The largest of the Balkan countries, Romania has dramatic mountain scenery and a coastline on the Black Sea. It has seen numerous empires come and go from the Roman and Ottoman to the Austro-Hungarian. After World War II the country fell under Communist rule, although the leadership pursued a foreign policy independent of that of the Soviet Union. The legacy of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu lingered long after the uprising which brought about his downfall on Christmas Day 1989. A slower developer than other former communist countries of eastern Europe, Romania took a major step away from its past when it was one of seven countries to join Nato in late March 2004. In April 2005 Bucharest signed an EU accession treaty, paving the way for Romania eventually to join the union in January 2007.
Romania is a southeastern European country known for the forested region of Transylvania, ringed by the Carpathian Mountains. Its preserved medieval towns include Sighişoara, and there are many fortified churches and castles, notably clifftop Bran Castle, long associated with the Dracula legend. Bucharest, the country’s capital, is the site of the gigantic, Communist-era Palatul Parlamentului government building.