It was issued in hardback and, per request, in paperback so it could be carried in packs and read around pilgrim fires. The manuscript remains unchanged except for a word added here and another subtracted there – I can add nothing in my old age to the enchantment of my youth. Remaining, too, is the outdated word ‘Czechoslovakia,’ the name of my beautiful birthland, land where I lived most of my life, land that, to my great sorrow, no longer exists.

And one final note. Thirty-five years have passed since Carpathian Games was first written and published. If you read, therefore, of an experience I had thirty or forty years ago, do not forget to add to that number, monstrous and unimaginable as it must seem, the additional third of a century that has passed since!

The old abbé’s words which stand at the head of this chapter – whether he truly lived or not – are wise and true, and there is nothing for it but to keep them. It is wonderful to run over mountains as free and oblivious as a wild horse, drinking from the waters of streams, resting in the grass. But far better is to walk those lands like a knowledgeable abbé, like one who knows. He, too, drinks of fresh mountain waters and falls asleep beneath starry skies, but he also knows things horses do not. How beautiful, little brother, if Carpathian Games helped you discover greater wisdom. It may even come in handy when one day you write your own book of Games. Chances are they will be about a different country in a different time, but write them you should, for every land deserves its own. And as you write, remember the Russian saying, “A land with no poet is a land that has ceased to exist.” 

Miloslav Nevrlý, 2017