Wallachia and Oltenia
Wallachia is the former principality on the lower Danube River, which in 1859 joined Moldavia to form the state of Romania. Its name is derived from that of the Vlachs, who constituted the majority of its population. Walachia was bounded on the north and northeast by the Transylvanian Alps, on the west, south, and east by the Danube River, and on the northeast by the Siret River. Traditionally it is considered to have been founded in 1290 by Radu Negru, a military governor of Fagaras in southern Transylvania who crossed the Transylvanian Alps and settled at Campulung. The new principality was initially dominated by Hungary, from whose feudal domination and proselytism the Orthodox Vlachs had fled. Basarab I defeated the Hungarian king Charles Robert in 1330 and secured Walachian independence.
The new principality prospered from its rich agricultural development and from the flow of trade passing through it between northern Europe and the Black Sea. It faced dangers from Hungary, which tried to restore its domination, as well as from the Ottoman Turks, who steadily extended their control over the Balkan Peninsula during the 14th century. By 1391 Prince Mircea the Old was obliged to pay tribute to the Turks, and in 1417 he acknowledged Turkish suzerainty.
Subsequently, Walachia was allowed to retain its own dynasty, territory, and religion. It was, however, compelled to pay tribute and grant trade concessions to the Ottoman Empire, to become a major supplier of agricultural goods to the Turks, to plan its foreign policy in accordance with Turkish policies, and to submit to the sultan’s choice of ruler. Numerous princes continued Walachia’s resistance to the Turks; e.g., Vlad the Impaler and Michael the Brave, who in 1600 briefly united Walachia with Moldavia and Transylvania. But Walachia submitted to Turkish domination. After 1716 the Turks ceased to select Walachia’s prince from among the native dynasty and instead appointed an influential Phanariote, a Greek administrator in Ottoman service. Russian influence in Walachia increased during the 18th century, and in 1774 Russia asserted the right to intervene in its affairs, though it continued to recognize Turkish suzerainty.
During the 19th century an uprising in Walachia (1821) caused the Turks to end the unpopular Fanariote regime. Under Russian guidance a variety of political reforms were undertaken, including the adoption in 1831 of a constitution, the Reglement Organique. The Turks’ trade monopoly was abandoned, providing lucrative opportunities for large landowners to deal with Western Europe while increasing the labour burden on Walachia’s peasants, who did not receive their full freedom until 1864.
The European powers ended Russia’s protectorate after the Crimean War (1856). Walachia’s ruling assembly, which was influenced by a growing movement of Romanian nationalism, then voted (1859) to unite with Walachia’s northeastern neighbour Moldavia under Prince Alexandru Ion Cuza and to form the single state of Romania, which achieved its independence from the Turks in 1878.
Surrounded by Olt River, Central Carpathians and the Danube, Oltenia enjoys a position that has helped it develop particular natural features and allowed its inhabitants to value their creativity. The beauty of the results have become famous in the entire World: the sculpture set signed by Constantin Brancusi – the Column of Infinity, the Gate of Kiss, the Alley of Chairs and the Table of Silence – and the monasteries of Tismana and Horezu, built in the Brancovenesc architectural style. Nature expressed its creativity in a collection of spectacular shape, starting with Defileul Jiului that creates a fairy-tale like passage between Oltenita and Transylvania, continuing with the picturesque Olt Valley and the caves at Polovraci and Muierii ( Women’s Cave) , real archaeological reservations.