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Darius Roby: Orheiul Vechi- A Window on the Past

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October is a month of great change. The grapes have been cut and already pressed into next year’s wine, the days become noticeably darker and shorter, and the weather begins to take a turn for the worst as we say good bye to the last vestiges of summer. One such morning found me in Moldova, breathing the chilly air of harvest with its rumors of winter in search of one of the country’s historical and archaeological treasures.
I would recommend reading my previous account regarding a visit to Soroca in order to get a feel of arriving in the small Eastern European country, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. In regards to this tale, the Sun does not rise until almost 8 in the morning in early October, therefore my experience of arriving in Chișinău revolved around the shadow of forests obscured by the darkness of the night. Hopping off the bus under the night sky, I saw a few signs that the day would soon arrive – trolleybuses filled with people on their way to work, a lady strolling in the park near the cathedral, workers sweeping the streets clean of autumn leaves. Passing the parliament building, I saw a camp of tents and flags guarded by police. It was a scene not unlike what I had seen on Khreshchatyk Street in Kiev last summer. Pretty much, life seemed normal in the capital of Moldova on a Saturday morning.
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Wandering down Ștefan cel Mare și Sfînt Street led me to the Central Market on Tighina Street. As I turned towards the east, I noticed the first light of the morning Sun peeking from the direction of the Ciocana neighborhood. I do not wish to go off on a tangent and get into deep detail about how interesting the market itself is, as it would deserve an article to itself. Needless to say, it is the commercial heart of the city, where one can literally find anything ranging from fruits, vegetables, and meats to clothes, boots, and fur hats. One could spend hours exploring the stalls there, sampling a bit of everything, and leaving with your pockets noticeably lighter than they were upon arrival.
Markets can be chaotic places, especially when they also have a full blown bus station. I had found the Autogara Centrala, and a quick look around revealed to me locations that I was not quite familiar with – mostly small villages around the country. A bit of exploring and asking around found what I was looking for – a mini-bus heading in the direction of Orhei. My target was no Orhei in particular but rather the villages of Trebujeni and Butuceni. “Going to Orheiul Vechi?”, I sleepily asked the driver in Romanian. After his affirmation, I climbed into the bus, wearily threw off my backpack and noticed an old man staring at me. Not shy about getting into conversations while traveling, we began talking and discussed everything from how to make wine to the obvious question regarding why is an American guy traveling alone in Moldova. I found myself laughing at his account of how he once made himself “black” due to standing in a basin and crushing Rară Neagră grapes until his entire body was covered with the dark red juice of the berries.
I imagine that by now the reader is wondering the same thing – what was I doing in Moldova on a chilly autumn day? My objective was to visit the ethno-cultural and archaeological complex at Orheiul Vechi, located along the River Răut in Central Moldova. It is one of those treasures that everyone in Moldova knows about and probably has visited, but almost no one outside of the country has ever heard of. I had made a mental note to visit the place years ago after hearing about it from aquaintances who lived not too far away in Ciocîlteni. It had sat on my list of interesting (and rather obscure) places to visit in Eastern Europe for years now and I was glad to had finally found the time to explore. Continuing my conversation with the man on the bus, he assured me that the site was very beautiful and that I would enjoy it.
A few minutes later, the bus left Chișinău and headed north on the main highway that connects the capital to most cities in northern Moldova. The trip was not a long one due to the excellent condition of the road, and it
was very picturesque. We passed through little villages and by farms that were colored with vibrant browns, reds, yellows, and oranges. The architecture that I saw was not dissimilar to what one could find in Eastern Romania save for the onion domed churches. Since the harvest had already been largely taken care of, I did not see many people outside working. We were however greeted with a mooo! by a lonely cow feasting on dying grass as the bus sped by. Autumn is the time of year to enjoy and celebrate the fruits of the Earth’s bosom, especially with the harsh winter being not too far away. I have always felt attracted by this beautiful little country, almost forgotten and ignored due to its difficult geopolitical situation. If Ukraine was once the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, then Moldova was its orchard due to the grapes, plums, apricots, and apples that can be found all over the country.
After some time, the bus arrived in Trebujeni and my eyes widened to see the canyon that encompasses and meanders around the River Răut. We live in the age of Wikipedia and Google so I already knew what the place would look like, but it does not prepare one for seeing such a dramatic shift in elevation in a mostly steppe country. At the summit of one precipice I saw a little church built in the Russian style as well as what appeared to be a cave monastery, beyond it was an even larger precipice, with the same vibrant brows, reds, yellows, and oranges painting it in autumn beauty. After crossing the river and arriving at Butuceni, I left the bus where another passenger kindly told me that the same bus would return at noon and I could take it to return to Chișinău. She also pointed me to an Info Point station where I could buy tickets and visit their museum. I am very appreciative of such hospitality, especially because I was at the time wondering the same exact thing. Walking back across the river led me to the Info Point where there were some women having tea and talking among themselves. I inquired about ticket prices, bought a guide book, and after a small conversation (the usual: How did you learn Romanian? Where are you from? Do you like Moldova?) I thanked them for their help and spent some time examining the interesting artifacts in the museum.
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Orheiul Vechi was settled thousands of years ago by inhabitants of the Cucuteni culture and there were artifacts to testify to this. The museum also housed artifacts from the Geto-Dacian period. The town seemed to have enjoyed its greatest prosperity during the rule of the Mongols of the Golden Horde through its status as a Moldovan fortress until the sixteenth century. Under the Mongols the settlement was known as Yangi-Shehr and along the road towards Trebujeni one can find the remains of a Tatar bath house that once serviced the inhabitants. There is also evidence of Islamic worship due to the nearby ruins of a mosque with a minaret along with Arabic inscriptions. The Mongols abandoned the Carpathian-Dniestrian region around 1369 and the area was consolidated under the Moldovan Principality. Orhei served, along with Hotin, Soroca, Tighina, and Cetatea Alba, as an important fortress guarding the eastern borders of the principality along the River Dniester. Along the road, one can find the ruins of the residence of the governor (pîrcălab), attesting to the medieval importance of Orhei.
Climbing the hill towards the church one can find evidence of Geto-Dacian earthen and stone fortifications. It appears that once upon a time, there was once a great oval fortification that served as a fortress for the Geto-Dacians in the region. Artifacts consisting of Greek black vase pottery had been discovered here so I assume that there were trade links between the locals and the Greeks of the Black Sea colonies. Furthermore, there is a side path that leads to a cave opening to a tunnel that leads to a small monastery complex inside of the hill. The cave monastery is known as Peștera and there can be found residences for the monks as well as a small chapel with a beautiful iconostasis. There is also a nave, narthex, as well as a porch balcony that offers a commanding view of the Răut valley. From what I was told, the Peștera Hermitage dates from the early nineteenth century and serves as the parish of the village. Above the complex, at the summit of the canyon, along the cliff edge is
found a massive stone cross dating from the eighteenth century. I was told by a couple that was traveling there that the cross confers health and grants wishes to those who hug and walk around it.
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Beyond it lies a church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is surrounded by a stone wall where within one can enjoy the garden and lose oneself in this quiet corner of paradise while listening to the hymns of the Orthodox liturgy.
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The open air museum at Orheiul Vechi is massive and one would require an entire day to discover everything there is to see there. A quick look around at the other cliff walls will reveal openings to numerous cave monasteries – both accessible and inaccessible. They date from the 15th-18th centuries and some, for example the Pîrcălab Bosie Monastery, have carved inscriptions in both Slavonic and Romanian, both written in the Cyrillic script. These inscriptions reveal the names of people who lived there during the monastery’s heyday – Bosie, the Moldovan pîrcălab, along with Vasile Andeescul, Razmeritse Leka, as well as Stetsi Hatman, the leader of a group of Ukrainians that wintered in nearby Ivancea in 1689. Ultimately, Orheiul Vechi would be destroyed due to the repeated invasions launched by the Crimean Tatars into the Moldovan territory. The seat of local power would be transferred west to modern day Orhei, which continues to be a city of national importance to this present day.
The village of Butuceni proper serves as a wonderful place for lovers of ethnography and traditional Moldovan life. To the south of the Assumption church lies a cemetery, and beyond that lies the homes of the people who call this beautiful village home. It is not a large settlement, and the main road leading from Trebujeni is in fact, the only road. There are many examples of Moldovan traditional architecture and the people are very friendly and hospitable. During my walk there, for one reason or another, I found myself with a cup of homemade wine in my hand, and shortly afterwards – cognac. There are accommodation options there for those who wish to spend more than a day in this most interesting open air museum where one can enjoy a warm bed, a quiet atmosphere, and the wonders of Moldovan cuisine.
Orheiul Vechi is an open air museum of ethnography and history that I would recommend to anyone who visits Moldova. Regardless of whether one wishes to stay for a couple of hours or a couple of days, there are enough interesting things to see there that will satisfy one’s thirst for adventure. The location is even more accentuated by the chilly air and the vibrant spirit of the autumn harvest as it is a time of plenty – and therefore warmer hearts. There is an air of victory that comes with the autumn, the survival of another year while facing down the coming challenge of winter. I am glad that I decided to make this trip during the autumn, as this period comes with its own special beauty that cannot be found during the summer. It is like comparing the bright smile of a blooming sunflower with the solemn and perilous beauty of a rusalka.

Correspondent reporter of Moldova.org Focus: Transnistrian conflict settlement, Eastern Partnership. Inquiries at [email protected]

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Tourism

Air Moldova has demonstrated compliance with EU requirements

Air Moldova is the only company in the Republic of Moldova to have an Operational Safety Audit Security Certificate issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), following a two-year audit.

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Moreover, Air Moldova is one of the aviation companies around the world where the European Union trusts. The European Aeronautical Safety Agency certified Air Moldova as complying with its standards, which allows it to smoothly carry out air transport operations in the European space.

The authorization issued by EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) once again demonstrates that Air Moldova is a reliable operator and meets all the standards of quality and safety, says Iulian Scorpan, general manager of the company:

“We will continue to work to provide our passengers with the best conditions, pricing and destinations that will ensure their comfort,” says Air Moldova director Iulian Scorpan.

The European Authority’s certificate confirms that Air Moldova offers safe, quality services at EU standards, which are among the highest in the world. Thus, Air Moldova is part of an elite club of airlines that can fly over the EU airspace and can provide services within the European Union.

On the other hand, 120 companies from all over the world, including 9 from the Republic of Moldova, were banned in the community airspace.

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Culture

An English vlogger in Chisinau: “If I were a politician in Moldova, I’d be ashamed to show my face”

A British YouTube vlogger has published a video about of first impressions in Chisinau. Thrilled by the way the center of the capital looks, the conditions in the underground, the quality of the roads, etc., the vlogger will spend a month in the Republic of Moldova, promising to publish more stories.

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I would be ashamed! If I’d ripped off my nation as these motherf#ckers have ripped of Moldova, I’d be ashamed to show my face.”

The vlogger told his subscribers about the “billion dollar bill theft” and criticizes politicians who “have done nothing in their 30 years of independence.”

He pointed out that after the collapse of the USSR, the citizens of the Republic of Moldova hoped that a better life awaits them.I

“In Soviet times, Moldova was a well-run, efficient republic. Soviets used to come from all over the SU here. It was warm, there was good wine here, […]. But then independence came, and people wished for something better. But what did they receive instead? They’ve received nothing but Governments that ripped them off, embezzled cash, escaped the country with stolen billions, and the people are left here to pick up the pieces,” he concluded.

Watch episode 2 here:

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Tourism

From now on, Moldovan citizens can travel to Turkey with identity cards

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From today on, citizens of the Republic of Moldova can travel to Turkey based on identity cards with the format of ID1 ID2, ID2 (TD-1, TD-2, according to ICAO standards), including valid biometric passports, the Foreign Ministry announced.

According to the Protocol amending the Intergovernmental Agreement on the reciprocal abolition of visas with the Republic of Turkey (concluded on 17 October 2018), the holders of the documents mentioned above are exempt from the visa requirement for entry, exit, transit and temporary stay in the territory of the Republic of Turkey up to 90 days during any 180 calendar day period, which implies taking into account the last 180 days preceding each day of stay.

The Ministry points out that citizens of the Republic of Moldova who will travel to third countries using Turkey’s territory as a transit country will be informed about the travel regime applicable to Moldovan citizens for the final destination country and will have the necessary documents for crossing border control.

The first passengers have already used this opportunity today by arriving at the Chisinau International Airport with Istanbul-Chisinau’s first Turkish Airlines route.

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