Castle of the Week 103 – Peleş Castle, Romania

Peleş Castle ranks as one of the most exquisite castles anywhere. Photography inside the castle is not allowed, unfortunately, but just imagine intricately carved woods and marbles, providing a rich, welcoming interplay of light and dark (without ever devolving into tackiness), and you’ll be halfway there. Peleş is nestled in the forests of the Southern Carpathians, just above and beyond the town of Sinaia. Its history is tied to that of Romania and the Romanian kings.

In 1862 the Ottoman suzerainties Moldova and Valachia united to become the Principality of Romania. Alexandru Ioan Cuza ruled until 1866 when he was deposed by the Parliament. Count Phillipe of Flandra turned down the offer to become its next ruler, but Prince Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, then only 27 years old, accepted, and took on the title of Domnitor. Romania at this time was still under Ottoman control, but won its independence in 1877 during the Russian-Ottoman War, in which Carol commanded the troops. A few years later Romania changed from a principality to a kingdom, and Prince Carol became King Carol. He reigned until 1914 under a constitutional monarchy. Romania was ruled by the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen kings until 1947, when King Michael was deposed by the communist regime.

King Carol I bought 1000 acres near Sinaia in 1872, and the following year ordered construction on the castle to begin. German architect Wilhelm Doderer began the project, but was replaced in 1876 by his assistant, Johannes Schultz. The castle was inaugurated at the end of the first building stage, in 1883. Work continued until 1914, however, under Czech arcitect Karel Liman. Peleş Castle was the first European castle to be lit entirely with electricity, thanks to its own nearby power plant.

The exterior is in the German neo-Renaissance style, with rich, darkly carved wood, spires, and murals in the inner courtyard. That same style is also prevalent in the castle interior, though the interior also incorporates other styles, such as Moorish, Turkish, and German Baroque. The castle has 160 rooms (many with a particular theme, such as the Turkish Room), and a collection of over 2000 paintings. In the center of the castle is the Hall of Honour, which is three storeys tall. The room is a magnificent display of inlaid woods, carvings, statues, and tapestries. The stained-glass ceiling lets in the daylight, and can be retracted, either manually or electronically.

The Armory contains 4000 14th-18th-century European and Oriental weapons, including a full suit of armor for a knight and his horse. The fireplace in the Armory is actually set up for central heating rather than burning a fire. The castle has had central heating since 1883. King Carol I’s study/library is also of note, as it contains books from his own collection. He was a voracious reader, particularly enjoying histories. The bookcases come in two tiers (the upper tier reachable by staircase), and one of the bookcases contains a hidden passageway.

The grounds of the castle contain gardens, statues and fountains. Of particular note are the statues of King Carol I and his wife, Queen Elisabeth of Weid. Elisabeth was a patron of the arts, and several of the rooms contain murals and paintings by her friends. She was also an accomplished artist and author herself. Her books of poetry and novels were published under the nom de plume Carmen Sylva.

Peleş Castle was the home and summer residence of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen Romanian kings. Following King Michael’s deposition the castle was opened for tourism until Ceausescu closed it. In 1989, after the Revolution, the castle was reopened to tourists and is today a museum.

Write-up and pictures by Kester.

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