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. Ramnicu Valcea was first attested in the rule of Price Mircea cel Batran, as "the princely town of Ramnic" (September 4, 1388), and confirmed as the seat of a Valcea County during the same period (January 8, 1392).
The town seal was dated back to 1505. Cetatuia, the actual fortress, served as the residence of Oltenian bans and, from 1504, Eastern Orthodox bishops; in 1543, it was in Cetatuia that Prince Radu de la Afumati was killed by a boyar conspiracy.
During the rules of Matei Basarab and Constantin Brancoveanu, it became an important cultural center. It was here that the first paper mill and printing press in Romania were built (see Anthim the Iberian). It was heavily damaged during the Habsburg takeover of Oltenia in 1718-1739, and its purpose was again reduced to that of a fortress.
During the 1848 Wallachian Revolution, on July 29 Desteapta-te, romane!, the current national anthem of Romania, was sung for the first time in Ramnicu Valcea. Gheorghe Magheru gathered his military force in Raureni, now part of the city, in an unrealistic attempt to face the anti-revolutionary forces of Imperial Russia and the Ottoman Empire.
In the 1980s the city has been completely rebuilt in a style combining Socialist realism with local vernacular architecture.
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