Peles Castle, Royal Estate of Sinaia. Romania 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.com
Peleș Castle is a Neo-Renaissance castle 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 Romania (1839–1914), under whose reign the country gained its independence, first visited the site of the future castle in 1866 and fell in love with the magnificent mountain scenery. In 1872 the Crown purchased 1,300 square kilometres (500 sq mi) of land near the Piatra Arsă River. The estate was named the Royal Estate of Sinaia. The monarchy commissioned the construction of a royal hunting preserve and summer retreat on the property, and the foundation was laid for Peleș Castle on 22 August 1873. Several auxiliary buildings were built simultaneously with the castle: the guards' chambers, the Economat Building, the Foişor hunting lodge, the royal stables, and a power plant. Peleș became the world's first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity.
Romanian Queen Elisabeta wrote in her memories:
‘’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.’’
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 Austria-Hungary 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.’’
After the December 1989 Revolution, Peleş and Pelişor Castle were re-established as heritage sites and opened to the public. Today, Foişor Castle serves as a presidential residence. The Economat Building and the Guard's Chambers Building are now hotels and restaurants. Some of the other buildings on the Peleş Estate were converted to tourist villas and some are now "state protocol buildings". In 2006, the Romanian Government announced the restitution of the castle to former monarch Michael I. Negotiations soon began between the former King and the Government of Romania, and have not concluded yet. The Castle is on lease from the Royal Family to the Romanian state. Peleş Castle receives between a quarter to almost half million visitors annually. Of the 168 rooms in the castle, only 35 are accessible to the public.
Artists like George Enescu, Sarah Bernhardt, Jacques Thibaud and Vasile Alecsandri visited often as guests of Queen Elizabeth of Romania (herself a writer also known under the pen name of Carmen Sylva). In more recent times, many foreign dignitaries such as Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Muammar al-Gaddafi, and Yasser Arafat were 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 a eccentric billionaire played by Rachel Weisz.