Bucharest Up Until the Mid of Our Century as It Used to Be and Never Will Again
Adrian Cioroianu
Translated by Octavian Logigan and Sorana Corneanu

As an example, we could take the very name of the capital, Bucuresti. There is a legendary aura to its moment of foundation, which has always been well received, all the more so as the strictly documentary mention of the city comes rather late. The legend has it that the name of the city comes from a certain Bucur who lived in the whereabouts and was either a wealthy shepherd or an influent merchant and landowner. Others believe that the foundation of the city is coeval with the foundation of the Romanian Principality or Wallachia - which, in its legendary version, is due to the equally legendary Negru Voda (The Black Prince), whose actual historical existence is quite insubstantial. At any rate, chronicles of the latter half of the 14th century gloss the existence of a "city of Dimbovita" - a possible early settlement in the area now called Bucharest.

3. More legends than there are documents

All mentions made so far remain however under the all-reaching spell of legends. On the one hand, it should be made clear that the name of Bucuresti is by no means unique as reference in early Romanian toponimy, as there are other sites known under the name in Wallachia, Moldavia and even Transylvania. It is not likely that their relation is coincidental, but it is indeed likely that all are generated by a founding Bucur whom many recognized as their ancestor. On the other hand, we know that the status of a capital was granted to the city of Bucharest only at a later date.  Its first documentary mention is September 20th 1459, under the form of a legal act in the time of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, prince between 1456 and 1462 and for a shorter while in 1476, a figure mainly known abroad as the prototype of blood-thirsty Dracula). At that time, the Principality had as its center the city of Tirgoviste and, before that, the city of Curtea de Arges. However, Vlad spent most of the time in Bucharest (where, according to some historians, his grandfather, Mircea cel Batrin - Mircea the Old, ruler between 1386 and 1418, had built a princely residence), so as to keep an eye on the banks of the Danube and watch the way on which the Ottoman troops used to come and invade the country.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, there was still competition between the cities of Bucharest and Tirgoviste for the status of residence of the Princely Court, but due to a more pronounced dynamism, the future belonged to the former. In 1476, Mathias Corvin, the Magyar prince, described Bucharest as the most powerful citadel of the Romanian Principality in a letter addressed to Pope Sixtus the Fourth. Fifty and more years later, another ruler of the Romanian Principality, another Vlad, confirms the statement made by Mathias indirectly and unawares. In 1532, after a two-year reign (and after an epoch-making banquet, or so the story goes), he drowned while trying to cross Dimbovita on horse-back (hence his historical cognomen, Vlad Inecatul - Vlad the Drowned One). This unfortunate event also certifies to the quality of Romanian wines and to the vicinity of Bucharest to renowned vine yards of the country. The tradition of the Romanian ruling élites? passion for wine-drinking neither begins nor ends with the tragic fate of Vlad the Drowned One: for many medieval rulers of the country, even for the most outstanding ones, wine was at least as praised as nectar was among the gods in Olympus.

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