Chisinau Introduction Walking Tour, Chisinau

Chisinau Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Chisinau

Chisinau is the capital of Moldova, a small nation in Eastern Europe landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. For many years this land was part of the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union, until it finally reached independence in 1991. For this reason the city's name is often pronounced as Kishinev, which is a modified Russian version.

While the true origin of the name is unclear, many believe that it came from the archaic Romanian word chișla (which means "spring" or "source of water") and nouă ("new"), because Chisinau stems from a monastery village built around a small spring in 1436.

Originally, Chisinau was part of the Principality of Moldavia, which in the 16th century became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1806–1812, the Ottomans ceded the territory, thence known as Bessarabia, to the Russian Empire.

The Russians made Chisinau the capital of Bessarabia, which by the mid 1830s emerged as an imperial outpost with broad, long roads and other infrastructure. The renewed city center was anchored by the neoclassical, dome-topped Nativity Cathedral, built in 1830-1836, complete with a magnificent belfry in the Cathedral Park. In 1846, another landmark – the Triumphal Arch, celebrating Russia's victory over the Turks – was added to a nearby plaza.

Following the Russian Revolution, Bessarabia joined the Romanian Kingdom in 1919, upon which Chisinau became its second largest city. Between 1918 and 1940, the downtown area undertook large renovation work. In 1927, the Stephen the Great Monument was erected to commemorate the Moldovan national hero – saint prince – who fiercely opposed the Ottoman rule in the 15th century. The monument now stands outside the park named in his honor.

From 1940 to 1944 Chisinau and Bessarabia changed hands several times between Romania and the Soviet Union, eventually becoming part of the USSR. Throughout 1947-1949, the city – largely destroyed by air raids in WWII – underwent gradual reconstruction, followed by large-scale housing construction in the 1950s-60s, and then the grand palatial projects of the 1970s-90s producing the Parliament Building, Presidential Palace, the National Opera and Ballet Theatre, and more.

If you wish to acquaint yourself closer with these and other notable sights of the Moldovan capital and to learn more about this relatively little known travel destination, take our self-guided introductory walk!
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Chisinau Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Chisinau Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Moldova » Chisinau (See other walking tours in Chisinau)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Stephen the Great Monument
  • National History Museum
  • Stephen the Great Park
  • Parliament Building
  • Presidential Palace
  • National Opera and Ballet Theatre
  • "Milestii Mici" Shop
  • Nativity Cathedral
  • Bell Tower
  • Triumphal Arch
  • City Hall
Stephen the Great Monument

1) Stephen the Great Monument (must see)

The monument to Stephen the Great is located outside the main entrance to the park of the same name in downtown Chisinau. The bronze monument commemorates Stefan cel Mare ("the Great"), Moldova's ancient ruler who successfully defended the country in the 15th century from Turkish invasion. The statue was cast in Bucharest in the early 20th century and was intended to replace the monument of the Russian Emperor Alexander II, previously demolished in 1918 by Romanian authorities.

Sculptor Alexandru Plamadeala traveled far and wide in order to find a portrait of Stefan cel Mare prior to starting the work on the monument. It is said that the sculptor had made three different copies of the monument, one of which stands today. Over the years, the monument has been moved from place to place several times. A few days before the 1940 Soviet occupation of Bessarabia, it had traveled to Vaslui in the eastern part of Romania and then back to Chisinau in 1942. After that, in 1944, the monument again was sent to Romania. Eventually, after a long while, in 1989, it was restored in its original location in Chisinau. The inscriptions on the monument also have been restored. Nowadays situated in the center of the city, the monument is one of the top sights for tourists visiting the Moldovan capital.
National History Museum

2) National History Museum

The National History Museum of Moldova opened in 1987 and is located in the former Regional Lyceum in the historic center of Chisinau. In front of the building stands a replica of the legendary Capitoline Wolf monument, depicting Roman she-wolf suckling twin infants Romulus and Remus.

The museum has 10 exhibition halls, three of which are covered with domes and are extremely beautiful architectural constructions. The museum is divided into several sections, namely: Archaeology and Ancient History, Medieval History, History of Bessarabia, Contemporary History, and Treasures.

The entire collection accounts for over 260,000 exhibits and includes archaeological finds, documents, photographs, numismatics, everyday life objects, decorative and artisan works. At least 165,000 of these items are qualified as "national treasure".

Each year the museum hosts about 15 exhibitions, all of which are important events in the country's cultural life. Tours are offered in Russian and Romanian. Exhibit information is in Romanian. There's a guide-interpreter service available.

You should buy three tickets if you want to take photos.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm (Nov-Mar); 10am–5pm (Apr-Oct)
Closed: Fridays, Jan 1/7/8, Mar 8, Orthodox Easter (1st/2nd day), next Monday after Easter, May 1st, Aug 27
Stephen the Great Park

3) Stephen the Great Park (must see)

There is nothing more romantic than a long stroll in the park, and if the park itself is the oldest in town, it only adds to the appeal. Should you fancy a quiet oasis of greenery amid the busy urban setting, then Stefan cel Mare Park is undoubtedly the right place for you. Spread across 17 acres of land, it is located in the very center of Chisinau, sided by the Government building to the east and the house of Parliament to the west, bounded by Stefan cel Mare Boulevard and 31 August Street.

The park was established in 1818 by the Russian Army Engineer Corps, and later was remodeled into its present shape by Alexander Bernardazzi. For many years it was known as Pushkin Park, named after the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who spent several years in Chisinau in exile in the early 19th century. The bust of Alexander Pushkin marks the center of the park and was created through public subscription by well-known Russian sculptor Alexander Mikhailovich Opekushin in 1885. In fact, Chisinau was the second city in the Russian Empire, after Moscow, to have established the statue commemorating the great poet.

Nearby is the Alley of Classics of the Moldovan Literature which was opened in 1958. The Alley features monuments to the pillars of the Moldovan Literature, such as Mihai Eminescu, Grigore Vieru and many others. Today, the park is also dubbed the “lovers' park” for being one of the most popular hangouts for the young people who come here regularly to meet, chat and spend time kindling their relationship.
Parliament Building

4) Parliament Building

Built under the Soviets in 1976-79, the former headquarters of then mighty Communist Party now houses Moldova's Parliament. The building has the shape of an open book with the central part of the facade supported by four high-standing vertical columns. In spring 2009 the building came under attack of rioting students in what later became known as the "Twitter Revolution". During the years 2012-13 repairs have advanced and the Parliament moved back in the building in February 2014.
Presidential Palace

5) Presidential Palace

Located in the very heart of Chisinau, the Presidential Palace is a relatively new monument of national importance. The glass-clad building was erected in 1984-87 by Yuri Tumanean, A. Zaltman, and V. Iavorski. It was made to be the new building of the Supreme Soviet of the Moldavian SSR. After Moldova gained its independence, the building became the residence of the President of Moldova. The building was devastated during protests on April 7, 2009 against President Vladimir Voronin. As a result of the protest, the palace was closed off. In the early years of the Dodon presidency, steps were taken to renovate the palace with the help of the Turkish government. The newly renovated palace was opened on October 17, 2018, in the presence of President Dodon and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
National Opera and Ballet Theatre

6) National Opera and Ballet Theatre

Housed in a building on the Stefan the Great Boulevard, the main road in Chisinau, this is one of the leading opera and ballet theatres in Eastern Europe. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the theatre was one of the few to retain its own ballet, opera and orchestra, with its own soloists and chorus, and now has some great equipment and facilities. In 2012, it was given the name of the renowned opera singer Maria Bieșu.

Presently, the theater employs a group of talented seasoned as well as young artists, some of whom are graduates from the Choreographic College in Chisinau. In recent years the troupe has traveled far and wide, often touring in the near and far abroad countries – Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, France, Spain, Britain, etc. – adjusting its repertoire to the wishes of foreign impresarios, focused on specific national tastes.

Why You Should Visit:
The theatre is always full which adds to the atmosphere, and prices are some 10% of those in London so you certainly get excellent value for money.

Ticket Office Hours:
Mon-Fri: 11am-6pm; Sat, Sun: 11am-4pm
With lunch break between 1-2pm
"Milestii Mici" Shop

7) "Milestii Mici" Shop

Founded in 1969, the Mileștii Mici winery is famous internationally for having the world's largest natural wine cellar complex. Extending for 200 km, of which only 55 km are currently in use, the Mileștii Mici cellars also hold the biggest in the world wine collection – nearly 2 million bottles – that is registered in the Guinness World Records 2005 Yearbook.

Some of the wines are kept there for several decades prior to being sold. More than 70% of the stored wines are red, 20% are white and about 10% are dessert wines. The grapes from which they are made include Pinot, Traminer, Muscat, Riesling, Dnestrovscoie, Milestscoie, Codru, Negru de Purcari, Trandafirul Moldovei, Auriu, and Cahor-Ciumai.

Today, the Mileștii Mici wines can be found in Sweden, Japan, the U.S., Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Germany, Denmark, Finland, and even China. Fortunately, while in Chisinau, you don't have to travel farther than the downtown area to savor the Mileștii Mici products.

The range is enormous and includes, among other gems, Feteasca 1987, Riesling 1986, Milestscoe 1986, Gratiesti 1986, Muscat 1988, Trandafirul Moldovei 1986, Auriu 1986, and Cahor-Ciumai 1986. All of these and more wines are available at the firm store in the heart of Chisinau.

Opening hours:
Monday-Friday: 9:00 – 19:00
Saturday: 9:00 – 17:00
Sunday: 9:00 - 15:00
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Nativity Cathedral

8) Nativity Cathedral (must see)

The Nativity Cathedral is a magnificent example of Russian architecture in Chisinau. Built in the early 19th century, it was designed by architect Avraam Melnikov – one of that period's finest architects of the Russian Empire. Like most religious buildings in the city, it was repurposed to an exhibition center during the Soviet era. Only recently has it again found life as a place of worship, sporting beautifully painted walls in pure Orthodox style.

Construction was commissioned by Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, the governor of New Russia. Considering the importance of the project, great care was taken for the building to appear elegant, regal and timeless. Renowned for his many creations across the Russian Empire, Avraam Melnikov was hired to run the project. A fine piece of neoclassic construction, the cathedral boasts an eclectic style, featuring a combination of Byzantine architecture with a hint of Renaissance on a Greek Cross, a perfect brew for neoclassic design.

In the course of centuries, this remarkable building has sustained multiple damages caused by wars and political upheavals following the collapse of, first, the Russian Empire and, then, the Soviet Union. Today, the cathedral stands as the main temple of the Russian Orthodox Church in Chisinau and is a definite must-see for any visitor to the city.

Why You Should Visit:
Located in a nice square (good for meditating and/or people watching), this place looks very large and simple from the outside, but inside it is very small yet with bright tones; a great example of such type of cathedral.

Go inside, you might be surprised by what you'll find and how you will feel.
You can also feed the pigeons and play a game of chess on the big chess table nearby.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-4pm
Free admission
Bell Tower

9) Bell Tower

Standing right behind the Holy Gates is a beautiful bell tower, an important religious and historic site in Chisinau city. It represents the exact replica of the original bell tower built in 1830 (the same year as the Metropolitan Cathedral was built), only to be demolished in the 1960s and then rebuilt in 1998. The bell tower comprises four levels with a small chapel on the ground level and several bells at the top.

Notice the flowerbeds surrounding, but make sure to visit the many flower shops on the side.
Triumphal Arch

10) Triumphal Arch (must see)

Also known as the Holy Gate, the Triumphal Arch is an important structure in the center of Chisinau. It commemorates the victory of Russia over Turkey and was built in 1846 to a design by architect I. Zaushkevich. The Arch is a major tourist sight, overlooking the Government building on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard from across the Great National Assembly Square.

The Arch is a classic, square-shaped piece of architecture, featuring ornately decorated Corinthian columns and beautiful clock on the side, chiming every fifteen minutes. It stands 13 meters high and is distinctly divided into two tiers. The lower tier comprises four sturdy pylons, decorated with classic Corinthian columns, which give the structure its regal look.

Aside from architecture, the Arch (Gate) is also noted for its fascinating history. After the Russians had defeated the Turkish army, Tsar Nikolai I, acting on the request of General M.S. Vorontsov, one of the most prominent war veterans, ordered the making of bells from captured Turkish canons. The bells were to be installed on the bell tower inside the Arch. However, upon their completion, it became obvious that the bells were too big for the tower and therefore a separate belfry had to be erected nearby to hold the bells.

Why You Should Visit:
Historical significance aside, it is quite refreshing to find a monument of this type in Moldova. You can't go in it or up it, but it gives a little relief to the city itself.
Quite successful in its miniature form and a must-see of the Moldavian Champs-Élysées as it marks the dead center of town.

Take a walk to see it at dusk as it is beautifully lit in the evening. You can also spend some time in the very nice park.
City Hall

11) City Hall

There quite a few old buildings in Chisinau fit to captivate the eye of the beholder. One of them, undoubtedly, is the City Hall building, an architectural landmark in its own right, located in the downtown part of the city, standing majestically on the corner of Stefan cel Mare Boulevard and Vlaicu Parcalab Street.

This two-story building was raised in the early 20th century and features classic Gothic Italian style with a quad-shaped plan. Designed by Alexander Bernardazzi, the building has an elegant façade with arched windows, ornately crowned by triangular pediments. The walls, draped in a faint shade of beige and white, are marvelously complemented by an elegant clock tower at the top.

The City Hall is lavishly embellished with medieval Gothic and Renaissance style decorations, revealing a heavy influence of Italian decorative style. The building suffered terrible damage during the Second World War and required painstaking efforts to return to its former glory. Today, a commemorative plaque to architect Bernardazzi is placed on its front wall.

Walking Tours in Chisinau, Moldova

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