Centuries before the name “Romania” appeared on maps of Europe, foreign merchants and rulers had heard of Wallachia, the land of the Vlachs or Wallachs, known in Romanian as Ţara Româneascã (“Land of the Romanians”). A distant outpost of Christendom, it succumbed to the Turks in 1417 and was then largely forgotten about until 1859 when it united with Moldavia – the first step in the creation of modern Romania. The region is mainly comprised of flat and featureless agricultural land, interspersed with grimy industrial centres, though as it is home to the nation’s capital, Bucharest, people will invariably find themselves passing through en route to Transylvania, the coast or Bulgaria.
The most rewarding part of Wallachia is its western half, known (after its chief river) as Oltenia, which stretches from Bucharest to the Iron Gates on the Danube. Here, the foothills of the Carpathians are largely scenic and unspoiled, and possessed of the region’s most attractive and historically interesting towns, such as Curtea de Argeş, north of which is Poienari Castle, the latter with its connections to Vlad Ţepeş – better known as Dracula – who once ruled Wallachia, even though modern myth links him with Transylvania. In addition, a string of fine monasteries, such as the one at Horezu, runs along the foothills; most were razed at the behest of “progressive” despots (who otherwise spent their time fighting the Turks and repressing their own peasantry), but were rebuilt in the late seventeenth century in the distinctively Romanian style developed by Constantin Brâncoveanu.
The remainder of the region is dominated by large industrialized centres, such as Ploieşti, Piteşti, Craiova and Târgu Jiu, the last of which does at least have the work of Romania’s world-renowned sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi as an incentive to visit. The most worthwhile of the three major towns north and northwest of Bucharest is Târgovişte, the old capital of Wallachia, boasting several ancient churches, the ruins of Vlad Ţepeş’s court and the barracks where the Ceauşescus were executed. Otherwise, there’s a fine excursion to be had up along the Kazan gorge, where the Danube marks the border with Serbia.
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