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Suta de Movile: The place where fact is stranger than fiction

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Darius Roby is a travel writer, translator, and an editor for Cluj.com, a city portal with information pertaining to life and tourism in Cluj-Napoca. He is also a contributor to Ukraine Today and is a member of the Hakluyt Society.

As I continue to explore Moldova, I often encounter the reality that sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. While I can hang my hat on having studied geology as an elective during my university days, I can admit that I am not the most adept at recognizing various types or stones or putting together the proverbial puzzle of “what once existed” in any particular location. The little sliver of land between the rivers Prut and the Dniester is remarkable from a geographical point of view. To put things into a simplified context, there are rocky hills and outcrops in the north and west, the famous codru forests in the center of the country, and in the south towards the Budjak region – the beginnings of the great Eurasian steppe. However, there are some places that hold a wealth of curiosity, natural beauty, and more questions than answers. As Moldova is a small country, it is also necessary to keep one’s eyes open, because should one blink, there is the chance that one may miss such treasures and with it – the opportunity to further one’s understanding of the world.

I became curious about the lands near the banks of the river Prut earlier this year during a visit to the Padurea Domneasca. It was during this trip that I heard that towards the north, there is a chain of hills which is referred to as o sută de movile (A hundred mounds) by Moldovans. The word movilă stuck with me in particular. In Romanian, it refers to a barrow or tumulus, in which the heroes and legends of the past were buried. Even as a child growing up in Mississippi, I was fascinated by the burial mounds constructed there centuries ago by the Native Americans. I have always come to associate such places with the mysteries of long vanished cultures and civilizations. In Eastern Europe, such barrows (here they are more often referred to by the Russian word – kurgan) are extremely common, being associated with the nomadic cultures that once ruled this region – the Cimmerians who warred with the Assyrians; the Scythians, the greatest goldsmiths of Eurasia; and the Sarmatians, the inventors of the heavily armed lancer, and indirectly – the medieval knight. A visit to Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg would be all one needed in order to become fascinated by kurgans and the civilizations who built them.

As the days began to grow shorter and the final breath of Indian summer offered a brief whisper of glory in a fading and dying world, I began to once again feel the pull of nature. I felt the desire to explore, to discover more of the enchanting orchard that is Moldova. I was in the process of planning an expedition to another location in the country with a reputable anthropologist-turned tour guide in Moldova (Maria Axenti) when she brought up the subject of the sută de movile. After further discussions and getting to know one another better, we agreed to travel together to the sută de movile in order to gain better understanding the phenomenon.

One October morning under a light, but chilly early autumn rain, I joined Maria and Tanya and we made our way north from Chișinău by car. I do not wish to bore the reader concerning the details of the road taken, as it was more or less the same as the one I took to visit the Padurea Domneasca earlier this spring. I will make a note that as it was now autumn, Maria had the excellent idea to stop at a vineyard along the way in order to “borrow” a few grapes, perfectly ripe and clean from the cold shower, for the journey. Boots becoming caked with mud, I questioned in my mind whether it was such a good idea but smiled with delight while feasting on autumn’s gift to Moldova. I was instantly taken back to of the flavor of Moldovan wines, as the grapes were indeed of the rară neagra type. As I enjoyed the deep fruity flavor of the purple grapes, I was deep in discussion with Maria concerning Moldovan culture and history. It is a story that is grievous to me, the thought that this tiny country – green, quiet, and bountiful, has suffered the ravages of repeated invasions and migrations for millennia. Living in an uncertain world has left an impression on the land as well as in the mindset of the people. To travel is to come to better understand the world. To travel is to truly live.

After a few hours, we passed through Glodeni and Cobani, through which the river Camenca flows. Beyond, there is a north-south fork in the road that runs parallel with the river Prut. To the south lies the road towards Moara Domneasca where the wisents are kept. We turned north and shortly after passing the border into Rîșcani District, I was told to look out the window and my eyes widened in shock. Over the cold and windswept brown fields, there was a plethora of mounds, scattered over the fields as if they were mushrooms after a heavy shower. Some were rather small, others were exceptionally large and steep. The terrain, in its otherworldly autumn aura, is not large, stretching only 4 miles from north to west, and barely a mile east to west. Despite the name (sută means a hundred in Romanian), there are over 3000 mounds in the area, some only a few feet tall while the Movila Țiganului is nearly 100 feet tall and is topped with a cross, symbolic of its status.

movila-tiganului

Climbing the somewhat steep path up the Movila Țiganului offers an enthralling panorama of the surrounding area. Leading down from the mound is a foot path that winds its way around a plum orchard. Beyond the neat rows of trees lies two other large mounds, perfectly accenting this strange sliver of land. Further towards the west, there are numerous smaller mounds, which lead to a wooded grove, through which the Prut flows. Towards the east, there were also numerous mounds of various sizes, bewildering the traveler, posing more questions than answers.

From where did these mounds originate? They were first attested to in 1716 by Dimitrie Cantemir, who referred to them in Latin as “Centum Monticuli.” Furthermore, there are romantic legends concerning a great battle that once took place in the area between nomadic tribes. It was said to have been a particularly bloody battle and afterwards mounds were erected over the bodies of the fallen warriors, with the most important heroes and leaders being buried in the larger mounds. It does serve to make one wonder who was deserving of the Movila Țiganului. As fascinating as that story is to the ear, the historian in my heart wishing it were indeed the case, the truth proved itself to be stranger than legend.

While the region was indeed once home to nomadic tribes, geology gives us the best answer regarding the origins of the mounds. They are not kurgans at all. Indeed, there is only a thin layer of grass and earth covering each mound, making it impossible for there to be burials. Instead, the mounds have a solid base of sedimentary rocks. 20 million years ago, the present day territory of Moldova was covered by the Sarmatian Sea, itself a remnant of the primordial Tethys Ocean. As is the way of the world – rivers change course, the ocean advances and recedes, and once great mountains slowly erode into hills. So too passed the Tethys Ocean, its only surviving remnants being the Black, Caspian, and the Aral Seas. The strange geography of the Glodeni and Rîșcani districts is attributed to the now extinct Sarmatian Sea. For example, in nearby Cobani lies the Stînca Mare with its great exposed stones. Essentially, it is a coral reef dating from eons ago. There is a long series of cliffs and terraces that run parallel for miles with the river Prut that is also attributed to primordial coral reefs. The presence of sedimentary rocks under the mounds in question proves that they are indeed a natural phenomenon. While scientists have yet to fully explain the reason for why mounds naturally formed in this particular area, unique in Europe, Maria did point out to me that the areas between the mounds tend to gather water, often forming lakes when the weather permits. It is all part of the charm, as the district’s name, Glodeni, stems from the Romanian word glod, which means “mud.” Everything seems to make sense, in a strange way…

darius-at-the-suta-de-movile

Here you have another story of a quiet, yet fascinating region of Moldova. There are many tales regarding cliffs, quarries, meetings of the devil at the crossroad, caves, and prehistoric peoples that I wish that I could share with you, the reader, but the phenomenon of the sută de movile is deserving of its own moment in the Sun. As always, my journey continues, and when the time is right I will share more stories with you regarding the little country between the Prut and the Dniester. It is most pleasing to me that there are people who feel love for this country, and harbor a desire to present it to the outside world. Even the most seasoned traveler will most often find himself pleasantly surprised, especially in the company of people like Maria who understands that even the smallest stone or the most remote village has a unique story to tell.

The trip was organized with the help of Maria Axenti from YG Moldova.
Maria Axenti is an anthropologist at Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova as well as the co-founder of YG Moldova, an organization dedicated to promoting the culture, people, and natural beauty of Moldova. To learn more about her work and for information concerning guided tours, visit YGmoldova.com.

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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