The Romanian leu: 7 fascinating historical figures


The current Romanian Leu banknotes were created in 2005 in denominations of 1 to 500, with the 200 lei banknote being added later in 2006. Each note contains an important figure and a flowering plant on the front side, with the back side usually showing buildings and artwork. The polymer banknotes from 2005 onwards were created the same size as the Euro banknotes, in case Romania were to transition to the Euro currency in the future.

The Romanian Leu banknote has certain attributes that are described by the National Bank of Romania, such as raised print, micro-perforations, see-through watermark, gold details overprinted, magnetic strip for security, ink that changes its colour, and microtext, together with the name of the historical figure on the front side, while the back side it has ultra violet features, an iridescent band, microtext, latent image and an overlapping element (another feature of security against fake currency).  As such, here is each Romanian leu banknote presented:

First Romanian leu banknote: 1 Leu – Nicolae Iorga

The 1 leu banknote shows on the front side the portrait of Nicolae Iorga, who lived in the time period from 1871 to 1940. His contributions to Romanian society are vast. He was mainly a historian, but he can also be described as a literary critic, politician, poet and playwright among others.  He had brief affiliations with the conservative literary group “Junimea”.   He was well-perceived abroad as well.

On the front side we can also observe the symbols of the coat of arms of Romania and the plant milkweed gentian, which has mainly blue coloured flowers that transition into purple hues.  The reverse side shows the Cathedral of Curtea de Argeş and the Wallachian Eagle. The banknote has an overall light green colour.

Second Romanian leu banknote: 5 Lei – George Enescu

The 5 lei violet banknote shows on the front side the portrait of George Enescu, who lived between 1881 and 1955, who is considered the greatest musician in Romanian history. His occupations included being a violinist, pianist, conductor and composer. His musical genius is widely appreciated and celebrated.

The front side of the banknote features the symbols of the flower carnation and a violin, together with two musical notes. The back side of the banknote has the Romanian Athenaeum, part of a music sheet and a piano.

Third Romanian leu banknote: 10 Lei – Nicolae Grigorescu

The portrait of Nicolae Grigorescu appears on the front of the 10 lei pink and light red banknote. He lived between 1838 and 1907. He is one of the founders of Romanian modern painting, alongside Ion Andreescu and Ștefan Luchian. At certain points in time he followed the trends of realism and then impressionism.

The obverse of the banknote shows the flower althaea (white, with pink accents), a paintbrush and a painting palette. The reverse shows a traditional house from Oltenia and a fragment from the painting “Rodica” by Nicolae Grigorescu himself.

Fourth Romanian leu banknote: 50 Lei – Aurel Vlaicu

The value increases quite a lot from 10 lei to 50 lei. This banknote shows the portrait of Aurel Vlaicu on the front side, who lived between 1882 and 1913. He was mainly an airplane constructor, but his contributions aren’t limited to his amazing feat of having created one of the first airplane designs. He was also an engineer and inventor.

On the same side one can also see the flower edelweiss, together with a stylized airplane propeller.  The other side – the reverse – shows the sketch of the Vlaicu II airplane design, an eagle head and another sketch of an airplane engine in motion. The banknote is yellow and lightly green in the middle.

Fifth Romanian leu banknote: 100 Lei – Ion Luca Caragiale

As the banknotes increasingly gain more value, we get to the 100 lei blue banknote, which features on the front the portrait of Ion Luca Caragiale, who lived between 1852 and 1912. He was a well-known playwright, short story writer, journalist and political commentator. One of his most famous comedies is “O scrisoare pierdută”, which can be translated as “A lost letter”.

Remaining on this side, the following symbols can be observed:  the sweet violet flower, two stylized theatre masks and the coat of arms of Romania. On the reverse one can see the old building of the National Theatre of Bucharest and a statue of Ion Luca Caragiale himself by Constantin Baraschi.

Sixth Romanian leu banknote: 200 Lei – Lucian Blaga

Doubling in value once again, the 200 lei banknote shows on front the portrait of Lucian Blaga. The banknote itself is an interesting mix of the colours brown and orange. Lucian Blaga was born in 1895 and died in 1961. His intellectual abilities were impressive, as he was a philosopher, poet, playwright and a novelist as well. After 1948 he was forbidden to publish new books by the communist regime, being able to only publish translations. He completed the translation of “Faust” by Goethe.

The symbols on the obverse are poppies and a book opened on a page with the poems called “Autoportret” (self-portrait) and “9 mai 1895”, written by Lucian Blaga. The symbols on the reverse side are a rainbow, an old watermill, and the Hamangia Thinker neolithic statuette.

Seventh Romanian leu banknote: 500 Lei – Mihai Eminescu

The blue and violet banknote with the highest value of 500 Lei represents Mihai Eminescu (similarly through a portrait) on the front.  Regarded as one of the greatest Romanian poets, he was born Mihail Eminovici in 1850 and died in 1889. He was a Romantic poet, novelist and journalist. He was also an active member of the aforementioned literary group and society “Junimea”.

On the front side flowers and leaves of a tilia genus tree are shown, together with an inkwell and a feathered quill. The reverse shows the Central University Library of Iași and a page from the newspaper “Times”, which Eminescu was an editor for.

As such, the Romanian leu is clearly shown to have fascinating variations in design, colour and represented specific symbols, which reference important historical figures and culturally significant buildings, flowers, artwork and more.  Hopefully this information was useful in understanding the value of Romanian banknotes, together with their distinct cultural meanings.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here