After arriving in Bucharest and staying overnight, we collected our 12 travelling companions and headed for our first stop on our Romanian tour, Sinaia. It is a mountain resort town that has a thriving ski industry in winter time with skiers flying in from all around Europe. As we arrived in mid Spring, there were few skiers and little snow on the Carpathian mountains around the town. Our target destination in the area was Peles Castle which we would be visiting on the next day. However the town of Sinaia was a lovely place for a walk around in the late afternoon and we started to get a sense of the architecture in this region of Wallacia, designed to ensure that the winter snows didn’t gather for too long on the roofs.
The next morning we headed up the mountain through the top section of Sinaia to Peles Castle. It was here that we first realised how significant the short lived Romanian royal family was to the tourist industry in the country. Whilst it lasted 66 years and four generations of monarchs, it had a significant impact on the features of Romania that the tourist industry liked to highlight in 2018. Peles Castle was their ‘jewel in the crown’ so to speak.
Peles Castle was constructed by the first King of Romania, Carol I, in this area of the Carpathian mountains as a summer retreat for himself and his wife Elizabeth. To get a sense of the heritage of the castle and its background, a few words about Carol I and his wife Elizabeth.
Being European royalty in the nineteenth century, particularly if you were related to or came to the notice of Queen Victoria, had its challenges. In one sense, it was a little similar to being an exhibit in a showcase of breeding stock with your pedigree and your photo being spread for inspection around the drawing rooms of fashionable European circles. For example, the German princess Elizabeth of Wied (her father was the delightfully named Prince Herman of Wied) was a minor player on the European Royal circle when her photo was shown to Victoria’s bad-boy son Bertie (future King Edward 7th of England) to see if he was interested in her as a future consort. She apparently wasn’t his type.
It was a few years later when Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen came into the picture. Karl was head-hunted in 1866 by politicians from the new country of Romania who were scouting European royalty for a new monarch; their current ‘Dominator (First Prince) being ‘on the nose’. While democratic principles were spreading in nineteenth century Europe, emerging countries still felt the need to have someone of good genetic stock at the top, even if only as a symbolic head of state. Another example of this process was Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, a German duchy, who married Princess Charlotte of England; he was offered the throne of Greece but turned it down for the better offer of being King of Belgium in 1831.
Karl was invited to become the next ruling prince of Romania, not just because he had German Royal blood but he was also militarily trained. He went on to lead Romanian troops during the Russo-Turko War of 1878 when the Turks were defeated and Romania became completely independent of the “sick man of Europe”, the Ottoman Empire. Being a new monarch, it was necessary for him to have a Queen so he went on a tour of Germany looking for a bride with a suitable pedigree. His choice fell on the once rejected Elizabeth of Wied and they were married in 1869. Wikipedia has this to say about their relationship… “Their marriage was one of the most unfit matches in history, with Carol being a cold and calculating man while Elizabeth was a notorious dreamer.” Elizabeth was once quoted as commenting that “he always wore his crown to bed!”
In the images above, Elizabeth can be seen at the two ends of her royal life…firstly as a young woman and the other, when turned to stone in the garden of Peles castle, knitting for the troops in WWI.
So Peles Castle was built between 1873 and 1914 for these curious misfits of history. Touring the castle you get a sense of the tastes of both these characters, particularly King Carol with his love of German architecture and garden landscapes. His military background is showcased in the most amazing collection of weapons and paraphernalia that one is ever likely to see. Elizabeth’s love of art and music also is obvious in the decorations and the furniture of this amazingly complex building.
I thoroughly enjoyed our walk through Peles Castle, not just for the amazing beauty of every aspect of the site, but for what it spoke about the people who built it and spent their summers here. There is a touch of sadness about this royal couple, not just for their incompatibility, but for the difficult historical times they had to deal with. They had no further children and King Carl had difficulty finding an heir, eventually settling on his nephew Ferdinand who took over in 1914 when World War I broke out over Romania’s border in Serbia with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. The next royal couple had similar incompatibility issues with the next Queen, Marie, proving herself a much more capable politician than her playboy husband. Ferdinand.
The last curious feature of these royal brides of the first two kings of Romania is that they were both prolific writers. Elizabeth herself wrote huge amounts of poetry and prose under the pseudonym of Carmen Sylva and was a highly published author. Marie also wrote poetry and children’s stories which were also published. The complex life of Marie we would encounter at the next Romanian royal palace, Bran Castle.