HISTORY OF THE AREA
In the middle ages the settlement was influenced in its development by the trade of agricultural products, being situated at the crossing of trading routes descending along the Olt river valley with those following the line between the hills and the plain from west towards east.
The etymology of the name Caracal is explained in such a manner that it becomes history as a sign of life between the Ancient Rome and the incipient Romanian states of the middle ages.
A theory based on the similarity in form of the oikonym with the name of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla assumes the settlement was set up around 215 AD, due to a campaign that the emperor made in Romula against the Goths. A second hypothesis, advocated by Al. Densusianu, refers to the Cumanian origin (Kara-Kale – black borough or black tower) of the name Caracal.
The Latin origin of the name Caracal is advocated by priest Dumitru Balasa who stated that the popular name of the settlement was Căracăl, and its citizenswere called „cărăcăleni“ and that the old fair located on the great Carpathian – trans Danubian road probably has its name derived from the craftsmen who made wool peasant jackets (caracalla, -ae and caracallis, -is – in Latin means wool coat with sleeves and hood, minor or major) which they sold especially to travelers climbing to Sarmisegetusa during frosty weather.
This type of clothing was sold in the fair called Căracăl from Ancient times until 1935-1936. In record, the locality is mentioned for the first time in a document dated November 17th, 1538, by which ruler Radu Paisie gives the Lord Steward Radu two estates, namely Silistea Bistret and the third party of Poiana Uratii which the ruler had bought from lady Marga of Caracal for asprii 30,000 (Turkish silver coins). Caracal was the estate of the Craiovesti and Brancoveni boyars, lady Marga being sister-german by mother of Regent Neagoe Basarab and daughter of Parvu I Craiovescu. The village of Caracal was part of this lady’s dowry. She was married to Marcea, the seneschal and had two sons, Vlasan and governor Matei.
A document dating from February 6th, 1580 states that ruler Radu Calugarul bought from lady Marga of Caracal the village of Falcoii with asprii 35,000 (meaning from the daughter of Marga of Caracal, the niece of old Marga).
In 1587, on August 30th, the same lady Marga, daughter of Matei of Caracal and wife of seneschal Ivan, leaves half of Caracal and gypsy villages to Glavacioc Monastery.
The settlement is a trading center of the area, a characteristic it will late hold also.
The social and economical development from the end of the 16th century has determined important transformations. In Caracal there was an annual country fair and a weekly fair in the northern part of the city, also named the Old Fair.
In a document dated January 18th, 1569, Mircea voivode prints a book for Voinigesti village, written by a certain Gheorghe, in the Scaunul Caracăl. The same year, on September 9th, the ruler writes another document for the village of Radinesti, written “in the middle of Caracal.”
These documents emphasize the important role that Caracal had in the area of Oltenia. It is possible for a boyar court to have existed here, one belonging to the Craiovesti boyars, considering the lineage of the old Marga.
References of Caracal multiply in the second half of the 16th century. The Regent Mihai Viteazul chose Caracal to build his court, in the Romanati County, where he ruled a domain made of 23 villages and their estates. References of these villages appear in the record given in Targoviste on September 6th, 1598, the majority of them being situated south of Caracal: Farcasul, Slaveni, Gostavatu, Babiciu, Scarisoara, Rusanesti, Silistea Cracestii Dracului, Cilieni, Tia, Iliceni, Plaviceni, Silistioara, Visina, Crusovul, Studina de Jos, Studina Mare, Studinita, Frasinetul de Jos, Frasinetul de Sus, Vladila, Deveselu, Redea and Comanca.
For the management of these estates the Regent built the Regency Court of Caracal around 1597, and he spent part of the year there. This is where Mihai Viteazul issued a series of documents with the ending phrase “given at my Regency Court in Caracal”. Of the documents issued in Caracal we would like to mention the one dated September 19th, 1598 by which he confirmed a certain Balan the possession of several parts of estates bought in Radinesti village.
The Regency Court consisted of secular and ecclesiastic edifices, annex buildings, the watch tower, the church and the belfry. It was surrounded by a wooden fence which was later replaced. On September 10th, 1598, starting from the camp of Caracal, Mihai Viteazul crossed the Danube and attacked the Turkish troupes in the east, at Nicopole, where, as he states in a personal memorandum “my horse was killed from under me and I have received and injury in my shoulder blade”. The administrative and strategic role of the Caracal Regency Court is obvious, and due to that the Regents Matei Basarab and Constantin Brancoveanu have rebuilt it.
The first document proving the city status of Caracal is the one dated February 26th, 1627, where appear mentioned as witnesses for Studina village “merchants and city folk … master Caranica, greedy master, Iuvan the merchant, Dumitru Grecu, Stan and Cazan, both tax collectors, Jitea the judge with 12 young bailiffs from Căracal (sic) and Maican”. This document has been written in the house of “old man Badea of Caracal”.
The regard of city folk for these inhabitants of Caracal couldn’t have been anything but a mirroring of the settlement’s status in the first years of the 17th century.
Foreign travelers passing through Caracal have been impressed by the Regency Court and church in the Romanati County. Also, the economic significance of the settlement is emphasized in the references of the foreign traveler Deodado. He notes: “around 1640, at the fair held every Wednesday in Caracal came many foreign merchants and a large number of cattle was sold”. The same remark is found with catholic bishop Petre Bogdan Baksic who, passing through the city of Caracal, stated that “one can see the old houses of Regent Mihai, the one who fought the sultan, but all are ruined except the church, now still in good condition. This city is placed in a small dell and is all surrounded by plains and forests. Every Wednesday a fair is held here and many catholic merchants attend and a large number of cattle is sold, the same as in Craiova.”
Paul of Alep, passing through Oltenia in 1657 describes how he got to “a large fair called Caracal where there was a large castle built by Mateiu Voivod little before he died and surrounded by wooden walls including a large vineyard and an open path leading (from) the houses to stone church”. At the end of the 18th century Caracal aroused the same interest as before for the same regency houses and arrangements in the domestic and international trade.
Constantin Cantacuzino, High Steward, registers in 1700 the regency castle on his map, published by Anton Maria del Chiaro in the book Istoria delle modernerevoluzzioni della Valachia published in Venice in 1718.
In Regent Constantin Brancoveanu’s Register is stated that in 1703, March 15th “thalers 100 have been given to Bailiff Parvu Farcasanu for the work on the regency homes in Caracal” which proves the significance that the regents of Wallachia showed the Regency Court in Romanati County.
Following the peace treaty in Passarovitz in 1718, Oltenia to the Olt river comes under the dominion of the Austrians. It is decided that a detailed map of the occupied province be made. The commander of the imperial troupes in Transilvania, Count Stainville put Captain Friederich Schwantz in charge of this task. The map made between 1720 – 1722 included along with Oltenia some small parts of Transilvania, Bulgaria, Muntenia, Banat and Serbia. This map was filled in with the coats of arms of all the counties in Oltenia by engineer lieutenant Berndt in 1723. In a statistics dated 1722 – 1728, called the Austrian Conscription, Caracal is recorded as a fair. Significant incomes were obtained from custom duties cashed-in following market and all around the settlement transactions. In 1770 Frederich Wilhelm von Bauer, a general in the Russian army, engineer and surveyor, passing through the Romanian Principalities, drafted a paper concerning Oltenia where he made brief presentations of villages and cities.
Of Caracal Bauer wrote that it was “a city and regency court with three churches, a captainship and a fair settled in a dell”.
This is none other than the center of the city where the most intense trade activities took place from the very beginning, housing the shops of merchants and the city institutions.
The map drawn by Specht in 1790 (the first city plan) depicts it being surrounded by forests and a glade covered by vineyards which give it a round shape, where one can see the cross of various trading routes.
For a while the news of Caracal was scarce, and in the final decades of the 18th century we find out that “the ruler Mihai Sutu gave the estate of Caracal city to boyar Filipescu as a free thing that it was”. In his turn, the governor Constantin Filipescu, will give his 14,000 acres estate to the city in 1793 on the condition that “… the city folk may own it and care for it on their own expense for all arrangements, both of the church and of the school, which is to be set up with worthy master always and forever”.
By analyzing the documents and accounts of the foreign travelers on Caracal, it is safe to say that since the end of the 17th century Caracal went from being a fair to being a city, and its development will be more pronounced in the centuries to come.