Princess Elena Ghica (February 3, 1828, Bucharest – November 17, 1888, Florence) writer, feminist, ethnographer, historian, composer, climber, fighter for emancipation.
Elena Ghica was the niece of Prince Grigore IV Ghica, the first native ruler of Wallachia (1822 – 1829), following a century of Phanariote rule. She was the niece of another Prince Alexandru Ghica (ruler of Wallachia 1834 – 1842) and a great niece of prince Grigore III Ghica, who was beheaded in 1777 by the Ottomans for opposing to the rapt of Bukovina. Elena’s father was a distinguished archaeologist, numismatist and a founder of the first national museum collection in Romania. Elena’s mother, who was known of being of an unique beauty and as such much admired by general Count Kisseleff, the Tzar’s Constitutional Governor of the Romanian Principalities, was an erudite woman, a writer and translator of classical French works.
Elena spoke nine foreign languages by the age of fourteen and on her first European tour with her parents, in 1842, amazed the Court of William IV of Prussia at “Sans Souci”, by translating into German a classic greek inscription from an archaeological artifact brought to the palace by Humboldt. Little wonder, by the age of 14 the young prodigal Elena Ghica had already rendered Homer’s “Illiad” into German. She married the Russian prince Alexander Koltov Massalsky and followed her husband to the Court of Nicholas I at St. Petersburg. But here, her independent spirit and admiration of the British and French culture at the time of the Crimean War, fall foul of the Tzar’s strict rules, as a result of which Princess Massalsky was physically admonished, with lashes on the bare bottom. Follows the inevitable exile, not to Siberia, but to Switzerland, which marks the beginning of a prodigal literary career under the pseudonym 'Dora D’Istria'.
But writing alone doesn't seemed to satisfy the intrepid feminist, who became the first Romanian woman who climbed the mount Moench in the Swiss Alps, on the peak of which she raised the Romanian flag, This early adventure was confined to a new book published in 1856. But stirring political controversy was even closer to her heart as Dora d’Istria wrote a monograph on the Ionian Islands, urging the British to return them to the Venetian Republic... In 1867 Dora d’Istria became a Honorary Citizen of Athens, a title which was not bestowed only once to Lord Byron who died at Missolonghi in 1824. Her succes caused the Russian ambassador in Athens to remember that, after all, Dora d’Istria was also a Russian Princess and such he introduced her to Queen Amalia of Greece.
Thereafter Dora d’Istria traveled around the world, including the North and South America and settled in her beloved Italy where Garibaldi salutes her as a “Hero-sister, a soul aiming at the highest ideals”. From now on, the piazza adjoining her Florentine villa is named after her (an area which was destroyed by allied air raids on Florence, in 1943. Thankfully her paintings, correspondence and library survived as she had given them in her will to the City of Florence).
Dora d’Istria wrote her books in French, German, Italian, Romanian and Greek and she was considered one of the greatest women authors of the 19th century. Her charm bewitched the European high society and understandably her cultural heritage is claimed by several countries (Romania, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Albania).
“As the fate caused me since my early childhood to be faraway from the banks of my beloved Dâmboviţa river, I have not stopped for a single moment to belong to my native country, whose destiny is the object of my constant meditation”