Romania is a prosperous country when it comes to UNESCO sites. From natural reserves to many sites with unique architecture, everything seems frozen in time and undisturbed by the rapid arrival of modernity. However, they are all greatly appreciated because they still look the same as they have for centuries, and here is a list of the most beautiful and intriguing UNESCO sites in Romania which any tourist should visit:
The Danube Delta
The Danube Delta is a place where you can witness a unique and incredible ecosystem. It is perfect for bird watching, as it has a considerable number of species that have learned to live with what the Delta can offer them. To explore the beauties of the area, a boat is the best means of transportation since the Delta is filled with numerous water channels which take you through a world that seems to be from another time. Unique vegetation, amazing wildlife, the home of the world’s rarest fishes, and local traditions that can’t be found anywhere else . . . all this will mesmerize you.
The Wooden Churches of Maramures
If you are fascinated by local traditions and architecture, you must visit Maramures. It is located in the far north of Romania and home to some of the most beautiful wooden churches in the world. These are Orthodox churches, very rarely Greek-Orthodox, and made entirely out of wood. They have survived in their essentially original condition for many centuries and are the landmarks of this area. UNESCO now protects their incredible architecture.
You can read more about the highlights and some off-the-beaten-path gems of Maramures here.
The Dacian Fortresses of the Orastie Mountains
Another area that holds a crucial piece of Romania’s history. A site where remains of the lost Dacian civilization, the ancestors of all Romanians today, can be seen. The fortress was built in the 1st centuries BC and AD to protect from Roman invasions. It was a crucial spot in all battles between the Dacian and the Romans and appeared in history books. There is a total of six fortresses, created by order of the famous ruler Decebalus. Most of them can be found in Hunedoara County, with only one being in the neighboring county of Alba Iulia.
The Monastery of Horezu
If you have ever heard of the famous Romanian artist Constantin Brancoveanu, you should know that this monastery is one of his architectural masterpieces. The church is a rare beauty, containing elegant sculptures and decorative details, along with a large number of hand-painted portraits and other embellishments.
The Historic Centre of Sighisoara
Sighisoara was one of the oldest cities in the country, being founded in the 12th century. It is the birthplace of the infamous Vlad III the Impaler (or Vlad Tepes as the Romanians call him), the ruler who was the beginning of the Dracula myth in Transylvania. The city's center – the citadel – keeps its medieval air with its old and distinctive architecture. Every year a medieval festival happens here, where the habits and customs of past centuries are revived.
Discover the story of this impressive UNESCO site here.
The Painted Churches of Bucovina
The churches you will see in Moldavia, the eastern part of Romania, are like no other. Suceava County has eight magnificent churches, built between 1487 and 1583.
Moldavian rulers were very religious and created many churches across the county to offer aid and strength in battle.
The churches remain in almost the same condition now as then, so it is extraordinary to see how they are decorated and how much effort was invested in their creation.
There are eight painted convents listed as UNESCO sites: Arbore, Humor, Moldovita, Patrauti, Probota, Saint George of Suceava, Voronet and Sucevita.
Discover the history of the land of the painted convents in this article.
Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania
Transylvania has several towns that fascinate visitors with their quaint cobbled streets, romantic citadels, and elegant clock towers. Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara, and Cluj attract thousands of tourists every year with various medieval and baroque-themed events and several well-known jazz, rock, or electronic music festivals.
However, even more, charming than these towns are the rural areas. Transylvania is famous for its almost 140 villages with fortified churches, the last remaining buildings of this type in Europe. Many of them date back to medieval times, being built by German settlers brought here to protect the inner sides of the Carpathians against Tatar invasions.
In the rural world, the church has always been the heart of the community: the place where people began their lives, they were given a name, received the first lessons about life, laid the foundations of a new family, and, finally, the place that marked their passage into eternity. In Transylvania, the church took on additional roles: refuge against invaders, storage room for food, and court of law for those who broke the written and unwritten rules of the village.
Nowadays, after most of the German population left for Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of these roles have been put on hold. Some churches even collapsed under the weight of time, but many still stand as proof of a way of life that has long disappeared in the rest of Europe.
The villages with the Fortified Churches listed on the UNESCO list are Biertan, Prejmer, Viscri, Dârjiu, Saschiz, Câlnic, Valea Viilor.
Read here some interesting stories about the Saxon churches of Transylvania.
Ancient Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe
Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe represent a transboundary natural heritage of the UNESCO World Heritage site, including forests in 12 European countries – Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine.
These areas boast the European Beech forests that spread since the end of the last Ice Age. Starting with some isolated regions from the Alps, the Carpathians, the Dinarides, the Mediterranean, and the Pyrenees, the Beech Forests expanded quite rapidly over a few thousand years.
The last intact virgin forest in the temperate latitudes of Europe is found in the Carpathian Mountains. Here, trees live to a hundred years old and provide important habitat for organisms and mammals. Unfortunately, large parts of the forest in the Romanian part of the Carpathians have been lost due to deforestation.
Here are the Romanian regions included in the category of Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians: Nera-Beusnita Gorge, the Old Forest of Șinca, Slătioara and Cozia, Domogled – Cerna Valley, Groșii Țibleșului, The Water Springs of Nera, Strâmbu-Băiuț.
Rosia Montana Mining Landscape
In 106, the Romans managed to take Dacia, a kingdom ruled by Decebalus, under their control. One of the reasons was the gold located in Transylvania, a place known as Alburunus Maior, today Roșia Montană.
This town boasts one of the oldest mine galleries in the world. There are almost seven kilometers of mine galleries and many tools used by the miners. Exactly here, a wax tablet, testifying the existence of the mining town, was discovered. Back then, miners from many parts of the empire were brought to work in the mines. It is estimated that 500 kilograms of gold have been exploited each year at Rosia Montana. Between 106 and 271, when the mine was closed, 110 tones of gold were extracted from the mines.
At present, the town has been affected by a plan of reopening the gold exploration. The plan has been stopped by large protests all over the country, but unfortunately, many of the old and beautiful houses of the town have been destroyed. Most of the house owners sold their properties, so the oldest part of Rosia Montana looks deserted. Plans to bring the town back to life are underway, but with little success until now. Still, a significant first step was done in 2020 when Rosia Montana became a UNESCO world heritage site.