Iași

Iaşi (pronounced yashy) is the second city of Romania after Bucharest, the national capital, by population and in cultural, historical and academic importance. It is the second largest university centre in Romania.

Palace of Culture, a symbol of Iași
“Al. I. Cuza” University

It has a population of just under half a million people, swelling greatly when the town’s several universities are in session.

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Iaşi is in northeastern Romania, and very close to the border with Republic of Moldova, from which Romania is divided by Prut River. The city is positioned on the Bahlui River, affluent of Jijia that flows into the Prut River, Iaşi is the “legendary city of the seven hills”, namely Cetățuia, Galata, Copou, Bucium, Șorogari, Repedea and Breazu, just like so many cities around world, one such example being Rome. Some of these hills have conspicuous churches perched on top, each of which provides a different view of the city.

Iaşi looks green from above in spite of the ubiquitous brick and concrete due to its boulevards and gardens. Ancient churches, old European style houses and communist apartment buildings compete for space in this crowded city, which is constantly expanding into the surrounding villages; the urban rush of communism replaced houses, pigs, chickens, and cherry trees with apartment buildings. The land was confiscated from the peasants and they received apartments as compensation in the newly created common living spots. Factories sprung around the intensive urban effort, organized together in the industrial zone, only to be abandoned two generations later with the fall of the regime which gave them and the nation purpose. Like all communities in the former Soviet bloc, Iaşi had to reinvent itself in 1989.

Tourism in the city takes place around its heritage of archaeological sites, memorial houses, museums and historical and architectural monuments. Moreover, the folkloric and ethnographic heritage, the nature protection areas, natural mineral waters, and the vineyards in the surrounding countryside remain to be discovered.

The city is on the border to Europe’s poorest country and you may think that this location is shown off in the city. That is though wrong. Although the borough is very poor and that you’ll see horse carriage the outskirts of the city, the center is undergoing a renaissance. A mall has been opened and sidewalks and houses have been renovated. On top of that, the thriving student community puts a young and trendy atmosphere as in any other European student city.

Also known as the “city of great love stories”, “city of new beginnings”, “cultural center of Moldavia”, “an open air museum”, Iaşi has been recognized since the 19th century as being the centre of the national spirit. Every corner of Iaşi evokes a personality, a unique event, a legend, a part of a myth, every stone talks about the past (as Romanian poet George Topîrceanu wrote).

The first document that mentions Iaşi’s existence was issued on 6 Octomber 1408 by the ruler Alexandru cel Bun. It was a commercial privilege elaborated by Alexandru cel Bun after some rounds of negotiation with merchants from Lviv.

Iaşi was the capital of the Principality of Moldavia from 1564 until 1859, when Moldavia united with Wallachia to form the basis of the future modern Romanian state. The designation of the capital to Bucharest was met with a lot of grief by the local city dwellers. The Moldavian aristocracy moved massively to Bucharest, leaving the former capital devoid of some of its former shine and richness. Nevertheless, Iaşi continued to be an important cultural center, providing the launching ramp of Romanian literature’s most important 19th-century figures. Part of the Kingdom of Romania, Iaşi was again a capital from 1916 to 1918, as Bucharest was occupied by the German army. Its palaces and noblemen residences housed in crisis conditions the state institutions necessary to command the country in times of war.

During World War II, Iaşi suffered considerable destruction when German and Russian forces fought in its streets. The communist regime is responsible for the present street pattern and the bulk of its building fund. Newly formed neighbourhoods provided housing for the working class brought from villages to work in factories. The 1977 earthquake brought another blow to the historical centre of Iaşi, as the authorities at that time took advantage of the occasion to raze some of its former town housing (much of it made by the former multi-ethnic bourgeoisie). Nonetheless the key monuments were preserved as long as some patches of housing neighbourhoods mixed between socialist buildings.

After 1990, and the collapse of the obsolete heavy industry, Iaşi is reinventing itself taking advantage of its universities which constitute the second higher education center in the country, its smaller-sized industries, software companies, services, and commerce.

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