Peleş Castle
Today a historical monument, Peleş Castle ( Romanian: Castelul Peleş ) is a Neo-Renaissance castle placed in an idyllic setting in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, in Prahova County, Romania, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914; its inauguration was held in 1883.

King Carol I of the Romanians (1839”“1914), one of the greatest kings of modern Romania and under whose reign the country gained its Independence, first visited the site of the future castle in 1866 and he fell in love with the rugged but magnificent mountain scenery. In 1872 the Crown purchased a total of approximately 1300 km2 of land in the area of Piatra Arsa, which would subsequently be named The Royal Estate of Sinaia. The monarchy commissioned the construction of a royal hunting preserve and summer retreat to be built on the property. On August 22, 1873, the foundation was laid not only for the Peleş Castle, but also for the city of Sinaia, and, indeed for modern Romania. Several auxiliary buildings were built simultaneously with the castle: The Guard's Chambers, The Economat Building, The Foişor Hunting Lodge, The Royal Stables. The Power Plant was also built at the same time, and Peleş became the world's first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity. The "Sipot" Villa, which served as architect Karel Liman's headquarters during the cosntruction, was built later on. Liman would supervise the building of the Pelişor Chateau (1889”“1903, the future residence of King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie of Romanian), as well as of King's Ferdinand Villa in the Royal Sheepfold Meadow (the actual Sheepfold Meadow). The first three design plans submitted for Peleş were literally copies of other palaces in Western Europe, but King Carol I rejected them all as lacking originality and being too costly. The second architect, Johannes Schultz, won the project by presenting a more original plan, something that appealed to the King's taste: a grand palatial alpine villa combining different features of classic European styles, mostly following Italian elegance and German aesthetics in Renaissance lines. The cost of the castle itself between 1875 and 1914 was estimated to be 16 000 000 gold Romanian lei (approx. $US 120 million today). Between three and four hundred men worked on the construction. Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians, during the construction phase, wrote in her journal: 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. Construction saw a slight slowdown during the Romanian War of Independence in 1877-78, but soon afterwards plans grew in size and construction was quite rapid. Peleş Castle had its official Royal Ball of Inauguration on Oct. 7th, 1883. before the castle was finished, King Carol I and Queen Elizabeth lived in the Foişor Villa (where King Ferdinand and Queen Mary also would reside during the construction of the Pelişor Castle). Even King Carol II lived in the Foişor Villa while he ruled to country (1930”“40, except for 1932-3 when the hunting house was destroyed by fire). Carol II was born at the castle in 1893, giving meaning to the phrase "cradle of the dynasty, cradle of the nation" that Carol I bestowed upon the Peleş Castle. After King Michael's forced abdication in 1947, the Communist regime seized all royal property, including the entire Peleş Estate. The castle itself was opened as a tourist attraction for a short time. It also served as a recreation and resting place for Romanian cultural personalities. The castle was declared a museum in 1953. During the last years of the Communist regime, between 1975”“1990, Nicolae Ceauşescu closed the entire estate. The only persons permitted on the former royal estate were maintenance and military personnel. The whole area was declared a State Protocol Interest Area. It is interesting to note that Ceauşescu did not like the castle very much and visited rarely. According to some sources his dislike stemmed mostly from a rumour spread by the 'wicked' resident museographers of the Castle, who, counting on the Ceausescu couple's paranoid health phobias, declared the building to be infested with dangerous fungus Serpula lacrymans, which was true to a certain extent in 1980s, when it only affected some of the timber. After the December 1989 Revolution, Peleş and Pelişor Castle's were re-established as heritage sites and opened to the public. Today, the Foişor Castle serves - as it did in the past - as a presidential residence. The Economat Building and the Guard's Chambers Building are now hotels and restaurants. The rest of the Peleş Estate was turned either into tourist villas or state protocol buildings. In 2006, the Romanian Government announced the restitution of the castle to King Michael I of the Romanians, the former monarch. Soon after re-obtaining the property, negotiations began between the former King and the Government of Romania and Peleş once again became a national heritage site open to the public as a historic monument and museum. In exchange, the Romanian Government granted 30 million euros to the Casa Regala (The Royal House of Romania). The sum for the remaining villas and surrounding chalets and chateaus are still being negotiated, but the structures will eventually remain the property of the Romanian state and will be open to the public after repurchasing (2007). Every year since its re-opening, Peleş Castle received between a quarter to almost half million visitors . Throughout its history the Castle hosted some important personalities from royalty and politicians to artists. One of the most memorable visits was that of Kaiser Franz Joseph I of Austro-Hungary, then one of the world's most powerful men, on 2 October 1896, who later wrote in a letter: 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: old and new canvases, old furniture, weapons, all sort of curios, everything placed with good taste. We took a long hike in the mountains, afterwards we picnicked on the green grass, surrounded by the Gypsy music. We took many pictures, and the atmosphere was extremely pleasant. Artists like George Enesco, Sarah Bernhardt, Jacques Thibaud or Vasile Alecsandri visited often as guests of Queen Elizabeth of Romania (also known under her literary alias of Carmen Sylva). Even after the fall of the monarchy, alongside prominent Romanian politicians and artisits many foreign dignitaries such as Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat were all welcomed at the Castle. The castle was featured in the 2009 film The Brothers Bloom. The exterior of the castle is used to represent a large estate in New Jersey, the home of the eccentric billionaire Penelope played by Rachel Weisz.

The first architect was the German Johannes Schultz (1876”“1883), later to be followed by Karel Liman, who was more easily swayed to enhance the castle after King Carol's plans. Later additions were made between 1893 and 1914 by the Czech architect Karel Liman, who added designed the towers, including the main central tower, 66 m in height. By form and function, Peleş is truly a palace but affectionately and consistently called a castle instead, by all. Its architectural style is a Neo-Renaissance of romantic inspiration that can find a correspondent in 19th century ideals with the monumental Gothic Revival of Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, ironically called a castle as well. A Saxon influence can be observed in the interior courtyard facades that have rich and ornate fachwerk similar to northern Europe alpine architecture and allegorical hand painted murals. Interior decoration is mostly a Baroque influence with heavy carved woods and exquisite fabrics. Peleş Castle has 3200 sq. meters of floor plan, over 170 rooms,30 bathrooms, many with dedicated themes from world cultures (in similar fashion with other Romanian palaces, like Cotroceni Palace for example), themes that can vary by function (offices, libraries, armouries, art galleries) or by style (Florentine, Turkish, Moorish, French, Imperial) all extremely lavishly furnished and decorated to the slightest detail. The establishment hosts one of the finest collections of art in East and Central Europe, consisting of statues, paintings, furniture, arms and armour, gold, silver, stained glass, ivory, fine china, tapestries and rugs; the collection of arms and armour has over 4000 pieces, divided between Eastern and Western war, ceremonial or hunting spreading over four centuries in history. Oriental rugs come from the finest sources: Bukhara, Mosul, Isparta, Saruk and Smirna, porcelain from Sèvres and Meissen, leather from Córdoba but perhaps the most acclaimed are the hand painted stained glass vitralios, mostly Swiss . A towering statue of King Carol I by Raffaello Romanelli overlooks the main entrance but many other statues are present on the seven Italian neo-Renaissance terrace gardens, mostly of Carrara marble executed by the Italian sculptor Romanelli. The gardens also host fountains, urns, stairways, guarding lions, marble paths and other decorative pieces. This has many different kinds all over the world, till today we still do not know. Peleş Castle shelters one of the most important and most valuable painting collections in Europe, almost 2,000 pieces. An interesting account about Peleş Castle remains the one that comes from Angelo de Gubernatis (1840”“1913), an Italian writer who arrived in 1898 in Sinaia as a guest of the Royal Family: Inaugurated in 1883, Peleş Castle is not only a pleasant place during summer time; it has been conceived to be also a national monument, meant to keep the trophies of the Plevna victory, which explains the simple but majestic style. The castle's courtyard - Bramantes type - with a fountain in the middle, in the most accurate Renaissance style, pleasantly surprises the visitor. The courtyard has a merry decoration, made out of plants and flowers; all round, the building's facades are animated by elegant drawings. The interior of the castle is a true wonder, due to the beauty and richness of the sculpted wood and the stained glass windows. As you get in the vestibule, you are on the Honor Staircase, in front of the most important rulers of old Romania: Holy Stephen the Great, and Michael the Brave. In a proud attitude, wearing whether a fur cap or with the gold crown on their heads, they impress through the brilliant dressing, in which the white of ermine blends with the emerald green or the red of the large mantle. On the right and on left side of the two rulers, as servant knights, four shield bearers carry the Romanian Provinces escutcheons. Inside the Queen's library, over the groups of children symbolizing poetry and science, there is the image of Ulfilas (311-383 a.d.) a Goth religious ruler, from the northern side of Danube River, translating the Bible in their language and bringing his contribution in spreading Christianity, a Christian apostle of the Romans, and the image of Dante Alighieri, the creator of western poetry. Passing the library and getting into the dormitory, we will meet the image of Genies and Allegories of Painting and Music, as well as a series of legendary themes. Inside the apartments reserved for the honor guests, a number of coat-of-arms were shining through their heraldic abundance, speaking about the ancestors of the Royal Family. But among all, the glass paintings from the Peleş Castle are, beyond any doubt, the most profound and shining. Here, the subjects are taken out of Alecsandri's poetry.

The museum
Of the 168 rooms in the castle, only 35 are accessible to the public. While an important area is in the upper levels, this is off limits. Only the museum in the basement and the rooms on the first floor can be visited. The visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Wednesday through Sunday. On Mondays the castle is closed and on Tuesdays the hours are till 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. These visiting hours are subject to change by the Romanian Culture Ministry. Each year in November the castle is closed to the public for the whole month, during which time it undergoes maintenance and cleaning. Admission fee is 20 RON for adults, 5 RON for school-age children. Additionally you must check your camera or pay 30 RON to take photos or 50 RON for video.

Northwest of the town of Sinaia, 60 km from Braşov and 135 km away from Bucharest, Romania's capital. Nested in the south-eastern Carpathian Mountains, the complex is composed of three monuments: Peleş Castle, Pelişor Chateau and Foisor Hunting Chateau. Most notable grand rooms are: Holul de Onoare (The Honour Hall) was finished completely only in 1911, under the guidance of Karel Liman, it spreads over three flours. Walls are dressed in exquisitely carved woodwork, mostly European walnut and exotic timbers. Bass-reliefs, alabaster sculptures and retractable stained glass panels complete the decor. Apartamentul Imperial (The Imperial Suite) Believed to be a tribute to the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, who visited the palace as a friend of the Romanian Royal Family. Hence, decorator Auguste Bembe preferred the sumptuous Austrian Baroque in style of Empress Maria Theresa. A perfectly preserved five hundred years old Cordoban tooled leather wall cover is the rarest of such quality. Sala Mare De Arme (The Grand Armoury or The Arsenal) is where sixteen hundred of the four thousand Peleş Castle's pieces of weaponry and armour reside, one of Europe's finest collection of hunting and war implements, timelined between 14th and 19th century, are on display. The king himself added pieces from his victory against the Ottoman Turks during the War of Independence. Famous are the complete Maximilian armour for horse and rider and a 15th century German "nobles only" decapitation broadsword. Also a wide array of polearms ( glaives, halberds, lances, hunting spears), firearms ( muskets, blunderbusses, snaphaunces, flintlocks pistols), axes, crossbows and swords ( rapiers, sabers, broadswords and many others). Sala Mica De Arme (The Small Armoury) is where predominantly Oriental (mostly Indo-Persian, Ottoman and Arab) arms and armour pieces are in exhibit, many of them made in gold and silver, inlaid with precious stones. Including chainmail armour, kulah khud helmets, scimitars, yataghans, daggers, miquelets, matchlocks, lances, pistols, dhal shields, axes and spears. Sala De Teatru (The Playhouse) decorated in "Sun King", Louis XIV style, with sixty seats and a Royal Box. Architectural decoration and mural paintings are signed by Gustav Klimt and Frantz Matsch. Sala Florentina (The Florentine Room) combines revived elements of the Italian Renaissance, mostly Florence. Most impressive are the solid bronze doors executed in Rome ateliers of Luigi Magni and the Grand Marble Fireplace executed by Paunazio with Michelangelo motifs. Salonul Maur (The Moorish Salon) was executed under the guidance of Charles Lecompte de Nouy, and as the name suggests it is meant to embody elements of North-African and Hispanic Moorish style. Mother of pearl inlaid furniture, fine Persian Saruk and Ottoman Isparta rugs, Oriental weapons and armour are perhaps the most expressive elements, complete with an indoor marble fountain. Salonul Turcesc (The Turkish Parlor) emulates Ottoman "joie de vivre" atmosphere, a room full of Turkish Smirna rugs and copperware from Anatolia and Persia. Walls are covered in hand-made textiles like silk brocades via Siegert shops of Vienna.

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