It’s often overlooked. It’s often confused for other countries. I bet you couldn’t even find it on a map. But don’t worry. Even I was scratching my head at where Moldova is. Well, ok, it was more like a scratch that turned into combing my fingers through my hair to make myself look cooler than I am. But alas, I did find it. And I knew some things about it that I didn’t know I knew! (Which makes me wonder what other secrets Moldova is keeping from us!)
The country is named after the Moldova River. However, where the name for the Moldova River came from is unclear. One legend says that a prince was hunting along the river where his hunting dog, Molda, drown in the river after being too exhausted to swim across.
Moldova is a landlocked country, bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east, and southeast. It used to be part of Romania, and they share similar cultural ties. The Prut River run along the border between Moldova and Romania, while the Dniester River runs near the opposite border with Ukraine. Although it doesn’t actually have any border with the sea, it’s really not that far from the Black Sea (via Ukraine). Because of this close proximity, Moldovans enjoy a generally mild and sunny climate. Early summer and mid-fall are often times of heavy rainfall.
People have been in this area for a long time. Oldowan (prehistoric) flint tools have been found in Moldova that are estimated to be nearly a million years old! Moldova was part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires and an common stop for traders and travelers between Europe and Asia. It was also invaded a number of times by many different groups of people. The Principality of Moldavia was established during the mid-1300s, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dniester River, essentially covering current-day Moldova along with parts of Romania and Ukraine. By the mid-1500s, it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Outside of a few revolts, it remained under Ottoman control until it gave the eastern half of the territory up to the Russian Empire in accordance to the Treaty of Bucharest of 1812 (the western part remained part of Romania). Russia made Moldavia and Bessarabia in an oblast and Russianized the area. During both WWI and WWII, the people here were considered part of the Russian influence and fought for and alongside Russian soldiers. There was a strong communist presence during this time as well. However, after the wars, there was also an anti-communist presence that demonstrated resistance to the Soviets, even though many of the members were either executed or deported. The Russians forced the Moldovans to use the Cyrillic alphabet to distinguish it from Romanian that was written in the Latin alphabet. Finally, Moldova finally broke away and established its independence from Russia in 1991. They also immediately declared themselves neutral (probably a good idea—no one likes a break up where you keep getting involved in everyone else’s drama). Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Moldovan elections have been a topic of contention into the validity of election results (along with your typical amount of political corruption) and have resulted in some political instability.
The capital city is Chișinău (pronounced kee-she-NOW). It was formerly known as Kishinev, based on the Russian pronunciation of the city. This city is not only the capital city, but it’s also the largest city in the country. It’s not exactly known where the name Chișinău comes from; there are several theories historians have come up with over the years. It’s an old city (but probably not old to European standards)—it started out as a small monastery village in 1436. Today, the city serves as a major transportation hub and its commercial and financial capitals. It’s also home to its entertainment and mass media headquarters. As a modern city, Chișinău has several theatres, museums, universities/colleges, shopping centers, famous architectural works, arts festivals, parks/gardens, and sports stadiums.
After a period of economic struggles following their independence, Moldova went through a series of changes in order to strengthen their economy. Some of these changes included changes to their currency, liberalizing prices and interest rates, stopped the practice of giving preferential treatment to state-owned business enterprises, and making moves toward more privatization (including land ownership). They also worked together with the World Bank and the IMF to come up with a feasible economic growth plan. Moldova has long had a wine industry—for the past 5000 years! There is a large portion of vineyards for commercial use, and many families have their own private vineyards as well. Tourism is also an important part of Moldovan economy; they’re especially known for their wine tours (I might really consider adding a Moldovan wine tour to my bucket list). Because of its temperate climate, agriculture does fairly well here and has long been an economic driver. Moldova is also in the process of building a pipeline between Moldova and Romania, opening up the option of getting their oil and gas from sources other than importing it from Russia and the Ukraine.
The vast majority of Moldovans are part of the Orthodox Church. There are several Orthodox churches represented in Moldova: Moldovan Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church of Bessarabia, and Romanian Orthodox Church. (How they differ other than what language they speak, I don’t know.) Together, they represent about 93% of the people. There are a small number of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and nonreligious people as well.
Officially, the main language spoken here is Romanian, although it’s been referred to as Moldovan in the past. Under Russian control, the Romanian spoken in Moldova was written in the Cyrillic alphabet; however, today it is written in the Latin alphabet. Romanian is a Romance language, meaning it’s based on Latin (=Roman) and related to French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. As I looked through some basic Romanian phrases, I could definitely tell some similarities to Portuguese and French but with some Slavic influences as well. The government also recognizes Bulgarian, Gagauz, and Ukrainian as regional languages. English is the most popular foreign language studied, followed by French and German.
As I was reading about Moldova, there’s one point that kept popping up: they sure do love their wine. For starters, Moldova holds the largest underground wine cellar in the world in Cricova that’s supposedly hidden away somewhere. (Why????) The Guinness Book of Records awarded the Largest Quality Wine Collection to the Milestii Mici collection, coming in with over 1.5 million bottles of wine! (I wonder if there’s a Largest Cheap Wine Collection award…) And apparently, the largest building in the world shaped like a bottle is found in the village of Tirnauca (it’s aptly the home of the Strong Drinks Museum). With vintner practices and cultivated strands going back nearly 5000 years, my interest in this country has piqued a thousand percent. I can’t wait until my kids are at a socially acceptable age to take on a wine tour. But once they’re that old, my husband and I can just travel by ourselves!
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