It was also called “The Elephant`s Museum”, due to the impressive Indian elephant on display on the first floor. The Museum of Natural History was founded in February 1834, half a year before the Antipa Museum in Bucharest, by the doctors Mihai Zotta and Iacob Cihac. They founded the Doctors and Naturalists Society in Iași, the first scientific society of its type in the Romanian Principalities. The museum was hosted in several buildings in the city: the house of Alecu Balș, in the Mihăileană Academy and since 1841, in the current building. The house was bought by the Doctors and Naturalists Society in 1844 from Agripina Sturza, who received it as dowry from her father, Vasile Roset. Apparently, the edifice was built in 1811 on the place of an older house which belonged to the chronicler Ion Neculce.
The building is famous due to “The Elephant`s Cabinet” and Cuza`s Hall. Here, in the evening of January 3rd 1859, the National Party decided, after stormy discussions, to propose and support Alexandru Ioan Cuza as Prince of Moldavia. His double election in Bucharest led to the Unification of the Romanian Principalities and to the founding of the modern Romanian state. The museum owned valuable objects belonging to the prince, nowadays exposed in the hall bearing his name.
The oldest and most famous exhibit from the museum`s collection is the Gaba elephant which made the museum famous. The mammal`s skeleton was bought from the circus for 135 gold coins by Mihail Sturdza, the Prince of Moldavia. The legend says that the elephant`s skin was once stolen and used as a roof for one of the houses in the city`s slum.
The museum building distinguishes itself through the Neoclassic façade. The museum is one of the few architectural monuments of Iași with a dome on arches structure on the ground floor. In 1873, the second botanical garden of the city was arranged in its yard. The plants and seeds were donated by Anastasie Fătu himself, who founded in 1856 the first botanical garden in the Romanian Principalities, a few hundred meters away. From that garden only a few secular trees remain, and are declared Monuments of Nature.
Until 2013, when it was closed for restoration, the museum was highly appreciated, especially by children. The insects, fish, birds and mammal collections, as well as minerals or nests and eggs counted over 350.000 items, being one of the richest collections in Romania. Moreover, there were itinerant exhibitions of minerals, reptiles or prehistoric creatures.
Radu Rosetti – Stories about Cuza`s election in Iași
The memorialist and historian Radu Rosetti tells us in the second volume of “Recollections” about the tense moments which led to the Union of Principalities in 1859. These happened in a hostile international context, when Austria, Russia and the Ottoman Empire were against the Union and there was a powerful anti-Union movement in Moldavia. His uncle, Lascăr Rosetti, present at the meeting in the night of January 3rd 1859, in the “Elephant`s Cabinet” from the current Museum of Natural History, locked the door, saying that no deputy would exit the room until they decide who to propose as candidate for the throne of Moldavia. After long and tense debates, the deputies voted unanimously for Cuza`s candidacy.