Having added Moldova to my Romania trip itinerary , Chisinau (pronounced KISH-now), its capital, had to be central to the visit as it is the main town in this country of approximately 3.6 million people (Chisinau itself has around 750,000 inhabitants).
The city, which was founded in the 1430s, has a complex history since it was at the crossroads of various empires. It is said that it had the largest proportion of Jewish population in Europe in 1900 at 43% of the city’s population. The city was nearly destroyed in 1940 when the Soviets took over and the city was hit by an earthquake, and, later by Nazi attacks and occupation. I saw old structures but not many that pre-date this period (to my untrained eye). The Jewish population, as in other places, was wiped out to a good extent during the Nazi occupation.
City Hall, finished in 1901 but re-built after WW II due to the damage it sustained, is one of the best architectural pieces in town, built in Italian Gothic style.
Of course, a lot of buildings I saw are post-WW II. Many of the big style government buildings, apartment bloc buildings, and hotels were built in that post-war period, with the implications to architecture that that entails…
Parliament Building was damaged during demonstrations in 2009 and is under repair. It used to house the Central Committee of the Communist Party during Soviet times.
I enjoy looking at the architecture in a city to get a mental image of the place and how it evolved. Clearly, history has been wiped out a good bit by war, earthquakes, and the Soviet regime. But I also like to see what people do. Unfortunately, a countryside-heavy itinerary kept me mostly out of Chisinau. Also, I didn’t find any cafés in the central part of the city as I walked around so it was harder to sit back and watch life go by (well, I could have sat on a sidewalk but not the same!). Still, I saw life go by in its own way.
I did visit the main park in the city center, named after the national hero Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), which definitely seems to be popular with locals with its trees, lawn areas, fountains and the Alley of the Classics (with sculptures of literature and political greats for Moldovans).
My guide asked me asked me when we met “why Moldova?”. I answered because “it’s there and I wanted to see what it was like.” Yet, I fully realize that to really get to know a country and its people, it takes a lot more than a short visit and the sightseeing. I was fortunate to have a great guide, Dumitru, (whom I’d recommend for anyone traveling there!) for 3 days who shared a lot with me about Moldova and Moldovans, about the times before and after the fall of the USSR, about the country’s current challenges, about the business environment, and about the hidden treasures this small country has to offer for those willing to take the extra steps to get to see it.