Romania was born here
Photo by Iulian Aruxandei
History

Romania was born here

Exploring Iasi's history means getting to know how Romania came to be. Take a tour through the places of great significance in Romania's history.

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.

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Cuzas
Architecture, Landmarks
Since the 17th century there was in Iași the desire of creating a superior education institution. In 1640, the Voivode Vasile Lupu founded Schola Basiliana in the yard of the “Three Hierarchs” Monastery.

In 1714, the Princely Academy is founded in Iași and in 1835 the Mihăileană Academy (of Prince Mihail Sturza) is founded, with two faculties – law and philosophy. In 1860, the first modern university institution is founded – the Iași University through the decree of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, with the support of minister Mihail Kogălniceanu.

The first residence of the Iași University (“Ancient University”) hosted in the beginning three faculties – Philosophy, Law and Theology, followed by Sciences and Medicine, with time, the place not being big enough. Only Medicine remained there, while the other faculties moved in 1897 in the current residence in Copou, also known as the Copou University Palace. This Palace was built on the place of the great National Theatre (destroyed by a fire in 1888) and was inaugurated in 1897, in the presence of King Charles I and of Queen Elisabeth. During the First World War the University Palace hosted the meeting of the Senate of Romania and the ministries of War and Public Instructions, Red Cross or Scouts. Between 1933-1937 the building was symmetrically extended in the southern part and the central gable with the monumental stairway was built. In 1942, the University took on the name of its great protector. During the 1944 bombing, the edifice was deeply damaged and proposed for demolition, but due to professors and people of culture, its restoration was decided.

The palace impresses through size and architecture. The building was erected after the plans of the Swiss architect Louis Blanc, in French eclectic style, combining Classic and Baroque styles. In front of the University there are the statues of the great historian A. D. Xenopol (rector of the University) and of the prime-minister Mihail Kogălniceanu (with two alto-reliefs representing his role in the election of Cuza in 1859 and in the Land Reform in 1864). The main hallway from the ground floor, with an impressive length of almost 130 metres is suggestively called the “Hall of Lost Steps”. The 19 niches are beautifully decorated with surrealist wall paintings of the painter Sabin Bălașa. They reflect the national spirit and culminate to the north with the painting “Homage to the Founders”. Alexandru Ioan Cuza can be seen in the middle of the composition, surrounded by his close ones (Mihail Kogălniceanu, Costache Negri, Garabet Ibrăileanu) or the continuators of the university (rector A. D. Xenopol) and, curiously, by the opponent of the Union and of Cuza – the erudite Gheorghe Asachi. But the last one was the initiator of the Mihăileană Academy of Iași, foregoing of the University and poet of historical legends (Dochia and Traian, Stephen the Great) which are the base of the cosmogonic inspiration for some paintings in the Hall. Totally, the scene of the 12 figures surrounding Cuza has the symbolic aspect of a “Last Supper” in which the base of modern superior education was settled.

The old wing (right) has two architectural jewels: the Old Hall and the Library – one of the most beautiful in the world, today belonging to the “Gheorghe Asachi” Technical University. The new wing (left) has the “Mihai Eminescu” Magna Aula, dominated by Sabin Bălașa’s painting “Galaxy of love”. Nowadays, the University comprises 15 faculties, a European Study Centre and various research centres, with almost 23.000 students and 850 professors and is internationally acknowledged through its excellence and innovation in education and research.

For more informations regarding the architecture and arts, click here

Iași – War capital

On the 6th of December 1916, the German army occupied Bucharest and the state institutions and many civilians ran to Iași. The people of Iași and the other Moldavians had a rough time between 1917-1918 as Romanian resistance. Over 300.000 refugees were hosted in a city with almost 70.000 citizens and depleted of resources. The presence in Iași and on the front of the French mission led by general Henri Mathias Berthelot helped the Romanian Army to regroup after losing control over the southern part of the country. Near the university, on the street bearing his name, we can find the house where the general lived. The smiling angel with a beard and moustache who supports the weight of the richly adorned balcony is an attraction for tourists. Queen Mary, also known as “Mother of wounded ones”, after staying for two weeks in the royal train in the Grajduri train station, went to the Cantacuzino-Pașcanu Palace (today, Children’s Palace), which also hosted the headquarters of the IV Army Corp. The queen was always close to the soldiers hosted in high-schools, schools or institutions in Iași that were transformed into hospitals, one of them being the hero Ecaterina Teodoroiu. Excepting those wounded in battle, more and more people became ill with typhus, an epidemic which devastated Moldavia and made hundreds of thousands of deaths. On top of all of these dramas, in the Ciurea train station near Iași, on the 13th of January 1917, the biggest train accident in the world (at that moment) took place. That was the moment when over 1000 refugees and soldiers who piled up in and on the wagons, after the Germans conquered Brăila, lost their lives. After starting the Great Union in Iași, on the 1st of December 1918, King Ferdinand I returned victorios to Bucharest and Iași remained the symbol of national resistance for all Romanians.

Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza
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PalatulCopiilorIasi-min

Photo by palatulcopiiloriasi.ro

Architecture, Landmarks
In the beginning the palace was surrounded by a wall which separated a big yard with tall trees, in the front, and in the back, there were the boyar court annexes.

Around 1855 the place was “marked” by a dramatic story which hurried the emancipation process of boyar gypsy slaves in Moldavia and afterwards, in Wallachia.

The chancellor’s house was famous in Iași through its imposing architecture, its position, but also through the parties and card games organised here. The Prince of Moldavia, Grigore Ghica was one of the usual guests of the house during his reign (1849-1856). After the chancellor’s death, the building passed in the property of the politician Dimitrie Cozadini, becoming a temporary royal residence after 1875, for King Charles I and his guests during the visits in Iași. In the first-floor hall, representatives of the city leadership have intensely debated in 1879 the elimination of social-political differences caused by religious reasons. The building was bought by the state in order to host the IV Army Corps, here being sheltered the Commandment, the Artillery Brigade, the Engineer Corps and other military units. During the First World War the building became the Residence of Queen Mary, following that in the interwar period the Institute for education of the military`s daughters would function here. During the Second World War, the former Cantacuzino house, surrounded by a tall stake fence, was transformed in a camp for Soviet war prisoners and later, after the Russian offensive, for the Romanian ones. At the end of the war the building became a students’ hostel for the one of the Polytechnic Institute, in 1966 turned into the Palace of Pioneers and after the fall of communism it received the name of “Children’s Palace”.

The stone and plastered bricks construction attracts the passer-by through the simplicity and proportions of the Neoclassical architecture. Like many other boyar houses from the same period, the main hallway is dominated by the monumental stairway which leads to the first floor with the ball hall, having a current role of festivity hall.

Nowadays, the “Children’s Palace” has the role of organizing non-formal activities for the free time and of involving children in educational projects. The activities are divided in over 100 groups, on the fields – visual arts, music and dance, civic culture, science and technique or sport and tourism.

Palatul Copiilor, Bulevardul Carol I, Iași
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BCU

Photo by Iulian Aruxandei

Architecture, Landmarks
The imposing building from the base of Copou hill is the dominant element of the “Mihai Eminescu” Square. The place is known as “At the Foundation”, because this building initially sheltered the residence of the “King Ferdinand I the Unifier” Foundation and its library.

Over the years, the Library Institution functioned in several buildings. Founded in 1835 as Library of the Mihăileană Academy, it became a University Library in 1860, afterwards a Central and Public one and then again, a University one in 1916. After the Second World War, the Library moved into the current residence and merged with the one of the foundation (1950), resulting the “Mihai Eminescu” Central University Library of Iași.

Built between 1930-1934 according to the plans of the architect Constantin Jotzu, the library was made as a sign of gratitude for the vital role that Iași had in the national opposition in the First World War. The Neoclassical style is noticed through the façade made in Ruse stone, with medallions which represent important personalities of the national culture, impressive Ionic columns, Neo-Doric pillars and small triangular gables. Between the columns, it was desired that statues of princes of Moldavia would be placed, but their weight determined their moving nearby, resulting the Voivodes’ Statuary Group. The building is guarded by the statue of the great poet Mihai Eminescu brought from the front of the University, that replaces the monument of the Great Union of 1918, destroyed in the Second World War.

Inside, the visitor is impressed by the Carrara marble and Venetian mosaic decorations that represent various effigies of Romania. The statue of King Ferdinand I is placed at the end of the monumental stairway, reminding us of his essential role in defending Romania and completing the national territory between 1916-1918. The stairs lead to the most important rooms: the Assembly Hall, renowned for its acoustics and the royal balcony, the “B. P. Hașdeu” Hall with its balcony oriented towards the “Mihai Eminescu” Square and the Cupola, a former observer which offers an exceptional panoramic view. The other rooms are reserved for reading and depositing the valuable thesaurus of 2 million volumes, comprised of manuscripts and old and rare books, some bearing illustrious signatures, such as the “Evangel with the Coresi teaching”.

The Library is also an active informing and education centre that organizes events, charitable concerts, poetry evenings, exhibitions, but also an excellent guided tour of the building. The spaces situated on the ground floor are administered by cultural institutions, such as the Reading Room of the German Cultural Centre, British Council, the Royal Art Galleries or Sage Café.

King Ferdinand in Iași and the Great Union

The Royal House and Romania’s Government fled to Iași after the conquest of Bucharest by the German forces in 1916. King Ferdinand I, although deeply affected by the death of Prince Mircea of typhus, at only 3 years old, managed of undertaking, from Iași, a restless activity of regaining the lost territories. In the same time, in 1918 he focused on maintaining a constant connection with the representatives of Romanians from the historical provinces, contributing along with Queen Mary, to the making of the Great Union in 1918 of the provinces Bessarabia – the 27th of March, Bukovina – the 28th of November and Transylvania – the 1st of December. During his staying in Iași, the residence of King Ferdinand I was the current Museum of Union.

Strada Păcurari 6 Iași 700259
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Muzeul Universitatii

Photo by uaic.ro

Architecture, Museums
Located on Titu Maiorescu Street in Copou, the museum has been functioning since 2011 as a department of “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University. It is situated in a building from 1911, which belonged to the neurosurgeon Scarlat Panaitescu and afterwards to the neurosurgeon Nicolae Oblu. The house is built in Neo-Romanian style with Art Nouveau elements.

The Museum of the University represents the continuation of two museum traditions, the Museum of Antiquities, founded in 1916 at the initiative of professor Orest Tafrali and the Academic Museum, initially founded in the Rector`s Office from the University Palace on the celebration of 125 years from the founding on the first modern University in the country. The exposed materials from the Museum of Antiquities were the result of archaeological excavations from the area of the Neolithic Cucuteni culture and of the Greek fortresses from the Black Sea, becoming afterwards part of the Museum of Moldavian History. The current university museum combines the two collections and has an archaeological section – the “Cucuteni” Civilization Museum (ground floor) and an academic one – the Academic Museum (first floor).

The “Cucuteni” Civilization Museum comprises some of the most valuable items obtained after archaeological research and exhibits from the Collection of the “Cucuteni for the millennium 3” Foundation. This civilisation is one of the oldest in Europe (5200 – 3500 B.C.) partially covering the territory of Romania, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. Thematically arranged in a modern manner, the museum shows the visitors scenes of the daily life of the ancient civilization, with the help of original items, as well as with a wide audio-video reconstitution of the archaeological research process. The famous “Cucuteni” ceramic vases with spiral motifs, painted in red, black and white can be admired here, along with weapons, tools, cult objects and very valuable jewellery. In the obscure room, called the Thesaurus Hall, the mystical atmosphere made by the female figure thesaurus, is amplified by the ceiling which reproduces the starry sky and the tribal music background.

The Academic Museum presents the various historical steps of the superior education in Iași. Unique exhibits reconstitute the evolution of the institution and the academic disciplines, and the visitors can admire the University`s symbols from the first rector`s office, the flags of the first faculties, paintings of personalities, official documents, photographs, tools and medals.

Along the patrimony mission, the museum functions as promoting space for university exchanges and organizing of scientific events and temporary exhibitions in the building`s attic. The free tours in Romanian, English and French are offered in an attractive manner by the gifted students and graduates of the Faculty of History.

Visiting hours:

TUESDAY – FRIDAY: 09:00-16:00
SATURDAY – SUNDAY: 10:00-15:00

Cucuteni – ancient European civilization

The culture takes its name from the village near Târgu Frumos (Iași county), where Teodor Burada discovered the first vestiges in 1884. Cucuteni – Tripolie is one of oldest European civilizations (5200-3500 B.C.) which covers 385.000 km² in the NE of Romania, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. Specific for this culture are the vases with a refined painting, having three different phases – Precucuteni (carved geometrical models), Cucuteni A (spiral painted models), Cucuteni B (integrating of anthropo /zoo-morphic models, with a cosmologic role, along with geometrical models). The civilisation is covered in a true mystery because the Cucuteni people used to set on fire their houses regularly, a ritual with many possible explanations.

Strada Titu Maiorescu 12, Iași 700460
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Kogalniceanu

Photo by Muzeul Memorial "Mihail Kogălniceanu" - Facebook

Architecture, Museums
The “Mihail Kogălniceanu” Memorial Museum illustrates a fragment of the glorious past of the Romanian people.

In this house, the politician Mihail Kogălniceanu (1817-1891) was born and lived along with his family. The building was constructed in 1807 and rebuilt in 1888 by the architect Carol von Kugler. The house hosted important people 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 Charles I was hosted in April 1869, on his fifth visit to Iași. During the First World War, it was the headquarters of the Martial Court and after that, of the Society for Protection of War Orphans. It suffered great damages during the bombings in 1944 and was rehabilitated after the war through the efforts of professor Gheorghe Băileanu, becoming a students’ hostel of the Faculty of Medicine. In 1970, the building becomes part of the patrimony of the Museum of Moldavian History and turns into a memorial museum.

A remarkable historian, journalist, writer, lawyer, diplomat and politician, Mihail Kogălniceanu was born in Iași in 1817, being educated at the Three Hierarchs School, at Cuénim`s boarding school in Miroslava and at Lunéville, France. He had university studies in Berlin, where he promoted Romanian identity (instead of Moldavian or Muntenian identity), playing an important role in popularizing this name before the Union. When he returned to Iași, Kogălniceanu founded the “Dacia literară” magazine and was director of the National Theatre (1840). During the 1848 Revolution he manifested for civil and political rights and for the abolition of boyar privileges. He was the most important supporter of the Union and collaborator of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. He became prime-minister of Romania during the Union period, when he sustained the secularization measures of monastery wealth and the agrarian reform. On the 9th of May 1877, during the reign of Charles I, Kogălniceanu read in Parliament the “Proclamation of Independence of Romania” towards the Ottoman Empire.

The Neoclassical architecture of the building is emphasized through the entrance porch with four Tuscan columns. The coquettish rooms reconstitute the elegant air of boyar houses from the half of the 19th century, with Oriental furniture or specific to the styles Louis XV and Louis XVI, Sèvres porcelain, silver objects with monograms and Biedermeier furniture. In the museum, there is the first holographic projection in a Romanian memorial museum, through which Mihail Kogălniceanu, interpreted by the actor Nicolae Ursu, welcomes his guests.

Visiting hours:
TUESDAY – SATURDAY, 10:00-17:00

Kogălniceanu and Cuza – Artisans of the Union and Romania

Mihail Kogălniceanu has unceasingly sustained the ideal of a Union between the two Romanian Principalities from 1837, when he wrote “The History of Romanian Countries”. As member of the Ad hoc Divan of Moldavia, he firmly promoted the unionist cause, stating that “the greatest desire […], that will be the happiness of future generations is the Union of Principalities into one state”. The election of Cuza was made in extremis, after ruining the plans of the anti-unionist party, very powerful in Iași. The agrarian reform, radical for those times, refers to abolition of chores, elimination of boyar privileges and the allotment of peasants. This was adopted in 1864, but was paid with the price Cuza`s reign.

Strada Mihail Kogălniceanu nr. 11, Iași 700454
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UMF Iasi

Photo by Andrei Cucu

Architecture, Universities
The “Grigore T.Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, also known as the Calimachi Palace, is one of the most imposing and oldest buildings of Iași.

The initial building was erected in 1793 on the land of the hetman Costache Ghica and the treasurer Ion Cantacuzino, and became a princely residence during Calimachi Vodă (1795-1799). The restorations from 1845 led to the building`s development on two stories, in the classic style of boyar manors.

Under the reign of Cuza, the building was bought for the founding of the first modern University in Romania (1860), from where the name of the “Ancient University”. This is the place where the Iași Academy functioned, where Mihai Eminescu was a librarian, as well as the National Picture Gallery of Iași (The Museum of Art). Along with the inauguration of the new residence of the Iași University in Copou in 1897, this is where the Faculty of medicine remained due to its proximity to Spiridonia`s great hospital. Meanwhile, other faculties begin to emerge: Pharmacy, Dental Medicine and Medical Bioengineering. The old palace was extended through a big building with three stories and an attic, built in 1912. From the wall of the ancient princely residence only the entrance portal is left, with the coat of arms of Moldavia, known as the Door of Hope. The legend says that the students who walk underneath this gate will pass the exams. In 1991, it receives the status of University and the name of Grigore T. Popa – famous representative of the Functional Anatomy School in Iași. The façade is a Neoclassical one, with three arches and a vault for the carriage access, and on the superior floors, the windows are framed by Ionic columns.

On the right side, the building of the Anatomy Institute, built between 1894 and 1900 in Neoclassic style, has the shape of a Greek temple with Doric columns. The front side has a bas-relief called “The Anatomy Lesson” of the sculptor Wladimir Hegel, the one who also made the statues of Vasile Alecsandri and Miron Costin.

Inside the University of Medicine and Pharmacy there is the Museum of Medicine History and the Museum of Anatomy, where the statue “Ecorșeu” is exposed, a study for the representation of the human body, made by the sculptor Constantin Brâncuși in 1902 with the help of Dr. Dimitrie Gerota. The museums include exhibits such as historical documents, medical apparatus or wax masks representing eye diseases from the clinic of Prof. Dr. Elena Pușcariu – the first woman university professor in the field of Ophthalmology.

In front of the University, the United Nations Square was founded in 1999, with the Union Monument and a torch representing the Eternal Flame of Heroes.

Union Monument from the Nation Square

The 1918 Union Monument is a copy of an ancient statuary group ordered by the princess Olga I. Sturdza in 1927 and set at the base of Copou hill. That monument was destroyed during the Second World War and was replaced with the statue of Mihai Eminescu. But the Iași sculptor, Constantin Crengăniș, made a replica of the Union Monument, set in the Nation Square in 1999. The statuary group represents the Motherland in the middle and its three daughters, Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina and the child symbolises the Romanians left outside the borders. The monument is situated in the centre of a map of Greater Romania made by red paving blacks, and four alleys begin in the corners of the square and stop at the “borders”.

Strada Universității 16, Iași 700115
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IMG_73361
Museums
The Museum of Natural History is the oldest museum of its kind in the country. The building was called “Roset House” or “Sturza House”.

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.

Bulevardul Independenței nr. 16, Iași 700098
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IASI (20)-min
Museums
The Palace of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, symbol of the city, was witness to the Union of the Principalities, being named “Museum of the Union” in 1959, on the centenary of Romania’s birth.

It was built in 1806 by Constantin Catargi. After 1827, C. Paladi lived there, candidate to the throne and the first commander of the Earthly Militia (National Army), founded in 1830. The building became the residence of Mihalache Cantacuzino-Pașcanu and hosted the meeting of the unionists (Vasile Alecsandri, Costache Negri, Mihail Kogălniceanu) since the time of Prince Grigore Al.Ghica Vodă. In 1856, the founding act of the Union Committee was signed here. As an irony, in the building across the street, now hosting the U.A.P.R. art galleries, the most important anti-unionists were frequently meeting: Nicolae Istrati, Gheorghe Asachi and Costache Negruzzi, who were fervently sustaining that moving the capital to Bucharest will mean the city’s decline, the isolation and poverty of Moldavia.

For three years (1859-1862) the palace became the residence of the first prince of the United Principalities, Alexandru Ioan Cuza. 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 Empire.

After the permanent move of the capital to Bucharest in 1862, the palace served as residence for its rightful owner, Ecaterina Ghica. In 1886, the building was sold to the Urban Credit Society in Iași and the ground floor rooms became elegant shops. During the First World War, the palace was the residence of King Ferdinand I and in 1937 the Museum “Cuza-Vodă Palace” was founded on the first floor, at the initiative of the historian Nicolae Iorga.

The building follows the lines of the Neoclassical style. On the façade modified in 1872 we can see the monogram of Ecaterina Ghica in the balcony’s fittings and the coat of arms of the Ghica-Comănești family on the gable. The massive telamons which are metaphorically holding on their shoulders the weight of the sky have inspired the great poet Mihai Eminescu to state that “when I see them, I feel how history of the Romanian people is crushing me”. The interior is decorated with Renaissance and Baroque elements, the central hallway has gilded decorations and the arcades of doors are adorned with acanthus leaves.

The ground floor shows various aspects of the Union epoch (the double election, partizans of the Union, reforming politics) and the palace’s history, and it hosts numerous cultural events. In the hallway, the painting “Hora Unirii” by Constache Agafiței illustrates the events of January 1859 which took place in front of the former Bacalu’s Inn in the current Union Square. The first floor is dedicated to the princely apartments – the working offices of the Prince and the Lady Elena Cuza, the living room, the hall, the billiard room, the Lady’s salon and the bedroom.

Visiting hours:
TUESDAY – SUNDAY: 10:00 – 17:00

Elena Cuza – the Great Lady of Romania

Elena Rosetti (born in 1825 in Solești, Vaslui) receives a special education since childhood, which ensures her place in the high society of Moldavia’s capital. In 1844, she meets Alexandru Ioan Cuza in Iași and dedicates herself entirely to the marriage. Being an introvert, living besides a harsh husband, she accepts with great sacrifices the burden of the princely crown and her husband’s infidelities. With love and diplomacy, she supports him in crucial moments such as his arrest during the 1848 Revolution and his crowning as Prince of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859. With the same motherly dedication, she accepted to raise the two illegitimate sons of the prince and was concerned with the problems of orphans and women.

Strada Alexandru Lăpușneanu nr. 14, Iași 700057
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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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Photo by Andrei Cucu

Churches, Landmarks
The “Three Hierarchs” Monastery of Iași is a unique monument in Romania, situated in the historical centre of the city on “Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt” Boulevard.

The monument was constructed by the great Voivode Vasile Lupu between 1637-1639, to venerate the three great priests from the beginning of Christianity – Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom. The blending of traditional shapes with precious materials and refined decorations turn “Three Hierarchs” Monastery into the most precious church monument in Iași. Devoted protector of the Orthodox Church, Vasile Lupu wanted to build a monastery inside the city centre, that would combine Byzantine spirit with Moldavian tradition and to serve as a princely necropolis.

The façade decorations astonish through the harmonious unity of Byzantine elements and geometric motifs of Georgian and Armenian influence, along with the late Transylvanian Gothic influences of abutments and girdles encountered in the monasteries of Muntenia. As sign of his ambitions as descendant of Byzantine monarchs, Vasile Lupu brought the relics of Saint Parascheva to Iași, which were offered by the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a sign of gratitude for the actions and generous donations made by the Moldavian prince to the Holy Mount Athos. He was a Renaissance prince, great lover of culture and knowledge, he founded the ancient Schola Basiliana in the church`s yard (today there is only the gorgeous Gothic Hall, rebuilt in 1904), where the first printing press from Kiev was also installed. This is where the first printed work (in Greek) appeared in Moldavia, as well as the famous “Cazania” of the metropolitan Varlaam in 1643. On the 25th– 26th of June 1711 the monastery received the visit of the tsar Peter I the Great, newly allied with Moldavia`s Prince Dimitrie Cantemir. The Russian emperor wanted to pray to the relics of Saint Parascheva before the battle with the Ottomans. The monastery was burnt and robbed several times and rebuilt in the 19th century. The “Three Hierarchs” Monastery played an important role in the events which led to the freeing of Greece from the Ottoman rule and its declaration of independence. The relics of Saint Parascheva were moved in the new Metropolitan Cathedral in 1889 after a fire from which they miraculously escaped. The steeple tower from the entrance was demolished during the restorations between 1882-1904.

The image of princely necropolis was kept throughout time, the bones of Vasile Lupu and his wife resting here even nowadays. On the opposite side, there are the remains of the scholar Voivode Dimitrie Cantemir, repatriated in 1935 from USSR, and the remains of the Prince of the United Principalities, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, brought from Ruginoasa. The “Three Hierarchs” Monastery is a spiritual centre and an architectural landmark unique in Romania.

Filiki Eteria and the role of Iași in Greece`s Freeing Revolution

Eteria was a secret revolutionary organization, founded in Odessa in 1814 with the aim of removing Ottoman domination from the territories where Greeks used to live and to establish a Greek independent state. Under the rule of Alexandru Ipsilanti, the son of the former Phanariot Prince of Moldavia Constantin Ipsilanti, the movement decided the beginning of the revolution in 1821. The Greek troops came to Iași in February 1821, supported by Prince Mihai Șuțu, and Moldavia`s metropolitan Veniamin Costache, who blessed the movement`s flags, thus declaring the beginning of the liberation fight. The internal conflicts between Eteria`s rulers, the lack of the initially promised Russian support and the assassination of the Romanian revolutionary Tudor Vladimirescu, accused of treachery to Eteria`s cause, led to the temporary failure of the Greek movement.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt nr. 28, Iași 700259
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Photo by Andrei Postolache

Architecture, Museums
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
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