Imprint of communism
Photo by Andrei Cucu

Imprint of communism

The communist regime (1947-1989) was noted for its forced urbanization and industrialization.

In Iași, the central, historic and bohemian area was largely demolished to make way for massive blocks of flats and buildings. The concrete dictatorship was stylized by some architects, who included traditional elements in modern buildings. The Union Square is an example of socialist arrangement, with mosaics featuring favorite propaganda themes: agriculture, industry, arts, peace and history, the piece of resistance being the legendary scene of the founding of Moldova, with Dragoș Vodă defeating the bull. On December 14, 1989, a group of people from Iași organized a riot, which was suppressed outright, but after only a few days, the dictatorial regime collapsed violently. The path of communism is a foray into the dark past of the age of the Securitate and the lack of freedom of expression, but also in the places of glory of the so-called “Golden Age”.

Many places keep a visual memory of the oppressive regime. This guide presents some of the main attractions that make Iași an eclectic city, but the list below is more exhaustive, so take a look and discover the stories that contributed to Iași’s tumultuous past.

You can start your journey in Copou and make your way downhill past the city center and towards the Civic Center. Everything is more or less in a row. The Building B of the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Copou was built in two stages after 1955 in a socialist-realist architectural style. Here, in 1987, a group of female students started a subversive protest against the regime.

A bit down the road you’ll find the Romanian Academy, built by the founder of the “School of Architecture in Iași”, Nicolae Porumbescu, a true theoretician of architectural nationalism, as seen in the sacred geometry style combining Romanian motifs.

Passing by the Ghika House (the former headquarters of the secret police where, in the first years of communism, the first regime opponents were tortured), you’ll reach the Students’ Culture House, a true socialist design with impressive size and bas-reliefs.

On your way to the Union Square, you’ll get to see two monuments: The Independence Statue and the Monument to The Victims of Communism. On the 100th anniversary of the Union of Romanian Principalities, the Communist Party decided to reshape the square and eliminate the “bourgeois character” by placing a set of collective housing in a French-inspired socialist architectural style.

Heading south form the Union Square, you’ll reach the Cube Square, a place that marks the systematic communist urbanization in the 1980s. Near the square, beneath the building ensemble, lies the most lively underground areas in Iași, with clubs and bars offering a raw experience.

Moving onward to the Civic Center, you’ll see the Square House, which now hosts the City Council, and the Memorial of the 1989 Revolution in the Palace of Culture Square. The Civic Center area was fundamentally reconfigured during the communist regime. The old merchants’ street has been transformed into a wide boulevard, flanked by tall buildings with contrasting functions, unnaturally linked to blocks of flats. Universal Store Moldova (1971) was the equivalent of a capitalist Shopping Mall. Hotel Moldova (1982) was meant to overshadow the Church of St. Nicholas the Prince, by mass.

The communist regime left a huge imprint on the architecture of the city and most of it can be seen in the non-central neighborhoods. So take random walks farther away from the places mentioned in this guide to get a real sense of the local life. Tătărași and Alexandru cel Bun neighborhoods are ideal places for this.

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The edifice, built in 1831 (on the place of a house of the boyar Roset Roznovanu from 1816), was initially the residence of some of the greatest boyar families in Iași, receiving the name of Dimitrie Ghika House or Roset House.

Towards the beginning of the 20th century it was used as a bank and piano shop. Between 1916-1918, when Iași became the war capital of Romania, the house hosted some meetings of the Romanian Government. When the communist regime came to power in 1947, the building was transformed into the headquarters of the State Security. It is known as a place where factioneers were often tortured due to their courage of opposition to the tyrannical regime. Most of the times, the dissidents were interrogated for days, without access to food and water or threatened with punishment of their close ones. Most of them were intellectuals and students. Screaming was heard from the inside, and the passers-by preferred to avoid the building. Thus, an urban myth was born, saying that the students who walk through the building’s archway won’t pass one or several exams. This is where the current popular name of the building of “the flunkers’ archway” comes from.

This boyar house was built in a Romanian Neoclassical style, with a terrace and supporting poles for the balcony. A special element of this building is the sidewalk on Carol I Boulevard which passes through the construction. The interior stairway of semi-circular shape takes you to a dynamic space which hosts an art gallery and an extremely popular café among young people in the city, arranged in the edifice’s former ballroom. The Meru Café Galleries recommend themselves as a social hub, a co-working workshop where creative ideas can be discussed. The design of the space was made by a group of designers and architects reunited in the Creator’s Club and aimed at the reconditioning and transformation of old objects into furniture pieces or attractive decorations. For the ingenuity of the team, Meru was included on the Romanian’s Designist Map. This place, abandoned for many years, received a cultural and creative role in the last years, although the building’s aspect couldn’t have been improved. Numerous buildings were left in ruins in the communist period due to the nationalisation policy which led to the confiscation of the goods of the wealthy ones, while others decayed after the fall of regime, due to the long processes of retrocession to the old owners. Fortunately, some spaces were rented to artist associations or cafés and came back to life. Through the rising popularity of these spaces, considered to be abandoned, the artists direct the attention of the public and of the authorities to the history, the architecture and the importance of conserving and restoring the city’s old buildings.

The State Security and the Mechanism of Terror

The beginning of the communist regime meant major changes of the social order through the transformation of values, and especially of the thinking in communist spirit. Between 1945 and 1964, the indoctrination mechanisms were extremely violent in the case of those who opposed changes. Tens of thousands of intellectuals, students or kulaks (rich peasants) were arrested and tortured by the State Security, in order to be dominated through fear and to obtain information. Physical punishments were used: awful beatings, starvation, imprisonment in horrible conditions, but also psychological torture, through threats of imprisonment and torture of their family. After that, the prisoners were forced to sign statements as they had committed certain invented acts.

Bulevardul Carol I Nr. 3, Iași 700506
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Photo by CCS Iasi

Architecture, Cultural Venues
The Students’ Culture House was built between 1960 and 1962, under the management of the engineer Norbert Zilberman, and was initially called the Youth House.

In the past, on the place of the current building, towards the parking space in front of the edifice, there was the famous Jockey Club or the society for horse race enthusiasts, a building with an impressive architecture, but which didn’t correspond to the communist ideology.

The construction’s style is typical to the megalomania of those times. You can notice the large surface of the rooms and the main façade with wide windows, tall columns and alto-reliefs of the sculptor Iftimie Bârleanu, where young people are represented as being preoccupied by all art forms – dance, music, painting, theatre, architecture, etc. Young communists, heroes of the proletarian fight, were represented on posters, paintings, sculptures or mosaïcs as robust, working people, respecting the rules of socialist Realism as form of art. We can find Other examples of socialist art on buildings in Iași on the façade of the Culture House of the Labor Unions (bas-reliefs) or of the Faculty of Architecture (mosaïc).

Inside, white Rușchița marble, red Moneasa marble and travertine were used. The grand concert hall, with almost 500 seats, was the scene for many theatre, music or dance bands. The House of Youth was described in the newspapers of the time as “altar of Olympus muses” or “the University of free time”. Important names of the Romanian pop-art are linked to this space, such as the “Rosu si Negru” band and the famous drummer Ovidiu Lipan Țăndărică, the “Divertis” humorous group, the Folkloric Ensemble “Doina Carpaților”, the “Quasar” Science Fiction literary circle or the “Ludic” Students’ Theatre.

The building’s purpose remained the same as in the communist age, more precisely, a place where young people could spend their free time and to get together in dance, theatre, music or literature groups.

Organisations for children and young communists

During the communist period, the education of young people in socialist spirit began from an early age. Romania went further than the USSR, inventing an organisation for children between 4 and 7 years old, called “Șoimii Patriei”( The Motherland’s Hawks), which had the role of indoctrinating the little ones into the cult of personality of the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena. The uniform was comprised of a beret, and blue trousers or skirt, orange shirt and a red tie. The children between 8-14 years old became “Pioneers”, were taught Party politics and were encouraged to give a hand in the accomplishment of communist ideals. The uniform was comprised of a white shirt and blue-navy skirt or trousers. The distinctive element of pioneers was the red tie with a tricoloured trimming, for which you had to make an oath to the flag. These associations wanted to be a parallel of the Scouts of the western world. For young people between 14 and 30 years old, the Union of Communist Youth (UTC) was created, a satellite organisation of the Romanian Communist Party, which prepared young people to be model workers and to surpass productivity goals. Children and young people took part in the megalomania manifestation of the Ceaușescu couple, organised on the National Day (then, celebrated on the 23rd of August), on the 1st of May (Workers’ Day) or the 26th of January (the dictator’s birthday). Young people were also involved in mass popular activities, sport activities – Daciada (considered the Romanian Olympics) or artistic activities (music and poetry) – “Cântarea României” or the “Flacăra” Artistic Circle.

Strada Vasile Conta nr. 30, Iași 700106
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Photo by Alex Munteanu

Architecture, Universities
The Building B of “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University was constructed in two phases in the ‘50s – ‘60s.

Initially it belonged to the Polytechnic Institute, but today it hosts the Faculty of Economy and Business Administration (left wing), the Faculty of Geography and Geology and the Faculty of Biology (right wing). The park in front of the building has a pond in the middle, with a statuary group named “Youth” (1959), work of the sculptor Marcel Guguianu, representing a pair of lovers. In the students’ imagination, the two seem to say: “Stay in bed with me, my dear!”, “I can’t, I’ll be late for class!”.

The building’s architecture is typical to the late soviet period, with rectangular pillars and high floors. You can notice colonnettes on the first floor, under the windows, and above them, a row of medallions, mirroring the ones on the façade of Building A. Travertine was used for plating the façade and some of the interior elements, being fashionable at the time. On the 2nd floor, you can find the “Grigore Cobălcescu” Didactic-Scientific Museum, comprising thousands of samples of minerals and rocks. On the 3rd floor, a model of the systematisation plan of the historical centre in the ‘80s and a Collection of Geographical Instruments are exhibited.

The extension of the university during the years of communism led to the creation of the students’ campus nearby: the Codrescu campus near Building B and the Pușkin campus (currently, Titu Maiorescu) near the Main Building. A small Botanical Garden was created there, on one hectare, which was open between 1921 and 1963, until the founding of the current one. In memory of this garden, a few old trees remain to this day (notably the Ginko Biloba), and also the building of the former exotic plant greenhouse, situated in front of the University Restaurant. After the construction of the campus in 1965, the meeting place of students became “La Balenă” (The Whale), a whale shaped pool with an artesian well, where, in warm nights you can hear guitar strains.

Visiting hours:

Mineralogy Museum:
MONDAY – FRIDAY: 09:00 – 15:00

Collection of Geographical Instruments:
MONDAY – SATURDAY: 08:00 – 20:00

The Rebellion of the female students in the Pușkin Campus in 1987

On the 17th of February 1987, a week after the students returned from holiday, the girls from the Pușkin campus couldn’t bear the conditions in the dorms anymore and went out shouting their complaints. The rooms had no heating, the plugs weren’t functioning, hot water was a beautiful dream and cold water was rationed. The students gathered at “La Balenă” and headed for “Târgușor” campus, on the upper end of Copou hill, to attract the boys on their side. The student group began descending the Copou, shouting, “We want water to wash up and light to study”, “We don’t live in caves”, “For peace and progress, offer light in the complex”. Almost 800 students were marching from Copou to the Prefecture. The order forces prevented the protest to expand to the working-class neighbourhoods, also taking into account the small rebellion from the day before at the Nicolina Factory. The State Security surrounded the biggest dorm in the Tudor Vladimirescu campus – T17, to prevent the 1000 students in there to go out for the protest. Arriving at the Prefecture, the students talked to the prime-secretary of RCP Nicolae Ibănescu, and he agreed to solve their demands. To the students’ amazement, in the following days they received light, heating and hot water, but not without consequences. The State Security made some of the teachers follow their students, writing suspect lists. The next day, newspapers wrote that “between 150 and 200 students from Iași marched for peace and prosperity.”

Bulevardul Carol I nr. 22, Iași 700505
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Photo by Alex Munteanu

Architecture, Libraries
The Iași Branch of the Romanian Academy is an institution of national importance, which has four objectives: academic, scientific, formative and communitarian, assuming research as a revaluation tool of national identity.

It contributes to the regulation of the Romanian language and the shaping of the Romanian cultural identity in the European context, through programs in Philology, History and Archaeology. Situated in Copou neighbourhood, at the intersection of “Carol I” Boulevard and General “Henri Mathias Berthelot” Street, near the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, the Romanian Academy building was constructed between 1981-1982. Designed by Nicolae Porumbescu, considered to be one of the greatest post-war Romanian architects, the edifice contributes to the enrichment of the architectural background of the cultural axis of Iași.

The Romanian Academy, founded on the 1st of April 1866 in Bucharest, has nowadays branches in Iași, Cluj-Napoca and Timișoara. The current building of the Romanian Academy, Iași Branch was constructed from the “Menachem H. Elias” Family Foundation Funds. In 1914, Jacques M. Elias, the son of Menachem, willed the Romanian Academy as successor of his entire fortune, the foundation established on the 2nd of April 1925 having as objective the support and development of national culture institutions. The founding of the Iași Branch of the Romanian Academy (called in the communist period, the Academy of the Popular/Socialist Republic of Romania), took place on the 13th of August 1948. The activity began on the 24th of January 1949 in the building of the former Mihăileană Academy, where it functioned until 1963, the building being demolished. After that, the headquarters of the Iași branch moved in the building of the old university in Iași, which now hosts the University of Medicine and Pharmacy. The new building was designed by the architect Nicolae Porumbescu and constructed between 1975-1979. Before that, he designed numerous cultural and administrative edifices, among which are: the Theatre of Hunedoara, the State Circus in Bucharest, the Culture House of Suceava, the Culture House of Baia Mare, the political-administrative headquarters in Botoșani, Suceava, Satu Mare, the R Building of the Faculty of Constructions Iași or the Building of the Architecture Section in Iași. Initially named “The House of Science and Technique of Iași”, the building of the Romanian Academy represented a premiere on what concerns the functional and space organisation of this type of edifice, especially of the library. Specific to Porumbescu’s architecture is the use of the sacred geometry, reinterpreting the Romanian traditional motifs and their transposition on a monumental scale, such as the combining in a swallow tail, ears of wheat, but also the two halves of a circle found on the Kissing Gate in Târgu Jiu – the work of the great sculptor Constantin Brâncuși. The building’s façade, although made of the austere concrete, received some personality and texture through bush hammering (having models pressed through hitting). The Academy’s library impresses through the fact that it maintained its initial aspect, the books being arranged in wood bookcases with decorative elements specific to the ‘80s. The classical method of looking up books through alphabetically arranged charts placed in small drawers is still conserved here, along with collections of journals, tens of paintings of scientists, as well as some busts. Another dominant feature of the building is the use, in an important measure, of the zenith light which enters the library through the coffered ceiling through rectangular concrete elements.

Bulevardul Carol I nr.8, Iași 700506
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Photo by Cezar Suceveanu - Wikipedia

Landmarks, Squares
Throughout time, the Independence Boulevard, one of the main streets in the center of Iași, was known as the Upper Street, I. C. Brătianu Street or Gheorghe Dimitrov Street.

After the earthquake of 1977, the authorities decided to redesign the old narrow street. The town planning intervention under the communist regime meant creating an imposing boulevard, with collective dwellings which would dominate the built landscape, becoming a curtain taken down on the Romantic architecture. The churches were hidden behind concrete blocks of flats whose façade reads “INDEPENDENȚA”, through the balcony arrangement. Only the Old University, the St. Spiridon Hospital and the Museum of Natural History remained from the old street’s architecture.

The Statue of Independence in front of the Main Polyclinic was made by the couple Gabriela Manole-Adoc and Gheorghe Adoc, the project receiving a prize in a national contest in 1975. The work had the role of celebrating 100 years from the proclamation of Romania’s Independence in 1877. The monument was inaugurated later, in 1980, in the presence of the Ceaușescu couple, when the boulevard was also renamed.

Standing 17 meters tall (11m the statue and 6 m the base), the statue is the first figurative representation of the Independence in the Romanian monumental art, taking the shape of a heroine holding above her head the flag of victory. Between the scarf and the upper part of the woman’s body, the geographical shape of Great Romania is implied. The 6 bronze bas-reliefs in the travertine base present moments of the War of Independence. These are arranged in this manner: three on the right (The foreign prince’s arrival in the country – Carol I; The Proclamation of Independence; The Danube Crossing) and three on the left (The Calling to Battle; The great victory of the Romanian flags; The conquest of the Grivița and Plevna redoubts and The Capitulation of the Turkish army of Osman Pasha).

Although the architects wanted to place a quote of the poet Mihai Eminescu on the base, the authorities of the time decided the placing of a long quote of Nicolae Ceaușescu: “The heroism of our century old ancestors will live forever in the deeply thankful conscience of the entire nation, and the work achieved with their blood, by the generations of 1877, shall shine forever in our history, like one of the greatest victories on the path to freedom, progress, independence and happiness of the Romanian people”. In 1992, this was removed and the current one was set, after the initial desire of the sculptors – “The Independence is the sum of our historical life”.

Nowadays, on national holidays, the Statue of Independence is, along with the Statue of Alexandru Ioan Cuza from the Union Square, one of the monuments in Iași where flower crowns are laid down by the Romanian state representatives.

The director Cristian Mungiu from Iași and the theme of communism

Cristian Mungiu is one of the greatest directors of the New Romanian cinema wave, with the Palme d’Or prize in The Cannes Film Festival in 2007 for the film “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days” which targets the theme of the abortion ban during the communist period. In his reference film, “Beyond the Hills” (2012), Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan (from Iași) received the prize for interpretation in the Cannes Festival. Mungiu ludically tackles the avatars of the communist regime in the series “Recollections from the Golden Age”. This collective movie is comprised of 6 short films which ironically present various aspects of the life of Romanians in the Ceaușescu epoch. Mungiu frequently casts actors from Iași in his films: Anamaria Marinca, Ion Sapdaru, Teodor Corban, Petronela Grigorescu.

Piaţa Independenţei, Iași
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Landmarks, Squares
“I find the opinion according to which the systematization process has to be very “elastic”, quite unjust, because this usually leads to urban anarchy and losing the general view. No doubt that under these conditions it is imposed to maintain a strict urban discipline without which any effort could be easily cancelled”. Boris Grunberg, “Systematisation of Iași”, Architecture R.P.R. 4 (1959).

Between 1975 and 1985, the second biggest irreparable systematization campaign takes place in Iași, during the mandate of mayor Ioan Manciuc. Intensive demolitions are made on “Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt” Boulevard in order to transform the historical “Big Street” into a great linear, uniform boulevard, destined to visually link the Palace Square to the Union Square.

In December 1981, the excavations for the foundations of some collective working-class dwellings began, to cover the imposing edifices of the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Mihail Sturdza Palace (the current Theological Seminar). Due to sustained opposing efforts against the communist era systematization, the archaeologist Nicolae Pușcașu managed to save an entrance to the old city’s cellars from the raging excavators. The archaeological research in 1982 revealed traces of some stone cellars on 2-3 levels, divided in five parallel arched tracks, through which a feed pipe system passed, for the water in Copou, through ceramic tubes of the 17th century. Remains of 16th century wooden dwellings, of ecclesiastic stone buildings, 14th century ceramic vases fragments, but also a metal melting oven for making jewels in the 13th century, along with coins from the ruling of Petru Mușat (1375-1391) and Alexander the Good (1400-1432) were also discovered on this spot.

The archaeological discoveries certify the ecclesiastic edifices as the oldest medieval Gothic constructions with Byzantine influences known so far on the territory of Moldavia. The importance of these vestiges led to a unique project where the street front of collective dwellings was pushed back in a second plane to leave space, towards the boulevard, to the ruins.

Although the biggest part of the ruins studied in 1982 were covered with concrete, the underground space should have been transformed into a museum according to the plans of the architect Cristian Constantinescu. The skylight shaped as a cube for the big oval room in the underground was never finished, only the metal structure remaining, still dominating the square nowadays. This became a landmark – “The Cube”, vexing most of the visitors, but even some of the inhabitants. The movement on a second plane of the building front allowed the creation of a commercial gallery unusual to communist ideology. Developed on three levels connected through a spiral, with an arched glass roof and three access routes, the “Stephen the Great” Galleries didn’t manage to become an important trade beam due to the fall of the communist regime in 1989 and the dissolution of trade cooperatives which had residences there. For many years, the galleries have sheltered only a few shops, the rest of the spaces becoming sinister and unsafe in the ‘90s, especially during the night. Gradually, after 2000, a rock club appeared at first, then a pub, and in a few years, it became an attractive space for young people and artists. During the day, the galleries remained almost the same, a major change being the moving of the “Gheorghe Asachi” County library on the first floor. But at night the galleries become the most dynamic area of bars and trendy clubs in the city, initially opened as niche locals in a hidden space.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt 10-12, Iași 700063
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The monument was created by the artist Vasile Leondar and inaugurated in 2010 in the park of the “Mitocul Maicilor” Church.

We can see three grieved persons with their hands shackled and on their knees, symbol of all victims of the concentration system in the period of communist Romania.

The most horrific prisons in which the regime’s opponents were put to torture, were the ones in Gherla, Aiud, Sighet, Pitești, Suceava or Râmnicu Sărat. The people suspected of conspiring against the regime, the ones who had important jobs before 1944, the ones who were members of other parties, as well as the ones from wealthy families who were against land and assets confiscation, ended in the dungeons of the State Security, in political prisons or sent to forced labour. The biggest construction site where hundreds of thousands of workers and political prisoners were sent to, was the Danube – Black Sea Canal, built between 1949 and 1984.

A Testimony from Hell

“In there you treasured all of God’s gifts. You treasured the air because, in an overcrowded cell, you could only take a few seconds of breath, by turn, holding your nose under the chink of the door [….]. I remember that in Aiud I had made a calendar on my fingers [….] and I realised that Easter was exactly on that night. Without thinking about the consequences, I began to shout: “Christ has risen!” and immediately, from all the cells, the beautiful hymn began to make its way towards the sky […]. Aiud was ringing of the call for hope, of our shout of joy, to the guards’ despair […] scared by our reunited voices, by the spiritual force of faith, that no barred window could stop”. Priest Adrian Făgeteanu.

Political prisoners from Iași

– Gheorghe I. Brătianu, the son of Romania’s prime-minister Ion I.C. Brătianu, was one of the intellectuals targeted by the communist purge. As manager of the Institute of Universal History of Iași, he firmly warned about the danger of the entrance of the Soviet Army in Romania and was called to take part of the Ion Antonescu’s government. He was removed from the professorship in 1947, arrested in 1950 and sent to the Sighet prison. Not being able to handle the torture of imprisonment, he hanged himself in 1953.

– Dumitru Iov, manager of the National Theatre of Iași between 1942-1944 and renowned poet and writer, he ended tragically in the Gherla prison in 1959, after being imprisoned in 1956 for “conspiracy and public unrest”.

– Anton Durcovici, was a Roman-Catholic bishop of Iași between 1947 and 1949. He was considered enemy of the communist regime because he encouraged people not to give up their faith. He was imprisoned, beaten and ill-treated for a year in the headquarters of the Bucharest State Security. In 1950, he is moved to Jilava prison, and in 1951, to Sighet. Skeleton-like, naked, full of wounds and blood, he found the strength to encourage the 15 prisoners from the cell. For this, the bishop was thrown in a cell all by himself, without light, heating, food or water and died on the 10th of December 1951. In 1990, the Roman-Catholic bishop of Iași, Petru Gherghel, began the canonisation process of Anton Durcovici, and on the 17th of May 2014, he was beatified in Iași during a solemn ceremony.

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Photo by Consiliul Judetean Iasi

The project for the “Square House” began in 1964 under the leadership of the architect Nicolae Vericeanu, and in 1969, was inaugurated.

On the place of the current building there was a cinema (Scala), a restaurant (The Danube), as well as other old merchants’ shops, demolished during the ‘60s systematisation. This is where the County Party Committee functioned, where the General Secretary of the RCP, Nicolae Ceaușescu, had his office during his visits to Iași. This office belonged to the County president and was the building’s political core. Between 1974 and 1979 this position was occupied by Ion Iliescu, who would later become President of Romania after the fall of the communist regime. It had a separate entrance from the Moldova shop towards the honour stairway. The windows and the balcony of the office were oriented towards the Palace Square, where the crowds gathered to listen to the Comrade’s speeches. The street portion between the Square House and the Dosoftei House was the only one from the area with cubic stone, the people of Iași inventing the legend that the vibration of the cars would have discouraged the possible attackers to shoot Ceaușescu. Nowadays the building hosts the headquarters of the County Council and the Prefecture.

The reason for the geometrical arrangement on four sides of the building is its location between the most important monuments of the city, as well as between four streets. The building’s architecture is in the spirit of socialist realism and was meant to look like a peasant house, with verandas. The façades are ornamented with face bricks and concrete decorations which imitate the pillars and the abutments of Stephan monasteries. On the side of the entrance from the Palace, and in the balcony, you can see mosaïcs which suggest the main themes of the regime: on one side, industry, agriculture and history, and on the other side, Eminescu’s art and creation. The building also has on interior yard arranged as a small green space.

The visits of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu to Iași

Nicolae Ceaușescu led the communist regime in Romania since 1965 to December 1989. His work visits covered the entire territory of the country, from rural areas to great city industrial platforms. The Iași county and city received the visit of the couple Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu several times. The first official visit as a state leader took place in 1966 and the last one in September 1989, just two months before the regime’s fall. Certain factories were intensively visited: for example, the CUG industrial platform (the current Fortus) was visited six times. The March 1977 moment was an outstanding one for the urban development of Iași, the devastating effects of the earthquake giving the dictator solid excuses to continue in a fast pace the centre’s systematisation. The work visits were real trials for the inhabitants, being forced by the chiefs of enterprises to participate. The propagandist component prevailed, some exaggerations in preparing the visits becoming part of urban folklore – painting the trees on Ceaușescu’s route in lighter shades of green, installing industrial cardboard equipment, etc. The last visit to Iași, in September 1989 was marked by tensions and the exacerbated discontentment of the inhabitants who tried to tell Ceaușescu their displeasures. Thus, the visit was shortened and some events were cancelled. Ceaușescu used to sleep in the protocol villa in Bucium, near “Plopii fără soț”.

Casa Pătrată, Strada Anastasie Panu 60, Iași 700075
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In the square in front of the Palace of Culture there are two monuments reminding us of what happened during the Revolution of December 1989.

The first one is a wooden cross made shortly after the bloody events. The small monument was erected in the memory of the 16 martyr heroes from Iași county that died during the revolution. Their names are written on a commemorative plaque. Their stories ended tragically in other “hot spots” in the country, such as Bucharest, Timișoara or Brașov, with a single exception. Four of the victims were military men in mission nearby the Otopeni airport. They were killed because they were mistaken as terrorists. In those moments of panic, false zeal and misinformation, civilians were also killed, one even in Iași. The precise circumstances are still blurry, rumours are circulating that the revolutionary has been shot by an officer who was on permanent alert.

Only a few meters away, towards Saint Nicolae Domnesc Church, there is another white marble monument built, shaped as a cross. On its front side, you can see a plaque with two lists. The first one comprises the names of those detained in the period of 14th – 22nd of December 1989, and the second one, the names of all the revolutionaries who fought by all means against the communist regime. They mobilized crowds of people, occupied important buildings in the name of the opposition movement and defended them until the dictator’s fall. Each year, in December, the commemoration of the martyrs of the Revolution of 1989 is organized, where military men, priests, city and county representatives, as well as members of revolutionary associations are present.

This was the end of a difficult period in the history of Romania, regarding which there are still questions and undiscovered stories.

The Revolution began in Iași! – the 14th of December 1989

Since 1990 the controversial theme of the beginning of the 1989 Revolution which led to the fall of the communist regime and the execution of the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was discussed. Most of Romanians believe that the 1989 Revolution began on the 16th of December in Timișoara, where hundreds of people were shot. Others claim that the suppressed protest in Iași, on the 14th of December was actually the beginning. When in Timișoara, the first people were gathering in support of the pastor László Tökés, in Iași people were already imprisoned for “anarchist protest and propaganda actions against the socialist order”. The one who started a true conspiracy against the regime was the economist Ștefan Prutianu, along with five other people. On the night between the 13th and the 14th of December 1989, manifests were distributed through the city, which read: “Take part in the demonstration in Union Square, on 14.XII, 16.00”. But the State Security prevented the revolutionaries’ initiatives, so the Union Square was crowded with order forces at that time. In the morning, a series of suspects were arrested straight from the factories. The people who came to protest were intimidated by the State Security by dividing any group larger than three people. The tram station from the Union Square was moved and inside the shops, pubs and restaurants in the area there were people waiting for a signal, which never came. In memory of this event, the square between the Select and Continental hotels near the tram station is now called the “14th of December 1989” Square.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt 1, Iași 700028
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Photo by Vladimir Negru

Landmarks, Squares
“It was the time of specialization and delivering of eulogies to the comrade workforce, and the building site became a type of symbol because great constructions took place and “building” and was the key-word which came up in all speeches regarding the “new society” and its “construction”. To work on a construction site meant working for the future. A masquerade, of course. It was presented as if there haven’t been any construction sites before or as if without the communists nothing would have been built”. Gabriel Liiceanu in a dialogue with Mircea Ivănescu, ”The Masques of M.I.” (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2012), 37

From an urban point of view, the Anastasie Panu Boulevard area, known as the Civic Centre, was fundamentally redesigned during 1968-1989. Here we can find buildings with contrasting functions, unusually linked to collective dwellings: the Square House (the local governmental headquarters), the Luceafărul Theatre, the Moldova hotel, the Moldova Shopping center, the Palace of Justice, the Central Market. All of these entered by force in an organically developed urban texture, of Romantic type. Thus, the city of pedestrians and trams became tributary to cars , with wide boulevards flanked by tall constructions that create the illusion of a great urban density. The concrete architecture doesn’t discriminate; it handles any challenge and becomes the favorite material, the main expression of the communist architecture in Romania. The merchants’ place and the one of the little bourgeoisie is taken by collective dwellings with sober, but imposing architecture, which flanks the linear boulevard.

The “Moldova” Universal shop, the work of the architect Victor Mihailovici, was built in 1972 and had varied products, just like a “Shopping Mall” of the capitalist world. The shop also attracted the residents of Iași with the escalator, back then, the only one in the city. The “Moldova” Hotel, built in 1984 after the plans of the architect Gheorghe Cheptea, was placed in the back of the “Saint Nicolae Domnesc” Church. Although the declared purpose was to value the monument, in reality, the hotel dominates it through its size. The blocks of flats from the sides of the Palace of Justice were built symmetrically and have, on the mezzanine, above the commercial spaces, a frieze decorated with massive concrete elements which stylizes a “Hora Unirii” dance (people holding hands) around the dwelling complex.

Nowadays, the Civic Centre revolves round the Central Market Square, area dominated until 1879 by the Saint Friday Monastery from the 16th century. Situated between two commercial streets, the area becomes a commercial center since the 17th century. The old Wall and Iron Market, designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1871 on a metal structure and with a generous basement, with wide arches, storage spaces and refrigerating plants, was devastated by a massive snow fall in 1960. A fragment of the metal structure can be found in front of the Faculty of Constructions. In order to make space for the building of Public Finances, in 1988 the Fish Market is also demolished, having a smaller size. The new Central Market, designed by the architect C. Constantinescu is inaugurated in 1977, with a generous esplanade towards the boulevard. Spread around the entire surface of the historical core, a series of cellars were revealed during the construction of an underground passage in the area between 2006 and 2012. This project is the first one in Iași which values the discovered ruins by reconverting them into galleries and commercial spaces.

The blocks of flats seem to suddenly end towards the boulevard’s east end, where there is now a green space and a modern hotel. Due to the December ‘89 Revolution, the collective dwellings ensemble of the Civic Centre remained unfinished, but dominates even today the urban landscape.

Strada Anastasie Panu, Iași
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Photo by Iulian Aruxandei

Landmarks, Squares
The Union Square represents a spatial landmark of the city and the intersection place of three major streets: “Ștefan cel Mare” Boulevard (the former Big Street), Alexandru Lăpușneanu Street (the former Serbian Street) and Cuza Vodă Street (the former Golia Street).

The square has a special meaning to Romanians because in front of Petre Bacalu’s Inn (situated in the past on the parking space in front of Victoria Cinema), “Hora Unirii” was danced for the first time in 1857, and then, after the announcement of the Union of Romanian Principalities on the 24th of January 1859, which was made through the double election of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. This historical moment is illustrated in a famous painting by the Iași artist Constache Agafiței, found at the Museum of the Union. This is also the place were the first unification gathering took place, during the oath taken in June 1917 by the Transylvanian volunteers to free Transylvania.

Before 1877, in the Grand Hotel Traian’s place there was a line of booths owned by mayor Scarlat Pastia. He ordered their demolition and the construction of a beautiful building to host the National Theatre. The mayor was very satisfied with the projects of the famous architect Gustave Eiffel in Iași – The wall and iron market (1873) and the Ungheni Bridge over the river Prut (1877). The first metal frame building in the city was made after Eiffel’s plans in 1879, before he designed the Paris Tower. Due to high costs, the mayor had to sell the building and the next owner transformed it into a hotel.

The square started to get larger once some buildings were demolished in 1881, becoming a meeting place for the citizens of Iași. Since the death of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza in 1873, historian A. D. Xenopol and Nicolae Iorga made pressures for erecting a monument in his honour. The political opponents have made the fund raising difficult, but after many persuasions, the king accepted to contribute to the creation of the statue. Thus, in 1912, in the presence of King Charles I, the statue was inaugurated. The bronze monument and the statuary group from the lower side represent Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s main advisors (C. Negri, M. Kogălniceanu, N. Kretzulescu and general I. E. Florescu), and they are the work of the Italian sculptor Raffaello Romanelli.

The old small and coquettish square, with famous breweries and bohemian restaurants, would be completely modified after the 1944 bombings and the systematization process during the Communist period. Thus, Bacalu’s Inn, the Motas houses or the Sidoli Cinema and Circus all disappeared. The tram line which linked Cuza Vodă Street to the current Independenței Boulevard passed near the statue and the esplanade. In 1961, the current shape is defined, vastly extended and more spacious, flanked by the Traian (1879) and Unirea Hotels (1969), Victoria Cinema (1961), Braunstein Palace (1911), Junimea Library and the blocs of collective flats with shops and art exhibitions on the ground floor and mezzanine.

One of the key elements of the square is the symbolic marble mosaic (1962) illustrating the legend of Moldavia’s birth. The chronicler Grigore Ureche tells us that Dragoș Vodă, the Maramureș prince reached the north of Moldavia during auroch (an ancestor of the bison) hunting, and his dog, Molda drowned in the fast waters of the nearby river. In her memory, Dragoș named that river “Moldavia”, name taken afterwards by the state he founded.

Piața Unirii, Iași
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