Bacau is the main city in Bacau County, Romania.
As of 2011 census, it has a population of 133,460, making it the
15th largest city in Romania. The city is situated in the historical
region of Moldavia, at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains,
and on the Bistrita River (which meets the Siret River about
8 kilometres (5.0 mi) to the south of Bacau). The Ghimež Pass links Bacau to Transylvania.
Similarly to most urban centers in Moldavia, Bacau emerged on a ford that allowed water passage. Colonists played a significant role in the development of the town. Archaeological finds, some surface or semi-buried dwellings from the second half of the 15th century, suggest that Hungarians started to settle in the region after 13451347 when the territory was under the control of the king of Hungary. They mainly occupied the flat banks of the river Bistrita. Discoveries of a type of 14th-century grey ceramic that has also been found in Northern Europe also suggests the presence of German colonists from the north. Originally the town focused around the Roman Catholic community that settled near a regular local market frequented by the population of the region on the lower reaches of the river.
The town was first mentioned in 1408 when Prince Alexander the Good of Moldavia (14001432) listed the customs points in the principality in his privilege for Polish merchants. (However, new research indicates that the first historical mention of the town is even earlier, occurring in a 1399 legal document of Prince Iuga of Moldavia, Alexander the Good's stepbrother). The customs house in the town is mentioned in Old Church Slavonic as krainee mīto ("the customs house by the edge") in the document which may indicate that it was the last customs stop before Moldavia's border with Wallachia. The town's name that features in Old Church Slavonic documents as Bako, Bakova or Bakovia comes most probably from a personal name. Men bearing the name Bakó are documented in Transylvania in the Middle Ages. The town may have been named after a Hungarian innkeeper who, supposedly, had an inn, the first building in the town, on the road from Bacau to Roman. Another theory suggests that the town's name has a Slavic origin, pointing to the Proto-Slavic word byk, meaning "ox" or "bull", the region being very suitable for raising cattle; the term, rendered into Romanian alphabet as bāc, was probably the origin of Bācau.
An undated document reveals that the žoltuz in Bacau, that is the head of the town elected by its inhabitants, had the right to sentence felons to death, at least for robberies, which hints to an extended privilege, similar to the ones that royal towns in the Kingdom of Hungary enjoyed. Thus this right may have been granted to the community when the territory was under the control of the Kingdom of Hungary. The seal of Bacau was oval which is exceptional in Moldavia where the seals of other towns were round.
Alexander the Good donated the wax collected as part of the tax payable by the town to the nearby Orthodox Bistrita Monastery. It was most probably his first wife named Margaret who founded the Franciscan Church of the Holy Virgin in Bacau. But the main Catholic church in the town was dedicated to Saint Nicholas. A letter written by John of Rya, the Catholic bishop of Baia refers to Bacau as a civitas which implies the existence of a Catholic bishopric in the town at that time. The letter also reveals that Hussite immigrants who had undergone persecutions in Bohemia, Moravia, or Hungary were settled in the town and granted privileges by Alexander the Good.
The monastery of Bistrita was also granted the income from the customs house of Bacau in 1439. In 1435 Stephen II of Moldavia (14331435, 14361447) requested the town's judges not to hinder the merchants of Bražov, an important center of the Transylvanian Saxons in their movement. From the 15th century ungureni, that is Romanians from Transylvania began to populate the area north of the marketplace where they would erect an Orthodox church after 1500. A small residence of the princes of Moldova was built in the town in the first half of the 15th century. It was rebuilt and extended under Stephen III the Great of Moldavia (14571504) who also erected an Orthodox church within it. But the rulers soon began to donate the neighboring villages that had thereto supplied their local household to monasteries or noblemen. Thus the local princely residence was abandoned after 1500.
The town was invaded and destroyed more than one time in the 15th16th centuries. For example, in 1467 King Matthias I of Hungary during his expedition against Stephen the Great set fire to all towns, among them Bacau in his path. The customs records of Bražov shows that few merchants from Bacau crossed the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania after 1500, and their merchandise had no particularly high value which suggests that the town was declining in this period.
The Catholic bishop of Arges whose see in Wallachia had been destroyed by the Tatars moved to Bacau in 1597. From the early 17th century the bishops of Bacau were Polish priests who did not reside in the town, but in the Kingdom of Poland. They only travelled time to time to their see in order to collect the tithes.
According to Archbishop Marco Bandini's report of the canonical visitation of 1646, the žoltuz in Bacau was elected among Hungarians one year, and another, among Romanians. The names of most of 12 inhabitants of the town recorded in 1655 also indicate that Hungarians still formed their majority group. In 1670 Archbishop Petrus Parcevic, the apostolic vicar of Moldavia concluded an agreement with the head of the Franciscan Province of Transylvania on the return of the Bacau monastery to them in order to ensure the spiritual welfare of the local Hungarian community. But the Polish bishop protested against the agreement and the Holy See also refused to ratify it.
Due to the frequent invasions by foreign armies and plundering by the Tatars in the 17th century, many of its Catholic inhabitants abandoned Bacau and took refuge in Transylvania. But in 1851 the Catholic congregation in the town still spoke, sang, and prayed in Hungarian.
The first paper mill in Moldavia was established in the town in 1851. During World War I and the occupation of Bucharest by the Central Powers, Bacau was the headquarters of the Romanian Army. The town was declared a municipality in 1968.
Bacau has a public university and several colleges. Two major Romanian poets, George Bacovia and Vasile Alecsandri were born here. The "Mihail Jora" Athenaeum and a Philharmonic Orchestra are located here, as well as the "G. Bacovia" Dramatic Theater and a Puppet Theater. Around Christmas every year, a Festival of Moldavian Winter Traditions takes place, reuniting folk artists from all the surrounding regions. The exhibition "Saloanele Moldovei" and the International Painting Camp at Tescani, near Bacau, reunite important plastic artists from Romania and from abroad. The local History Museum, part of the Museum Complex "Iulian Antonescu" has an important collection of antique objects from ancient Dacia. The city also has an astronomical observatory, The Victor Eftimiu Astronomical Observatory.