Thanks to its natural borders, Wallachia is one of Romania's three historical regions (aside from Moldavia and Transylvania) and one of the main lands inhabited by Romanians. Protected by the Danube River and the Carpathian Mountains, it is also known as The Romanian Land (Țara Românească) in historical documents - one more reason to learn about its history.
Wallachia and Țara Românească are names that are not used anymore in modern-day Romania, but Muntenia and Oltenia are, and people from here can be easily spotted by their accents. The name Wallachia comes from the Vlachs, the region's main population in medieval times, whereas Muntenia (meaning the "mountainous region") is technically the eastern part, while Oltenia (meaning “the region crossed by the Olt River”) covers the western part of Wallachia.
Now, let's dive deeper and understand the history and culture of the region, what makes Wallachia unique, and discover its tourist landmarks. This way, you'd better know how to plan your trip and what is mandatory to see.
1. History of Wallachia
The territory of Wallachia is one of the Danubian principalities inhabited since antiquity by Dacians and Thracians, who were conquered by the Roman Empire, thus forming a new population in this region - the Vlachs.
Throughout history, Wallachia was constantly at the crossroads of grand European powers: the Ottoman Empire, the Hungarian Kingdom, the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Russian Empire (later the Soviet Union).
Béla IV, King of Hungary, first mentioned the land of the Vlachs in the Diploma of Joannites in 1246. A bit later, in 1290, Radu Negru, voivode of Wallachia, founded the principality of Wallachia, which was initially conceived as a vassal state of the Hungarian Kingdom. Its goal was to serve as a buffer between the Hungarian Kingdom and the growing influence of the Ottoman Turks.
After a wave of Mongol invasions, the Hungarian power waned in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Wallachian Prince Basarab I defeated Hungarian King Charles I in 1330 and declared Wallachia independent in the early 14th century.
This is how Wallachia became the first of the three main Romanian historical regions to gain independence.
Throughout history, Wallachia was torn mainly by conflicts with the Ottoman forces. The most notable Wallachian princes with ongoing tense relations with the Ottomans were Voivode Mircea the Old, Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration behind the Dracula story of Bram Stoker), and Voivode Michael the Brave. These princes became national heroes by defying the Turks and refusing to pay tribute.
When Bulgaria fell to the Turks in 1396, Wallachia faced a new threat, forcing Mircea the Old to acknowledge Turkish suzerainty in 1415. Wallachia became a vassal state province of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted for centuries but kept its autonomy in internal affairs away from foreign policy.
The golden age of Wallachia was in the 14th century. The local princes established their first capital, Câmpulung Muscel. During the following decades, they moved it to Curtea de Argeș and Târgoviște and eventually to Bucharest.
In 1859, Wallachia and Moldavia (who had the same political status) elected the same ruler thanks to an electoral trick. They technically became one state, which paved the way for modern-day Romania. A bit later, the Romanian royal family began when Carol of the Hohenzollern dynasty was brought to the throne in 1865.
After the Treaty of Adrianople and years under the Ottoman suzerainty, Romania joined the Crimean War against the Ottoman Empire and finally won independence in 1877-78.
After an unsuccessful attempt by Michael the Brave in 1599-1600, the current state of Romania was finally formed in the Great Union of 1918. Transylvania, Wallachia, Moldavia, and other smaller Romanian principalities inhabited mainly by Romanians united on December 1st at Alba Iulia.
Some parts of Modavia were ultimately lost during WWII, but today, Romania has almost the same political and geographical shape as it had after the Great Union.
2. Geographical Landscape
A geographical region of Romania, Wallachia is located in the south of the country. It is bordered mainly by the Carpathian Mountains (in the north and west) and the Danube River (in the south and east). The Danube flows from Central Europe along the southern edge of Wallachia and breaks through the Southern Carpathians at the well-known Iron Gates (opposite Serbia).
Wallachia features diverse landscapes due to its location between the Danube and the mountains. Most of the territory used for agriculture today was once covered by dense forests called Codrii Vlăsiei.
The relief ranges from flat agricultural lands to the scenic and unspoiled foothills of the Carpathians. This vast expanse of fertile plains supported crops and livestock and contributed to the region's economic stability and significance.
Throughout history, the Carpathians played an important role as a natural defensive line, while the Danube and access to the Black Sea shaped trading routes and fostered cultural exchanges with the neighboring nations.
Wallachia's varied landscape supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The forests are home to diverse species of plants and animals. You can walk through tree species such as beech, oak, pine, and fir and plants such as shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns.
In this part of the country, you can still find wild animals like brown bears, wolves, lynxes, wild boars, deer, foxes, squirrels, and various species of birds such as owls, woodpeckers, and birds of prey.
At the same time, rivers and wetlands harbor a wealth of aquatic life, like willow trees, reeds, and aquatic plants that provide habitats for fish, amphibians, and birds.
3. Cultural Heritage and Traditions
Romanians as a nation were formed in the early Middle Ages due to combining Dacians with Romans, and later, migratory people came and brought new influences.
In the late Middle Ages, the Ottoman Empire, Greek culture (fanarioți), and other Balkan and Slavic cultures brought other significant influences, contributing to the rich multi-ethnic heritage of Wallachia.
Nowadays, Wallachia's cultural tapestry has ancient customs, folklore, and artistic expressions that reflect the region's rich heritage. This mix of cultures and influences can be first seen in the traditional dishes, vocabulary, and architecture.
Sarmale (sarma) are the stuffed cabbage rolls with minced meat introduced in the Romanian territories through Ottoman influences. Mititei are small and spicy minced meat sausages known throughout Balkan countries as the famous kebapci (the flavors vary a bit, though, from one country to another).
In terms of vocabulary, we have Turkish words such as musafir (guest), papuci (slippers), or mahala (neighborhood), as well as Slavic words such as ceas (watch) or vreme (weather).
The architecture was also greatly influenced in Wallachia by the traditional Ottoman hans (inns), which existed in many trading centers, and the orthodox Slavic monasteries spread throughout the regions.
But it is not only the culture and arts that are different in Wallachia than in other regions of the country, but also the general 'vibe' of people is in stark contrast to Transylvania.
For example, in Transylvania, the pace of life is very slow and relaxed compared to the south of the country. Also, in Wallachia, peasant life still largely follows the ancient pastoral cycle even though industrialization and collective farming during the short period of communism brought considerable changes to the plains.
Shaped by a blend of historical influences, Wallachia's traditions have evolved over centuries, shaping its identity and captivating the imagination of its people.
The region's folklore is steeped in captivating tales of heroes, legendary figures, and mythical creatures. The most famous one is the “Reign of Dracula” legend linked to Vlad the Impaler (also nicknamed Vlad Dracul), the harsh voivod who impaled Ottoman prisoners.
But there are also other mythical creatures in the local folklore, such as strigoi (vampires), moroi (ghosts), and zmei (dragons). Remember the many haidouks (outlaws turned freedom fighters and vigilantes) who fought against the Ottoman Empire and were brave characters in literature and other primary sources.
Add epic tales about supernatural beliefs and rituals, such as warding off evil spirits, using charms for protection, and traditions tied to agricultural cycles and celestial events. Now you have a bigger picture of Wallachia’s folklore.
Other cultural practices include traditional folk music and dances, often accompanied by flute, violin, and tambourine. They usually narrate tales of love, heroism, and daily life, with a highlight on the lively village dances like hora (villagers holding together in a circle and spinning all in one direction), which symbolizes the unity and community in a celebration, embodying the spirit of cultural cohesion.
Here’s one of the best videos to witness a hora local dance.
Another old custom is șezătoarea, where village women meet regularly for weaving, looming, or knitting together - this is not only a working meeting but a social gathering to tell stories and hear the latest news.
4. Places to visit in Wallachia
As most international flights land in Bucharest, the last capital of Wallachia (and Romania today) is the best place to start your trip. You need more days in Bucharest to explore it thoroughly, but if you don't have much time, take advantage of the following sights.
The ruins of the Old Princely Court and Church (Palatul Curtea Veche și Biserica Curtea Veche) are still visible today in the Old Town. It was built as a royal residence during the rule of Vlad the Impaler, who moved Wallachia's capital to Bucharest in 1459 after a long period of having the capital in various small towns in Wallachia.
Aside from the monumental Triumphal Arch that reminds of Bucharest’s Little Paris years, other points of interest specific to Wallachian history and culture are the following:
Manuc's Inn: refurbished as a traditional Romanian restaurant in the old city center, it shows how old Ottoman inns functioned in their glory days. The space was organized around a courtyard, with the stalls on the ground floor and the rooms for guests (musafir) on the first floor; the shops were displayed on the streets, on the opposite side of the courtyard.
Stavropoleos Church: Stavropolis means "The city of the Cross'' in Greek. Built in the typical Romanian Brâncovenesc style, the church was part of a former monastery for nuns. The interior walls and cupola have colorful old frescoes representing saints and other biblical stories. The church houses the most extensive collection of Byzantine music books in the country, and you can listen to it if you join the religious services.
Snagov Monastery: northwest of Bucharest, this medieval monastery sits on an island in the middle of Snagov Lake. Several monks live here, and you must cross the lake by boat (call the monks for that!). The church has a Byzantine style with local decorative elements, such as exposed bricks placed at different angles to create an ornamental belt.
Here you have a more in depth guide of Bucharest.
Wallachia had many other fascinating historic cities, but most of their city centers were demolished by the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu during Communism. He then rebuilt many of the city centers, transforming them into civic centers as a proud symbol of the regime.
Therefore, many cities in Wallachia have a limited amount of tourism significance despite their rich historical past. However, each town has several heritage monuments and streets with old houses, making them exciting places to see.
Craiova is one of the ten largest cities in Romania and is more well-known as a new university town founded on the site of the ancient Dacian and Roman stronghold Pelendava. Today, the city features several historic museums, including an Art Museum, an Ethnographic Museum, and a Natural Science Museum. The city center is lively, but people mainly stroll along the new communist boulevard with cafes and restaurants.
While working on my thesis, I explored Craiova to find something significant. I enjoyed the old preserved neighborhood, with 19th-century houses and shaded vine gardens. I had a homey feeling trying to imagine how people lived there. Of course, many cats lay in the sun to confirm my suspicions.
Slanic Prahova Salt Mine: the salt extraction operations here trace their origins to the Middle Ages. It is the largest salt mine in Europe and features a microclimate with natural air-conditioning and constant temperature and atmospheric pressure throughout the year. The mine has two levels, with several enormous halls where you can find different entertaining activities, such as table tennis and playgrounds for kids.
Peleș Castle is in Sinaia, in the Prahova Valley (a hotspot for ski resorts). It was the former summer residence of the royal family, and today is considered the most beautiful castle in central Romania - and the first European castle to have electricity! The neo-renaissance castle and its smaller annexes stand in a large meadow on the backdrop of the Bucegi mountains.
As a student, I used to go skiing in Sinaia on weekends. We rushed on our skies through the castle's domain to catch the last train back to Bucharest. Nothing could have convinced us to come home earlier, and the "castle shortcut" helped us immensely!
Poenari Citadel: This castle has a legitimate connection to the notorious Wallachian prince Vlad Tepeș (associated with Count Dracula). It was a mighty fortress, built on top of an abrupt rock at the end of a long line of 1480 stairs.
In the 13th century, Walachian leaders recognized the castle's vantage point and built a tower to guard the strategic pass linking Wallakia with the region of Transylvania. Later, Vlad Tepeș enlarged the original tower, using it as a fortress and a prison.
The citadel is right at the start of the Transfăgărășan main road, so it's easy to stop over if you are crossing the mountains to Transylvania.
Curtea de Argeș Monastery: built by the Wallakian ruler Neagoe Basarab, it is one of the most significant ecclesiastical sites in the country. It also features the burial place for several Wallachian voivodes - the white marble tombstones of King Carol I and his wife Elizabeth, King Ferdinand I and British-born Queen Marie, and Neagoe Basarab and his wife.
The marble tiles used for the monastery were brought in from Constantinople, and the interiors are covered in mural paintings in oil, making this a masterpiece of Romanian medieval architecture. The church's exterior is entirely made of white stone, with many intricate decorations adorning the church's windows, walls, and towers.
As the small town was the Wallachian capital in the fourteenth century, the 13th-century ruins of the princely court are not far away from the monastery. In the compound, St. Nicholas Church is one of the country's oldest monuments preserved in its original form. It features original 14th-century frescoes, and once you're inside, search for the rare painting of a pregnant Mary. The church also holds 21 burial tombs of early rulers.
Târgoviște: not far from Bucharest, this town was the royal capital of Wallachia from 1418 well into the 16th century. Mircea the Old built the princely court (Curtea Domnească), which then remained a formal residence for Walachian princes, including Vlad the Impaler. Even today, you can feel the greatness of this compound while wandering amidst the medieval ruins.
Part of the complex, Chindia Tower (Turnul Chindiei), was built by Vlad the Impaler in the 15th century and stands as an emblem of Târgoviște's history. A symbol of Wallachian power, the 27-meter-high tower was part of the town's defensive past, serving as a watchtower.
Not a happy history event but notable for Romania's communist past, at Târgoviște, you can also relive the contemporary history at the modest army base, where Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife were shot on Christmas day in December 1989. I was a kid when this happened, and I still have goosebumps when I think about it - it is an essential part of our history.
Câmpulung: I know you've been reading about many medieval capitals in Wallachia, but I promise this is the last one. You have to trust me.
Câmpulung was the first capital of Wallachia, and since that time, we have the 14th-century Negru Vodă Monastery. The monastery holds defensive walls since Wallachia was a vassal state province of the Ottoman Empire. Ottomans ordered the demolition of all town fortifications in Wallachia and Moldavia, so the Moldavian rulers and the Wallachian ones fortified the monasteries with solid walls as a side role to their original religious purpose.
Strolling the historic town, you notice many traders' houses lining up the main street and Romanian Orthodox churches with old frescoes in the residential neighborhoods. The city was also an active spa center in the 19th century, and thanks to this, it features many remarkable eclectic villas built in the New Romanian style, called Neo-Românesc.
Horezu Monastery: In this part of Wallachia, called Oltenia, a string of monasteries runs along the foothills of the Carpathians. Most monasteries were raised at the behest of progressive despots but rebuilt in the late 17th century in the Romanian style called Brâncovenesc. This is the first pure Romanian architectural style, developed by and named after Constantin Brâncoveanu, ruler of Wallachia.
Horezu Monastery is one of the most important such monasteries, and for good reason: listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery brought the Brâncovenesc style at its most exceptional level, the whole monastery courtyard and the church being enriched with typical decorations of the style.
Târgu Jiu: Târgu Jiu hasn't preserved anything from medieval times like other cities in Wallachia. It houses a remarkable open-air display, though, and it's a must for modern sculpture lovers. Here, you can find modern minimalist sculptures of the internationally acclaimed Romanian master Constantin Brâncuși, born in the region.
In 1935, he was commissioned to create a series of public works as a homage to Romanian soldiers who fought and sacrificed their lives against the Germans in WWII. The sculptures represent the highest point of his career in the late ‘30s (before spending the rest of his life in Paris), showing his talent for proportions, simplicity, and symbolism.
The sculptures are clustered in the Central Park - Table of Silence, the Gate of the Kiss, and the Alley of Chairs, while the Endless Column is one kilometer further.
Even if you’re not into modern sculpture, like me, stop for several hours anyway. You know the saying: you don't need to be an expert to recognize quality art. When I saw Brâncuși's sculptures, I was so thrilled as the works transmitted to me the high energy of their creation.
Mud Volcanoes: In Buzău County, mud volcanoes are a rare natural phenomenon, consisting of gas emanations coming out through a thick underground layer of mud. You can witness the phenomenon in several places, but the most well-known ones are Pâclele Mari and Pâclele Mici.
You must take care as you walk here because you'll sink into the soft mud (and get very muddy, too). The mud erupts at the surface occasionally, dries up in contact with air, and forms structures very similar to small volcanic craters.
I enjoyed the nearby Berca Mud Volcanoes more. They are less frequented and more natural, but you'll also have to sacrifice a pair of shoes to experience nature's unicity.
Oltenia cula: In the western part of Wallachia, the semi-fortified medieval dwellings called cula (cule) were widespread during the Ottoman expansion. The Ottomans banned cities from being fortified with walls and towers, so local people found unique and ingenious solutions to defend themselves.
The Oltenian culas usually had a fortified ground floor for storage and defensive purposes, while the upper floors served for living. The most representative examples are the Cula in Măldărești, Cula Greceanu, or Cula Racoviță.
Drobeta Turnu Severin: standing on the bank of the Danube River bordering Serbia, Turnu Severin was once a thriving Roman castrum. It is known for the remains of Emperor Trajan's bridge (103 AD) that spanned over the Danube here 2000 years ago. It was an ingenious engineering solution, having more than one kilometer in length and 15 meters wide. The modern city was laid out on the site of the ancient Roman colony, overlapping its 19th-century street network on the straight rectangular Roman layout.
South of the city, the Danube breaks through the Carpathians. It begins a series of twists and turns between towering rocks known as the Iron Gates National Park protected area. The name comes from the controversial power plant project - a Romanian-Yugoslav joint venture conceived in the '60s, where you can visit the power plant and go down five levels to the turbines. As you can see, the region of Wallachia has a rich historical, cultural, and modern significance, ranging from Roman antiquity to medieval times and 19th-century heritage buildings. There are diverse sites from all historical eras - sometimes even overlapping in the same place, which only makes an incursion more intriguing for the newcomer.
As you dig deeper, you discover a rich heritage that is usually not explored in depth as it deserves. If you need more help, remember that we are here.
Just drop us a message, and we will be back to you.
Your Romanian friend,
4 times a year we prepare a newsletter with local stories, places and our special insights about Romanian culture and local life that will inspire you to visit our country and have an authentic local experience. Would you like to get it?