Râmnicu Vâlcea is situated in the central-south area of Romania. Set at the foothills of the Southern Carpathians, the city is located at about 12 the Cozia Mountains and about 40 km from the Făgăraş and Lotrului Mountains. The southern limit of Râmnicu Vâlcea is formed by the Getic Plateau and the Oltului Valley.
The Olt River crosses the town of Râmnicu Vâlcea as well as the E81 road of European interest and one of the main national railway routes.
The area has been inhabited since Dacian and Roman times, and was the site of a castrum. A new fortress was built on the location during the Middle Ages. Râmnicu Vâlcea was first attested during the rule of PrinceMircea cel Bătrân, as "the princely town of Râmnic" (September 4, 1388), and confirmed as the seat of a Vâlcea County during the same period (January 8, 1392).
The town seal dates to 1505. Cetăţuia, the actual fortress, served as the residence of Oltenian Bans and, from 1504, of Orthodoxbishops; in 1543, Prince Radu de la Afumaţi was killed in Cetăţuia by a boyar conspiracy.
During the rules of Matei Basarab and Constantin Brâncoveanu, it became an important cultural center. It was here where the first paper mill and printing press in Romania were built (see Anthim the Iberian). The city was heavily damaged during the Habsburg takeover of Oltenia between 1718 and 1739, and its purpose was again reduced to that of a fortress.
During the Wallachian Revolution, on July 29, 1848, Deşteaptă-te, române! (the current national anthem of Romania), with lyrics written by Andrei Mureşanu and music probably composed by Anton Pann (whose memorial house lies in the center of the town), was sung for the first time in Râmnicu Vâlcea. Gheorghe Magheru gathered his military force in Râureni, now part of the city, in an attempt to face the anti-revolutionary forces of Imperial Russia and the Ottoman Empire.
In the 1980s, the city was completely rebuilt in a style combining Socialist realism with local vernacular architecture.