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Chisinau, Moldova

Introduction

Chisinau is the largest city and the capital of Moldova. It is home to about 750,000 residents, of which about 2/3 are ethnic Moldovan and the last third are primarily ethnic Russians or Ukrainians. The city leads the country in numerous fields, including education, healthcare, transportation, and industry.

The capital sits on the Bac River, but it is not centered on, nor is it focused on this river. It was the springs and fertile lands that first attracted settlers as the hills throughout the city provide good locations for lookouts, which provided a means of protection.

History & Background

The city of Chisinau was founded in 1436 under the rule of the Principality of Moldavia. It was founded as a monastery city and had almost no population from its founding until the 1800s; during this time the history of the city is nearly identical to the History of Moldova.

In 1812 the Russians defeated the Ottoman Turks and the Principality of Moldavia was divided, the western part remaining "Moldavia" and falling under Romanian rule while in the east, including most of Moldova today, the land fell to Russia and was called Bessarabia. Chisinau became the capital of this latter region and the city thrived throughout the 1800s, although the population increased very slowly. During this time, many of the city's most well-known architectural sights were built.

By the late 1800s, with a rising population, ethnic tensions throughout the region were also rising rapidly between the Russians, Moldovans, Ukrainians, and Jews; many of the Jews in Bessarabia then moved to Chisinau to find refuge, growing to the point that by about 1900 over 40% of Chisinau was Jewish. This led to additional tensions in Chisinau itself and eventually led to riots against the large Jewish population.

With Russia on the verge of collapse in 1917 Bessarabia joined Romania, but not without protests from ethnic Russians and the latter Soviet government requesting the land back. Chisinau and Bessarabia remained under Romanian control until 1940.

In 1940 Romania gave the Soviet Union Bessarabia as tensions in World War II rose. This, however only encouraged Romania to join Nazi Germany to then get the land back, an event which occurred in 1941, but only after much of Chisinau was bombed and destroyed. Nazi occupation led to the deportation of Jews and in 1944, like its population, the city's buildings were decimated as the Soviets swept back in to re-take the city and the region as a whole. The war destroyed nearly 3/4 of the city's buildings and killed tens of thousands of people.

After the war, Bessarabia fell under Soviet rule as borders were redrawn and Chisinau became the capital of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. Since this time the city has been rebuilt, primarily in the Soviet style as many factories were built and the city became an economic hub for the republic. This economic growth also led to a large influx of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.

After the Soviet Union fell in 1991 civil war broke out in Moldova with Chisinau acting as the capital and home base for the ethnic Moldovan majority. The new government declared Moldovan the only official language in the new country and many ethnic Russians and Ukrainians argued this, leading to a war led by and won by Transnistria, whose government is based in Tiraspol. Despite claims that Transnistria and Tiraspol fall under the jurisdiction of Moldova, in reality Chisinau and the Republic of Moldova have no control over the region of Transnistria today.

Chisinau Today

Chisinau continues to lead the nation in numerous fields and is becoming a destination for people in various fields. As the center of the government, there are many jobs in the capital and as home to a couple universities, much of the nation's youth studies in the city as well. After graduating, many students remain in the city as many of the country's new jobs are found in Chisinau.

Chisinau also seems to be the most diverse city in the country. Although most of the people are ethnic Moldovans, Russians, Ukrainians, and even the few Jews remaining in the country call the capital home. Russian tends to be the language of communication across ethnic groups, but in most other ways Moldovan culture dominates the city.

Historical & Architectural Sights

Cathedral of Christ's Nativity (Catedrala Mitropolitana Nasterea Domnului): This cathedral is the center of the city and marks an important area for the locals as it tends to be this cathedral, and the surrounding square, where people gather for celebrations or protests. This cathedral was built in the 1830s in the neo-Classical style.

Jewish Cemetery (Cimitirul Evreiesc): This overgrown cemetery is the final resting place for over 20,000 Jews who once called Chisinau home. In the 1800s nearly half the city was Jewish.

Parliament House (Casa Parlamentului): This modern building is home to the Republic of Moldova's Parliament.

Presidential Palace (Palatul Cotroceni): Just across the street from the Parliament House, the Presidential Palace looks more like a modern high rise than it does a palace.

Water Tower (Turnul de Apă): The water tower is a well-known landmark in Chisinau and one of the older buildings in the city due to the destruction from World War II.

Monuments

Jewish Ghetto Memorial: This monument is dedicated to the Jews who suffered though World War II as prisoners of the Chisinau Ghetto.

Stefan cel Mare Statue (Ştefan cel Mare şi Sfint): This simple statue and park is the heart of the city as people stroll around the park or sit and people watch on every nice day. The statue is dedicated to the great Moldavian prince who ruled the region in the late 1400s.

Triumphal Arch (Arca de Triumf): This arch represents the entrance to Cathedral Park and matches with the nearby Cathedral of Christ's Nativity as both are in the neo-Classical style. The arch was erected in the 1840s.

War Memorial Complex (Complexul Memorial Eternitate): This outdoor area contains an open air military museum with Soviet military vehicles, a monument to fallen soldiers, and a Soviet military graveyard.

Museums

National Archaeology & History Museum (Muzeul Naţional de Arheologie şi Istoria a Moldovei): This is one of Moldova's finest museums as it covers both the history and the archeological ruins found in the area. For more information visit their website at: www.nationalmuseum.md.

Pushkin House & Museum: Alexander Pushkin was exiled to Chisinau and much of his novel Yevgeny Onegin is based on his experiences in Moldova. This museum was also his house when he lived in Chisinau.

Activities & Parks

Botanical Garden (Grădina Botanică): This botanical garden on the outskirts of town makes for a great day during the summer.

Stefan cel Mare Park (Parcul Ştefan cel Mare): This simple statue and park is truly the heart of the city as people stroll around the park or sit and people watch on any and every nice day. The statue is dedicated to the great Moldavian prince who ruled the region in the late 1400s.

Valea Morilor: This quiet park is just minutes from central Chisinau, however is nearly forgotten compared to Stefan cel Mare Park. However, during summers the park fills with people and birds; it's a great spot for a morning run.

Transportation

Chisinau is easily the best transportation hub in Moldova and for domestic transportation you can get just about anywhere from Chisinau via bus or train. The train routes are limited and domestic flights are practically unheard of, although there are a couple each week to Balti. Bus is generally the best way to travel to and from Chisinau if staying in the country.

For international routes, Chisinau is the best way to get to Moldova, but compared to most European capitals, the options are very limited. There are regular flights to and from Bucharest, Romania, Vienna, Austria, and Budapest, Hungary. There are also weekly flights to numerous other cities, including Larnaca, Cyprus, Rome, Italy, Kyiv, Ukraine, Moscow, Russia, and a few other cities. International bus routes regularly run to Bucharest, Odesa, and Kyiv and international train routes run most regularly to Odesa.

Airport: Chisinau's airport is the Chisinau International Airport located about 9 miles (14 kilometers) from the city's center. The airport code is KIV and the airport's website is: www.airport.md. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Train Station: Chisinau's main train station is located about 2 miles (4 kilometers) from the city's center. For train times and schedules, the website is: www.railway.md, but is only in Romanian and Russian. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Bus Station: Chisinau has three main bus stations and depending on your destination, the bus may leave from differing stations. The three main stations are the Central Bus Station (1 mile/ 2 kilometers from central Chisinau), South-Western Bus Station (2.5 miles/ 4 kilometers), and the Northern Bus Station (4 miles/ 6 kilometers). For bus times, schedules, and departure station, the website is: www.autogara.md, but is only in Romanian at the time. The bus stations' locations and directions can be found on the map below.

Local Transportation: Chisinau has local buses as well as trams and marshrutkas, which are similar to large vans servicing the city. The local transportation doesn't have an official website, however locals (who speak English) are generally willing to help out and the services are similar to public transportation in most major cities throughout Europe. Taxis are also widely available, but few drivers speak English.

Official Websites

City of Chisinau: www.chisinau.md
Republic of Moldova: www.moldova.md

Map & Directions

This page was last updated: November, 2012