Romania is much more than an exotic vacation destination. Beyond its breathtaking landscapes and hundreds of historical monuments, Romania offers the world many highly-talented and exceptional people.
From world-renowned artists and scientists with groundbreaking research to philosophers, writers and musicians, the list of world-famous Romanians includes personalities whose talent and passion became universally appreciated.
Take a look at our list and uncover some of the most acclaimed Romanians in the world.
We start our list of famous Romanians with four authors whose incredible books have crossed the national borders.
Philosopher, writer and historian of religions, Mircea Eliade started writing during his adolescence when school homework didn’t make a lot of sense for the future author. He left for India to study the language and the culture immediately after graduating university. An impossible love story lived there will be the inspiration for his book Maitreyi, a best-seller published in Romania just one year later, in 1933.
More books, marked by his passion for the fantastic, will follow and Eliade became the most influential writer of his generation. His masterpiece, A History of Religious Ideas, was published in France in 1949.
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His work was translated in 18 languages and he published 30 titles and over 1,200 papers. From 1957 until his death he was a Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.
Part of the same tormented generation as Eugene Ionesco, Emil Cioran was a Romanian philosopher and writer, best-known for his personal and dramatic perspective regarding death, suffering and suicide.
Like Ionesco, Emil Cioran spent most of his adult life in France, but never claimed the French citizenship, declaring himself stateless. He refused most awards and wrote only in French after 1945, year in which he left Romania for good. His most popular books include On the Heights of Despair, Tears and Saints, The Trouble of Being Born, A Short History of Decay, The Fall Into Time.
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Unconventional and incredibly talented, the Romanian-born playwright Eugene Ionesco is one of the most important personalities of the Theatre of the Absurd, a cultural movement of the 50’s and 60’s of the past century that also includes Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and Arthur Adamov.
Eugene Ionesco wrote mostly in French and his best-known plays include The Chairs, The Killer, The Bald Soprano, A Stroll in the Air, Exit the King, Rhinoceroses.
The dramatist left Romania for France in the early 1940’s. He was life-long friends with Mircea Eliade and Emil Cioran.
Born into a Jewish family in Sighet, a small town from Maramures, on the border with Ukraine, Elie Wiesel witnessed the atrocities of the Second World War. Deported to Auschwitz with his entire family just a few months before the end of the war, the 15 years old Elie Wiesel miraculously survived. His experience, alongside his father’s, inspired his best-selling book The Night, one of the most important books about the Holocaust.
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In the first years after the war, he worked as a journalist in France before moving to the United States where he became a vocal political activist on human rights and a founder of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968.
You can visit the Memorial House of Elie Wiesel in Sighet.
Romanian engineer and aerodynamics pioneer, Henri Coanda was educated to become an army officer like his father. He abandoned the military career shortly after graduation and went to Paris to study aeronautics. After years of working on propeller planes and a series of brave experiments – one of them injuring him – Henri Coanda was awarded, in 1934, the French patent for the Coanda Effect.
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George Palade, together with Albert Claude and Christian de Duve, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1974 for ‘discoveries concerning the functional organization of the cell that were seminal events in the development of modern cell biology’.
Born into a family of intellectuals, George Palade didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps with a career in philosophy, choosing instead to study medicine. His cutting-edge research continued in the United States, at the Rockefeller University, at New York, Yale and California Universities, where he worked after escaping communist Romania.
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A passionate researcher of the natural world, Emil Racovita was the first biologist to study life in Antarctica, in an expedition that lasted from 1897 until 1899. He explored over 1,400 caves and founded the first Speological Institute in the world.
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Ioan Cantacuzino was the descendant of an old aristocratic family from the Byzantine Empire. He graduated in Paris from the University of Medicine and founded the Vaccine Research Institute when he returned to Romania. His pioneering work on an anti-cholera vaccine stopped the cholera epidemics that was ravaging the Romanian army in the 1913 Balkan war.
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Liviu Librescu was a Romanian-born scientist who served as a Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, USA, the place where he was killed after saving the lives of over 20 students during an armed attack.
A Holocaust survival, Liviu Librescu was born in a Jewish family, in Ploiesti. After completing his PhD. in Fluid Mechanics, he was fired after having requested to emigrate to Israel. It took several years for the communist government to accept his visa request, in 1978, after a high-level intervention from the Israeli Prime Minister himself. After teaching for a few years at the University of Tel Aviv, Liviu Librescu moved to the United States. He was killed during one of his classes at Virginia Tech after blocking the door with his own body to allow his students to escape.
One of today’s most appreciated and talented sopranos, Angela Gheorghiu is one of Romania’s best-known cultural ambassadors. Her performances are the headline at famous venues like London’s Royal Opera House, the Metropolitan Opera of New York and Vienna State Opera.
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Born in Adjud, a small town from Eastern Romania, Angela Gheorghiu started her career in 1990 in Romania. She debuted, singing in La Boheme, on the scene of London’s Royal Opera House only two years later. Following her acclaimed performance from 1994 of La Traviata, at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, she became an international superstar. Since then, the Romanian soprano has won numerous international awards, including the prestigious Victoires de la Musique Classique and the European Cultural Award.
Nearly 140 years since his birth, George Enescu remains the most important Romanian musician. A composer, pianist, violinist and conductor, George Enescu was a prodigy child who started his studies at the University of Vienne at the age of seven. He continued his studies in Paris and at the beginning of the 20th century, he was already established as one of the most talented and promising musicians in the world.
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George Enescu sponsored for over 30 years young composers from Romania and performed concerts for the troops on the front in the world wars. He toured the world with his concerts and taught courses at top universities from Italy, France and the United States. George Enescu left Romania for France after the communists took over the power.
The Romanian pianist Radu Lupu is one of the greatest contemporary pianists in the world. Born in Galati, he started studying piano when he was six and finished his first composition at the age of 12. He left at only 16 to Moscow after he was awarded a scholarship at the Moscow State Conservatory.
Radu Lupu performed along the most important orchestras in the world and, in one of the few interviews given, he said that ‘Everyone tells a story differently, and that story should be told compellingly and spontaneously. If it is not compelling and convincing, it is without value’.
For his recording of Schubert’s sonatas, Radu Lupu received the Grammy award in 1995.
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An exceptional pan flute musician, Gheorghe Zamfir plays this instrument like no one else, expanding the traditional 20 pipes version to 22, 25, 28 and 30 pipes. This creative approach allowed him to interpret and compose elaborate musical pieces that brought him world-fame. He toured for decades, being the first artist to perform during the private mise of Pope John Paul the II.
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After dedicating a concert to God, in 1982, he lost any sympathy from the atheist Ceausescu couple. He was forced to leave Romania, moving to the US where he successfully continued his music career, composing also soundtracks for movies like Once Upon a Time in America, Karate Kid or Kill Bill.
During his career of over 50 years, Gheorghe Zamfir composed over 300 songs, won 120 gold and platinum albums and sold over 120 million albums having the pan flute as the main instrument: “The pan flute sounds like an echo of the heart and mind. You can laugh or cry with it.”
The son of a poor peasant family from Southern Romania, Constantin Brancusi became one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. The pioneer of modernist sculpture, the artist had a difficult start in life. He left his parents’ home to find work when he was just a young boy, at the age of nine. At 18, he enrolled at the School of Arts from Craiova, followed by the Bucharest School of Fine Arts where he specialized in sculpture.
He moved to Paris, in 1903, where he attended workshops of important sculptors like Rodin, looking, however, for his own voice. He favored carving over modeling in clay and plaster, and by 1913 his works were presented at the first modern art exhibition from the US. He had the reputation of an unconventional artist, isolating himself as his fame increased.
Photo by Stefan Jurca
His sculptures are auctioned today for record sums. His 1932 La Jeune Fille Sophistiquee was sold for $71 million in May 2018.
You can visit his Paris studio, conserved as it was on the day he died.
Adrian Ghenie is one of the most famous Romanian painters of the moment, and his impressive palette-knife creations often feature historical events or figures who have marked Europe in the past century.
In the last few years, the Romanian artist became an ‘auction superstar’ according to The New York Times. His paintings sell today for millions of dollars.
Romanian-born Alexandra Nechita is a young painter, in her early 30s, who became famous from a very young age when she was considered the petite Picasso. She started drawing at the age of two, using watercolors at five and painting in oil and acrylics when she was seven. One year later she had her first solo exhibition in a Los Angeles public library, with many more following across the US. At 10, she was the youngest artist to sign with International Art Publishers.
Discover Alexandra Nechita’s paintings on www.alexandranechita.com
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Nadia Comaneci became one of the most famous Romanians in the world after receiving the first 10 in the history of gymnastics. This happened in 1976, at the Montreal Olympics, when she was only 14.
During her gymnast career, Nadia Comaneci won nine Olympic medals and four world championships. Her performance encouraged and inspired generations of young gymnasts from Romania and around the world.
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Simona Halep is one of the most loved athletes from Romania and the present World no. 1 on the WTA Tour. Her memorable matches are an inspiration for millions of Romanians at home and for several other thousands that buy tickets to see her play at tournaments all around the world.
A pro tennis player since she was 15, Simona played until now three grand slam finals and won one, in 2018 at Roland Garros. Until September 2018, Simona won 18 WTA singles titles.
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A former tennis and ice hockey player turned into a successful businessman, Ion Tiriac is one of the legendary sports figures in Romania. In his tennis career, he reached the Top 10 and won one grand slam title, in 1970, in the men’s doubles along with his friend Ilie Nastase. Famous in his post-playing years for his manager and coach activities, Ion Tiriac is also the organizer of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament.
Ilie Nastase is the most famous Romanian tennis player. He was a top world player in the 1970’s when he won seven Grand Slams titles, four Masters Grand Prix and seven Championship Series. In 1973, he was the first male tennis player to win the French Open without losing a set.