The city of cultural premieres
Photo by Andrei Cucu
Culture

The city of cultural premieres

You might need a longer holiday for all of Iași's cultural spots.

Since 2018, Iași has been the cultural capital of Romania. But its historical contribution to culture has greater length. The fromer capital of Romania has pioneered a lot of cultural activities and breakthroughs.

A lot of these are still attractions inside the city or live on by memorials in the spots where the events happened. This guide walk you through these points of interest.

The first modern university in Romania

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 first natural history museum in the Romanian Principalities

The former house of the vornic Costachi Sturdza houses since 1834 The Natural History Museum, with unique collections in the Romanian scientific landscape. Currently, the museum’s collection holds over 300,000 specimens of animals, plants and minerals. The building remained in the national memory through a decisive event for the birth of modern Romania. In a room called “Elephant’s Cabinet”, on the night of January 3, 1859, the deputies from the National Party decided the candidacy of the unionist Alexandru Ioan Cuza for the reign of Moldavia, after stormy debates. It is said that the discussions were so heated that Lascăr Rosetti, later minister during Cuza’s time, had to lock the room to make the members make a decision. Today there is a room in the museum dedicated to this historic moment.

The first national theatre and the first play in Romanian

The first play in Romanian was directed in 1816 by Gheorghe Asachi, considered the father of Romanian theater. In 1833, the Théâtre de Variétés was founded, the forerunner of the first National Theater in Romania (1840). The former Teatru Mare din Copou has hosted the institution since 1846, and after 1896 it was transferred to the current building. The history of the institution is closely linked to the activity of the playwright Vasile Alecsandri, whose name he bears, and of Matei Millo, the first actor with a university degree in Romania. The Dramatic Philharmonic Conservatory, founded in 1836, is the forerunner of the State Opera in Iași (1956), which became the Romanian National Opera (2003), an institution marked by the personality of its first conductor, Radu Botez. The Great Hall of the building is an important tourist attraction that can be visited before rehearsals.

The first Yiddish theatre in the world

In 1876, a professional Yiddish-language theater troupe was founded in a charming summer garden called the “Green Tree”. It became the founding act of the world’s first professional Jewish theater. Founded by poet and playwright Avram Goldfaden, the band has toured the country and abroad, serving as a nursery for the entire Yiddish theater scene in the world. Her plays have gained momentum on Broadway, according to actress Barbara Streisand. In 1878, Joseph Lateiner, born in Iasi, became the playwright of the theater, and after his emigration to the United States he founded in 1902 “The Grand Theater” New York in Manhattan. The “Pomul Verde” terrace was open until 1971, when it was demolished to expand the National Theater Park. A monument in memory of the garden was placed here and a bust of Goldfaden was erected near the National Theater.

The oldest and largest botanical garden in Romania

In 1856, the doctor and naturalist Anastasie Fătu founded in Iași the first Botanical Garden in Romania, in the Yellow Ravine area. In 1921 Professor Alexandru Popovici set up a new garden behind the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, with a complex of greenhouses for tropical plants. The garden moved here in 1964 and was named after the first initiator. The over 80 hectares of the garden are home to thousands of species, divided into 10 sections. Exhibitions of azaleas and camellias (February) or chrysanthemums (October-November) are annual stars. The most romantic section, Rosarium, has over 600 species of roses. Also, the section for the blind, with strongly fragrant plants labeled in Braille, gives uniqueness to the Garden.

The first scientific society in Romania

In January 1830, Jakob Czihak, a German-speaking Czech physician and chief physician of the Moldovan Militia, together with Dr. Mihai Zotta, a protomedic from Iasi, and Gheorghe Asachi created the Iassyer medicinsche Lesevereine (Iasi Medical Reading Circle). His activity took place in Czihak’s house. The first members of the circle were 11 doctors, 5 pharmacists and 7 members belonging to other professions.

Also at the initiative of Czihak, who wanted to improve the health organization in Moldova, the reading circle was transformed in 1832 into the Moldovan-Romanian Doctoral Society. A year later, in 1833, the circle was transformed into the Society of Physicians and Naturalists, the first such society in the Balkan Peninsula. The society organized the Cabinet Istorico-Natural, which later became the Museum of Natural History in Iași and is currently affiliated with the University of Iași, which opened on February 4, 1834 in the Balş house on Podu Verde Street (today Carol I Boulevard). [1] In 1840 the museum moved to the palace of the logopath Constantin Sturza (former Roset house), a building specially bought by the company to house the museum.

The first medical society

St. Spiridon Hospital (1757), in Iași, is the oldest in the historical region of Moldavia, and one of the largest in Romania. On 30 November 1859, The Surgery School of Iași was inaugurated in the Academia Mihăileană building. It was the first Romanian language higher learning medical school in Romania. The Iași University of Medicine and Pharmacy, as one of the oldest educational places in Romania, was established on 30 September 1879, as the Faculty of Medicine, incorporated in the University of Iași.

In 1948, the Medical School was associated with the School of Pharmacy and the School of Dentistry to form together the Institute of Medicine and Pharmacy (renamed, in 1991, “Grigore T. Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy).

Don't miss:

Teatrul-Evreiesc-1111x400

Photo by iasi.travel

Landmarks
The first Jewish theatre in the world was founded in Iași, in the summer of 1876.

The national poet Mihai Eminescu, back then a journalist at the “Jassy Courier”, attended, on the 19th of August, four plays in Yiddish of which he wrote that they weren’t of much dramatic interest, but the actors’ play was excellent. This review represents the birth certificate of the first professional Yiddish theatre in the world.

The founder of this theatre is Avram (Abraham) Goldfaden, poet, writer and playwright from Ukraine, who arrived in Iași to start a gazette. The legend says that the wife of a friend told him that there was already an Yiddish gazette in Bucharest, whose editor “starves” due to very little success. She also gave him the idea to establish an authentic Yiddish theatre, based on his own writings. Initially, Avram Goldfaden presented his poems in a summer garden, where comedians and interpreters used to come. Israel Grodner from Lithuania, who sang lyrics written by Goldfaden, met with the poet and became afterwards the first actor of the Yiddish Theatre of Iași. Sokher Goldstein was next, the three playing eight roles in total. The band moved in October 1876 in the new “Green Tree” Garden, across the street from the current National Theatre.

At the end of autumn, Goldfaden tried to rent a place, in order to also play theatre inside. The successive denials made them go on tour to Botoșani, Galați, Brăila, and then to Bucharest, where they settled for two years. Although he didn’t manage to persuade the actors to remain after they became famous, Goldfaden’s band worked as a nursery for the worldwide stage of the Yiddish theatre. In 1878, Joseph Lateiner, born in Iași, became the new playwright of the “Green Tree” theatre, but he also emigrated to the USA, where, in 1902, be founded “The Grand Theatre” New York, the first construction especially built as a Yiddish theatre. Goldfaden went on tours in Eastern Europe, Paris and New York, returning to Iași in 1895. After a few years he immigrated to America, where he also composed plays in Hebrew, along with those written in Yiddish, thus becoming the father of the Hebrew theatre as well. In 1908, The New York Times wrote that over 75.000 people took part at the funerary ceremonies of the “Shakespeare of the Jews”.

The “Green Tree” Garden was destroyed by a fire, rebuilt in 1911 by the director of a new Jewish theatre band and was then closed during the Second World War. Afterwards it worked sporadically, along with two other Jewish theatres in the city. In 1956, it received the name of Avram Goldfaden, but in 1971 the city decided the demolition of the entire area, in order to create the National Theatre Park. In the memory of this cultural initiative which began in Iași, on the place of the former summer garden, a monument was placed. Also, on the right side of the National Theatre, the bust of the great Avram Goldfaden was placed.

Jewish actors with connections to Iași

Molly Picon (1898-1992), an American theatre actress, played in Yiddish in Iași in the plays “Hapsasa” and “A moyd mit sekhel” (1922) and took her picture in the shop of the Jewish photographer Zaharia Weiss. Liliana Gold, mother of the famous actor Dustin Hoffman (1937- ), was born in Iași. The actor wanted the screening of the story of the mayor Traian Popovici from Cernăuți, who saved over 20.000 Jews. Humphrey Bogart’s wife, the diva Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), was the daughter of Natalia Weinstein, born in Iași in 1901 and cousin of the president of Israel, Shimon Peres. The actress Roxana Condurache from Iași recently starred in the film about the love story of the famous Hollywood couple – “Bogie and Bacall”.

Strada Agatha Bârsescu 18, Iași 700259
Show more
Teatrul National Iasi

Photo by Andrei Cucu

Architecture, Landmarks
The history of dramaturgy was marked by many premieres in Iași. Worthy of mentioning are: the first theatre play in Romanian, in 1816, the founding of the first National Theatre in the country or the founding of the first Jewish Theatre in the World (1876).

As an institution, the first steps in the founding of the Iași theatre were taken in the boyar houses, with a small public. After that, through the presence of foreign bands in the city, the “Théâtre des Variétés” appeared. The first National Theatre in Romania came to life at the initiatives of the politicians and people of culture like Vasile Alecsandri, Costache Negruzzi and Mihail Kogălniceanu in 1840.

In the same period of intense cultural activity, the first opera show was also performed – “La dame blanche”, played at the “Théâtre des Variétés”, in 1883. Three years later, under the coordination of Gheorghe Asachi, the Drama Philharmonic Conservatory is founded, having as members the headman Ștefan Catargiu, Vasile Alecsandri (the father), the tenor Paul Cervatti and the actor Matei Millo.

Since 1846, the Iași theatre shows, but also the opera shows were played in the hall of the Big Theatre in Copou, constructed on the place of the current building of the University, but destroyed in a fire in 1888. Here, various premieres took place, such as the first Romanian operette – “Baba Hârca” of Matei Millo (1848), the first performance of the theatre plays having as leading character the famous “Coana Chirița” (1850), plays written by Vasile Alecsandri, the first ballet band (1866) and after that, the operettas (1874). The Vaudeville also begins to be developed – a combination between satire and music, also played by the first Jewish professional theatre band in the world, led by the playwright Avram Goldfaden.

The new building of the National Theatre was inaugurated in 1896, on the place of the old city hall, demolished at the proposal of mayor Vasile Pogor. This shelters the institutions of the “Vasile Alecsandri” National Theatre of Iași and of the National Romanian Opera House of Iași. The latter was founded only in 1956, although composers, conductors and singers from Iași have tried this thing since the ‘20s. The opening show of the first season was “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini, under the baton of the conductor Radu Botez. In 2003, the State Opera House of Iași, as previously named, becomes the National Romanian Opera House of Iași.

The theatre and opera shows will offer you here unique experiences, from performances of classical plays, to nonconformist or interactive plays, where spectators find themselves on stage. At the same time, you can see premiere theatrical performances, played by theatre artists also known for their parts in famous Romanian films.

MUST SEE at the Theatre and Opera House of Iași

The National Romanian Opera House of Iași and the “Vasile Alecsandri” National Theatre of Iași offer, each season, special performances made by Romanian and foreign directors. Some titles not to be missed from the current season would have to comprise, at the Opera House of Iași, the three shows of the world renowned director, Andrei Șerban – The Snowdrifts after Euripides, Les Indes galantes by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Lucia di Lamermoor by Gaetano Donizetti or Aida by Verdi. At the National Theatre, the shows The Café by Carlo Goldoni, directed by the master Silviu Purcărete, The Old Lady’s Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, directed by Claudiu Goga, The Butchery of Job by Fausto Paravidino, directed by Radu Afrim or The Birdcage by Georges Feydeau, directed by Gabriel Avram are monumental!

Strada Agatha Bârsescu nr. 18, Iași 700074
Show more
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
Show more
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
Show more
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
Show more

Share