Architecture / Museums

The History Museum of Moldavia

The main attraction and the absolute symbol of Iași, the Palace of Culture represents an emblematic museum of Romania and the headquarters of the National Museum Complex of Moldavia.

The monumental edifice imposes through its height (the 55m tower), surface (268 rooms with a total surface of 35.000 m2) and its privileged position on a promontory of the “Golden Plateau”, the terrace from above the Bahlui river which offers the best visibility.

The current shape of the building is the result of the remake, between 1906 and 1925, of the former residence of Moldavia’s Princes, situated inside the old Princely Court of Iași. The Court was initially erected during the reign of Alexander the Good towards 1400, and documented in 1434. This is where the capital of Moldavia was moved in 1564, during the time of Voivode Alexandru Lăpușneanu, followed by a long consolidation process. On the 27th of May 1600, in the same place, Michael the Brave proclaimed himself “Prince of Wallachia and Transylvania and Moldavia”, a title that no other voivode has had before. The Iași Union of Romanian Principalities for almost a year, later strengthened the ideals of union of Romanians everywhere.

During the first centuries of existence, the Princely Court looked like a fortress, with defence walls, bastions and entrance tower, but the fortifications were removed at the order of the Ottoman Empire. A remodeling takes place under the reign of Vasile Lupu (1634-1653). After some fires and the devastating earthquake in 1802 (7.9 Richter), which destroyed a big part of the constructions, the Prince of Moldavia Alexandru Moruzi builds an imposing Princely Palace (1806-1812) designed by the architect Johan Freywald, similar to Viennese palaces. It is said that it had 365 rooms, one for each day of the year. After a fire, between 1841-1843, Prince Mihail Sturdza ordered the reconstruction of the edifice under the name “The Palace of Reign”. After the 1848 Revolution, Iași was the cradle of Romanian intellectuals’ effort of accomplishing the ideal of Union: “Hey, Wallachian, hey, neighbour, come join me” (“Hora Unirii”, Vasile Alecsandri, 1856). In the Hall of the Elective Assembly in the Palace (situated then above the entrance hallway) the election of Alexandru Ioan Cuza as Prince of Moldavia was confirmed on the January 5th 1859 and the mission of accomplishing the Union was given to him. Cuza’s investiture firman was read here on the 21st of September 1859 by the Turkish colonel Samih-bei. After the decision of moving the capital to Bucharest (1862), the building loses a part of its roles and after the 1880 fire, the palace receives a Neoclassical aspect of French inspiration. In 1883, in front of the Palace, the equestrian statue of Voivode Stephen the Great was erected, with bas-reliefs representing the battle of Moldavia with Poland and with the Ottoman Empire, work of the French sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet. The promise of King Charles I to offer Iasi a true symbol led to the redesign of the edifice in 1906 by the architect Ion D. Berindei, in a Flamboyant Neogothic architectural style, changing its destination into a Palace of Justice and Administration. The inauguration took place on the 11th of October 1925, in the presence of King Ferdinand I and Queen Mary. During the Second World War, it served as barracks of German and then Russian troops and field hospital. Begining with 1955, the edifice received the name “Palace of Culture”, hosting the Museum of History of Moldavia and the Museum Complex.

The building reflects the spirit of ducal palaces in Western Europe, with triumphal hallways decorated with pavement mosaics, very large halls and a rich wall heraldic decoration. In the arrangement of some rooms, ultramodern technologies were used (ventilation system, lighting, vacuum cleaner, clocks synchronized with the one in the tower, etc.) or, as a first, the usage of bois-ciment (“wood-cement”), a decorative material from a mixture of cement and resin, boiled in oil, imitating oak wood, invention of the famous engineer Henri Coandă.

The Palace of Culture shelters four museums of national importance: The Museum of History of Moldavia, The Museum of Art, The Ethnographic Museum and The “Stefan Procopiu” Museum of Science and Technique.

The Union Route proposes an incursion in the Museum of History of Moldavia (left wing, ground floor) which approaches the evolution of the Iași Princely Court, the Iași society in 1900 and its role as Palace of Justice during the interwar period. The testimony of the existence of the Princely Court is present in the medieval foundations visible through glass floors or in the exhibits which approach the evolution of military organization of the capital of Moldavia. The society of Iasi of the 19th century is illustrated through fashionable activities – theatre, photography and sports bets. The role of Palace of Justice is present in the typical Court room or in the former Jury Court in the Henri Coandă Hall. The most impressive room in the Palace is the Voivodes Hall (first floor), a festivity hall with a Gothic arch ceiling, with the portrait gallery of the rulers of Moldavia’s lands, from Decebal to Charles II (Carol II), on a Prussian blue background, and with a superb fireplace symbolically decorated with the genealogic tree of Moldavia’s rulers. The clock tower has the carillon horologe – a drum with pins which operates eight bells. These bells play “Hora Unirii” (composed by the Iasi composer of German origins Alexander Flechtenmacher) at each precise hour, symbol of the essential role that Iași had in the birth of modern Romania. Fifteen minutes before the precise hour, tours are organised in the palace’s attic and tower in order to observe the clock’s mechanism, to experience the vibration of the bells and to admire the superb view over the Old Centre of the city.

The Princely Court ruins (still in arrangement), the effigy of the Rosetti family, from the current Roznovanu Palace and the two cannons (trophies from the Independence War in 1877) harmoniously complete the Palace Square.

Visiting hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00-17:00

Michael the Brave – The first Union in Iasi

The Prince of Wallachia, Michael the Brave (1558-1601) rose over the Ottoman, Habsburg and Polish domination in the Romanian Principalities. After his successful military campaigns in 1599, he defeated the Prince of Transylvania, Andrei Bathory, and in 1600 he chased away Ieremia Movilă, Prince of Moldavia. On the 27th of May 1600, through a charter issued in the Princely Court in Iași, Michael the Brave declared himself “Prince of Wallachia and Transylvania and Moldavia” and manufactured a seal on which all three coat of arms of the Romanian Principalities appeared. Unfortunately he was assassinated a year later in Turda, in August 1601, by the mercenaries of the Habsburg imperial general, Giorgio Basta. During the First World War, the prince’s head, placed at Dealu Monastery in the occupied Muntenia, was brought to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Iași.

Palace of Culture, Piața Palat 1, Iași 700259
Photo by Andrei Postolache

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