Exploring the history of Iași means getting to know how Romania was born. Take a tour through the places of great significance for the Romanian history.
Iași was the capital of the Principality of Moldavia for almost 300 years (1564-1862). The city has an important role in the consolidation of the Romanian nation. The entry to Iași of Prince Mihai Viteazu (the Brave) in 1600, and his self-proclamation as “Prince of Wallachia, of Transylvania and Moldova” is a historical gesture that laid the foundation of the future Romania.
A large part of the intellectual community of Iași proposed Alexandru Ioan Cuza as ruler of the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. His double election (both at Iași and Bucharest) is celebrated in Unirii Square every year, on January 24th. The „Hora Unirii” (Union Round Dance) written by poet Vasile Alecsandri, became the symbolic poem and dance of the birth of Romania. During the Great War (1916-1918) our city became the War Capital of Romania, thus many of the city’s institutions became the headquarters of the state apparatus. It is in Iași that the King of Romania, Ferdinand I, through his diplomacy, managed to complete Romania with the western territories of Transylvania, Maramureș, Crișana, and Banat. It is what we call „the Great Union of 1918”, celebrated every year on December 1st, as the National Day of Romania.
The Palace of Culture
The main attraction and the symbol of Iași, the Palace of Culture represents an emblematic edifice of Romania, hosting the National Museum Complex of Moldavia.
The building imposes through its height (with its 55m tower), surface (268 rooms with a total surface of 35.000 m2), and its privileged position on a promontory called “Golden Plateau”, a terrace above Bahlui river, which offers a hearth of dwelling since the Neolithic.
The current shape of the building is the result of the architectural remake, between 1906 and 1925, of the former residence of Moldavia’s Princes. Before that, there was the medieval Princely Court of Iași, initially built during the reign of Alexander the Good (around the 1400s), and documented in 1434. This is where the headquarters of the capital of Moldavia were transferred in 1564, during the time of Voivode Alexandru Lăpușneanu. On the 27th of May, 1600, in the same place, Michael the Brave proclaimed himself “Prince of Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia”, a title that no other voivode has had before. The Union of Romanian Principalities lasted only for a year, but later it strengthened the ideas of unity of all Romanian-speaking folks.
Monastery of the “Three Holy Hierarchs”
The church was built between 1637 and 1639 as a princely necropolis by the Voivode (Prince) of Moldavia Vasile Lupu. On the site of the current “Gothic Hall” museum situated to the left of the courtyard, the Prince founded the “Schola Basiliana” with teaching in Slavonic, Latin, and Greek. This superior school laid the foundations of an academic tradition in Iasi that culminated with the establishment of the first modern Romanian university in 1860, in Iași. On February 27th, 1821, the Orthodox bishop Veniamin Costachi consecrated here the flag of Filiki Eteria (Greek Society of Friends). It triggered the movement for the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman occupation. In the narthex of the church, left side, there are the tombstones of the founding family of Lupu. On the right side, there are the tombstones of the two most prominent Moldavian princes: scholar Dimitrie Cantemir, repatriated from the USSR in 1935, and the first prince of Romania, Alexandru Ioan Cuza.
“Grigore T. Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy – Nation Square
The medicine complex was developed around the old princely residence „Calimachi Palace”, still visible today as the core of the building. In 1860, this initial palace was chosen as the headquarters of the first university in the country. Starting with 1897, most sciences left for the University Palace of Copou, whilst here the Medicine reinforced its presence. The institution received the status of a University in 1991 and the name of Grigore T. Popa, the famous representative of the School of Functional Anatomy. To the right, there is the Institute of Anatomy, built in 1900 in the shape of a Greek temple. In Nation Square stands the Union Monument, a symbol of the unification of the Romanian nation in 1918. Around it, there is a map of Great Romania drawn with red pavement, only visible from the air.
“Mihail Kogălniceanu” Memorial Museum
In this house dating from 1807, the politician Mihail Kogălniceanu (1817-1891) was born. I was rebuilt in 1888 by the architect Carol von Kugler. The house hosted important intellectuals of the 19th Century such as Costache Negri, Vasile Alecsandri, Alecu Russo, but also the Princes of Moldavia, Mihail Sturdza and Grigore Alexandru Ghica. This is also the place where Prince Carol I of Romania was hosted in April 1869, during his fifth visit to Iași. During the First World War, the building hosted the headquarters of the Martial Court and after that, of the Society for Protection of War Orphans. It suffered great damage during the bombings in 1944, after its rehabilitation after the war through the efforts of professor Gheorghe Băileanu, it became a student hostel of the Faculty of Medicine. In 1970, the building became part of the historic heritage of the Museum of Moldavian History by being transformed into a memorial museum.
The University Palace of Copou
This is an impressive palace of the chic Copou area. The building was erected by the plans of the Swiss architect Pierre Louis Blanc, in French eclectic style, combining Neoclassic and Baroque influences. In front of the University, there are the statues of the great historian A. D. Xenopol (rector of the University) and the prime-minister Mihail Kogălniceanu (with two alto-reliefs representing his role in the election of Cuza in 1859 and the Land Reform in 1864). The main hallway of the ground floor, with an impressive length of almost 130 meters is suggestively called the “Hall of Lost Steps”. The 19 niches are beautifully decorated with surrealist murals of the painter Sabin Bălașa. They reflect Romanian history, mythology, and aspirations. They culminate on the north side of the hall with the painting called “Tribute to the Founders”. Alexandru Ioan Cuza can be seen in the middle of the composition, surrounded by his close supporters (Mihail Kogălniceanu, Costache Negri, Garabet Ibrăileanu) or the continuators of the academic project (rector A. D. Xenopol) and, curiously, by the opponent of the Union and of Prince Cuza – the erudite Gheorghe Asachi. As a matter of fact, G. Asachi was the initiator of the Mihăileană Academy of Iași, foregoing of the Iași University and poet of historical legends (such as Dochia and Traian, Stephen the Great at Neamț Fortress) which are the base of the cosmogonic inspiration for some murals. The 12 men surrounding Prince Alexander Ioan Cuza symbolize the “Last Supper”, as apostles of modern superior education and united Romania.
“Mihai Eminescu” Central University Library
The imposing building lies at the base of Copou hill and dominated the “Mihai Eminescu” Square. The place is known as “At the Foundation” (la Fundație) because this building initially was the “King Ferdinand I the Unifier” Foundation and its library.
The institution of University Library was previously founded in 1835 (by the Mihăileană Academy) and was transferred into the current building in the 1950s, by merging with the in-site Library of the Ferdinand Foundation. The new complex was renamed the “Mihai Eminescu” Central University Library of Iași or „B.C.U.” as the locals like to name it.
The building was erected between 1930 and 1934 according to the plans of the architect Constantin Jotzu. It was funded by the Royal Family of Romania as a symbol of gratitude for the vital support that the city of Iași offered during the First World War. The facade is embellished with medallions that represent important personalities of the national culture, impressive Ionic columns, and Neo-Doric pillars. Next to the building, there is the statue of the national poet Mihai Eminescu.
Union Museum – Residence of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza
The building hosting nowadays the Union Museum has been the residence of Prince of Romania Alexandru Ioan Cuza (1859-1862). Prince Cuza signed here the famous declaration through which the permanent Union of Principalities was proclaimed, on the 11th of December 1861, after the approval of the Ottoman Sultan. This princely residence has been transformed into a museum in 1959, on the centenary of Romania’s birth. The ground level offers temporary exhibitions and painting galleries whereas the upper floor reenacts the aspect of the princely residence just like it was back in 1859. It is a symbol of the city and the most photographed building on Lăpușneanu Street.
The Union Square
The Union Square represents a landmark of the city, or the „Kilometer Zero” as locals use to say. It is also the intersection of three major streets: “Ștefan cel Mare” Boulevard (former Grand Street), Alexandru Lăpușneanu Street (former Serbian Street), and Cuza Vodă Street (former Golia Street).
This square has a special meaning to all Romanians: it is the birthplace of the country of Romania. In front of Petre Bacalu’s Inn (formerly situated right across the street from Hotel Traian), “Hora Unirii” was danced for the first time in 1857 when Moldavians and Wallachians were demanding to become one nation. The announcement of the Union of Romanian Principalities, by the election of Prince Cuza both in Iași and Bucharest, occurred on the 24th of January 1859, which triggered a massive gathering. This historical moment is illustrated in a later painting by the Iași artist Constache Agafiței, found at the Union Museum. The same square, in 1917, hosted the arrival of Transylvanian soldiers who demanded their Union with Romania by taking their oath to fight for it.
Grand Hotel Traian is the oldest standing building in the square (1882). Before it, there were a few shops owned by mayor Scarlat Pastia. He ordered their demolition and funded the construction of a new theatre. The mayor was very satisfied with the previous projects of the famous French architect Gustave Eiffel: the Market Hall of Iași (1873), and the Ungheni Bridge over the river Prut (1877). Thus, this first metal-framed building in Iași was built after Eiffel’s plans in 1879, right before he designed the Paris Tower. Due to high costs, the mayor had to sell his theater project, and the next owner transformed it into a hotel that preserves the touches of architect Eiffel style.
Check out the list below for all the attractions that you can explore.