Located in the historical region of Moldavia, Iași is the fourth most populous city in Romania, and, thanks to its rich academic and cultural life, it is dubbed by many as the cultural capital of Romania. Iași’s proximity to many historical, religious and natural interests is obviously important, but the city alone is a destination in itself, so, in case you plan to visit it, here are some unmissable cultural landmarks.
The Palace of Culture
With its neo-Gothic monumental structure, the Palace of Culture, designed by the architect I.D. Berindey, is by far the most iconic building in Iași. Built between 1906-1925 and huge in proportions (387,500 ft²), it also benefits from the fact that it was erected on the massive former premises of the princely court, which makes it really difficult to miss. Since its inauguration until 1955 the palace served as an administrative and justice centre, but nowadays it is home to some of the city’s many museums, such as the Art Museum, the Ethnological Museum, the History Museum, the Technical Museum, and other cultural establishments. If we are to make a recommendation, it’s good to know that until December 18th 2019, the History Museum hosts the admirable Cucuteni exhibition, a glimpse into the universe of a fascinating prehistoric civilisation.
‘Gheorghe Asachi’ Technical University Library
Boasting one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, according to lots of listicles, the Technical University of Iași was set up in 1813 by the scholar Gheorghe Asachi as one of the first centres for higher technical education in Romania. The library, sporting intricate wood work, was designed by the Swiss architect Louis Blanc, and can be found in the old wing of the university’s main building, at 11 A, Carol I Blvd. As a tourist, you won’t probably need to use the library, but the place is definitely worth visiting (and photographing). The library catalogue includes more than one million volumes, supporting teaching and research in a wide range of subjects, from engineering and technology to science, economics and law.
The Hall of the Echoing Footsteps
Since we are on academic grounds, it’s worth mentioning that The Hall of the Echoing Footsteps (or the Lost Footsteps), situated inside the University premises, is also a landmark one might consider checking out. The Hall is home to 19 murals painted between 1968 and 1978 by Romanian painter and animator Sabin Bălașa (1932-2008). A rather controversial figure, since in the 1970s he was commissioned to paint Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu’s portraits, Bălașa considered himself an exponent of the Cosmic Romanticism, a term he coined himself. According to the artist, the murals in the hall, as well as another mural in one of the university’s aulas, painted in 2002, represent a meditation on the Romanian spirit, love, youth, history, and poetry.
The International Festival of Literature and Translation – FILIT
Organised for the first time in 2013, as an initiative of the National Museum of Romanian Literature to support cultural cooperation and promote its heritage, FILIT Iași has quickly become not only the largest and most important literature festival in Romania, but also one of the most relevant of its kind in Eastern Europe. Held in October each year, the event brings together hundreds of book professionals, from Nobel prize winners, bestselling authors and translators to publishers, critics and journalists. Spanning 5 days, the festival hosts lots of literary events and related cultural activities aimed at both the general public and the experts.
The International Theatre Festival for Young Audience – FITPTI
Held in October each year since 2008, FITPTI is one of its kind by focusing on the core audience—children and young people—as well as prompting an element of authenticity to the performative arts. The festival brings together artists and theatre professionals from Romania and abroad for a weeklong event, centred around a different theme each year. In 2019, 30 years after the civil unrest and the fall of the Ceaușescu regime, the theme is, appropriately, freedom. Therefore the performances—plays, circus and dance shows, photo exhibitions, seminars, etc.—focus on exploring the recent history, immigration, conflictual relationships or gender dynamics.
Featured image: Gaspar Serrano / flickr