Chisinau, the largest and capital city of Republic of Moldova, is also the least visited capital in Europe and from my experience, the most underrated. Like many former Soviet Republics which still have many Soviet era relics from the past – Chisinau is particularly special having lots of beautiful brutalist architecture (depending on taste) in the backdrop of modern high rises.
The skyline features many unique and interesting Soviet era buildings – described and often tarnished for their lack of architectural attractiveness, it only takes a visit to explore Chisinau to genuinely appreciate this amazing city.
Learn more about Chisinau and its Soviet era architecture, click here.
HISTORY OF SOVIET ERA ARCHITECTURE IN CHISINAU
The Soviets left an everlasting mark on the appearance of Chisinau, thanks to Alexey Shchusev, an architect who designed Moscow’s most famous and iconic landmarks – Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Kazansky railway terminal. Read more about the worlds best trains station, click here.
Shchusev was assigned to reconstruct Chisinau after the devastating destruction during WWII. With aerial bombardment from the Luftwaffe and the scorched-earth policy implemented by retreating Nazi Germans and collaborating Romanian forces, there was very little left. Effectively Shchusev was pretty much left with a blank canvas to rebuild Chisinau.
Peace time naturally increased the population in Chisinau. Growing families and an influx of citizens throughout the Union increased the demand for social housing. The obvious solution was to build city high-rise housing to accommodate the residents living in Chisinau.
Many Soviet era apartment buildings are currently in use with little change, while other facilities such as the Gagarin Youth Centre are abandoned and unfortunately continue to fall into disrepair despite being listed. To learn more about brutalist architecture, click here.
DISCOVERING SOVIET RELICS IN CHISINAU
Like any city, the best way to discover it is by foot and Chisinau no different. Within the city centre there are many Soviet era buildings including Cosmos Hotel and Moldtelecom buildings, however, further out are the real hidden gems including Romanita Tower and Chisinau State Circus.
On our recent trip to Transnistria, officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), we spent some time discovering and learning about Moldavian history and culture. Here are some of the best Soviet relics we explored in Chisinau. Join us on our next tour click here.
The Romanita Collective Housing Tower is located in the residential area of the city. Completed in the early 80s, the 73-meter-high building was once the tallest building in Chisinau. Of course, spending a night in Chisinau Hotel is a genuine highlight, for those who appreciate Soviet relics. The décor of the lobby and the rooms have changed very little, giving the hotel a very authentic feel.
Located opposite is the National Hotel, completed in 1974 and was frequented by tourists, sadly it has fallen into disrepair and is a shell of its former socialist modernist glory. In current times these eerie abandoned buildings are popular with urban explorers and of course YPT when we venture to the top floor to catch the sunset and the stunning views.
There are a number of mosaics located in the city, a stunning example located in the central bus station, entitled – The City is Flourishing and Being Built. Although sections of the mosaic are covered up by recent renovations it can still be admired. Located close by, just outside the entrance of the central market on Tighina Strada is another beautiful mosaic depicting global transport and communication.
A personal favorite located just a 30-minute walk from the center passing the Leninist Komsomol monument along the way is the Chisinau State Circus. The monumental structure was constructed in 1981 and opened its doors to spectators the following year. At the time, it was the most advanced circus building in the Soviet Union and capable of accommodating over 2000 visitors. Unfortunately, like many other Soviet mega structures lacked funding, innovation, and gradually fell into disrepair.
WHY ARE SOVIET RELICS DISAPPEARING
With the collapse of the Soviet Union on 25th December 1991, many beautiful Soviet era relics have seemed to disappear or have fallen into disrepair within the former republics. With growing resentment and unrest within the Union, the dissolution allowed many to celebrate and express their anger towards these beautiful pieces of art – particularly Lenin monuments (with reason).
To learn more about the removal of Lenin statues under Ukraine’s de-communisation law click here.
Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, even more Soviet relics are being destroyed or removed – particularly in Ukraine but also the Baltic states. The conflict has not only raised questions for the former Republics of the Soviet Union – which are more politically aligned with the west. Many of these beautiful Soviet relics including mosaics, bus stops and architecture are unfortunately being neglected and falling into disrepair. However certain monuments still bear the reminder of occupation and the struggles living under communistic ideology.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT CHISANAU?
Unfortunately, Chisinau holds the title for being the least visited capital city in Europe and there are reasons for this. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moldova experienced high rates of crime and corruption. Thankfully the country has tackled many of these serious issues and is perfectly safe for travelers. Personally, having lived in major cities in the UK, I find Chisinau one of the safest cities in Europe.
Chisinau is perfect for those wishing to see Soviet era relics, it’s untouristy and friendly for those on a budget especially if you would like to visit the opera, ballet and/or sample some of the best wine in the region. Join us on our next adventure to Chinanu, click here.