The Saint Paraskeva pilgrimage and city celebrations
Photo by Andrei Cucu

The Saint Paraskeva pilgrimage and city celebrations

Each year, in the second week of October, Iași hosts the largest pilgrimage in Romania and one of the biggest in eastern Europe. During the same period, the city's Celebration Days take place.

If you’re in town during October, you’re gonna enjoy the biggest yearly celebration in the city centre. Together with the Saint Paraskeva Pilgrimage, the city hall organizes various concerts, fairs and fireworks, along Stephen the Great Boulevard and Palace of Culture Square.

Legend says that as a child, Paraskeva heard in a church the Lord’s words: “Whoever wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8, 34). These words would determine her to give her rich clothes away to the poor and to flee to Constantinople. Her parents, who did not support her decision to follow an ascetic, religious life, looked for her in various cities. Paraskeva fled to Chalcedon in Asia Minor, and afterwards lived at the church of the Most Holy Theotokos in Heraclea Pontica in Bithynia. She led an austere life, experiencing visions of the Virgin Mary. Her travels took her to Jerusalem; she wished to spend the rest of her life there. After seeing Jerusalem, she settled in a convent in the desert near the River Jordan.

When she was 25, an angel appeared, telling her to return to her homeland. She returned to Constantinople, and then, aged 25, lived in the village of Kallikrateia, in the church of the Holy Apostles. She died at the age of 27.

Brought to Iași by Vasile Lupu in 1641, the Saint is thought to grant miracles to all those who pray at her relics, so hundreds of thousands of worshipers flock to Iași each year, full of hope and spirituality.

Even if you’re a believer or not, Iași Celebration Days are a good opportunity to enjoy lots of happenings in the city center. Among them, the International Folklore Music Festival “Rose from Moldova”, the Autumn Fair which will take place on the Costache Negri Esplanade – The Chestnut Alley, on Stephen The Great Boulevard and The Union Square, the Wine Celebrations in the parking lots surrounding Hala Centrala.

Take a look at the list below to plan your attractions in the main area of the event and stay tuned in the upcoming days of the festival when we will update you with the events calendar.

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Landmarks, Squares
“I find the opinion according to which the systematization process has to be very “elastic”, quite unjust, because this usually leads to urban anarchy and losing the general view. No doubt that under these conditions it is imposed to maintain a strict urban discipline without which any effort could be easily cancelled”. Boris Grunberg, “Systematisation of Iași”, Architecture R.P.R. 4 (1959).

Between 1975 and 1985, the second biggest irreparable systematization campaign takes place in Iași, during the mandate of mayor Ioan Manciuc. Intensive demolitions are made on “Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt” Boulevard in order to transform the historical “Big Street” into a great linear, uniform boulevard, destined to visually link the Palace Square to the Union Square.

In December 1981, the excavations for the foundations of some collective working-class dwellings began, to cover the imposing edifices of the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Mihail Sturdza Palace (the current Theological Seminar). Due to sustained opposing efforts against the communist era systematization, the archaeologist Nicolae Pușcașu managed to save an entrance to the old city’s cellars from the raging excavators. The archaeological research in 1982 revealed traces of some stone cellars on 2-3 levels, divided in five parallel arched tracks, through which a feed pipe system passed, for the water in Copou, through ceramic tubes of the 17th century. Remains of 16th century wooden dwellings, of ecclesiastic stone buildings, 14th century ceramic vases fragments, but also a metal melting oven for making jewels in the 13th century, along with coins from the ruling of Petru Mușat (1375-1391) and Alexander the Good (1400-1432) were also discovered on this spot.

The archaeological discoveries certify the ecclesiastic edifices as the oldest medieval Gothic constructions with Byzantine influences known so far on the territory of Moldavia. The importance of these vestiges led to a unique project where the street front of collective dwellings was pushed back in a second plane to leave space, towards the boulevard, to the ruins.

Although the biggest part of the ruins studied in 1982 were covered with concrete, the underground space should have been transformed into a museum according to the plans of the architect Cristian Constantinescu. The skylight shaped as a cube for the big oval room in the underground was never finished, only the metal structure remaining, still dominating the square nowadays. This became a landmark – “The Cube”, vexing most of the visitors, but even some of the inhabitants. The movement on a second plane of the building front allowed the creation of a commercial gallery unusual to communist ideology. Developed on three levels connected through a spiral, with an arched glass roof and three access routes, the “Stephen the Great” Galleries didn’t manage to become an important trade beam due to the fall of the communist regime in 1989 and the dissolution of trade cooperatives which had residences there. For many years, the galleries have sheltered only a few shops, the rest of the spaces becoming sinister and unsafe in the ‘90s, especially during the night. Gradually, after 2000, a rock club appeared at first, then a pub, and in a few years, it became an attractive space for young people and artists. During the day, the galleries remained almost the same, a major change being the moving of the “Gheorghe Asachi” County library on the first floor. But at night the galleries become the most dynamic area of bars and trendy clubs in the city, initially opened as niche locals in a hidden space.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt 10-12, Iași 700063
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Photo by Andrei Cucu

Architecture, Landmarks
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 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.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt 1, Iași 700028
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Photo by Andrei Cucu

The Iași Metropolitan Ensemble is also called “Moldavia’s Jerusalem” or “Mother of all Moldavian churches” due to the fact that it is the regional residence of the Orthodox Church.

It was moved from Suceava to Iași in 1677 by Voivode Antonie Ruset, during the time of Metropolitan Dosoftei, in order to respect the Byzantine tradition of having the princely administration and the metropolitan’s chair in the same town. The metropolitan’s seat was moved in the current space after it was placed for a while in the Nicolae Domnesc church, in the Princely Court.

The Ensemble is comprised of the Metropolitan Cathedral (1887) in the central part, the Saint George Church (1769) towards the boulevard and the Metropolitan Palace (1905) to the south. A series of outbuildings were erected or remodeled during the works of 1962: to the south-west the Metropolitan Office, to the north-west, the “Dumitru Stăniloaie” Ecumenical Library and to the north, the Saint George monastic hostel (right wing) and “Epivata House” (left wing). After recent restorations, in 2016, an elegant Metropolitan Museum was founded in the basement, under the Metropolitan Cathedral, under the western terrace and under Hodocin’s fountain or the “Gothic Fountain”, an old wrought iron drinking fountain made in 1851 by the Czech engineer Mihailik de Hodocin.

Saint George Church or “The Old Metropolitan Church” was finished in 1769 and is reserved to monastic life. It has a typical Moldavian structure, with a thin shape and medium size. It is impressive due to the massive Corinthian columns, the accolade trefoil arches and the mosaics from the porch plated with tomb stones. The façade is decorated with Corinthian pillars and a braided frieze, symbol of the infinite and the Divinity.

In 1833 the works on the Cathedral’s construction began, after the demolition of the Stratenia Church (“The Meeting of Christ”) which dated back to 1682, also built on the ruins of the former White Church built in 1472. The Viennese architect Gustave Freywald adopted the neoclassic architectural style, influenced by the shapes of Italian Renaissance, following the towering proportions of Western cathedrals, with a capacity of over 3000 people. The construction was initially designed with a central dome of large sizes (as in the case of the St. Peter’s basilica in Rome), but its huge weight led to cracks in the resistance walls and it finally collapsed in 1839. After 40 years of ruin, the works were restarted by the architect Alexandru Orăscu, rector of the Bucharest University, which gave up on the central dome, replacing it with a system of four vaults separated through transversal arches, but kept the four lateral towers. The Cathedral’s inauguration in 1887 was made in the presence of King Carol I of Romania who contributed through consistent donations for the completion of the works. On the right side of the central nave, two years later, the relics of Saint Parascheva were brought from the Three Hierarchs Monastery, along with a part of St. George’s relics.

Above the entrance, on the western wall, the vaulted semi-circular mosaic is truly impressive, representing the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and the bas-relief representing St. George. The church has a basilica plane, with two lateral naves, separated through marble plated archways and decorative Renaissance elements. The wall painting was also made in a Renaissance style by the great painter Gheorghe Tătărescu from Bucharest, and the windows are decorated with stained-glass. On the entrance wall, we can admire the founders’ painting, King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta, but also the metropolitans Veniamin Costachi and Iosif Naniescu (the first started the project and the second one, finished it). The iconostasis impresses through the ornamental sculpture in linden tree wood, covered with gold foil, and having floral motifs (stems, flowers and leaves of acanthus). The richly adorned royal and bishop thrones are placed in front of it. The icon of Virgin Mary, which is considered to be a miracle worker because it was noticed that it wept in 1854, is of great importance for believers.

The annual city celebrations are linked to the day of St. Parascheva (the 14th of October), when the biggest Orthodox pilgrimage in Romania (about half a million pilgrims) takes place. The cathedral is a magnificent place of prayer and collectedness where all age categories can be seen, looking for an approach to spirituality.

The Metropolitan Museum, located in the basement of the Cathedral offers an unforgettable experience through the seven theme halls: Synaxarion Hall, Oblation Hall, Founder’s Hall, Ekkelsia (“church”) Hall, the maze called the Path of the Cross, the Clerical History of Moldavia Hall and the Baptistery Hall with an impressive Neo-Byzantine painting signed by the master Grigore Popescu.

The Life of Saint Parascheva

In Greek, “paraskevi” means “preparation” or “Friday”. People have known St. Parascheva under the name of Saint Friday. She was born in Epivat, in the east of today’s Bulgaria, in the first half of the 11th century. Overwhelmed by the word of the Evangel, which she heard at the age of 10, she started giving her clothes to poor people, which terrified her parents. She couldn’t bear the torments and beatings of her parents and went into the wild, fasting and doing charity. She stopped in Constantinople, afterwards at the Monastery of Heracleea, where she did only good deeds. After she went to Jerusalem, she left for the Jordan Valley, where she lived at a nun monastery. She was buried on her native land, and after a century she was canonized.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt 16, Iași 700064
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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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