Limits, dimensions, and population of Roumania—Comparison with England—Configuration of the surface—Altitudes of towns—Mountains—Appearance of the country—The region of the plains—Plants and agricultural condition—The peasantry—Female navvies—Costumes—Wells—Subterranean dwellings—Marsh fever—Travelling, past and present—Zone of the hills—Plants, flowers, fruits, and cereals—Cheap fruits—Improved dwellings—Wages of labourers—Petroleum wells—Rock-salt—Mines—The Carpathians—Character of the scenery—Alpine trees and plants—Sinaïa—The King's summer residence—The monastery—Conveniences for visitors, baths, &c.—Occupations of visitors—Beautiful scenery—The new palace—The King and Queen—Geology of Roumania—Scanty details—The chief deposits and their localities—Minerals—Salt—Petroleum—Lignite—Ozokerit—Hæmatite—Undeveloped mineral wealth.


The kingdom of Roumania is situated between 22° 29' and 29° 42' east of Greenwich, and between 43° 37' and 48° 13' north of the equator. Its general boundaries are, on the east and south, the Pruth and the Danube, with the exception of the Dobrudscha south of the latter river, at its embouchures, and on the west and north by the Carpathian mountains, along whose heights the boundary line runs. The limit which separates it from Bulgaria, on the south-east leaves the Danube just east of Silistria, and runs irregularly in a south-easterly direction until it reaches the Black Sea, about nine miles and a half south of Mangalia. (North-east of this line runs the Roumanian Railway from Cernavoda to Constanta or Kustendjie, and south-west of it the Bulgarian line from Rustchuk to Varna.) The kingdom presents the form of an irregular blunted crescent, and it is very difficult to speak of its 'length' and 'breadth;' but so far as we are able to estimate its dimensions they are as follows:—A straight line drawn from Verciorova, the boundary on the west at the 'Iron Gates' of the Danube, to the Sulina mouth of the same river on the east, is about 358 miles; and another from the boundary near Predeal in the Carpathians, on the line of railway from Ploiesti to Kronstadt, Transylvania, to the southernmost limit below Mangalia on the Black Sea, is about 188 miles.

The approximate area of Roumania is 49,250 square miles, and when it is added that the area of England and Wales is nearly 51,000 square miles, the reader will be able to form an estimate of the extent of the country. But having made this comparison, let us carry it a step further. According to the latest estimates of the population there are about 5,376,000 inhabitants in Roumania against 25,968,286 (according to last year's census) in England and Wales; in other words, with an area equal to that of England, Roumania has about one-fifth of its population, or about the same as Ireland.

The general configuration of the surface of the country may be described as an irregular inclined plane sloping down from the summits of the Carpathians to the northern or left bank of the Danube, and it is traversed by numerous watercourses taking their rise in the mountains and falling into the great river, which render it well adapted for every kind of agricultural industry. The character of the gradients will be best understood by a reference to the map, with the aid of the following few figures. The towns of Galatz and Braila or Ibrail, situated on the Danube, are fifteen mètres above the sea-level, a mètre being, as the reader doubtless knows, equal to 1.095, or as nearly as possible 1-1/10 yard. At Bucarest, the capital, which is thirty or forty miles inland, the land rises to a height of seventy-seven mètres; still further inland, where the elevation from the plain to the hill country becomes perceptible, the town of Ploiesti is 141 mètres above the sea, whilst Tirgovistea and Iasi (Jassy), each receding further into the hills, stand respectively at altitudes of 262 and 318 mètres, the last-named city (the former capital of Moldavia) reaching therefore a height of over 1,000 feet above the sea-level. Or again, the plain which stretches along the whole extent of the southern part of the country may be said to occupy, roughly speaking, about a third; then comes a region of hills rising to a height of about 1,500 feet; and beyond these the Carpathian range, forming, as it were, a great rampart to the north and east, reckons amongst its eight or nine hundred peaks many that rise to a height of 6,000 to 9,000 feet above the sea-level. The highest of those summits is either Pionul (in Moldavia) or Caraïman, near Sinaïa (Wallachia), the summer residence of the Court, which are nearly 9,000 feet high; the latter is easily accessible, even to ladies if they are fair climbers, and affords a magnificent view of the surrounding scenery. The aspect of the country, as the traveller moves inland from the Danube to the heights of the Carpathians, is very striking; and as the writer travelled at one time or another along the greater part of the river, both by land and water, and from the bank at Giurgevo to the frontier in the mountains, a brief account of his impressions and observations may be found more interesting than a mere dry geographical description of the different zones.


The appearance of the plain on leaving the flat monotonous banks of the Danube is anything but prepossessing. Although the land begins to rise almost immediately, the surrounding scenery is flat and arid. The soil, which is black or dark grey, is chiefly argillo-siliceous, and the plain is overrun with coarse grass, weeds, and stunted shrubs, diversified by fields of maize, patches of yellow gourds, and kitchen vegetables. Here and there the railway runs through or skirts plantations. The chief plants in this region (and this applies to the plains generally) are willows, alders, poplars, and tamarinds, but chiefly willows and poplars amongst the trees and larger plants; maize, wheat, millet, and other cereals, and a variety of fruits and vegetables which will be spoken of in connection with the more elevated regions. The first impression which is made upon the traveller coming from our own beautiful hedgerows and pastures, or from the richly cultivated plains of Transylvania, is that agriculture is slovenly and neglected, and that impression is never wholly lost in whatever direction he may travel; although, as we shall see presently, the higher zones are much more carefully cultivated.

The peasantry at work in the fields present a novel and interesting appearance to the stranger, and still more striking are some of their habitations. The men generally wear a long white coarse linen blouse with trousers of the same material. The blouse is drawn in at the waist by a coil of cords or by a belt, and frequently sandals are worn, in which case the cords fastening them are wound some distance up the leg. Hats of common felt, cheap cloth, or high cylindrical caps of sheepskin, complete the external attire. In winter sheepskins take the place of the coarse linen tunic. There are two types of face to be met with amongst them, both of which are here depicted. The one has long moustaches and shaven face; the other type, which is said to resemble the Dacians of Trajan's Column, has the hair growing all over the face. The latter appeared to the author to resemble the generality of Russian peasants, and this view was confirmed by one or two lending observers in the country.

The women, as in many other continental countries, are the chief workers in the fields, and they are said to be much more industrious than the men. They are not alone engaged in agricultural pursuits, but perform the work of navvies, making roads, and along with the men digging railway embankments. They usually wear a kerchief rather gracefully folded over the head and under the chin; the upper part of the body is clothed in a loose-fitting jacket or bodice, sometimes white, but often of very bright showy material, and the lower limbs are covered with a skirt which is usually of a darker colour than the jacket; but this is also frequently made of a bright-coloured fabric. This is their every-day dress, and thus habited the men work with square-bladed spades resembling our own, whilst those of the women have handles as long as a broomstick and bent spade-or heart-shaped blades. The gala or holiday dresses of the peasantry are very handsome, each district having its own peculiar costume, but of these we will say a few words hereafter. Sometimes, as one walks or drives through the country, he may see the peasants gossiping at the well, which is a hole dug in the ground and fenced in with planks, the bucket being raised and lowered by means of a very primitive contrivance. This consists of a horizontal tree-trunk swinging upon another tall vertical one forked at the top; a chain depends from one end of the horizontal beam or bar, to which the bucket is attached, whilst the other end is counterpoised by means of stones. Some of the wells are worked with a windlass and fly-wheel, but the one just described frequently attracts the traveller's notice.

More primitive even than the wells are some of the peasants' houses in the plains, if the hovels which serve as habitations can be so dignified. A large hole, somewhat resembling in shape an old-fashioned saw-pit, but of course of greater dimensions, is dug deep into the ground. This is lined with clay, if necessary, and from the ground or immediately above it a roof is formed of branches and twigs, in the centre of which a hole is left for the issue of smoke. Sometimes a primitive doorway forms the entrance, and the people descend either by steps or an inclined plane, whilst at the opposite end a window is inserted. Occasionally, but not always, a small drain is cut round these semi-subterranean dwellings, which, as already stated, are chiefly to be found on the plains, for the purpose of carrying off surface water. It is hardly necessary to say that in these underground cells men, women, and children live together higgledy-piggledy, and that the result of such an existence is widespread disease. Marsh fever is one of the most prevalent and malignant maladies of the plains; there is hardly a family (and the families of the peasantry are very numerous) in which one or more children have not been carried off by this fever. Still there are those who maintain that the subterranean houses are not unhealthy, and they are not necessarily an indication of poverty. Such hovels, it is said, were first constructed in order that they might escape the observation of those bands of marauders, first of one nation, then of another, who have at various times overrun and pillaged the fair Danubian territory; that they were originally surrounded by trees which have been cut down for firewood; and that the spirit of conservatism, causes many peasants, otherwise well-to-do, to prefer these underground dwellings to the cottages of modern construction which constitute the villages of the higher lands. This seems a plausible explanation of their presence; but in a country which is largely cultivated, as we shall hear, by a peasant proprietary, such a primitive mode of existence, worthy of the days when the barbarians ravaged Roumanian territory, is not likely long to continue.

So far as the peasantry are concerned, they are a fine healthy body of men and women, and we shall have an opportunity further on of enquiring into their habits and condition.

After travelling inland in imagination for the best part of a day—for a Roumanian railway train does not emulate the 'Flying Dutchman' in rapidity, although it is a considerable advance upon the old mode of progression when a dozen horses were often requisite to drag a single carriage along the muddy roads—and having left the city of Bucarest with its many cupolas and spires behind us for the present, we approach the second, more elevated tract of country.

As the distance from the Danube increases, we enter upon a much more diversified and smiling landscape, and almost every plant growth of the sub-tropical and temperate zones is to be found there. Amongst trees the oak, elm, and beech are the most conspicuous; but besides these the maple, sycamore, mountain ash, lime, horse-chestnut, acacia; and of fruit trees, the walnut, hazel nut, plum, medlar, cherry, apple, pear, and vine are frequent. Fields of maize are interspersed with beds of bright yellow gourds. Wheat, oats, millet, and other cereals are common, and, in the gardens, roses, geraniums, verbenas, asters, mignonette, and a great variety of other well-known flowers of the temperate zone, add beauty and variety to the scene. Indeed, so far as natural productions are concerned, this part of Roumania leaves nothing to be desired, and that these blessings of the soil are as plentiful as they are good is to be found in the cheapness of the fruits offered for sale. Little baskets containing twenty or thirty fine purple plums may be had for a penny, and beautiful peaches or large bunches of fine grapes, of natural growth of course, are purchasable at a proportionately low price. Neither of the latter fruits is equal to those forced in our houses, but they are well-flavoured and tender.

And so, too, the peasantry and their habitations wear the appearance of comfort and prosperity. No more subterranean dwellings, but, in place thereof, villages consisting of habitations which resemble more or less the cottages and châlets of Switzerland and the Tyrol, although they are not generally so well built nor yet so picturesque. They are usually constructed of wood, bricks, and plaster, and are well whitewashed, their roofs consisting of little wooden or baked clay tiles or slates, and they have every convenience belonging to such dwellings. The roadside cabarets, or public-houses, are often very picturesque, the roof being frequently ornamented with festoons of vines indicative of the creature comforts dispensed within.

As we enter into the hill country, groups of peasants, men and women, may be seen on the roads and railways, keeping them in order, cutting banks and repairing bridges, and the women working with the peculiar-shaped long spades of which mention has already been made.

The wages of such labourers, it may be remarked in passing, are, for men, 2f. 50c., and for women 1f. 50c., respectively per day. Here, too, we begin to have indications of something besides agricultural industry. The smell of petroleum assails the olfactory organs, and we often see carts drawn by oxen or buffaloes, containing one or more barrels of the mineral oil; whilst on the hills are to be seen the rude wooden structures which cover the wells, and roads or tramways along which the oil is carried into the valley below. As we advance further into the mountains, evidences of another mineral treasure present themselves. This is rock-salt, of which cartloads may be seen moving to the railway stations or piled up in various places. This valuable mineral in no way resembles our rock-salt, and the large blocks might easily be mistaken for granite or rough unpolished marble. The appearance and mode of working one of the great mines of the country will be described hereafter; and the chief localities in which salt and petroleum are raised will be found on our geographical map. The principal salt mines are the Doftana (Prahova) near Campina, Poiana, and Slanic (Prahova), Ocnele Mari (Rămnicu), Targu Ocna (Bacau). The chief petroleum wells are also near Campina, at Colibasu, Pacuri, Doftanet, Telega &c., Moineste, &c., (Bacau). There are refineries at Tirgovistea, Peatra. Ploiesti, &c.


But we must dwell no longer in this realm of fruitfulness, and must pass on to the alpine regions beyond. In so doing we change our altitude much more rapidly than heretofore, and as we travel through the ascending valleys into the pine-clad rocks and mountains it is difficult to know with what European highlands to draw a comparison. 'Is it Wales?' the English reader will naturally enquire. 'No, for the mountains are too sharp and rocky, and yet not nearly so barren as those of our principality.' 'Are we in the Pyrenees?' Certainly not; the vegetation is not so rich, few waterfalls are visible, and there is a slovenly appearance about the clayey or sandy surface, reddened here and there by ferruginous streamlets, and covered with weedy-looking brushwood which is quite at variance with the sloping gardens of the sunny south of France. Is the scenery Dolomitic? In a sense it is. The summits of the mountains are often very jagged, Rosszähne or horses' teeth, as they are called, but they are dark grey and not white or yellow as the Dolomites. The trees are the same as in other alpine lands, firs, pines, larch, and birch growing thickly to a height of about 5,000 or 6,000 feet above the sea-level; then come grass and alpine flowers, and finally the rough jagged summit. Whatever region it may resemble, and perhaps its nearest analogues are the wilder portions of the Bavarian Alps or the less rugged parts of the Tyrol, it is lovely and romantic, and needs only to be visited by a few Western tourists to become an extension of the playground of Europe; for, in combination with beautiful scenery, there are charming costumes, primitive manners, and some interesting phases of Oriental life. And should his way lead him to Sinaïa, the summer residence of the Court, and the sanatorium to which the people of Bucarest resort, not as yet in too great numbers, the visitor will readily admit that there are few spots in Europe better calculated to afford rest and refreshment to the wearied mind.

Sinaïa presents many attractions for the tourist. Nestling on the slopes of hills at the junction of three valleys, and immediately surrounded by mountains which vary in height from 3,000 to 8,000 or 9,000 feet above the sea-level, and are easily accessible to an ordinary mountaineer, it consists of a fine old monastery, the temporary residence of the Court, two good old-fashioned hotels, and a large number of pretty villas, the property of wealthy landed proprietors, officials, and merchants of Bucarest. There is a casino, or reading-room, and small concert hall, a beautiful bathing establishment, and a garden in which a military band discourses lively and lovely music every evening within hearing of the guests whilst they are at dinner under verandahs in front of the hotels. The monastery is situated upon a high hill approached from the valley below by sloping walks and drives, and it consists of two large curtilages surrounded by low dwellings, which were formerly (and are still to some extent) occupied by monks, and now serve as the residences of the Court and its attendants. The two curtilages are really one divided across the centre, and in each division is a small Byzantine church, in which the service of the Orthodox Greek faith is conducted. At the further extremity of the convent are the apartments of the King and Queen, and it is hardly necessary to add that everything is done to render this old building suitable for the abode of royalty. At the side of the monastery is a verdant plateau, from which there is a beautiful view, and whereon the peasantry, as well as many officers and ladies of the Court, may be seen, usually on Sunday afternoon, dancing the national dances of the country, and more particularly the national dance, the 'Hora,' of which some account will be given hereafter. Behind the monastery a small valley penetrates into the mountains. This valley is, in reality, an extensive wood, containing some magnificent forest trees and replete with ferns and wild flowers, whilst through the centre of it a river rushes headlong, forming, as it descends, three beautiful cascades, the last or highest being surmounted by a towering rock, to ascend which, alone, is a good morning's healthful enjoyment. Behind this rock rise the Carpathian peaks, Caraïman, Verful, &c., and from the summits of these, which may be reached in two or three hours, it is said that on a clear day the distant Balkans are visible across the Danube.

But if Sinaïa, with its surroundings, is beautiful to-day, what will it be in the future? Close to the railway station, on a conspicuous eminence, a magnificent hotel is in course of erection to meet the wants of the increasing number of visitors. At present the King only possesses, besides his temporary residence in the monastery, a small châlet known as the 'Pavilion de Chasse,' situated in the woods behind the monastery. Although this is externally an unassuming little villa, the interior is beautifully decorated with carved oak, and is furnished with exquisite articles of the same material, and generally with a taste for which the first lady of the land is so widely reputed. But the King is also erecting, in a favoured situation close at hand, a beautiful summer palace, which will command a magnificent view of the surrounding scenery; and there he and his Queen will no doubt continue, as they do in their temporary residence, to dispense a generous hospitality to visitors, and to secure goodwill and popularity amongst their subjects.

But we must apologise for this digression, and return to our general survey.


In speaking of the appearance of the surface it has been mentioned that it is sandy or clayey, and it may be useful now to say a few words concerning the geological formations of the country. Little has been done by the native geologists in this direction, and the knowledge which we possess is derived from the observations of a few foreigners who have published works dealing incidentally with this region. The whole of Roumania may be said to form the northern portion of the basin of the Lower Danube. In Bulgaria, on the southern side of the river, where the banks often rise to a height of 300 or 400 feet, there are distinct traces of the miocene formation; but there, as on the northern banks, before the hills are reached, there is a wide plain of loess, tertiary alluvial deposit. On the northern or Roumanian bank, beginning close to the Iron Gates in the west, and extending to the eastern embouchures of the Danube, in fact over the whole zone of the plain already referred to, this alluvial deposit is found, and at the foot of the Carpathians it sometimes attains the depth of from 150 to 300 feet, and imparts to the country a neglected desert appearance where the surface is not richly wooded or agriculturally clothed in green. The second zone—that is to say, the lower hills and mountains—is chiefly of miocene formation; but beneath this, and showing itself at the surface in various parts, are strata of what Lyell calls 'a subordinate member of that vast deposit of sandstone and shale which is provincially called "flysch," and which is believed to form part of the Eocene series.' In this region, which is called by the Roumanians the region of vines, are to be found marl, sandstone, chalk, and gypsum, with rock-salt, petroleum, and lignite. The last-named is an important product of the country, being used along with wood on the railways, and in brick and lime kilns.

The southern slopes of the Carpathians consist of various older strata—secondary, primary, and metamorphic—and the rocks of which they are composed are limestone, marble, schist (mica-schist and slate), and gneiss. On the summits are found conglomerates formed of quartz, limestone, and sandstone.

To this meagre and superficial outline of the geological formations of the country we have only to add that the inclination of the strata is generally downwards in the direction of the Danube, and that they are often contorted in a very remarkable manner.

We have already spoken of the deposits of salt, petroleum, and lignite, and in association with the second is found the substance known as ozokerit or fossil wax. This is a brownish-yellow translucent crystalline hydrocarbon, which softens with the warmth of the hand, and burns with a bright light. It has never been industrially applied, excepting in small quantities by the peasantry, who themselves fabricate rude candles from it; but this is owing rather to want of enterprise than to scarcity of the deposit. Anthracite, too, is present in various places, but it is not worked. Of the existence of iron there is no doubt whatever. Not only are there indications of it in the ferruginous brooks and springs, but it has been found in association with coal in various parts of the country. Specimens of hæmatite have several times been submitted to analysis, but the results were very unsatisfactory. One sample tested by M. Hanon gave only 35.5 per cent., and another by Dr. Bernath yielded 40 per cent., of metallic iron. That gold has been found and was worked in the Carpathians as far back as the Dacian age is well known; and, according to modern writers, cobalt, sulphur, arsenic, copper, and lead are also present in different districts, but the workable minerals of Roumania are at present limited to salt, petroleum, and lignite; and, looking to the importance of the subject, it is much to be regretted that the Government does not take the same means to instruct the population in practical geology and mineralogy as are employed to disseminate agricultural knowledge at the excellent institution to which reference will be made hereafter. If the people are only allowed to develop their industries in peace, it will no doubt soon become apparent that the strata are charged with considerable stores of mineral wealth.