Oltenia (Lesser Wallachia in antiquated versions, with the alternate Latin names Wallachia Minor, Wallachia Alutana, Wallachia Caesarea in use between 1718 and 1739) is a historical province and geographical region of Romania, in western Wallachia. It is situated between the Danube, the Southern Carpathians and the Olt river (although counties to the east run across the river in Muntenia in some areas).
A must stop for art lovers is the town of Targu Jiu on the banks of the Jiu River. This former market town is closely associated with Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian artist who is considered to be the founder of modern sculpture.
Some of Romania’s most tranquil monasteries can be found in this region, including Horezu, a masterpiece of the ‘Brancovenesti’ architectural style and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Horezu is also a renowned pottery center, where travelers can marvel at the colorful pottery created in local workshops by talented artisans.
When you mention traditional food in the Oltenia region, Oltenian sausages come first to mind – finely chopped beef and pork meat mixed with garlic, pepper and salt, and then stuffed into sheep guts and smoked for two hours. Then you have to mention beef ragout, carp stuffed with mushroom, lamb stew with chives and smoked bacon. In this region, like all over the country, onion and garlic are highly praised, combined with other ingredients to make deliciously savory dishes.
The university town of Craiova, founded on the site of the Dacian stronghold Pelendava (which later became the Roman Castra Nova), prides itself on the strong academic tradition and wealth of important historical figures who passed through here on their journey to fame: Wallachian Prince Mihai Viteazu – who served as the ban (military governor) of Craiova and achieved the first unification of the three Romanian principalities in 1600, the world-famous sculptor Constantin Brancusi – who studied at the Craiova Art School (Scola de Arte si Meserii) between 1894 – 1898 and carved his first sculptures here, and Craiova-born Petrache Poenary (1799- 1875) – inventor of the first cartridge fountain pen.
The majority of train locomotives in Romania originated at the Electroputere workshops in Craiova.
In 1913, the treaty of peace which ended the Balkan War, treaty known in history as The Peace from Craiova, was signed here.
The bans had the right of coining money stamped with their own effigies, hence the name of bani (centimes) in Romanian language.
The city hosts a great number of religious buildings, many of them dating back to medieval times. The Church of Cosuna Monastery for example is the oldest building preserved in Craiova, dating from the 15th century. You can spend a relaxing afternoon visiting the monastery, located only 2.1 miles outside of the city centre. Another religious site, Madona Dudu Church, is renowned for its mural paintings, completed by the famous Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattarescu (1818 – 1894).
For those who want to find out more about the history and the traditions of this region we recommend a visit to the Oltenia Museum, housed in Baniei House (1699), the oldest non-religious building that exists in Craiova and one of the oldest lay buildings in the country.
Art lovers should definitely not miss the Art Museum in Craiova, hosted in the Dinu Mihail Palace, built in the early 1900s in neo-classic style by a French architect. The Museum exhibits valuable masterpieces created by famous Romanian painters, among them Craiova-born Theodor Aman (1831 – 1891) and Nicolae Grigorescu (1838 – 1907). One of its main attractions is the section dedicated to Constantin Brancusi, comprising six of his early sculptures.
At the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, Craiova’s architecture underwent a transformation with the creation of the Brancovenesti style, a combination of Romanian traditional art, Byzantine and Venetian elements. Churches still displaying elements of the Brancovenesti style include: the Saint Ilie Church / Biserica Sfantu Ilie, built in 1720 by Ilie Oteteleseanu and the great tradesmen of the town, the All Saints Church / Biserica Tuturor Sfintilor (1700), the Old Saint Gheorghe Church / Biserica Sfantu Gheorghe Vechi (1730), the Obedeanu Monastery / Manastirea Obedeanu (1747), the Mantuleasa Church / Biserica Mantuleasa (1786), the Saint Nicolas Church / Biserica Sfantul Nicolae (1794).
The Jitianu Monk Monastery, located 4.6 miles south of the city centre, was built under the guidance of Lady Balasa, wife of ruler Constantin Basarab Carnu (1654- 1658), and houses a rich collection of medieval art objects. For those interested in enjoying a relaxing afternoon outside, the Nicolae Romanescu Park, is a veritable green oasis. The park is one of the valuable monuments of landscape architecture in Romania. The plans for the park, designed by French architect Emile Rendont, were awarded the gold medal at the 1900 World Fair. Through the initiative of Nicolae P. Romanescu, then mayor of Craiova, work on the park began in 1901 and was completed in 1903.
For the ones who want to experience the nature more scientifically, a stop at the Botanical Garden would be the best choice.
Horezu Monastery & Horezu Pottery Center
The Horezu Monastery, the largest monastic settlement in Walachia, was founded in 1690 by Prince Constantine Brancoveanu. A masterpiece of the Brancovenesti style and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Horezu is renowned for the richness of its sculptural detail, the treatment of its religious compositions and its painted decorative works. The monastery houses precious collections of frescoes and icons dating from the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The nearby village of Horezu is home to one of the biggest pottery centres in Romania. Nearly a century ago, local nuns taught the villagers how to make and paint pottery, and ever since, people have come from far and wide to get their hands on Horezu’s ceramic.
Curtea de Arges
Curtea de Arges is a city in Romania, situated on the right bank of the Argeş River, where it flows through a valley of the lower Carpathians (the Făgăraş Mountains), on the railway from Piteşti to the Turnu Roşu Pass. It is part of the Argeş County.
Fifty miles east of Horezu you can visit another stunning architectural gem: the 16th century Curtea de Arges Monastery (Manastirea Curtea de Arges), toppled with two towers spiraling in opposite directions. Behold the sad legend of Manole as you take in its beauty. Romania’s first two kings and queens are buried here.
A former Roman settlement, the city of Targu Jiu lies at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, on the banks of the river Jiu. Inhabited since Paleolithic times, the region of western Oltenia was of strategic importance to the Romans. The area provided direct access, through one of the most spectacular passes in the Carpathians, to present-day Transylvania, the heart of the former Dacian Kingdom.
Constantin Brancusi, one of the most influential modern sculptors of the 20th century, was born near Targu Jiu, in Hobita. Although he lived and worked for most of his life in Paris, his legacy is also preserved in Romania, in the city of Targu Jiu.
The Jiu River valley was the scene of heavy fighting during World War I and World War II. Here, in a monumental ensemble, Brancusi created three sculptures as a memorial to the 8,500 Romanian soldiers who died defending the Jiu Valley from the advancing German army. The three sculptures, the Silence Table (Masa Tacerii), the Kiss Gate (Poarta Sarutului) and the Endless Column (Coloana Infinitului), are placed on mile-long (1.5 km) east-west axis that runs through the heart of the city. The Table of Silence, made from limestone, features twelve chairs, originally placed much closer to the table and arranged in pairs.
The Kiss Gate, made out of marble, features a kiss motif on the gate pillars. The entire structure is supported on a steel axle, set in a concrete foundation of five square meters.
The Endless Column stacks 17 rhomboidal cast iron modules in a 30-meter high column. The modules, completed in 1938, were made in the central workshop of Petroşani. The column was restored in 1964.
Targu Jiu is also the capital of Gorj County, a region of rolling meadows, grassy hills and mountain scenery with plenty of natural and cultural attractions to explore. Tiny towns and villages dot the county, and contain some marvelous traditional architecture. Several spa towns and monasteries high in the mountains make for popular excursions.