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Following the footsteps of Stephen the Great: Soroca Fortress

This year, Easter holidays found us revising the Republic of Moldova. We arrived there the same way as last year: from Cluj to Iasi by plane, and then to Chișinău by minibus. We won’t tell you about visiting the relatives, because it is less interesting from a touristic point of view. We will tell you about the trip to Soroca, the only actual objective we visited this time.

Soroca is a small town in the northern part of Moldova, situated on the bank of the Dniester river, on the border with Ukraine, about 150 km from the capital of the republic, which can be reached by car or by bus, in about 3 hours. The road is surprisingly good. There is no railway connecting these areas.

The main point of interest here is the fortress on the bank of the river, built in the 15th-16th centuries. It was started by Stephen the Great, as a wooden fortification and then rebuilt in stone during the reign of Petru Rareș. Its role was to defend the Moldovan lands against the Tatar invasions.

Of the four Moldovan fortifications on the Dniester, only Soroca is still in the Republic of Moldova, the other three (Hotin, Tighina and White Fortress) being in Ukraine and Transnistria (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic). The fortress has been recently renovated and is now in a very good condition.

When we arrived at the fortress, we had the bad luck of being among the few Romanian speakers present there, so the guide focused on the French and Ukrainian groups. But we walked everywhere, on the defense walls and towers that guarded the Dniester, trying to imagine how life was here half a millennium ago.

The construction is actually a castrum, it wasn’t inhabited by peasants but was occupied only by the military garrison that watched this border of Christian Europe in front of pagan incursions. The fort is very solid, being designed to last a long time facing medieval weapon attacks.

The view from the top is superb! You can see the river that winds along the green fields with grazing cows, clusters of woods, houses scattered in the village on the other side, and the town on the Moldavian side – a little sad and communist. The area is very green, lively, with keen fishermen, lots of flowers, many trees and some ducks that spike through the water, without worrying about the imaginary borders imposed by humans. 🙂

Unfortunately, there is not much to do or see around the fortress. There are only a few locals selling souvenirs and a small park. There aren’t any other objectives to visit nearby, just old buildings from the Soviet period. The area could be much more attractive if they could invest a little more here. However, the fortress is worth visiting!

At the other end of the city, we also visited the ”Gratitude Candle”, a monument erected in 2004. Originally designed as a tribute to folklore artists, especially to the anonymous authors of Mioriţa ballad, the monument has become a symbol of Moldavian cultural resistance in the face of crude history, especially during the USSR.

In order to reach the monument, you have to climb several hundred stairs that ascend to the top of a hill, also located on the bank of the Dniester. If you want or need avoid the stairs, there is also an alternative road on which the place can be reached by car. There is also a chapel up there, religious belief always interwoven with culture in the history of the Romanians. The view is even more beautiful from here than from the fortress, this point being higher.

We liked what we saw in Soroca, the two visited objectives are among the most interesting destinations in Bessarabia. If you have time to get off the road to the north-eastern end of the Romanian cultural space, you should go, too! You will find here a space filled with history, with much suffering from the past, but also much hope for the future.

We returned back home to Cluj by car, through Albița customs office and then on Iași – Pașcani – Fălticeni – Gura Humorului – Câmpulung Moldovenesc – Vatra Dornei – Bistrita – Dej – Cluj route. If the previous days were warm and we enjoyed the green grass and dandelions, when we arrived in Tihuţa Pass it was snowing. We arrived in Cluj after many hours, wanting the works on the Târgu Mureş – Iaşi highway to start sooner. 🙂

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