A pioneer of car racing and aviation in Romania, an adventurer and a tireless traveller, prince George Valentin Bibescu is little known today, being overshadowed by the legacy of his wife, Martha Bibescu
A writer and recipient of an award from the French Academy, Martha was also a very skilled diplomat. She made a striking pair with Prince Bibescu. Born in April 1880 in Bucharest, George Valentin Bibescu was a direct descendant of ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu and the nephew of ruler Gheorghe Bibescu, who ruled over Wallachia during the 1848 revolution in the Romanian Principalities. His nephew, George Valentin, was not as interested in politics as his uncle, but was an innovator in other fields. Bibescu and the son of the industrialist George Assan were the first in Romania to own an automobile. In 1929, George Valentin Bibescu was also the first man to cross the Sahara desert by car, leaving from Dakkar and finishing the journey in Oran.
Academic Emanuel Badescu, who has done a lot of research into Prince Bibescu’s biography, tells us more: “Reading one of his diaries, I discovered that his first passion was the navy, but he gave it up rather quickly and took up car racing. In 1900 he even travelled by car from Geneva to Bucharest, driving more than 1,800 kilometres. George Valentin Bibescu was also interested in aviation. He was an equally good sharpshooter and won the Grand Prize of the Sharpshooting Society for a few years in a row. Looking at everything he did, we can safely say he was a pioneer at world level. It was also Bibescu who inaugurated the Paris-Dakkar rally at the start of the 20th century, while at home, he inaugurated the Romanian Automobile Club, founded the National Aeronautics League, and flew over Bucharest in a balloon in 1906. He was an adventurer all his life. In 1909, the prince invited the great French aviator Louis Bleriot to Bucharest for a flight demonstration. Bleriot performed some stunning acrobatics at the Baneasa race tracks in front of an audience that included Queen Elisabeth, the wife of King Carol I, prominent politicians and George Valentin Bibescu’ s own wife, Marta Bibescu.“
Next to the navy, car racing and travels, George Valentin Bibescu was also interested in aviation, being the first Romanian to hold a pilot licence. In 1911, he established the first flight school in the country and the following year was among the founders of the National Air League, whose purpose was to train pilots and purchase aircraft for the army. In 1930, he became the president of the International Aeronautics Federation. Bucharest owes him the building of its first airport, located in Baneasa, on the northern edge of the city, on land inherited by Bibescu from an aunt.
Unfortunately, his passion for flight had dramatic consequences as far as he was concerned, Emanuel Badescu tells us: “An event that marked George Valentin Bibescu profoundly took place during a long trip he made from Paris to Saigon in 1931. Flying on Indian territory, the plane carrying him, Radu Beller and two other persons was attacked by a group of eagles. The plane caught fire during landing. Trying to save the aviator Radu Beller, Bibescu was himself injured in his legs from the knees down.”
After this accident, Bibescu walked for a while supported by clutches, but he did recover and resumed his adventures and travels. He was always supported, albeit sometimes from a distance, by his wife, whose own adventures were of a more intellectual nature. While they were very fond of each other, they allowed each other the space to pursue their different interests.
Emanuel Badescu: “From this point of view, they were the perfect couple. They were very fond of each other, but also very independent. They trusted each other completely. Moreover, Martha Bibescu was very proud of the aristocratic origin of her husband, who was a direct descendant of Constantin Brancoveanu on his father’s side and could trace his origins back to Napoleon Bonaperte on his mother’s side.”
George Valentin Bibescu died at the age of 61, on July 2 1941, after a long battle with cancer.