Piteşti is a city in Romania, located on the Argeş River. The capital and largest city of Argeş County, it is an important commercial and industrial center, as well as the home of two universities. Piteşti is situated on the A1 freeway connecting it directly to the national capital Bucharest, being an important railway junction, with a classification yard in nearby Bălileşti. The city houses the Arpechim oil refinery, and is a marketing center for the automotive industry, in particular Automobile Dacia.
Inhabited since prehistoric times but first mentioned in the 14th century, it developed as a trading town in northern Wallachia, serving as an informal residence for various Wallachian Princes until the 18th century. From the 19th century and until the interwar period, it was an important political center for the National Liberal Party and the main residence of the Brătianu family of politicians. During the early stages of the communist regime, it was one of the main sites of political repression, with the Piteşti prison becoming home to an experiment in brainwashing techniques.
The city is part of the historical region of Wallachia, being situated in its north and the westernmost part of its Muntenian subregion. It lies on the right bank of the Argeş, where the river meets its tributary, Râul Doamnei.
Piteşti is situated 280 m (918.64 ft) above sea level, on terraces formed by the Argeş, and belongs to the southernmost section of the Getic Plateau (an area of foothills leading up to the Southern Carpathians). The Plateau is at its narrowest in the Piteşti area, where it only reaches 30 km in width, as opposed to the 70–80 km average. The city has access to a piedmont plain, known as Câmpia Piteştilor ("Piteşti Plain") and characterized by water-meadows. To the west, it abuts the Trivale Forest, which has been partly set up as a leisure park.
Piteşti is adjacent to two reservoirs on the Argeş, in its Prundu area and in nearby Bascov (the Budeasa Dam). It is situated downstream from Lake Vidraru and upstream from the reservoir in Băileşti.
The earliest traces of human settlements in this area relate to the Paleolithic. Coins minted by the Dacians during the 3rd century BC, copying the design of Thracian tetradrachmon issued by Lysimachus, have been discovered here. A small Roman castrum was built sometime in the 3rd century AD in the vicinity of present-day Piteşti (part of a protection system for Roman Dacia and Moesia). During the Age of Migrations, the Piteşti area was, according to historian Constantin C. Giurescu, the site of trading between Vlachs and Slavs, which, in his opinion, was the origin of Târgul din Deal ("The Market on the Hill"), a separate locality.
Piteşti itself was first mentioned on May 20, 1386, when Wallachian Prince Mircea I granted a gristmill in the area to Cozia Monastery. Piteşti was subsequently one of the temporary residences of Wallachian Princes. Due to its positioning on the junction of major European routes (and its proximity to the Saxon markets in Hermannstadt, Transylvania), the city originally developed as an important commercial center. By the late 14th century, it became home to a sizable Armenian community.
At the time, the locality was only extending on the left bank of the Argeş, and gradually expanded over the river, reaching the hill slopes to the west (in the 19th century, it completely absorbed Târgul din Deal). While Piteşti was commonly designated as a high-ranking town, a village of Piteşti was still mentioned as late as 1528, which led some historians to conclude that the village and urban area coexisted within the same boundaries.
Although princely quarters have not been uncovered, among the rulers to issue documents from Piteşti were Basarab Ţepeluş cel Tânăr (1477–1481), Neagoe Basarab (1512–1521), Vlad Înecatul (1530–1532), Vlad Vintilă de la Slatina (1532–1535), Michael the Brave (1593–1601), Simion Movilă (1601–1602), Matei Basarab (1632–1654) and Constantin Şerban (1654–1658). In addition, Constantin Brâncoveanu (1688–1714), who owned large sections of vineyard in the area, is reported to have spent several seasons in the town.
Under Vlad Vintilă, who allied himself with the Holy Roman Empire against his Ottoman overlords, Aloisio Gritti (governor of Ottoman Hungary) and his Wallachian boyar partisans camped in the Piteşti neighborhood of Războieni, where they were attacked and defeated by the Prince. In 1600-1601, troops of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, led by Jan Zamoyski, were stationed in Piteşti during their expedition against Michael the Brave (see Moldavian Magnate Wars). Around that time, fighting occurred in and around the town as the new prince Radu Şerban clashed with the Ottomans and their Crimean Khanate allies.
Constantin Şerban financed the building of the Orthodox Saint George Church, completed in 1656; it was accompanied by a since-lost palace and adjacent gardens. Around that time, the city was visited by the Arab chronicler Paul of Aleppo and by the Swedish politician Claes Rålamb. It was during Brâncoveanu's rule that the city was home to Stolnic Constantin Cantacuzino, coinciding with the letters he exchanged with the English statesman William, Baron Paget. A tower and other princely houses, built by Brâncoveanu outside the town, gradually deteriorated over the 18th and 19th century (the last standing structure was lost in the 20th century). In 1689, Habsburg troops led by Louis William of Baden occupied the city as part of the Great Turkish War (they were repelled later that year).
In November 1714, as a direct result of Swedish defeats in the Great Northern War against Imperial Russia, Swedish King Charles XII unsuccessfully sought an alliance with Sultan Ahmed III; on his way back from Istanbul, the monarch, met by troops under the command of Axel Sparre, passed through Piteşti, and, after a three-week stay, made his way to Swedish Pomerania through Habsburg-ruled regions. During the Austro-Turkish War of 1716-1718, Habsburg troops attacked and captured the town; Piteşti was again the scene of battles during the Austro-Turkish War of 1737-1739.
In 1780, the Tuscan numismatist Domenico Sestini passed through the Argeş region, and described the town as having 250 houses and 7 churches. In 1804, the citizens requested to have an upper school opened (to offer lectures in Greek, the educational language of the time); their request was denied by Prince Constantine Ypsilantis. During the 1790s, Piteşti was visited by Luigi Mayer, a German pupil of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who left etchings of the region (including the very first one of Piteşti); they were published in London in 1810, with legends authored by T. Bowyer, whose caption for Piteşti read "nothing more wild or romantic can be conceived".
The town was an important location for events relating to the last stage of the Wallachian uprising of 1821 and the first stages of the Greek War of Independence: it was here that, in late spring 1821, the Wallachian rebel leader Tudor Vladimirescu settled after retreating from Bucharest, raising suspicion from his Eterist allies that he was planning to abandon the common cause (he was captured in the nearby locality of Băileşti and executed soon after, on orders from Eteria leader Alexander Ypsilantis).
The city was developed further after the 1859 unification of the Danubian Principalities and the creation of the Romanian Kingdom. Around that time, and lasting until the interwar period, the city became a National Liberal center, largely due to the Brătianu family of politicians residing in the nearby locality of Ştefăneşti. Their manor, Florica, housed most major reunions of the National Liberal leaders. For a short period in 1882, Piteşti was home to dramatist Ion Luca Caragiale, which has led some to propose that it was the unnamed National Liberal-dominated city depicted in Caragiale's famous play O scrisoare pierdută.
By 1872, a national railway connection with the capital Bucharest and Târgovişte was built, at the same time as one linking Bucharest with Ploieşti through Chitila. Overseen by Imperial German financier Bethel Henry Strousberg, this was the second project of its kind in Romania (after the Bucharest-Giurgiu rail link of 1869). The Piteşti Town Hall was completed in 1886, and currently houses an art gallery. The Argeş County Prefecture, designed by Dimitrie Maimarolu, was erected in 1898-1899 on the site previously occupied by an Orthodox hermitage; it is the present-day site of the County Museum of History and Natural Sciences. Both buildings are eclectic in style, and feature frescoes painted by Iosif Materna.
In 1868-1869, Piteşti was also the first city in Romania to have a recorded Seventh-day Adventist community, formed around Michał Belina-Czechowski, a Polish preacher and former Roman Catholic priest who had returned from the United States (the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Romania was established only after 1918).
From late autumn 1916 to 1918, during the World War I battles on the Romanian front, Piteşti was occupied by the troops of the Central Powers. The city was originally abandoned by the Romanian Army and taken by the German commander August von Mackensen as the front stabilized on the Olt River, before Mackensen was able to occupy Bucharest and the entire southern Romania. During the post-war existence of Greater Romania, Piteşti was a regional cultural center, notably hosting the 1928-1929 series of the magazine Kalende (published in cooperation by literary critics Vladimir Streinu, Şerban Cioculescu, Pompiliu Constantinescu and Tudor Şoimaru).
The city was affected in various ways by World War II and the successive regimes. After the fascist National Legionary State was proclaimed by the Iron Guard in late 1940, a bronze bust of former Premier Armand Călinescu (whom the Guard had assassinated in September 1939), was chained and dragged through the city streets. In December 1943, under the dictatorship of Conducător and Piteşti native Ion Antonescu, it saw the last deportation of Romani people into Romanian-occupied Transnistria. The city was sporadically bombed by the Allies: on July 4, 1944, it was struck by a section of the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force.
In the 1950s, when it served as capital of the newly-created Regiunea Argeş, the city gained an ill notoriety, when the communist authorities used the local detention facility to subject political detainees to the infamous Reeducation, in which violence between inmates was encouraged to the point of being mandatory. The experiment was carried out by the Securitate secret police and overseen by Alexandru Nicolschi; its goal was to psychologically destroy the capacity for outside attachment and outside loyalty, thus creating the brainwashed New Man meant to suit a Leninist society. It was canceled after five years. At a trial held in 1953-1954, twenty-two inmate-participants were sentenced, with sixteen being condemned to death for their role in the experiment. In 1957, a new trial convicted certain members of the prison staff, who received light sentences; they were later pardoned.
In parallel, the city underwent numerous changes in landscape, including the completion of the A1 freeway, the first road of its kind, during the 1960s, and the acceleration of industrialization with a focus on the chemical and automotive industries. Around 1950, the Piteşti area accommodated Greek refugees who supported ELAS during the Civil War (part of the buildings raised for this purpose were later used to house resettled peasants). Florica was nationalized in 1948, and was later partly devastated by Romanian Communist Party activists (for a while during the 1970s, it served as the residence of Communist politician Ion Dincă). The bust of Ion Brătianu, standing in front of the Saint Nicholas Church, was removed and melted, and the church itself was demolished in 1962.
Piteşti is one of the most industrialized cities in Romania. It is the center of the automotive industry in the country: the Automobile Dacia automaker is situated in the nearby town of Mioveni, and several other automobile parts manufacturers are located within its urban area (Dräxlmaier Group, Lear Corporation and Valeo). The city also houses the Arpechim oil refinery, part of the Petrom group. The plant, established as a state-owned company during the communist regime, has traditionally been the center of controversy over its air pollution records. In 2007, the Ministry of the Environment withdrew Arpechim's permit, but Petrom contested the decision in court. The plant is scheduled to gradually reduce its activity over a period of several years, pending eventual closure.
The city is surrounded by hills, being the center of an area rich in wineries and plum orchards. The latter give one of the finest Romanian ţuicas: ţuica de Piteşti. The Ştefăneşti winery, situated on the opposite bank of the Argeş River, is one of the best known in Romania.
The city is home to a County Theater, named in honor of playwright Alexandru Davila. Its branches include a puppet theater (created in 1949), the Estrada section for open-air performances (1958), and a folklore section (1970). The Theater's Studio 125 was established in May 1975 by director Liviu Ciulei. A public library, named after intellectual figure Dinicu Golescu, was created in 1869 through a donation made by Paraschiva Stephu, a female member of the upper class; a large part of its volumes were donated by historian George Ionescu-Gion in 1904.
The city houses two universities: the state-run University of Piteşti and the private Constantin Brâncoveanu University (founded 1991, with branches in Brăila and Râmnicu Vâlcea). There are 17 secondary education institutions, including two main high schools—the Ion Brătianu High School (founded 1866) and the Zinca Golescu High School. There are also 20 primary schools, 23 kindergartens and 10 nursery schools.
Each year during springtime, Piteşti is host to a festival and fair known as Simfonia lalelelor (the "Tulip Symphony"). Tulips were introduced locally in 1972-1973, when around 3,000 bulbs brought from Arad and Oradea were planted in its central area, along with other flowers. Piteşti consequently acquired a reputation as a tulip-growing area, and the flower-themed festival was first organized by the local authorities in 1978