Settlement Structure

Romania Table of Contents

Romania's population, which reached 23 million in 1987, was distributed quite unevenly across the country. In 1985 some 56 percent of the population lived on the plains, where population density exceeded 150 inhabitants per square kilometer. The national average was about 92 inhabitants per square kilometer. Some 38 percent lived in the hilly regions, mostly in the foothills of the Carpathians. The mountainous regions had the lowest density, although many of the country's earliest settlements were built in the higher elevations of the Sub-Carpathian depressions adjoining the mountains, which offered protection from invaders. Until relatively recently, population densities were higher in the Carpathian foothills of Walachia than on the plains themselves. In addition to the thinly populated mountains, the waterlogged region of Dobruja continued to have a low population density, with fewer than fifty inhabitants per square kilometer.

Traditional Settlement Patterns

Romania remained a predominantly rural country until well after World War II, with most of the population living in villages and working in agriculture. Just before the war, more than 15,000 villages were spread out over the territory between the Danube Delta and the Carpathians, where more than three-quarters of the population resided. Many of the villages were little changed by contemporary events, at least in appearance, and continued to be categorized into three types, depending on the terrain they occupied. Village settlements on the plains tended to be large and concentrated; most were involved in agriculture, primarily in cultivating cereals and raising livestock. In the hilly regions, settlements were more scattered. Here the main activities were fruit and wine production, and homesteads were generally surrounded by vineyards and orchards. At higher altitudes, settlements were mainly involved in raising livestock and in lumbering, and the villages were even more dispersed.

Romania's first urban settlements were founded by the Greeks on the Black Sea Coast at Tomi (now Constanta) and Kallatis (now Mangalia). Roman occupation brought urban settlements to the plains and mountains, and many towns were founded on ancient Dacian settlement sites. These towns were situated at strategic and commercial vantage points, and their importance endured long after the Romans had departed. Cluj-Napoca, Alba-Iulia, and Drobeta-Turnu Severin are among the major cities with Dacian roots and Roman development. During the Middle Ages, as trade between the Black Sea and Central Europe developed, a number of settlements grew into important trade centers, including Brasov, Sibiu, and Bucharest.

Despite some ancient urban roots, most of Romania's urban development came late. In 1948 only three cities had more than 100,000 inhabitants, and the total urban population was only 3.7 million. By 1970 thirteen cities had populations of more than 100,000, the population of Bucharest alone had increased by some 507,000, and the total urban population had reached 8.2 million. The urban population increased from 23.4 percent of the total population in 1948 to 41 percent in 1970.

This increased urbanization was not simply a consequence of the development of nonagricultural activities; for the most part it was centrally directed by the PCR under the guiding influence of Marxist concepts. According to Marxism, urbanization has important intrinsic value that aids in the creation of a socialist society, and urban areas are economically, socially, and culturally superior. Urbanization based on the development of industry enables the state to transform society and eradicate the differences between rural and urban life.

Romanian urbanization did not result in a large number of new cities spread evenly throughout the country. Although the number of cities rose from 183 in 1956 to 236 in 1977, and the proportion of the population living in urban areas increased to 47 percent, most of this growth came in the old towns, some of which doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled their prewar populations. Bucharest far exceeded all other cities in growth and by 1975 was approaching 2 million inhabitants--19.9 percent of the total urban population. Meanwhile the number of cities with populations of more than 100,000 had grown to eighteen, accounting for another 35.7 percent of the urban population. Thus by 1978 more than half of the country's total urban population lived in just 19 of Romania's 236 urban areas.

Rural-Urban Migration

Romania's cities swelled not from natural increase but from migration. Already by 1966, almost one-third of the population resided in places where they had not been born, and fully 60 percent of the residents of the seven largest cities had been born elsewhere. Collectivization cut ties to the land, forcing the young and able-bodied to factories in the major cities. Industrialization proceeded apace, focusing on rapid accumulation and quick return on investment, thus favoring towns with plants and infrastructure already in place. During the period from 1968 to 1973, nearly 2 million people migrated from one location to another, with rural-urban migrants a clear two-thirds majority.

Although the rate of natural increase in urban places continued to be largely insignificant, migrant-based urban growth was sustained, and rural areas lost population. Net population loss in the countryside grew from 6.3 per 1,000 in 1968 to 9.8 per 1,000 in 1973. Most of the movement was intraregional, drawing people away from small villages in the mountains and agricultural areas in the southern and western plains. Migration losses were particularly heavy in Moldavia, Muntenia, and Maramures.

Attempts to control migration to major cities were made as early as the early 1950s. With the advent of communist power, all Romanians fourteen years of age or older were issued identity cards, which indicated place of residence. Subsequently, restrictions were placed on establishing legal residence in the larger towns. To take up residence in any new place, it became necessary to obtain a visa from the local police. Only a few reasons could justify the issuance of the necessary visa. Work could suffice as a reason to move to a "closed city" only if the applicant's commuting distance exceeded thirty kilometers--and then only if a legal resident of that city could not be found to fill the position. A few family-associated reasons were considered valid. Newly married couples could obtain visas if one of the spouses had been a legal resident before marriage. Dependent children were permitted to join their parents, and until the 1980s, pensioners could move in with their children. Later, the elderly were prevented from joining their children.

Government restrictions, however, were not effective in controlling migration to the large closed cities. On the contrary, official estimates of population growth in those cities during the 1966-77 period, as compared to growth actually realized, suggest an amazing lack of awareness, much less direct control of population movements. Predictions for 1977 populations in those cities, based on 1966 census data adjusted for births, deaths, and registered migration, were in every case underestimated--on the average by 14 percent. The population of Bucharest, where one might expect the most effective control, was underestimated by some 200,000 inhabitants.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress