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The medieval territory south of the Carpathian mountains and north of the Danube river was the first independent principality of the Romanians. Wallachia (land of the Vlachs or Wallachs) was founded in 1290 by Radu Negru as a feudal state with allegiance to Hungary. But in 1310, Romanian Duke Basarab I took advantage of the ending of Hungary’s Arpad dynasty and refused to continue paying vassalage tributes to the kingdom. After a battle in 1330 to reclaim the territory, Hungary’s King Charles I was defeated by Basarab’s forces. Basarab was named Prince (Voivode) Basarab I, and the state became the independent principality of Wallachia.   Map

The Wallachian Countryside

The eastern half of Wallachia includes Bucharest, the mountainous valley north toward Transylvania, and the southern lands east of the Olt river and as far east as Dobrojea.

Mogosoaia, just 14 km (9 miles) northwest of Bucharest’s center, is home to Mogosoaia Palace, built in 1672 by Prince Constantin Brancoveanu for his son on the shores of a lake; he also built a small church in honor of St. George. The brick and stone palace combines Byzantine decorative features with elements of both the Italian Renaissance and the Baroque. It is now the Museum of Brancovan Art with collections of silverware, wood sculptures, fabrics, including gold and silver thread embroideries, parchments, rare printed works and miniatures.

Snagov Lake Snagov, just 40 km (25 miles) north of Bucharest, is a popular lake resort on summer week­ends. There are water sports and a water plants reserve. The lake also protects an island and monastery built in 1408 where the headless body of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, is said to be entombed. Visitors can ferry to the monastery.

Prahova Valley
Two hours north of Bucharest lies Prahova Valley, a corridor that cuts through the Bucegi mountains and connects Wallachia and Transylvania. In winter the mountain resorts lining the valley cater to skiers; in summer, its hiking trails and two castles make it a popular getaway from Bucharest.

Sinaia, "Pearl of the Carpathians", so called for its beautiful mountain scenery, is a popular ski resort and home of magnificent Peles Castle, residence of King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta.
Its 160 rooms are lavishly designed in multiple styles: Italian and English Renaissance, German baroque, Roccoco, Moorish and Turkish elements, and filled with Aubusson tapestries, paintings by Klimt, chandeliers of Murano glass, armor and weaponry displays, musical instruments and a variety of furniture and statues. Tours are given for a fee. (photo on Home page)
Pelisor, Sinaia Pelisor, next door, is a smaller palace where Carol I’s nephew and heir Ferdinand and wife Marie stayed from 1903. They never moved into the grander Peles castle.
17th century Sinaia Monastery is midway along the walking path to the castles. Its inner courtyard has Brancovan-style architectural details and its museum holds Romania's largest collection of religious art and icons.
Sinaia's ski resort has lifts transporting skiers to downhill tracks, cross-country trails, sleigh slopes and a bobsled slope. In summer, the cable car and many footpaths lead to hiking trails. The small town has several hotels and lovely park that includes the grand white Casino; the 1911 Palace Hotel, borders the park.

Prahova Valley (courtesy of RoNTO Busteni, at the foot of Caraiman mountain and its Heroes’ Cross, is the main access point for hiking and rock climbing trails in the Bucegi mountains. Busteni also has ski runs, some perfect for extreme skiing. The Busteni-Babele cable car climbs 2206 m (7,533 ft.), to the wind-modelled stones of Babele, resembling old ladies talking, and Sphynx. A second cable-car links Busteni with Pestera Hotel and the unique Monastery in the Cave. Its nature reserves include several kinds of orchids, gentians, and campanulas; its wildlife, the brown bear and black goat.

Azuga, a relatively new ski resort, also sits at the foot of Bucegi mountains and shares some facilites with Busteni. Azuga has the longest ski run in Romania, accesible by chair-lift.

Predeal, the most popular ski resort in the country, marks the beginning of Transylvania. The highest town in Romania at 1,100 meters, it has 15 ski runs and trails for cross-country skiers and hikers. Snowboarders are welcome here.

Targoviste, on the bank of the Ialomita river, below the southern Carpathians, was the capital of feudal Wallachia from the 14th to the 17th century. A modern city now, it was the site of the trial and execution of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena in December 1989 that ended the Communist era in Romania. Remnants of its past glory permeate the town:
Curtea Veche (the Old Court), a huge complex where a medieval palace of the king once stood; remnants of its fortress walls are still visible. Turnul Chindiei (the Sunset tower), a 16th century watchtower built by Vlad Tepes, is a museum commemorating his defense of the town from invaders. The 16th century Princely Church has frescoes portraying the life of the region’s great leader Matei Basarab. The 17th-century Byzantine-style Stelea Monastery, founded by King Vasile Lupu. The Archaeological Museum has Greek, Roman and Dacian artifacts from the Stone and Iron ages. The rare-books museum (former residence of Princess Safta) preserves manuscripts and maps, as well as early books.

 Curtea de Arges (courtesy of RoNTO Curtea de Arges has one of the most beautiful churches in all of Romania, built in 1517. Inside are the royal tombs of Romania’s kings Carol I and Ferdinand, and their wives Queens Elizabeth and Mary, as well as tombs of Prince Neagoe Basarab, Prince Radu de la Afumati, and the remains of Saint Philophthea. It is currently the home of the Episcopal Palace of Argesului. A city with a great past, Curtea de Arges succeeded Cîmpulung as capital of feudal Wallachia. The ruins of 13th century St. Nicoara church and the Church of St. Nicholas, Wallachia's oldest churches with an exceptional ensemble of interior frescoes, are witnesses to the rich history of the area.


Oltenia, is the most interesting part of Wallachia. It spans the western half of the countryside from the Olt river to the Banat, and from the southern Carpathians south to the Danube. It has monasteries, pottery centers and spas.

Râmnicu Vâlcea on the Olt river at the foothills of the Carpathians is an example of an older settlement that was “systematized” by the communist regime prior to 1989. Nevertheless, it has some lovely historic churches, 15th century Biserica Cetatuia being the oldest. Biserica Paraschiva is a good example of 16th century architecture. There is also the 19th century Episcopal Cathedral, built atop its original 16th century ruins. A memorial house dedicated to the writer Anton Pan is at Strada Stirbei Voda 18.

Cozia Monastery on the Olt river was founded by Wallachia ruler Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Wise) in 1388; in Byzantine style with interior frescoes from 1707.

Bolnita, the infirmary church across the road, was built in 1542 with vivid interior frescoes.

The Olt Pass is a twisting gorge cutting north through the Carpathians enroute to Sibiu.

Govora Monasteries, little, white churches on oak-forested hills, built in 1491 and cared for by monks, are notaable for their flower gardens.

Horezu has the largest and most beautiful medieval monastery, built by King Constantin Brancoveanu in 1694, with exterior columns carved with stone leaves and flowers. Its art collection includes icons, a photography museum, Brancovan silver and a library. Horezu is also reknown for its pottery.

Târgu Jiu , on the Jiu River at the foot of the southern Carpathians, is home to native sculptor Constantin Brancusi's famous memorial complex in Târgu Jiu’s city park that commemorates Romanian soldiers who died here during World War I.

Tismana's monastery, in the foothills of the mountains, is a 14th century Romanesque-style complex of white buildings with red roofs. Tismana holds an annual pottery fair in March and a dance festival every August.

Craiova is a modern industrial center that began as the Roman fortress Pelendava in the time of Emperor Traianus. The 15th–18th centuries were its high point and Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave), the medieval leader who united the three Romanian kingdoms for the first time in 1600, ruled from there. Its oldest architectural monument is St. Dumitru Church, built in 1652. It also has a University, a National Theatre, an Opera, a Children’s Theatre, the Oltenia Philharmonic, an Art Museum and a regional Museum of Oltenia.

Baile Herculane is the oldest spa in Romania, dating back to Roman times in the first century AD. It spans the Cerna river in a lush mountain valley at 152 m (500 ft.) altitude, not far from the Danube river. An 1847 statue of Hercules from King Carol I honors the legend that Hercules came here to heal his battle wounds in its mineral springs. In the 19th century it was popular with Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Drobeta-Turnu Severin, an ancient Dacian settlement, was made a castrum (fortified place) by conquering Romans (per 2nd century Greek geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria); it rose to rank of municipium by emperor Hadrian in 124, and emperor Septimius Severus (AD 193-211) named it a colonia. Several monuments, including ruins of a Roman fortress and its baths, have being uncovered by archeologists. Its most impressive features are vestiges of the bridge built across the Danube by architect Apollodorus of Damascus for Emperor Traianus to move his army across the Danube to conquer Dacia.
The town was destroyed by Huns in the 5th century, but rebuilt by Justinian (527-565). In the Middle Ages, its name changed to Turnu Severin, after the tower that emperor Severus built to commemorate a victory. In the 13th century it became the political center of the Banat of Severin.

The Danube River
The Danube runs along Romania's southern border before turning north and creating the Danube Delta on its way to the Black Sea. An important river for transportation and production of hydroelectric power, in 1971 a joint effort between the former Yugoslav government and Romania created a huge dam called Portile de Fier (the Iron Gates) at Orsov and one of Europe's largest hydroelectric stations was built upstream of Dobreta-Turnu Severin. The Danube is navigable for seagoing ships as far as the inland port of Braila; the Danube-Black Sea canal provides a direct route to the Black Sea. Several tourism agencies provide Danube river cruises between various points in western Europe and Romania.


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© 2005 Rosemary Rennon
All photos were taken by Rosemary Rennon, unless otherwise noted.