The Palace of Culture (pictured above, credit: Radu Costinescu) is an impressive neo-gothic building in the heart of Iași, Romania. It is currently the site of the Moldova National Museum Complex. Incredibly it is home to not just one but four museums! These are the Art Museum, Moldova’s History Museum, Ethnographic Museum of Moldova, and the Science and Technology Museum dedicated to physicist Ștefan Procopiu (b.1890 – d.1972).
Quick Note: The Moldova National Complex preserves collections in relation to the historic principality of Western Moldova which existed from the 14th century to 1859 before it united with Wallachia and formed Romania. The eastern side became part of what is now known as the independent Republic of Moldova.
In the early 19th century, this space was the sight of the neo-classical Medieval Princely Palace of Moldova and underwent extensive remodelling and rebuilding under architect Ion D. Berindey (b.1871 – d.1928) who chose to re-build it in the neo-gothic style.
Construction started around 1906. Though the project was halted during World War I, the incomplete building was used to shelter Romanian and Russian troops as well as being used as a hospital. The palace was finally completed in 1925 and started its thirty-year run as the Palace of Justice and Administration. In 1955 it officially became the sight of the Moldova National Museum Complex.
The scale of the building is breathtaking and even has a legend that there are 365 rooms, one for each year, within. Whilst the real number falls a little short at 298 rooms, it’s still a phenomenal amount!
Audiences will first come into contact with the Hall of Honour. My eyes were drawn to the Bestiarum Mosaic. This shows a mixture of decorative elements from heraldic shields, lions, and gryphons to floral patterns. Above is an ogive vault, decorated with stained glass. Time can be taken to look at the detailed embellishments.
Before visiting the museums, visitors should take a wonder to the Henry Coandă (b.1886 – d.1972) Hall. Formally known as the jury court, the hall was renamed after the inventor. Known for his pioneering work in aerodynamics, he also created bio-cement which imitates the appearance of oak timber. This material was used throughout the palace, including the hall. Particularly in its stucco decorations which were inspired by the ceiling of Westminster Hall. It’s a beautiful example of interior decoration and architectural advancement, combining modern techniques with traditional style.
This museum continues the work of the Museum of Antiquities, founded in 1916 as part of the ‘Alexandru Ioan Cuza’ University. Officially becoming a part of the Iași Museum Complex in 1971, it has a collection of over 50,000 culturally and historically significant objects sourced from archaeological research, donations, and acquisitions. A small part of this collections is on display to the public, mainly focusing on community life in Romania from the Old Stone Age until today. The objects on display demonstrate a vibrant and intriguing history, informing its public about some interesting aspects of the country’s political and cultural progression. My favourite part of this museum were the glass floors that allowed you to see the old tunnels which run all throughout the city and lead to the palace.
This collection found a home in the Palace in 1957. The collection consists of three main sections, the Modern Romanian Art Gallery, The Romanian Contemporary Art Gallery, and the European Art Gallery. Whilst they have an impressive array of international artists, the jewels of their collection lay within their own homegrown talent. I found exploring the work of impressionist Aurel Băeșu (b.1896 – d.1928) and Nicolae Tonitza (b.1886 – d.1940) refreshing. It was interesting to compare the development of Eastern European and Western European style and technique.
This museum examines the agricultural history of Romania. It shows brilliant examples of textiles, traditional costume, architecture, technological installations, and village customs. Founded in 1943, the first objects in the collection were donated by local Iași magistrate Iulia Pascu and since then has expanded to incorporate an impressive array of objects which exhibit Romania’s cultural heritage. Many of the objects give an intimate look into traditions such as the egg painting that takes place during Easter.
This collection has grown through donations and acquisitions which document the evolution of sound recording, playback, photographic and cinematographic technology along with telegraphy, telephony and television. It also takes a deep look at the advancement of computers, examining how influential they have become in our lives. A stand out for me were the five rooms dedicated to music and the machines that make it, in particular, the room of Orchestrions. These large mechanical automatons were capable of playing multiple instruments and were popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This is an absolutely fabulous complex of museums which holds the rich and varied history of the former principality of Moldova. Whether this is an area of history that interests you or you are new to it, there is something for everyone from the beautiful architecture of the building itself to the hidden gems in the collections.
Address: Stephan the Great and Saint Square, Iasi Romania.
Opening Times: Wednesday – Sunday.
It is also important to check public holidays in Romania before visiting as the museum will be closed.
Website: Palace of Culture Iasi – National Museum Complex "Moldova" Iasi (palatulculturii.ro)
Accessibility: There is an accessibility ramp at the main entrance as well as elevators for those with physical disabilities. The museum also accommodates for those who are deaf and have hearing loss. All information is available on the website, including a sensory map!
Price: For all four museums it costs 60 Lei in local currency.
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Paige Worrall is a BA history graduate and has recently completed her MA in Museum Studies which specialises in making use of co-productive practice within institutions. She currently works as a library assistant and freelance exhibition technician. Her passion for history of art has led her to set up her own blog, The Museum Inspector, where writing on her various interests can be found. She also has an Instagram dedicated to promoting some of her favourite cultural institutions. When she isn’t visiting museums, Paige can probably be found in a bookshop or curling up with a novel or two!