Wallachia is the southernmost region of Romania, bordered by Transylvania to the north and the Danube River on the south. It’s mostly flat land, used for agriculture and industry. At first glance, Wallachia may seem to lack the glamour and mystery of Transylvania. But, look again…this is where early Romanian history happened!
Founded in 1290, Wallachia was originally supposed to serve as a buffer between Hungary and the Ottoman Turks. But in 1330, Wallachia won its independence from Hungary—the first of the Romanian regions to do so. It prospered in the 14th century, but eventually fell to the Turks in 1417.
This is when Vlad Tepes—the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written 400 years later—became famous. Vlad was a Wallachian prince who ruled in 1448, 1456-1462, and 1476, following the deaths of his father and older brother. The name “Dracula” came from his father, Vlad Dracul, “Vlad the Dragon,” a title the elder Vlad received when he became a member of the Order of the Dragon. “Dracula” meant “son of the dragon” in medieval Romanian.
His cruel and gruesome tactics against the Turks earned him the name of “Vlad the Impaler.” In reality, Vlad Tepes is considered a national hero for defying the Turks and refusing to pay the tribute they demanded. He showed his disdain by capturing and impaling the envoys sent by the Ottoman sultan.
Today, most tourists go to Transylvania to see the fictional Dracula’s Castle of Stoker’s novel, but the place that Vlad Tepes lived is Poienari Citadel, located in Curtea de Arges. From the 13th century, the citadel stood guard between Wallachia and Transylvania. Vlad Tepes enlarged the original castle, making it a fortress and prison. Today, we stop here on our “Real Dracula’s Castle and Transfagarasan Tour!
Bucharest: The Gem of Wallachia
Most international flights arrive in Bucharest. The capital of Romania is the perfect place to begin your trip. Don’t let the concrete buildings that remain from the Communist era detract you. Today’s Bucharest is lively and fun! With 37 museums, 22 theatres, 18 art galleries, plus opera houses and concert halls, plan on spending several days here.
“Vlad the Impaler” made Bucharest his capital in 1459. It was situated on an important trade route and a safe distance from Hungarian powers, so he established his royal court in the fortified settlement. His palace and church are among the city’s oldest buildings.
Vlad’s decision was spot-on. By the end of the 17th century, Bucharest had become one of southeast Europe’s wealthiest cities. It went on to be the country’s capital in 1862, because it was on the east-west trade route that Vlad had recognized. By the early 20th century, Bucharest was in its Golden Age. With beautiful neoclassical architecture, spacious parks, tree-lined boulevards, and a center for the arts and culture, Europe called it “Little Paris” or “Paris of the East.”
Much of Bucharest would be destroyed with WWII bombings, earthquakes, and dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s cruel destruction of classic buildings. However, Bucharest is resilient, and determined to revive itself. Its successful efforts await you. Come and be dazzled!
Join our “Bucharest by Night” walking tour to get an introduction to our city!
Highlights of Bucharest
Two of the city’s most important squares, Piata Victoriei and Piata Revolutiei, are connected by a lovely walk along Calea Victoriei, the oldest and most charming street in Bucharest. Dating to 1692, it’s where wealthy residents built their homes. Fashionable shops on the boulevard sold luxury goods such as silks, furs, and imported furnishings. About 2 miles (3km) long, lined with beautiful buildings, it still has Old World elegance.
Piata Victoriei, on the north end of Calea Victoriei, was completed in 1944. It may look like nothing more than drab Socialist concrete and heavy traffic patterns. Look again…there is a lot to discover!
What to see near Piata Victoriei:
Museum of the Romanian Peasant: One of the most enjoyable museums in Bucharest, it opened in 1906. It holds nearly 100,000 artifacts that tell the story of the Romanian people. Displays show rural life, costumes, and artwork from all parts of the country. Reconstructed buildings include a windmill, peasant home, and wooden churches. Don’t miss the collection of 2,000 clay animals. The gift shop features regional textiles and crafts. This outstanding museum was awarded European Museum of the Year in 1996.
National History Museum: Muzeul de Istorie Natuala Grigore Antipa is named after the Romanian conservationist and the museum’s director for more than fifty years. The highlight of the museum is the 15-foot (4.5m) fossil elephant from the Miocene era, discovered in Moldavia in 1890. The three floors cover Romania’s geology, geography, and animal life. The museum is perfect for families, and will keep all visitors busy for a few hours.
Piata Revolutiei, Revolution Square, is where dictator Nicolae Ceausescu stood on the balcony of the Communist Party Headquarters, on 21 December 1989, and realized he was defeated. He attempted to escape by helicopter, but was captured a few hours later.
What to see near Piata Revolutiei:
National Art Museum ( Palatul Regal, former Royal Palace of King Carol II and his son King Mihai I) was founded in 1948 to keep the Royal Collection. First built in 1812 as a private home, it now houses over 100,000 art works in two collections. The National Gallery focuses on Romanian artists, including the early works of world-famous sculptor Constatin Brancusi, a student of August Rodin. Brancusi left the famous Paris artist to create his own advanced style. It’s the most complete and impressive gathering of Romanian art in the world. The European Gallery features treasures from Monet, Rembrandt, El Greco, Cezanne, and Rubens.
Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Roman) was completed in 1888 by “Give a Penny” public funding. One of the few circular auditoriums in Europe, its Doric columns and high dome resemble an ancient temple. The perfect acoustics make it the premier concert hall in Bucharest; check the calendar to see if a George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra concert is scheduled.
Kretzulescu Church (Biserica Cretulescu) is Bucharest’s most celebrated church. deserves a visit. Built in 1722, and heavily damaged by the 1977 earthquake and 1989 revolution, the small red-brick church still has magnificent frescoes, completed in 1859 by Gheorghe Tattarescu.
Old Town Bucharest: A Mix of Cultures
The roots of Bucharest are here, going back to the early 1400s. Although shops were established by Romanian, Austrian, Greek, and Jewish settlers, the area became known as “Lipscani,” after the German traders from Lipsca, or Leiptiz. The blend of nationalities can be seen in the architecture and street names: Covaci (blacksmiths), Gavroveni (knife makers), and Cavafii Vechii (shoe makers).
Today, Old Town is a thriving community with coffee houses, restaurants, galleries, and a vibrant nightclub scene. A few places to visit here:
Old Princely Court and Church (Palatui Curtea Veche si Biserica Curtea Veche): Again, the name Vlad Tepes appears. At the center of Old Town Bucharest are the remains of his 15th century structures. According to legend, he kept prisoners in dungeons here. Today, the Old Court Museum shows remains of the fortress, as well as artifacts from the earliest inhabitants of Bucharest.
Manuc’s Inn (Hanul lui Manuc) was built in 1804 by Emanuel Marzaian, a wealthy Armenian trader. By the mid-1800s, it was the most important commercial building in Bucharest, with 23 shops and 107 rooms to rent or stay. It’s no longer a hotel, but has an excellent restaurant, Hanu’ lui Manuc, with an authentic Romanian menu, as well as a wine cellar and pastry shop.
Stavropoleos Church (Biserica Stravropoleos): Built as part of a monastery and inn in 1724, this tiny church is one of the most religious monuments in Bucharest. It has beautiful Oriental, Byzantine, Italian Renaissance and Romanian motifs, as well as an open-air collection of stone crosses and artifacts from demolished churches in the city. If you can only see one church in Bucharest, this is it!
More Sights in Bucharest!
Parliament Palace (Palatul Parlamentului): After the Pentagon in Washington, DC, this is the second biggest administrative building in the world. Built by ego-maniac NIcolae Ceausescu during the 1980s, the colossal building makes everything near it look miniature. It has 12 stories, plus eight underground levels, including a bunker in case of nuclear attack. Inside, there are 1,100 rooms, 34 conference halls, four restaurants, three libraries, and a concert hall. Officially named Casa Republicii—The Republic’s House–citizens dubbed it Casa Nebunului, or “Madman’s House.” After the fall of Communism, the new country decided to use it for the Senate and Parliament. Romania’s Museum of Modern Art is here, too. There are several tours available.
Village Museum (Muzeul Satului): Located in northern Bucharest, on Lake Herastrau, many consider the Village Museum to be the best attraction in Bucharest. This collection of over 300 structures from all over the country shows the diversity of Romanian folk architecture. Founded in 1936, you’ll see homes, churches, windmills, fruit presses, and gateways. Outstanding wooden carvings from Maramures demonstrate art in daily life, and the attention to detail in even the smallest homes. Houses include log cabins, thatched, mud-brick, and “pit” homes, with gardens growing on the rooftops. All were carefully taken apart and reassembled on the museum’s property.
Peles Castle: The Most Beautiful in Romania
Wallachia has other surprises, too. Just 90 minutes north of Bucharest is Prahova Valley, in the foothills of the Bucegi Mountains. This area is where Romanians come to ski. The most popular ski resort is Sinaia, a picturesque town with colorful wooden houses and stately 19th century buildings. In the summer, Sinaia offers hikers the opportunity to explore the hills and rest in the network of cabanas along the trails.
Sinaia was undiscovered until Romania’s first king, Carol I, visited the region and decided to build his summer castle in the beautiful mountains. He named his new home Peles Castle, after the Peles creek, which runs through the courtyard.
Peles Castle (Castelul Peles) construction began in 1873, and required architects, engineers, artisans, and craftsmen from 14 countries. It’s considered the most beautiful castle in Romania. It was also the first to have electricity, elevators, and central heating, all generated by the castle’s own power plant. The 160 rooms were filled with examples of European craftsmanship: Murano glass chandeliers, German stained-glass windows, and Cordoba leather-covered walls. The Theatre Hall has a painting by a young Austrian artist named Gustav Klimt.
Our guided tour of Peles Castle covers 18 ground-floor rooms. During the tour, we will see the Imperial Suite, the fantastic Reception Hall, the Florentine Hall, and the Louis XIV Hall. You will also see Romania’s first “at-home” cinema, which showed the first movie in Romania in 1906! (NOTE: There is a fee for photography during the tour.)
Sinaia offers an easy entry into Transylvania, known for its forests, castles, and fairy-tale scenery. It’s also one of the other regions we offer tours.
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