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January 19, 2022

Culture Palace of Iasi, peak of neogothic style in Romania

Designed in the spirit of Western town halls, the palace in downtown Iasi is the top achievement of the neogothic style in Romania. It is considered the swan song of 19th century romantic architecture. As an architectural masterpiece, it became the emblem of the old capital of Moldova, and it is included in the national list of historical monuments.
Its prestige also comes from its privileged place, over the former princely court, the siege of supreme power, making Moldova’s history for more than five centuries. The whole city was built along streets leading to this central point. It was the natural place for the most beautiful building of the city.
The princely residence in Iasi is documented as early as October 8 1434, historian and museologist Sorin Iftimi explains. It was built in the last years of the reign of Alexander the Good. Its ruins were found in 1907, during the works to the present day palace. Most of the research on them became possible in archaeological campaigns in 1952 and 1960-1961. The residence of Iasi was one of the several used alternately by the voivodes (ruling princes) and their courts. It later became the main residence and was raised to a privileged status. Iftimi mentions that the old court was built on a promontory with a wide perspective, which showcased its majesty. It was visible from great distances, and dominated the main entrance of the city, at the bridge over Bahlui Creek in the south. An image of the old tower was preserved on the 1768 seal of the Princely Gate, and on the 1840 seal of the Princely Palace. The last surviving fragment of the outer wall was uncovered in 1933, when the building of the first Society of Economy of Iasi was demolished. The court’s cellars remained a mystery; some say they were a whole strategic underground network; others see them as mere annexes. Two parallel tunnels of this type are accessible through the sentry tower in the southwestern part of the palace.
“The palace, in the classic sense of the term, was both a residence and the seat of princely power, a majestic single edifice of aulic ambition. There was no such representation building in Bucharest before King Charles I, no palace built as a residence of the ruling prince. Several nobility buildings already in place were renovated for this purpose. In Iasi, such a palace was built in early 19th century. Alexandru Moruzi began building the princely palace in the summer of 1804. Supervisors were treasury head Sandulache Surza, brother-in-law of the prince, Toderascu Bals and chamberlain Iordache Draghici. Moruzi closely monitored the works himself on a daily basis. The finest timber from Carpathian Mountains was used, and lime from Orhei, across the Prut River. The new edifice was consecrated on August 28 1806. The prince failed to install himself officially – he had fled to Istanbul one day before, as a war began between Russians and Turks and he had to prove his loyalty to the sultan,” Iftimi resumes.
Daniel Philippidis noted in 1816 that the Princely Palace of Iasi is the most important building “in the whole Turkish empire, owing to its size, beauty and richness”. Dimitrie Bantis-Kamenski wrote that a “the palace is interesting because it has as many windows as days in a year, and as many doors as weeks in a year”. This is the origin of the legend of the palace having 365 rooms.
The palace was designed by architect Johan Freiwald of Vienna, in neoclassic style. He is famous for other works, like the first version of the metropolitan cathedral, the Rosetti-Roznovanu palace – now the Town Hall, and the palace of treasurer Surdza of Rugionasa (the first version, neoclassic).
The great fire of July 18 1827 that destroyed a large portion of the city also affected the new princely palace. The ‘Burnt Court’ remained a ruin for 13 years, and princes looked for other residences. In 1839-1840, the government proposed the General Assembly to finance the restoration of the palace with cereal export revenues.
Mihail Sturdza lived in the palace built in place of his father’s home, where the present day Faculty of Theology is. His successor on the throne Grigore Alexandru Ghica (1849-1856) lived in the upper floor apartments of the renovated palace; he refurbished the park behind the palace and surrounded it with a new wall. Regent Teodor Bals also lived in the palace from July 1856 until he died in February 1857. Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the prince of the Union, did not live in the palace. After 1862, it hosted the Iasi County Prefecture, the Tribunals, the Court of Appeals, the Payments Office and the State Archive; the Postal and Telegraph Services joined later.
Another big fire badly hit the palace in the night of January 13 1880. Renovation lasted until 1883 before re-commissioning. The building now had about 60 rooms; works were more important than previously thought. The vault for the coach access of the main entrance now had three arches instead of two. The central protruding wall above the entrance is covered by a high tin roof.
In 1883, the statue of Prince Stephen the Great was placed in front of the renovated palace. It was meant to efface the lack of relics, providing the illusion of a site history.
‘The idea of a statue of the great prince appeared in October 1856, when the Moldovan capital was full of excitement about the union with Wallachia. To oppose this trend, Regent Teodor Bals, the head of the provisional government, launched the initiative, turning Prince Stephan into a symbol of independent state life. The monument had to be funded through public subscription, allowing showcasing the donors as anti-unionists. The cunning manoeuver failed owing to the regent’s sudden death on February 17 1857. Surprisingly, by then – three decades earlier – the statue’s appearance and exact place were known in details. It was known that the monument will be made of bronze, decorated with bas-reliefs illustrating the deeds of the great prince, to be made abroad by a famous artist. Gheorghe Asachi had drafted the necessary drawings and the historical description. There’s even a mention of the height of the equestrian statue placed on a red granite pedestal had to be 16 ‘princely’ palms – around 4 metres. The project was approved by the regent and sent to recognized artists in several countries. Artists of Rome, Munich and Berlin entered the competition. After Bals’s death, the project was abandoned, and in 1859 the Union became a fact,’ historian Sorin Iftimi points out.
The idea did not re-emerge until 1871; then, in the context of talks of a solemn celebration of the nation at the tomb of Stephen the Great in the monastery of Putna, then under Austrian occupation. The bronze equestrian statue was created in Paris by Emmanuel Fremiet in 1881, and the monument was unveiled in 1883. Its position was not random – it was on the place of the old princely courts, greatly extended under Stephen the Great. In front of the statue is the St. Nicholas Princely Church built by Stephen in 1492, where princes of Moldova were crowned for three hundred years. On the unveiling, the Main Street of Iasi was renamed Stephen the Great Street.
‘There are unsupported assertion of Fermiet working in parallel to another state, of Polish King Casimir IV, and the two statues were mixed up upon shipping. The argument is that Stephen didn’t have a beard. But in 19th century, the public image was that on engravings disseminated by Gheorghe Asachi, where Prince Stephen had a more impressive beard than Fermiet’s statue. Most churches with his votive portraits were across the border, in Austrian Bucovina. Only in 1881 Bishop Melchisedec discovered the Four Gospels of Humor, with an indisputably authentic and precise portrait of the prince, which put an end to disputes on the matter in the Academy. Although Vasile Alecsandri insisted for observing the historical truth, it was too late, and moreover too expensive to change the face of the sculpture, so the idea was abandoned. The simplest proof of the statue representing Stephen the Great is the coat of arms of Moldova, the wild ox head, on the horse’s chest,’ Iftimi relates.

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