Peleș and Pelișor – Castles of the Romanian Royal Family

Flanked and backed by majestic fir trees, Peleș Castle, sits atop a rise in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia, Romania.

Never intended as a fortress, it is a lavishly furnished and decorated 170-room palace, with 30 bathrooms covering 34,000 sq ft.

Inspired by Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Peleş Castle is a romantic blend of Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles.

Constructed between 1873 and 1883 at a cost of 16 million gold Romanian coins (~$120 million today), major improvements continued until 1914.

Peleş Castle. Credit Camil72
Peleş Castle. Credit Camil72

Housing one of the finest collections of art in Eastern and Central Europe, consisting of statues, paintings, furniture, arms and armor, gold, silver, stained glass, ivory, fine china, tapestries, and rugs, it spans over four centuries of history.

The collection of arms and armor has over 4,000 pieces, divided between Eastern and Western war pieces and ceremonial or hunting pieces.

Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana PopescuPeleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu

Peleş Castle armory with over 400 pieces in the collection. Antoine Fleury-Gobert
Peleş Castle armory with over 400 pieces in the collection. Antoine Fleury-Gobert
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Mihai Raducanu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Mihai Raducanu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu
Peleş Castle interior. Credit Diana Popescu

Commissioned by King Carol I of Romania, his towering statue by Raffaello Romanelli overlooks the main entrance of Peleş Castle.

A statue of King Carol I by Raffaello Romanelli overlooks the main entrance of Peleş Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
A statue of King Carol I by Raffaello Romanelli overlooks the main entrance of Peleş Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros

When King Carol I was walking in the Carpathian Mountains of Sinaia in 1866, he came across the site of the future castle and fell in love with the scenery.

Carpathian Mountains of Sinaia, Romania, ca. 1895
Carpathian Mountains of Sinaia, Romania, ca. 1895

He commissioned a royal summer retreat and hunting preserve together with several other buildings and a power plant.

Peleș was the world’s first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity.

Peleş Castle. Sinaia, Romania. c. 1895
Peleş Castle. Sinaia, Romania. c. 1895

Peleș Castle was a truly European collaboration.

While Europe’s leaders eyed each other with suspicion and readied for war, ordinary workers from diversely different backgrounds worked together to build their palaces.

Elisabeth of Wied, the Queen of Romania, noted in her diary:

“Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces, the Gypsies were coolies. 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 quarreled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes.”

Peleş Castle. Credit Bodor Istvan
Peleş Castle. Credit Bodor Istvan

Statues by the Italian sculptor Romanelli, mostly of Carrara marble, adorn the seven Italian neo-Renaissance terrace gardens.

Peleş Castle. Credit Mark Ahsmann
Peleş Castle. Credit Mark Ahsmann

Guarding lions, fountains, urns, stairways, marble paths, and other decorative pieces grace the gardens.

Peleş Castle. Credit Mihai Padurariu
Peleş Castle. Credit Mihai Padurariu

Visiting in 1896, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary wrote:

The Royal Castle amongst other monuments, surrounded by extremely pretty landscape with gardens built on terraces, all at the edge of dense forests. The castle itself is very impressive through the riches it has accumulated.

Peleş Castle. Credit Mark Ahsmann
Peleş Castle. Credit Mark Ahsmann

Accomplished as a writer under the nom de plume Carmen Sylva, Queen Elisabeth of Romania wrote poems, plays, novels, and short stories in German, Romanian, French and English.

Considered a dreamer and eccentric, she was once a favorite of Queen Victoria as a prospective bride for her son, the future Edward VII.

Said to be unmoved by her pictures, Edward chose Alexandra of Denmark instead.

Elizabeth, Queen of Romania, holding a feather fan and wearing a Sash and insignia, a diamond necklace and a small head band, 1881
Elisabeth, Queen of Romania, holding a feather fan and wearing a Sash and insignia, a diamond necklace and a small headband, 1881

Prince Carol of Romania first noticed Elisabeth in Berlin in 1861 and the two were married 8 years later in her hometown of Neuwied, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

They had one daughter who tragically died at age three. Elisabeth never got over it.

Ferdinand I of Romania
Ferdinand I of Romania

Failing to produce a male heir, the couple became estranged and King Carol adopted his nephew, and successor, Ferdinand.

Queen Elisabeth encouraged a love affair between Ferdinand and one of her ladies in waiting, Elena Văcărescu.

Doomed from the start, a marriage between Ferdinand and Elena would have been forbidden by the Romanian constitution.

Elisabeth and Elena were exiled while Ferdinand was introduced to a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, his distant cousin Princess Marie of Edinburgh.

Married in January 1893, and with the birth of their son at Peleş Castle in October of that same year, Ferdinand and Marie would give meaning to the phrase “cradle of the dynasty, cradle of the nation” that the king had bestowed upon the castle.

The infant Carol would later become King Carol II of Romania and grow up under the thumb of his domineering great-uncle King Carol I.

Princess Marie (known as Missy) and her children, Prince Carol and Princess Elizabeth, 1895
Princess Marie (known as Missy) and her children, Prince Carol and Princess Elizabeth, 1895

In the early 20th century, Romania had a famously relaxed “Latin” sexual morality and Princess Marie pursued a series of love affairs.

Shy and weak, Ferdinand was easily overshadowed by the charismatic Marie, but fiercely resented being cuckolded.

Feeling that Marie was unqualified to raise the young Prince Carol, the stern King took him under his wing and thoroughly spoiled him.

Regarding the king as a cold, overbearing tyrant, Marie worried that he would crush her son’s spirit.

(Left) King Carol I of Romania with his nephew King Ferdinand and great nephew Carol II, 1905 (Right) King Carol I of Romania with his nephew and heir, Carol II, 1907
(Left) King Carol I of Romania with his nephew King Ferdinand and great nephew Carol II, 1905 (Right) King Carol I of Romania with his nephew and heir, Carol II, 1907

But life wasn’t so bad for Ferdinand and Marie.

Commissioned by the King and built within the same complex as Peleş Castle, the Art Nouveau style Pelișor Castle became their new home.

Pelișor Castle, Romania. Credit Dobre Cezar
Pelisor Castle, Romania. Credit Dobre Cezar

An accomplished artist herself, Marie made many interior design decisions for Pelișor and considered Art Nouveau an antidote to sterile historicism.

Creating her own personal style, she combined Art Nouveau with elements from Byzantine and Celtic art.

Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
Pelisor Castle. Credit Gaspar Ros
The 'Honor Hall' stained glass ceiling and carved woodwork. Credit Curious Expeditions
The ‘Honor Hall’ stained glass ceiling and carved woodwork. Credit Curious Expeditions
Art Nouveau Door at Pelisor Castle. Credit Curious Expeditions
Art Nouveau Door at Pelisor Castle. Credit Curious Expeditions

As if foretelling the future, Queen Elisabeth held the private opinion that a Republican form of government was preferable to monarchy, writing in her journal:

“I must sympathize with the Social Democrats, especially in view of the inaction and corruption of the nobles. These “little people”, after all, want only what nature confers: equality. The Republican form of government is the only rational one. I can never understand the foolish people, the fact that they continue to tolerate us.”

But for these “little people”, Romania’s transition away from monarchy was neither rational nor romantic.

With the monarchy abolished in 1947, Romania fell under the iron grip of Communism and the castle complex became first a place of recreation for Romanian dignitaries, then a museum, and finally closed for most of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the legal ownership of the palace complex, including Pelișor, was returned to the heirs of the Romanian royal family.

At 95, King Michael I of Romania, the last surviving head of state from World War II, wishes Pelișor castle remain a home for his heirs.

Peleş Castle. Credit Radueduard
Peleş Castle. Credit Radueduard
Peleş Castle. Credit Munteanu Anca
Peleş Castle. Credit Munteanu Anca
Peleş Castle. Credit Mihai Padurariu
Peleş Castle. Credit Mihai Padurariu
Peleş Castle. Credit Gaspar Serrano, flickr
Peleş Castle. Credit Gaspar Serrano, flickr
Peleş Castle. Credit Mihai Padurariu
Peleş Castle. Credit Mihai Padurariu


40 Views Inside the Winter Palace of Imperial Russia

During the 18th century, a marked change occurred in European royal architecture. The need for austere fortified residences subsided and a period of building great classical palaces began.

From the Winter Palace, the Tsar ruled 1/6th of the earth’s landmass and over 125 million people.

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The present palace is the fourth iteration, the first being the brainchild of Peter the Great. Like many European sovereigns, he was inspired by Louis XIV’s Versailles, and wanted to build a modern city with palaces that followed western fashions.

Peter the Great’s aspirations for the Winter Palace were not to rival Versailles in size or splendor—that honor would fall to the Peterhof Palace—but to build a modest palace that reflected enlightened thinking.

The same, however, could not be said for his successors, who went about enlarging the palace and, when Anna Ivanovna came to power in 1730, she moved into the neighboring Apraksin Palace, which forms the core of the present Winter Palace.

From 1762, Catherine the Great put her mark on the palace by building the three large adjoining palaces, known collectively as the Hermitage. As an avid collector of art, Catherine needed the extra space, and amassed such an extensive art collection that to this day, it is the largest in the world.

But it was Tsar Nicholas I who, following a great fire that raged for three days in 1837, was largely responsible for the present day appearance and layout of the Winter Palace—just one part of the huge Hermitage Museum complex.

Aerial view of Winter Palace with Palace Square and surrounding buildings for comparison
Aerial view of Winter Palace with Palace Square and surrounding buildings for comparison

Comprising 1500 rooms, 117 staircases, 1,945 windows and 1,786 doors, the principal façade of this green-and-white baroque palace is twice as long as Buckingham Palace’s public façade (shown superimposed).

Buckingham Palace superimposed onto the Winter Palace
Buckingham Palace superimposed onto the Winter Palace

Join us as we take a tour of the Winter Palace of the 19th century, complete with it exquisite baroque Rococo-inspired rooms.

Jordan staircase, 1865
Jordan staircase, 1865
The Malachite Room, 1864
The Malachite Room, 1864
The Guardroom, 1863
The Guardroom, 1863
The Grand Church, 1860
The Grand Church, 1860
The Field Marshal's Hall, 1851
The Field Marshal’s Hall, 1851
The Drawing-Room, 1871
The Drawing-Room, 1871
The Cathedral inside the palace, 1865
The Cathedral inside the palace, 1865
The Boudoir of Grand Princess Maria Alexandrovna, 1850
The Boudoir of Grand Princess Maria Alexandrovna, 1850
The Boudoir of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, 1861
The Boudoir of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, 1861
The Boudoir of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1870
The Boudoir of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1870
The Billiard Room of Emperor Alexander II, 1850
The Billiard Room of Emperor Alexander II, 1850
The Bedchamber of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1858
The Bedchamber of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1858
The Bedchamber of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1869
The Bedchamber of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1869
The Bathroom of Grand Princess Maria Alexandrovna, 1850
The Bathroom of Grand Princess Maria Alexandrovna, 1850
The Bathroom of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1869
The Bathroom of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, 1869
The Armorial Hall, 1862
The Armorial Hall, 1862
The Apollo Hall, 1861
The Apollo Hall, 1861
The Antechamber of Tsesarevich Alexander Nikolayevich, 1860
The Antechamber of Tsesarevich Alexander Nikolayevich, 1860
The Alexander Hall, 1860
The Alexander Hall, 1860
Study, 1837
Study, 1837
RThe Crimson Cabinet, the study of Maria Alexandrovna, 1860
RThe Crimson Cabinet, the study of Maria Alexandrovna, 1860
Pompei Dinner Hall, 1873
Pompei Dinner Hall, 1873
Peter the Great (Small Throne) Room, 1862
Peter the Great (Small Throne) Room, 1862
Mil-gallery by Hau, 1861
Mil-gallery by Hau, 1861
Interiors of the Winter Palace. Nichlas Hall, 1866
Interiors of the Winter Palace. Nichlas Hall, 1866
His Majesty Own staircase (October Staircase), 1860
His Majesty Own staircase (October Staircase), 1860
Hermitage Library by Alexey Tyranov, 1827
Hermitage Library by Alexey Tyranov, 1827
Golden Drawing Room, 1860
Golden Drawing Room, 1860
Galereja, 1812
Galereja, 1812
Concerthall, 1860
Concerthall, 1860
Classroom, 1836
Classroom, 1836
Avantsalle, 1860
Avantsalle, 1860
Armorial Hall of the Winter Palace by A.Ladurner, 1834
Armorial Hall of the Winter Palace by A.Ladurner, 1834
The Fieldmarshals' Hall in the Winter Palace
The Fieldmarshals’ Hall in the Winter Palace
The Winter Garden, 1870
The Winter Garden, 1870
The White Hall, 1864
The White Hall, 1864
The white drawing room in the North-Western Risolite (Alexandra Fedorovna suite), 1860
The white drawing room in the North-Western Risolite (Alexandra Fedorovna suite), 1860
The Throne Room of Empress Maria Fiodorovna, 1831
The Throne Room of Empress Maria Fiodorovna, 1831
The Small Church inside the palace, 1861
The Small Church inside the palace, 1861
The Rotunda, 1833
The Rotunda, 1833