The Peles Castle holds a special place in Modern Romanian history because it was a project of Carol I, first king of Romania from the Hohenzollern Sigmaringen family (1839-1914 and ruled from 1866-1914). When Carol I became king in 1866, the newly formed Romanian kingdom was still young, founded in 1859 (first under the form of the United Principalities of Moldova and Wallachia). Over his half-century long reign, the king built the foundations of the modern Romanian state, done so by obtaining independence from the Ottoman Empire (after the treaty of San Stefano in 1878) and also through vast infrastructure projects including Romania’s first rail network, revolutionary new bridges such as the one at Cernavoda and much more. Carol was also committed to large investments in artistic and cultural projects. Without a doubt, Peles Castle in Sinaia was the embodiment of multicultural and artful ventures during this period.
Sinaia benefited from the construction of a railway going from Ploiesti to Predeal (part of what was a medieval route from Wallachia to Transylvania) which facilitated the transportation of construction materials brought from all over Europe. Initially the commission to build the Castle was first given to Wilhelm von Doderer, a renowned Austrian architect, but whose vision was later rejected by King Carol.
German architect Johannes Schultz took charge of the first phase of construction (1879-1883). He was followed by the renowned French architect, Émile André Lecomte du Noüy, who designed the Moorish Hall. Czech architect Karel Liman continued the development, starting in 1894, designing the Marble Gallery, the concert hall, the Queen’s royal bathroom and much more.
The Castle was finished in 1914, the same year Carol I passed away and was succeeded by his nephew Ferdinand I. By its completion the castle had 170 rooms, over 30 bathrooms and a smaller residence for Ferdinand and Queen Mary called the Pelisor. (The Romanian word “Pelisor” means small Peles, which in turn is the name of a small river in the Prahova county).
In her journal, Queen Mary of Romania commented on the long and laborious construction of the Peles Castle:
"Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces (…). Albanians and Greeks worked in stone, Germans and Hungarians were carpenters. Turks were burning brick. Engineers were Polish and the stone carvers were Czech. The Frenchmen were drawing, the Englishmen were measuring, and so was then when you could see hundreds of national costumes and fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarrelled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes."
The Castle passed through many different ownerships. Between 1883 and 1947 it was one of the residences of the Romanian Royal Family. It was nationalised in 1948 by the Romanian communist regime, turned into a museum (1953-1975) and was closed in 1975 because of conservation issues. In 1990 it was reopened and given back to the Royal family represented at the time by King Michael of Romania, grandson of Ferdinand I and great grand-nephew of Carol I.
Among the most notable rooms are the following:
Based on the exterior, and if you are visiting for the first time you might expect a mostly German-Austrian castle experience. Although the majority of the Castle is closed to the public, the remarkable artistic diversity on display in those part still open to the public will leave you stunned. It is a unique experience that allows you to explore rooms which encapsulate the experience of Constantinople, Florence, Paris and back to royal Romanian Sinaia. It is one of the most remarkable material legacies of 19th & 20th century Romanian history, a symbol of the Royal House of Romania and, from my perspective, visiting it is a unique and very informative experience.
Official website https://peles.ro/
Location: Aleea Carmen Sylva, Sinaia, Prahova County, Romania, 106100
If driving from Bucharest or Otopeni International Airport, the best route is via the A3 Highway leading to DN1 (110 KM). Alternatively trains can be taken from Gara de Nord, Bucharest.
Information on opening hours which vary based on the season, admission and accessibility are available on the website and given the situation regarding COVID 19 are subject to change.
Additional links: YouTube clips showing the exterior and interior of the Peles castle
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Vlad Zamfira (MA Archaeology & History at the University of Aberdeen, Certificate of Postgraduate Research in 16th Century Mediterranean History) is a historian and podcaster (Wonderer’s History Podcast) based in Scotland, born in the Buzau County, 130km away from Sinaia. He visited the Peles Palace countless times due to frequent school trips there and to this day regularly visits the Peles & Pelisor Castles, which both hold a special place in his heart as a lover of history, both Romanian and European.