Exuberant, cultured Iaşi (pronounced ‘yash’) clearly enjoys being Romania’s second-biggest city. Once dubbed the ‘city of the hundred churches’, Iaşi is indeed bursting with centuries of architectural creations. Yet besides the monasteries, theatres and other historic buildings, this eclectic place has botanical parks, big squares and (for better or for worse) both communist-era concrete structures and gleaming modern shopping malls.
As with its shopping scene, Iaşi’s innumerable eateries, drinking holes and lively clubs depend on the robust university population. You'll find international students here representing everywhere from Australia, Italy and Spain to Israel, Greece, and Arab countries – making this little corner of Romania unexpectedly cosmopolitan.
Founded in the 14th century, Iaşi became Moldavia's capital in 1565. Its cultural tradition began with scholars clustering here in the early 17th century, and included a significant Jewish population, which was sadly decimated by WWII pogroms. Prominent literary luminaries immortalised here include Vasile Pogor, Ion Creangă and poet Mihai Eminescu. In 1862 Romania's first university, Ion Cuza, was established in Iaşi (it's still going strong today, along with several others).
The city's elaborate system of boulevards and squares centres on Piaţa Unirii, from which B-dul Ştefan cel Mare extends south to Piaţa Moldova. Between the two squares are some of the town’s most famed historic buildings, like the Moldavian Metropolitan Cathedral and the Palace of Culture. Except for the outlying train and bus stations, most sights are within a 15-minute walk of this area.