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).  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).