History Lesson – Targoviste, Romania

“History is the version of the past that people have decided to agree upon” – Napoleon Bonaparte

In our previous article, Urban Backpackers, we talked about the capital city of Romania. However, looking a bit back in history, one can learn that Bucharest wasn’t always the most important city of the country. Between the early 15th century and the 16th century, Targoviste was one of the two seats of government of Wallachia, along with Curtea de Arges.

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Ruins of the “Royal Residence”

Archaeological diggings prove that the area was inhabited ever since the Neolithic Period – the Archeology Museum houses relics from all ages, including the Bronze and Iron Eras, as well Geto-Dacian tools and ornaments.  There are traces of settlements dating back from the II-V centuries and wherever you walk down the streets of Targoviste, you can encounter either churches, ruins, a citadel, a tower or a wall, landmarks that tell tales from the history books.

To give you a better picture on why the rulers of Wallachia chose Targoviste as the dominant city of the region, I will give you an insight into parts of the geography of Romania.

On the hilly plains of Muntenia, where the Sub-Carpathians meets the Romanian Plain, lies an old crossroad of historical trading routs. Ever since the Middle Ages, Targoviste, the town situated at this road junction, got its name from the Bulgarian word for “marketplace” (Targ) and it was first documented as a Royal Residence in the traveling journals of Johann Schiltberger in the late 14th century. One of these roads takes you to the former capital – Curtea de Arges –while another takes you towards today’s metropolis, Bucharest.

Starting the reign of Mircea the Elder of Wallachia, who recognized the strategic positioning of the city, Targoviste flourished under the leadership of 33 rulers, bringing many craftsmen and merchants on the right bank of Ialomita River, each ruler  looking to leave their mark on this once a great capital.

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View from outside the fortification.

Now reduced to ruins we see the highlight of Targoviste – “The Princely Court”, a complex of buildings and strongholds that still captivate the visitors through their religious, political and economical values gained throughout the medieval ages.

The first construction takes us back in the early 1400s when Mircea the Elder set up the Royal Residence, surrounded by  a stone wall and quadrilateral towers.

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The tower of Vlad Tepes

Towards the middle of the century, when Vlad „The Impaler” Tepes came into power, he built the „Chindiei Tower” for military purposes, used as a guard point, fire spotter and storage for the state treasury. Going up the 122 wooden stairs and reaching the top of the tower, you can see the past being slowly turned by modern times, the land growing old as generations come to pass. No taller buildings to obstruct a serene view of what looks like a quiet settling.

On these grounds, a century later, during the renovation of “the Princely Court”, “The Great Princely Church” was raised by Petru Cercel also connecting it through an underground tunnel to the other quarters. Gardens were created and later on, in 1656, were adorned with the addition of “Balasa House” which was initially destined to house the poor and the ill and later became a school.

Another landmark to be mentioned here is the great “Dealu Monastery” built over the grounds of a church dating back from Mircea the Elder’s reign. The monastery was built by Radu the Great with the purpose of surpassing all others of the kind, the location presenting a high emotional value for the ruler (his father Vlad “the Monk”, brother of Vlad Tepes, had ruled there before). Here is where the Serbian monk Macarie installed the first printing-press in Wallachia.

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“The Great Princely Church” and its restored tunnel

Targoviste’s history was a troublesome one. The rulers mentioned above were not the only ones to leave their footprints on the land of the city, yet many marks were erased during the countless wars fought within the walls of the citadel. The most notable downfalls of the citadel were during Gheorghe Ghica’s reign, who, under Ottoman pressure, had to destroy the fortifications and part of the palace, as well as after Constantin Brancoveanu’s reign, when Bucharest became the capital city of Romania as we know it today.

With these in mind, I invite you to read the article to follow! Returning to the series of interviews I was mentioning in the “People of Romania” articles, we will bear the past in mind and discover the present Targoviste from people born and raised in the medieval city.

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