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doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2010.00937.x

Analysis of some representative geomorphosites in

the Bucegi Mountains: between scientific
evaluation and tourist perception
Laura Comanescu and Alexandru Nedelea
The Faculty of Geography, University of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania
Revised manuscript received 13 November 2009
Geomorphosites are landforms that have acquired, in time, a certain value (scientific, cultural, aesthetic,
ecological and/or economic). This article presents a statistical analysis of the results obtained during our
evaluation of geomorphosites, including their associated value in the minds of tourists. The Bucegi
Mountains were considered to be an appropriate study area given their great variety in geomorphosites
and their accessibility (the highest infrastructure density in the whole Carpathian area). We selected,
catalogued and evaluated the best-known geomorphosites in the Bucegi Mountains without making it
our goal to map them. Tourists opinions were assessed by questionnaire and the data obtained were
statistically processed.
Key words: geomorphosite, evaluation, value, Bucegi Mountains, Romania

Theoretical considerations
A geomorphosite is part of the terrestrial surface of the
earth that holds special importance for understanding the
Earths history (Panizza 2001, 4), and which also benefits
from a certain perception quotient. Geomorphosites
acquire scientific, cultural, historical, aesthetic and socioeconomic value (Panizza and Piacente 1993, 1314) once
noticed and made accessible by people, for example by
the development of tourist infrastructure and by people
undertaking leisure activities in or near the geomoprhosite
(Panizza 2001, 5; Reynard 2005, 185). As such, geomorphosites should be considered multifunctional entities.
Geomorphosites were defined for the first time by M.
Panizza in 1993, and received further attention in 2003
with the release of Cultural geomorphology (Panizza and
Piacente 2003, 21617); the most important work in the
subject. Many specialists associated geomorphosites with
natural, relief-related tourist attractions but the notions are
not synonymous, because for such an attraction to be
considered a geomorphosite, it needs to hold considerably more features (value) than just topographic distinctions (Coratza and Giusti 2005, 312).
Learning more about geomorphosites is important not
only for geomorphologists, who are more interested in
their scientific value, but also for experts in tourism geog-

raphy, who appreciate their aesthetic value and their

importance as tourist attractions. Experts in environmental
geography and biogeography will also value their ecological significance. To this end it is necessary to correctly
assess not only the intrinsic value of a geomorphosite, but
also its capacity to attract tourists, which is determined by
the place it occupies in the minds of the tourists and of
course by the current state of preservation of the geomorphosite. Should such a study acquire a more commercial
value with the purpose of generating income, then it
becomes of relevance for economists, authorities and
businessmen. Acquiring greater knowledge on geomorphosites can also serve for teaching purposes such as
preparing learning materials or organising field trips for
students, as part of their training as future professionals
(Pralong and Reynard 2005, 316).

Geomorphosite evaluation is an issue that raised the interest of geographers all over the world whose efforts concentrated on developing and refining effective evaluation
methods that they further published, for example, see the
solutions offered by universities such as Modena, Cantabria, Valladolid, Lausanne, Minho (Reynard et al. 2009,
6670). For our study we chose to apply the Swiss

Area 2010
ISSN 0004-0894 2010 The Authors.
Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

2 Comanescu and Nedelea

Table 1

Criteria for geomorphosite evaluation (modified from Pralong 2005, 1936; Reynard et al. 2007, 152)

Aesthetic value

Scientific value

Cultural value

Economic value

Number of belvedere points

Average distance from
belvedere points

Palaeogeographical interest
Representativeness (cultured


Impact of colour against the

Altitude and climbing effort


Cultural legacy
As presented in
representations and/or in
different writings
Historical and
archaeological relevance
Religious and symbolic
Artistic and cultural events



Integrity, state of

Location in the landscape

Ecological interest
The presence of study
stations or points

method, as we considered it to be the most appropriate

given the features of the study area and because it allows
a correlation between the results obtained through evaluation of the total value and the data from the questionnaire. For the calibration of this method and in order to
produce a unitary methodology we need to apply the very
same practice to areas with different natural (mountain,
hillside, flatlands and seaside) or tourism potential (mass
tourism, soft tourism). As a baseline our research used the
model proposed by Pralong (2005) and Reynard et al.
(2007). In this approach the value that a geomorphosite
has for the tourism industry is calculated as the average of
four values, using the formula:

Vtour = ( Vsce + Vsci + Vcult + Veco ) 4


where Vtour is tourism value, Vsce is aesthetic value, Vsci

is scientific value, Vcult is cultural-historical value and
Veco is socio-economic value (Reynard et al. 2007, 150
2). The four values are computed based on the criteria
summarised in Table 1.
A 0 to 1 rating scale was used for each criterion.
Further, the final scores for each criterion and subsequently the global tourism value were calculated using
Pralongs formula. The data obtained were statistically
analysed and used to determine those parameters that
helped define the grouping of data and also to make
correlations between the resulting values and the global
value of the geomorphosite.
In light of the previous work outlined above, the methodological approach requires several steps (Figure 1):
1. Studying the specific literature, the available geological, geomorphologic and biogeography materials, as
well as any cultural and historical facts or literature,
usually also considered by the geography of tourism.

Annual number of visitors

Level of official protection
Inclusion in promotional
materials or in other such
Natural risks

2. Identifying and locating geomorphosites in the study

area, classifying and grading them. Identification, classification and gradation are useful tools in devising and
applying a correct and complete inventory sheet.
3. Creating a database, including the specific attributes of
the respective geomorphosite.
4. Interviewing tourists to learn more about what they are
interested in with the purpose of using that information
to design the best geotourist products and to plan the
most appropriate hiking trails. The questionnaire
applied is presented in Table 2; it was devised by us
and can be improved and adapted to mirror the specific nature of an area and/or the purpose of the study.
5. Processing and statistically analysing the questionnaire
data and further comparing the values obtained with
those from using the classical method of evaluation
(Figure 1).

Study area
The Bucegi Range lies in the eastern part of the Southern
Carpathians, between Prahova Valley (east) and RucarBran Trench (west) (Figure 2). The Massif is a horse-shoeshaped mountainous arch with a greatly fragmented
central body of the Ialomita Valley, carved into gorges and
basins (Ielenicz and Comanescu 2006, 102). The two
major branches of this arch come together into the Omu
Peak (2505 metres), the highest in the Massif and one of
the loftiest in the Romanian Carpathians. The eastern
branch is quite massive, several of its peaks exceed 2000
metres (Bucura, Obrsia, Costila, Caraiman, Jepii Mici,
Jepii Mari, Piatra Arsa, Furnica and Vrfu cu Dor) and
each could stand as a separate geomorphosite. This
branch descends gradually westward towards Izvoru
Dorului and Ialomita Valley forming a structural plateau

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ISSN 0004-0894 2010 The Authors.
Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

Analysis of some representative geomorphosites in the Bucegi Mountains 3

Figure 1

Stages of geomorphosite evaluation

dominated by peaks such as Babele, Cocora and Laptici.

West of the Ialomita Valley lies the second branch that
includes ranges such as Doamnele, Batrna, Grohotisu,
Strunga Mare and Tataru (Ielenicz and Comanescu 2006,
102). Several other small steep ranges that converge into
the Omu Peak have been reduced by erosion to rugged
sharp crests (Moraru, Bucsoiu, Padina Crucii, Tiganesti
and Gaura).
The geology of the area consists of thick stacks of conglomerates (over 1000 metres) that overlie a crystalline
basement which outcrops locally. Besides these, formations such as limestone and marl-arenaceous flysch are
quite frequent. The sedimentary superstructure is part of a

large syncline fold. Limestone and conglomerates are

easy to spot in the landscape because differential erosion
has shaped the land surface into a specific type of relief
which therefore has produced potentially valuable geomorphosites.
The Massif benefits from a variety of landforms and
geomorphosites, the result of complex geology and
erosion patterns (Figure 3). We present the most important
categories identified, illustrating these with examples
(Ielenicz and Comanescu 2006, 103):
structural drops (e.g. Prahova and Bran) with a difference in level of over 1000 metres asl,

Area 2010
ISSN 0004-0894 2010 The Authors.
Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

Comanescu and Nedelea

Table 2

Questionnaire model

1. How often do you go on trips in

the Bucegi Mountains?
a. Monthly
b. Seasonally/temporarily
c. Yearly
d. Less than once a year
4. What is your opinion on the
infrastructure available in the
Bucegi Mountains?
a. Very good
b. Good
c. Reasonable
d. Unsatisfactory
7. List the sites below in terms of the
impression made upon you
(increasing order)The Hags, the
Sphinx, Ialomicioara Cave, Omu
Peak, Urlatoarea Waterfall,
Caraiman Plateau, Franz Josefs
Rock, Tatarului Gorges, Gaura
Glacial Cirque, Morarului Crags
10. In your opinion, which of the
natural or anthropic phenomena
listed below has a greater negative
impact on the respective site?
a. Human activity (tourism included)
b. Floods
c. Landslides
d. Climatic phenomena
13. Will you come again?
a. Yes
b. No
c. I dont know

2. How long are your trips usually?

d. One week or more

5. What do you cherish most about
the Bucegi Mountains?

3. What are your usual activities on

such trips?
a. Hiking
b. Cave tourism
c. Sports tourism (including alpinism
and extreme sports)
d. Scientific tourism
6. What do you appreciate most at a
natural site?

a. Natural sites
b. Scenery as a whole
c. Anthropic sites
d. Recreational facilities
8. How would you describe your
favourite site should you chose
from the list below?
a. Unique
b. Attractive

a. Aesthetic attributes
b. Scientific importance
c. Cultural value
d. Economic value
9. What other sites (landforms) would
you consider visiting in the Bucegi
a. Malaiesti Valley
b. Horoabei Gorges

a. One day
b. One weekend
c. 3 to 5 days

c. Representative

c. Prahovas Vertical Drop

d. Accessible
11. If you have visited the Bucegi
Mountains on several occasions,
what word would you use to
describe the current state of the
sites listed under question 7
a. Worsened
b. Improved
c. The same
d. I dont know
14. Interview sheet
1. Age
a. Under 20
b. 2140
c. 4160
d. Over 60
2. Sex
a. Male
b. Female
a. Romanian
b. Other: (name it)
4. Studies
a. Secondary school
b. Higher education
5. Birth place
a. Urban
b. Rural

large structural plateaus that lie at altitudes between

18002000 metres asl,
the Ialomita Valley with its basins and gorges (Ursilor,
Tatarul Mic, Tatarul Mare, Zanoaga Mica, Zanoaga
Mare and Orzei) (Figure 4 a,b),
peaks that are good belvedere points,

d. Others (name them)

12. Would you consider that the sites
listed under question 7 are made
accessible/utilised for tourism
a. Very well
b. Well
c. Satisfactory
d. Unsatisfactory

alpine ridges,
ruiniform relief shaped by differential erosion, such as
pinnacles, tower assemblages and crags amongst which
Babele (The Hags) and the Sphinx are the most famous,
glacial relief with glacier complexes surrounding Omu
Peak (Malaesti, Tiganesti, Obrsia and Valea Cerbului),

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Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

Analysis of some representative geomorphosites in the Bucegi Mountains 5

Figure 2

Geographic location of the Bucegi Mountains in Romania

karst relief (gorges and caves; Ialomita Cave is the most

glacial or structural drop-offs with waterfalls (e.g.

Results and discussion

During the study, we considered and evaluated various
geomorphosites of different genesis, importance, visual
impact or tourist flows and activities (Plate 1 a, b, c).
Table 3 summarises the scores obtained per criteria.
The scores for aesthetic value range between 0.9
(Morarului Crags) and 0.4; Urlatoarea Waterfall scored
low for this because of reduced visibility as there is no
belvedere point overlooking it. Generally, the aesthetic
component scored high: none of these geomorphosites
was evaluated under 0.2 and most values ranged between
0.4 and 0.6, marking a spectacular difference in level, the
contrast of colour against the general scenery (especially
for limestone and conglomerates) or the visual impact of
a special shape.
In terms of scientific value, the Hags and the Sphinx
scored highest with 0.65, and the Urlatoarea Waterfall at
the other end of the scale with only 0.45. Most scores
ranged between 0.4 and 0.6 (80%), but there were a few
extremes too. Geomorphosites in Bucegi are generally
easy to access and therefore perfect for research (they are
the subject of different ongoing studies) and didactic activates (a compulsory stop for most didactic fieldtrips).
Opinions varied greatly in terms of the cultural value to
be assigned to the geomorphosites under study. Thus,
geomorphosites that are not present in any iconographic
representations, lack historical or archaeological evidence or have no special symbolic meaning attached
were marked 0. In comparison the Caraiman Plateau
(graded highest with 0.6) gained considerable credit
because of its presence in numerous iconographic representations and geotouristic promotional materials; the
Monument of Heroes being one of the most recognisable

images. The score range is low (00.6) compared with the

other evaluation criteria, and therefore a good indicator of
the fact that the cultural component of the area is not very
well promoted.
The general opinion was that geomorphosites in the
Massif have great economic value; the scores vary from
0.95, the highest, for the Caraiman Plateau, to 0.5 for the
Gaura Glacial Cirque. This high score range reflects the
tourist infrastructure already in place (cable transport,
marked trails), the easy access and tourist flows.
The values for global tourism ranged between 0.387 for
Gaura Glacial Cirque, which scored low given its reduced
aesthetic value (no belvedere points overlooking it) and
lack of cultural attributes, up to 0.655 for the Caraiman
Plateau, which besides have easy access, also benefits
from good cultural and scientific representation.
Even though restricted to small areas, geomorphosites
such as the Hags, the Sphinx or Urlatoarea Waterfall enjoy
great popularity and hold great intrinsic value for their
particularity. Others, on the other hand, such as the extensive Caraiman Plateau hold an extrinsic value because as
well as the overall large scale feature, the geomorphosite
is an accumulation of smaller scale, more localised geomorphotosites within the location of the Caraiman
Plateau, each associated with its own, individual worth.
The statistical analysis (Figure 5) reveals the following:
1. The calculus of absolute and relative frequencies
reveals that the aesthetic component falls into four
value classes, the scientific component into two
classes of value, and the cultural and economic components into three classes of value. Naturally, the
global tourism value falls into 3 classes (Table 4).
2. Relative frequencies vary between 0 per cent and 80
per cent, indicating a fairly wide diversity of geomorphosites (Table 5).
3. The rating scores varied most for the aesthetic component and the lowest grade was granted for the scientific

Area 2010
ISSN 0004-0894 2010 The Authors.
Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

Comanescu and Nedelea

Figure 3

Location and global value of geomorphosites located in Bucegi Mountains (number in Table 3, the radius of
circles is proportional to the global value of the geomorphosites)

component, a fair index of relief complexity as a result

of geology and erosion patterns (Table 4).
4. Usually in statistics, similar average and median lines
indicate a homogeneous opinion as in the case of the
aesthetic and cultural components. These indexes dont
differ that much for the other criteria either (Table 5).

5. It is therefore obvious that for more consistent results,

the study needs to continue by interviewing more
people in order to acquire greater statistical evidence.
The values obtained by Pralong, using the formula he
developed for geomorphosites in the Alps, were similar to

Area 2010
ISSN 0004-0894 2010 The Authors.
Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

Analysis of some representative geomorphosites in the Bucegi Mountains 7

Figure 4

Tatarului Gorges geomorphological sketch (a: general; b: detail) (after Velcea 1961, 54, 101 modified)

ours, even though slightly higher for the Alps. Mer de

Glace (one of the most famous alpine glaciers but with
considerably lower didactic value compared with other
glaciers) was graded as follows: scenic value 0.7, scientific value 0.75, cultural value 0.75, economic value 0.75,
resulting in a global tourism value of 0.74, reasonably
higher than that of any of the geomorphosites under study
in the Carpathians (Table 6). This similarity is evident for
geomorphosites produced through the same genetic
process, thus the global tourism value of caves is almost
equal while that of gorges differs slightly in favour of
Diosaz gorges in the Alps that benefit from greater cultural
value (Table 6). Geomorphosites in the Alps are more
actively employed for tourism pruposes compared with
those in the Carpathians. In terms of didactic and scientific employment, geomorphosites in the Carpathians
seem to be less well appreciated.
Applying the questionnaire was a difficult task because
the large number of tourists makes quantification difficult
and there are several access routes/entrance points which
makes it difficult to representatively sample visitors.
However, the body administering the Bucegi Natural Park
were very helpful in selecting a representative sample
(250 persons) based on the usual criteria: country of
origin, age, sex, income, etc. and tourism activity practised (Table 7).
The questionnaire proved more than useful as it
allowed us to assess both the opinions of professionals

and tourism consumers. As tourists are not familiar with

the technical vocabulary usually used by professionals,
the questionnaire structure had to be kept simple, therefore we avoided using words such as geomorphosite.
However, we were pleased to learn that frequent tourists
(over 83%) practising all sorts of activities in the area are
a source of interesting and useful information.
Based on the answers provided, we learned that hiking
is the most frequent activity; the average trip was 35 days
long and in 76 per cent of these cases, consisted of
weekend trips.
More than 80 per cent of the respondents thought that
the infrastructure available in the Massif was good, even
though unevenly distributed, meaning that most of the
geomorphosites under study benefit from an easy access.
Such a conclusion matches perfectly the high rating scale
for the economic component (accessibility being one of
its major vectors considered).
The impact of geomorphosites (the wording used in
the questionnaire was natural or relief-related attractions) is clearly demonstrated by the answers from 89
per cent of the respondents who considered these
natural attractions as reason enough to take the trip
(Figure 6); attractions such as plants or water sites are
usually considered to be elements of the scenery. The
Bucegi Mountains are clearly identified as a first option
for tourism activities of all sorts, including specific
activities such as learning climbing. Moreover, some of

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8 Comanescu and Nedelea


Plate 1
Table 3

Different geomorphosites located in the Bucegi Mountains (a: The Hags; b: The Sphinx; c: Tatarului Gorges)

Bucegi Massif geomorphosites global value assessment


Geomorphosite name

Scenic value

Scientific value

Cultural value

Economic value

Global value


The Hags
The Sphinx
Ialomicioara Cave
Omu Peak
Urlatoarea Waterfall
Caraiman Plateau
Franz Josefs Rock
Tatarului Gorges
Gaura Glacial Cirque
Morarului Crags







the geomorphosites in the area (see question 9) are considered to be among the most attractive and interesting
in Romania (e.g. Prahovas Drop, Horoabei Gorges,
Malaiesti Valley, Orzei Gorges).
In the mind of the tourist there is no clear difference as
to why a certain criteria is more important than the other,
meaning that they assign almost equal importance to
either value (scientific, aesthetic, cultural or economic)
(Figure 7). Considering this, we regard the formula used

(J.P. Pralongs) as the most reliable, although some professionals do find certain values to be more eloquent than
Determining a hierarchy of importance that these geomorphosites hold in the minds of tourists was achieved
with the help of questions 7 and 9. It became obvious that
the most famous sites in the Massif are the Caraiman
Plateau and the ruiniform landforms, the Hags and the
Sphinx. Omu Peak is also well rated for its altitude and

Area 2010
ISSN 0004-0894 2010 The Authors.
Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

Analysis of some representative geomorphosites in the Bucegi Mountains 9

Table 4 Statistical analysis of geomorphosite specific


of values









Table 5

panoramic view, while Morarului Crags occupy a lower

position, presumably because the area is less accessible,
especially during the cold season and also because tourists
arent so aware of its intrinsic scientific value (Figure 8).
Asked to describe their favourite attraction (question 8),
tourists disclosed that what matters most is the unique
character of a site and second, accessibility of the area
(Figure 9). Respondents with a higher level of educational
attainment seem to appreciate the representativeness of a
site more than those with a lower level.

Absolute and relative frequency of data gathered for each criterion







F abs

F relat

F abs

F relat

F abs

F relat

F abs

F relat

F abs

F relat

Over 0.8











Table 6

Global tourism value of geomorphosites in Bucegi Mountains and their counterparts in the Alps (Pralong 2005,


Scenic value

Scientific value

Cultural value

Economic value

Global value

Ialomicioara Cave (Bucegi)

Vaas Cave (Alps)
Tatarului Gorges (Bucegi)
Diosaz Gorges (Alps)






Table 7

Structure of the sample

Country of origin
Other country

Age (years)

Under 20
Over 60

Figure 5




Under 100 Euros

100300 Euros
300500 Euros
Over 500 Euros

Practised tourism activity


Recreational activities
Other activities

Relative frequency of data gathered for each criterion (Table 5)

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Comanescu and Nedelea

Question 10 is formulated in order to allow an understanding of whether tourists are aware of the multitude of
factors that risk the integrity of these geomorphosites. The
general opinion is that excessive tourism and irrational
deforestation are the main matters of concern. Risk phenomena dont seem to be a factor, possibly because their
current state of preservation is good.
Even though most of these geomorphosites are protected as part of the Bucegi National Park or as individual
Nature Reserves, hikers pointed out that some of the
tourists visiting the area dont behave properly, and geomophosites such as the Hags, the Sphinx, Morarului Crags
or Ialomicioara Cave have suffered as a result of their

Figure 6

Tourist preferences towards attractions located

in the Bucegi Massif

Figure 7

Tourist opinions on values that define


Figure 8

actions, such as carved inscriptions and destroyed stalactites and stalagmites.

For a successful implementation of sustainable development, the potential values, as assessed by means of
scientific evaluation and questionnaire application, need
to be employed by maintaining a suitable balance
between the geomorphosites significance in terms of
potential to attract tourists and its integrity, meaning the
ability to sustain the geomorphosite in a good state to
maintain its existing potential as an attraction.
We learned that through interaction with touriststhat
the study of geomorphosites can benefit from first-hand
reliable information on the frequency and reason of visit
to the geomorphosites in the area for tourism activities
(tourist flows). Based on this information trails for geotourism and didactic purposes can be further developed(the offer of geotourism packages increased constantly in
the area).
After thorough consideration of the resulting global
value and the potential risks the geomophosite is exposed
to, management solutions could be proposed. Accordingly, solutions for the protection and promotion of the
area should be considered.
Both active (building of protection infrastructure) and
passive (territorial planning and institutional measures

Figure 9 Tourist opinions concerning the main

characteristics of geomorphosites

Tourist opinions on geomorphosite hierarchy

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Journal compilation Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010

Analysis of some representative geomorphosites in the Bucegi Mountains 11

such as public policies) protection measures should be
considered. Promotional measures need to tackle the
development of tourism or educational materials and services (Reynard et al. 2007, 152).

geomorfositurilor. Studii de caz: Podisul Dobrogei si Carpatii

Meridionali), project manager conf. univ. dr. Laura Comanescu.


An accurate inventory and evaluation of geomorphosites
has practical utility in developing and promoting new
geotourist products as well as in planning hiking trails. The
current study revealed a very important fact: the opinions
of professionals and tourists dont really match, therefore it
is very important to consider and analyse both sides.
We make it our goal to raise the awareness of the
Romanian public, through a series of articles and promotional materials, of the importance of developing geotourism products promoting a sustainable use of the existing
tourist attractions. The method weve used in evaluating
and inventorying geomorphosites in the area was successfully applied in several other countries, such as Italy,
Switzerland, Spain and Greece (Serrano and GonzalezTrueba 2005, 2012; Zouros 2005, 230), although this is
the first such trial in Romania. Given that such an
approach has considerable benefits, we encourage a
larger use of this method for an improved management of
the existing tourism potential of the Romanian Carpathians in general and Bucegi Massif, in particular.
Geomorphosites may become natural tourist attractions
as a result of employment of their scenic, scientific, cultural and economic values with the purpose to develop
recreational activities bearing a commercial effect
(Pralong 2005, 195). We consider that protecting and
conserving the geomorphosites under study is more
important than employing their tourism potential (most of
them are part of the Bucegi National Park).
The results in this article are part of the research project PN II/Idei
financed by CNCSIS (Inventarierea, evaluarea si cartografierea

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ISSN 0004-0894 2010 The Authors.
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