The Museum of Union

Above: The Museum of Union. Photo by Manole Alexandru

Nestled on a quiet street in the city of Iași, Romania is a 19th century neo-classical building known as the Museum of Union. The museum was given its name in 1959, marking 100 years since the unification of Wallachia and Moldavia to form the basis of modern Romania, the house itself having been the site where unification was declared in 1859. Also known as the small union, the joining of these principalities is recognised as the prelude to the Great Union of 1918 in which the regions of Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania joined with Romania.

The Unification of Romania

The building was designed in the neo-classical style in 1806 by Constantin Ghica. Little is known about the houses architect. During the time of the houses construction the area, which is now known as Romania, was divided into the two principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia with Iași being a part of the former. These principalities were under the control of the Ottoman Empire. However, in a bid to expand their territory the Russian Empire invaded, sparking the start of the Crimean War (1853 – 1856). The Kingdom of Sardinia, France and the United Kingdom sided with the Ottoman Empire in order to halt the threat of Russia’s expansion.

After Russia’s defeat, The Treaty of Paris was signed on March 30, 1856. This not only diminished Russia’s power but also recognised the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia as being able to have independent constitutions and national assemblies which would be monitored by the victorious powers. Both principalities soon formed assemblies which met in October 1857 and passed a resolution which called for unification. This resolution was recognised by the allies at the Convention of Paris in August 1858, and they were given the power to form their own political organisation and govern themselves.

The decision was made to elect a suitable candidate to rule both principalities and in January 1859, commander of the Moldavian Militia, Alexandru Ioan Cuza (b. 1820 – d. 1873) was elected. His election marked the joining of the principalities. The building created by Constantin Ghica, became his base of operation between 1859 and 1862, and eventually became the site where the joining of Wallachia and Moldavia was formally recognised with the signing of the Declaration of Unionisation by Alexandru on the 11th of December 1861.

Alexandru Ioan Cuza

Post Unification

Alexandru continued to use the space as a private residence, living there along with his wife Elena Cuza (b.1825 – d.1909) who was known for her philanthropy. In 1862 they moved to the Romanian capital of Bucharest and the building went back to the Ghica family. After being used as a private residence it was sold in 1886 to the Urban Credit Society with the ground floor rooms serving as luxury shops. During World War I it was used as the residence of King Ferdinand I (b.1865 – d.1927). Shortly after this the Cuza-Voda palace was founded on the first floor by historian Nicolae Lorga (b.1871 – d.1940) in order to preserve the space as it would have been during Alexandru and Elena’s residence. Coming into the 21st century the ground floor has been utalised as an artistic space, showcasing the best of local talent.

Lady Elena Cuza

The Museum Ground Floor

The ground floor was showcasing the work of Samy Briss, a local artist with an international influence. Much of his work is inspired by the landscape of his childhood, Romanian folklore, and icon painting. He presents these themes in vibrant artworks which have a dreamlike quality to them. The influence of Cubism, a 20th century art movement, can be seen in his two-dimensional paintings and woodcuts. He also creates sculpture and collages which are more on the abstract side.

Samy Briss - The Last Pawn

The Museum First Floor

The first floor preserves the princely apartments, including the offices of both Alexandru Ioan Cuza and Elena Cuza. Visitors can also take their time strolling through the living room, hall, billiard room, lady’s salon, and bedroom. There isn’t much in the way of written interpretation, but each room has a friendly guide who is willing to answer any questions. Through providing tangible history, the house gives a glimpse into this fascinating chapter in Romania’s formation.

The Office of Alexandru Ioan Cuza
PHOTOGRAPH BY Radu Costniscu
The Hall
PHOTOGRAPH BY Radu Costinescu
The Lady's Salon
PHOTOGRAPH BY Radu Costinescu

Overall Experience

The buildings itself can be admired for its architectural beauty and the heritage it contains. It can be visited by those who have a specific interest in this historical period as well as those wanting to explore more of the city. The museum is also a brilliant venue to browse the latest contemporary art.

Important Information

Address: Strada Alexandru Lăpușneanu nr. 14, Iași 700057, Romania

Cost: 16 Lei (About £2.75)

Opening times: Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

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Paige Worrall

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!