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Before the formation of Romania in the 19th century, the Romanians were known as Vlachs, hence Wallachia. Romanians call Wallachia ‘Ţara Românească’ (Land of the Romanians).

Founded by Radu Negru in 1290, this principality was subject to Hungarian rule until 1330 when Basarab I (r 1310–52) defeated the Hungarian king Charles I and declared Wallachia independent, the first of the Romanian lands to achieve independence. The Wallachian princes (voievozi) built their first capital cities – Câmpulung Muscel, Curtea de Argeş and Târgovişte – close to the protective mountains, but in the 15th century Bucharest gained ascendancy.

After the fall of Bulgaria to the Turks in 1396 Wallachia faced a new threat, and in 1415 Mircea cel Bătrân (Mircea the Old; r 1386–1418) was forced to acknowledge Turkish suzerainty. Other Wallachian princes such as Vlad Ţepeş (r 1448, 1456–62, 1476) and Mihai Viteazul (r 1593–1601) became national heroes by defying the Turks and refusing to pay tribute. Indeed, Vlad Ţepeş’ legendary disposition and gruesome tactics against the Turks – and the old and the crippled and anyone else he didn’t much care for –directly inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, four centuries later, curiously relocating the ‘Prince of Darkness’ to Transylvania.

In 1859 Wallachia was united with Moldavia, paving the way for the modern Romanian state.