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Location: Eastern Romania (Iasi county)
Size: 37 sq. miles (96 sq. kilometers)
Elevation: 312 ft. (105 meters)
Inhabited since: 400 BC
First documented: 1387 AD
IASI - City Highlights
Iasi is the most important political, economic and cultural centre of the province of Moldavia as well as one of the oldest cities in Romania. Located in the northeastern part of the country, Iasi was for many centuries the crossing point of the most important commercial routes linking Poland, Hungary, Russia and Constantinople.
Deeply rooted in history, Iasi has been the main centre of Moldavian culture since 1408. The city prides itself with publishing the first Romanian newspaper and establishing the first Romanian university. Today, Iasi is home to five universities.
Over the past 500 years, history, culture and religious life have molded the city's unique character. Iasi boasts an impressive number of Orthodox churches, almost 100, most of them located in the so-called Golden Plateau The oldest, the Princely Saint Nicholas Church, dates from the reign of Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare, 1457-1504). The finest, however, are the 17th century St. Paraschiva Metropolitan Cathedral and Trei Ierarhi Church, the last a curious example of Byzantine art, erected in 1635-1639 by Vasile Lupu. Its outer walls and twin towers are intricately carved in what many think of as stone lace.
Iasi is among the very few cities in the Orthodox world with more than 100 churches.
In 1565, Iasi became the capital of Moldavia and for a short period of time, from 1859 until 1862, the capital of Romania.
The Golden Plateau represents the nucleus of the city, around which the entire settlement developed over the centuries. With the Palace of Culture at one end and theUnion Square (Piata Unirii) at the other, the Golden Plateau features churches and princely palaces on both sides of Stefan cel Mare si Sfant Boulevard, which runs right through its centre. Many other important sites can be found on nearby streets.
Palace of Culture
This remarkable construction (1906-1925), built in flamboyant neogothic style, stands partly on the ruins of a medieval royal court mentioned in documents dating from 1434. Today, the 365-room palace houses the Gheorghe Asachi Library and four of the city's museums: the Moldavian History Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the Museum of Art and the Museum of Science and Technology The interior décor, with the lavish furnishings and magnificent staircase of the entrance lobby, can be admired free of charge, but tickets are required for entry to the museums.
St. Paraschiva Metropolitan Cathedral (Cated
Built in Italian Renaissance style, the St. Paraschiva Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in Romania. Construction began in 1833 and ended in 1839, but its cupolas fell and the church remained in ruins until 1880, when, with the help of the Foundation of King Carol I, work started again, lasting until 1888. The vast interior was painted in 1887 by Gheorghe Tattarescu and the stained glass windows were completed by a Bavarian factory in Munich.
In 1639, Vasile Lupu spent Moldavia's budget for the following year and a half to acquire the relics of St. Paraschiva from Constantinopole. The relics were moved to the Metropolitan Cathedral in 1889 after a fire damaged the Trei Ierarchi Church where they had originally been placed.
The cathedral still uses one of the original bells in its northeast spire. Inside the bell, an inscription says it was made from four cannons captured from the Turkish army in the War of 1828-1829. Nearby stands the 18th century Old Metropolitan Church of St. George (Biserica Sfantul Gheorghe).
Every October 14, pilgrims from all corners of Romania and neighboring countries flock to Iasi to kneel before the blue and gold bier containing the relics of Saint Paraschiva, the patron saint of the cathedral.
Church of the Three Hierarchs
The Church of the Three Hierarchs (constructed 1637 - 1639) is highlighted as a must-see in every guidebook. Nothing can prepare you, though, for its stunning ornate decoration: the entire exterior of the church is covered in delicate and intricate patterns sculpted into the stone and spread over 30 friezes. This "stone embroidery" is a mixture of western gothic, Renaissance and Oriental motifs.
Legend has it that the exterior was covered in gold, silver and lapis lazuli but centuries ago, when the Ottoman Empire tried to conquer Moldavia, the invaders sat the church on fire and melted all the gold.
The original interior paintings were completed by Russian artists sent to Iasi by the Tsar. In 1882, the frescoes were removed when French architect Lecomte de Nouy set about redesigning the interior after several fires and six earthquakes damaged the structure. Original fragments of the frescoes are still preserved in the nearby Gothic Hall museum
The interior boasts the tombs of a number of famous Romanians, including the founder of this church, Vasile Lupu, Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, and Prince Dimitrie Cantemir. In 1994, the church reopened as a monastery. The three patron saints (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Crysostom) are celebrated here on January 30.
Roznoveanu Palace/City Hall
This neoclassical Viennese-style palace was built in 1832 to the design of Gustav Frey Wald. Its façade was decorated with marble statues of mythological characters such as Diana and Apollo and it was said to be grander than all other mansions in Iasi. The palace burned down in 1844 and was rebuilt by Nicolae Rosetti Rozvaneanu. In 1891, the building became the City Hall but two years later, was transformed into a royal residence. Today, it once again serves as the City Hall.
Alexandru Bals House/ Moldova Philharmonic House
Built in 1815 by Alexandru Bals, this house became the venue of choice for theatre performances in Iasi. On January 18, 1847, the famous composer, Franz Liszt, played here. In 1868, Monsignor Salandarie founded the Catholic Institute here, enlarging the building and adding a spacious extension, which today, houses the Moldavia Philharmonic. The old building is home to the George Enescu Conservatoire.
Built in the late 19th century on the site of the old City Hall, this is one of the most elegant buildings in Romania. The architects were the Viennese Feller and Helmer who later built theatres in Cernauti and Sofia. Richly decorated in French-eclectic style, the theatre has one of the most splendid auditoriums in the country. It can seat 1,000 people and the acoustics are excellent. The theatre bears the name of the company's founder, Vasile Alecsandri (1821-1890), a renowned Romanian poet, playwright, politician and diplomat.
In 1934, Greta Garbo spent some time here in secret during her love affair with John Gilbert.
Built in neoclassical style in 1879 by an engineer, G. Fragneau, who worked with G. Eiffel & Co. in Paris (yes, the Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower), the hotel was one of the first in Europe to be molded on a metal frame. Throughout the years, many foreign diplomats and other personalities have stayed at the Traian.
Fans of quaint streets will enjoy this old residential quarter spread out over the hilly side of Iasi, with vine-choked houses and sleepy roads. Stroll along the peaceful Dimitrie Ralet, Lascar Catargiu and Vasile Conta Streets to reach Piata Mihai Eminescu. From there, take the scenic route along Strada Lapusneanu, Piata Unirii and Strada Cuza Voda.
Iasi - cultural breeding ground
The beginnings of higher education in Iasi date from the reign of Vasile Lupu (1634-1653). In 1640, Lupu founded an academy at the Three Hierarchs Monastery.
In the 18th century, a Royal Academy was established in one of the buildings attached to the Metropolitan Cathedral. The institution was closed down by the Ottomans after the Greek Revolution of 1821, but Gheorghe Asachi reopened it under the name of The Vasilian Gymnasium seven years later. In 1835, it was renamed The Mihailean Academy and had three sections: Philosophy, Law and Theology, as well as two special courses, Polytechnic Sciences and Economy.
In 1860, Alexander Ioan Cuza founded the University of Iasi. Today, this university is comprised of 26 colleges and eight research institutes of the Romanian Academy.
Old University Palace
Commissioned by Ioan Cantacuzino between 1760 and 1765, the Old University Palace was badly damaged during a fire in 1795. Later renovated and converted into a royal residence, it remained in royal use until 1806. The stone arch in front of the palace dates from this period. On it, you can see the Moldavian coat of arms and a Cyrillic inscription spelling out the words the door of hope. In 1860, the building became home to the newly established University of Iasi and to the first public art collection in the country. Today, it houses the Medicine and Pharmacy College.
University on Copou Hill
The main university building was built between 1893 and 1897 on the site of the Great Theatre which had burned down. The Hall of the University, known as The Hall of the Lost Footsteps, served as a parliamentary debating chamber between 1917 and 1918. In 1967, the painter Sabin Balasa created a series of strongly romanticized frescoes for the arcades.
Central University Library
Located at the base of Copou Hill, this triangular building with Doric columns and cupola was built between 1930 and 1935 to serve as the headquarters of King Ferdinand's Cultural Foundation. The building was decorated with Carrara marble and Venetian mosaics. By 1945, the Foundation library had become one of the biggest in the country with more than 300,000 volumes. Today, the library is the largest in Moldavia, with a great number of manuscripts and old books from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
The unusual name of the monastery came from Moldavian Chancellor Ioan Golai who founded it in 1564. The church was rebuilt in 1650 by Vasile Lupu who employed Italian master craftsmen. The compound's walls and towers were added in 1667.
While the exterior walls show Renaissance influence, mainly with their Corinthian pilasters, the interior features vibrant Byzantine frescoes and intricately carved doorways. The upper part of the church seems to belong to another edifice. It was built during the rein of Stefanita Lupu, son of Vasile Lupu, who found inspiration in Russian architecture. However, this section collapsed during a 1738 earthquake and was rebuilt in baroque style by the Phanariot ruler, Constantin Mavrocordat.
The monastery was visited by Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, in 1711. It also served for a short period of time as the burial place for the viscera of Prince Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin, Catherine the Great's favorite. Climbing the 102 steps to the monastery's "Golia Tower" offers visitors a magnificent bird's-eye view of the city.
The Princely Saint Nicholas Church
The oldest church in Iasi, Saint Nicholas Church was founded by Stefan cel Mare in 1492. Situated near the princely court, the church was for centuries the place where Moldavian rulers were anointed, therefore, gaining its "royal" status. Restored by Prince Antonie Roset in 1677, it was completely renovated by the French architect Andre Lecomte du Nouy between 1885 and 1897.
In the 19th century, Iasi was one of the great Eastern European centres of Jewish learning, famous for its scholarly rabbis, intellectuals and skilled craftsmen, as well as for its Jewish schools, hospitals, publications and other organizations.
In 1855, the city was the home of the first-ever Yiddish-language newspaper, Korot Haitim, and was the birthplace of the Israeli national anthem. The world's first professional Yiddish-language theatre was opened here in 1876 by Avram Goldfaden, who later founded New York's first Jewish theatre. From 1949 to 1964, Iasi was also home to a second company of the State Jewish Theatre.
Jewish merchants from Poland settled here in the 15th century and their numbers swelled with further waves of Russian-Jewish and Galician-Jewish immigration into Moldavia. By 1930, there were over 30,000 Jews and some 127 synagogues. Today, only two synagogues remain open.
During the early years of World War II, Iasi was the scene of a pogrom by the Iron Guard, a nationalist Fascist organization. The majority of the city's Jewish population was killed or deported. A monument to the victims of the 1941 pogrom was erected outside the Great Synagogue.
The Great Synagogue
The Great Synagogue of Iasi is the oldest surviving Jewish prayer house in Romania and the second oldest synagogue in Europe. It was founded in 1670, reportedly at the initiative of Rabbi Nathan (Nata) ben Moses Hannover, religious leader of Iasi's Jewish community in the 1660s and author of Yeven. Mezullah. Located on Synagogues Street (so dubbed because of the many synagogues once found here) in the old Jewish neighborhood of Targu Cucului, the synagogue was built in an eclectic style with strong late baroque influences. Since its foundation in the second half of the 17th century, the Great Synagogue has undergone a number of major renovations.
Although called "the great," the size of the synagogue is actually very modest. The floor is located below street level in keeping with a widespread tradition found in many Central and Eastern European synagogues. Jewish religious tradition requires that synagogues should be the highest buildings in their neighborhoods but because Jews were not permitted to build high structures for their prayer houses, lowering the floor of synagogues represented an ingenious compromise between the two demands by creating an interior that is higher than the exterior elevation of the building. It also serves as a reminder of Psalm 130 ("de profundis"): "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, o Lord".
Today, the Great Synagogue continues to serve the Jewish community of Iasi. It has been recognized as a historical monument.
The Iasi Jewish Cemetery
Many of the victims of the 1941 pogroms were buried in the Jewish Cemetery, located outside the city on Dealul Munteni (Mountain Hill). Over 100,000 graves, some dating from the late 1800s, stretch across the hillside; burial records date from 1915 to the present day and are kept in the community centre. The second, smaller synagogue is also located here.