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, to the Ottoman, to the Austro-Hungarian.
After World War II the country was under communist rule although the leadership pursued a foreign policy independent of that of the Soviet Union.
Romania, a slower developer than other former communist countries of eastern Europe, took a major step away from its past when it was one of seven countries to join Nato in late March 2004. Its strategic location and Black Sea air and naval bases make it attractive to the alliance.
A worker prepares for celebrations marking Romania's EU entry
There have been several complex exchanges of territory over the years, not least when the area formerly known as Bessarabia went to the USSR following a pact between Hitler and Stalin. That region now forms a large part of the Republic of Moldova. Romanian, a Romance language, is essentially the same as Moldovan although the latter has undergone more influence from Russian.
The legacy of communist-era leader Nicolae Ceausescu, who was feared and loathed in approximately equal measure, lingered long after the uprising which brought his execution on Christmas Day 1989.
Former communists dominated politics until 1996 when a centrist government came to power. It became involved in prolonged political feuding which did little or nothing to promote economic reform. The left returned in 2000 when Ion Iliescu was re-elected president.
Failure to push ahead sufficiently with reforms meant that the country was not on the list of new EU members four years later. However, in April 2005 Bucharest signed the EU accession treaty, paving the way for Romania eventually to join the union in January 2007.
The Romanian economy suffered badly in the global financial crisis of 2008, prompting the government to launch a draconian austerity programme in 2010. This led to major street rallies and clashes with police in January 2012, which brought down the government of Prime Minister Emil Boc.
- Full name: Romania
- Population: 21.4 million (UN, 2011)
- Capital: Bucharest
- Area: 238,391 sq km (148,129 sq miles)
- Major language: Romanian
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 new leu = 100 bani
- Main exports: Textiles and footwear, metal products, machinery, minerals
- GNI per capita: US $7,840 (World Bank, 2010
- Internet domain: .ro
- International dialling code: +40
President: Traian Basescu
Traian Basescu, a former sea captain and mayor of Bucharest, first became president following elections in 2004.
President Basescu has pursued a pro-reform course
He gained a second endorsement from the electorate in a May 2007 referendum when they rejected an attempt by parliament to impeach him. MPs had decided by a large majority to remove him from office, accusing him of exceeding his constitutional powers.
The attempt to impeach the president followed tension between him and the government of then Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu over the pace of reforms.
Mr Basescu won the December 2009 presidential election by a very narrow majority over the opposition Social Democrats' Mircea Geoana.
Since he came to power, Mr Basescu has drawn international praise for his anti-corruption efforts and for preparing Romania to join the EU.
In 2005 Mr Basescu started the process of opening the files of the feared communist-era secret police - the Securitate. Researchers cleared him of accusations that he collaborated with the Securitate.
Mr Basescu was 53 at the time of his election. He was transport minister between 1996 and 2000.
His predecessor, Ion Iliescu, had dominated Romanian politics since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Under his Social Democrats, Romania entered Nato and moved towards EU membership.
Prime minister: Victor Ponta
Victor Ponta became Romania's third prime minister in less than six months when his left wing-dominated Social Liberal Union (USL) alliance took charge in May 2012 after toppling its predecessor in a confidence vote.
Mr Ponta's government, which came to power by capitalising on mounting discontent over austerity policies, faces elections in November 2012.
"This is a special government designed for special times. It has a limited mandate of six months until the parliamentary elections," Ponta told a news conference.
He promised to stick to a deal with international lenders while seeking to correct social imbalances.
Romania obtained a 20-billion-euro ($26-billion) rescue package from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank in 2009, in exchange for steps to cut public spending, which helped it emerge from recession.
Mr Ponta replaced Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, who in February 2012 succeeded Emil Boc, who had resigned amid violent protests at his government's drastic public-spending cuts.
Romania has one of the most dynamic media markets in southeastern Europe. TV is the medium of choice, with Pro TV, Antena 1 and Realitatea TV being leading privately-owned outlets. TVR is the state-owned broadcaster.
There is a competitive pay TV sector, and cable and satellite are key platforms for delivery. Digital terrestrial TV (DTT) has still to get off the ground.
There are more than 100 private radios. State-owned Radio Romania operates four national networks and regional and local stations.
The constitution upholds freedom of expression, but prohibits "defamation of the country". Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in 2010 that Romania "now considers the media a threat to national security and plans to legally censor its activities". It said a draft law would ban "any kind of insulting comment" from websites.
Around 7.8 million Romanians were online by June 2010 (Internetworldstats).
- Agerpres - state-run, English-language pages
- Mediafax - private, English-language pages