Since the 17th century there was in Iași the desire of creating a superior education institution. In 1640, the Voivode Vasile Lupu founded Schola Basiliana in the yard of the “Three Hierarchs” Monastery.
In 1714, the Princely Academy is founded in Iași and in 1835 the Mihăileană Academy (of Prince Mihail Sturza) is founded, with two faculties – law and philosophy. In 1860, the first modern university institution is founded – the Iași University through the decree of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, with the support of minister Mihail Kogălniceanu.
The first residence of the Iași University (“Ancient University”) hosted in the beginning three faculties – Philosophy, Law and Theology, followed by Sciences and Medicine, with time, the place not being big enough. Only Medicine remained there, while the other faculties moved in 1897 in the current residence in Copou, also known as the Copou University Palace. This Palace was built on the place of the great National Theatre (destroyed by a fire in 1888) and was inaugurated in 1897, in the presence of King Charles I and of Queen Elisabeth. During the First World War the University Palace hosted the meeting of the Senate of Romania and the ministries of War and Public Instructions, Red Cross or Scouts. Between 1933-1937 the building was symmetrically extended in the southern part and the central gable with the monumental stairway was built. In 1942, the University took on the name of its great protector. During the 1944 bombing, the edifice was deeply damaged and proposed for demolition, but due to professors and people of culture, its restoration was decided.
The palace impresses through size and architecture. The building was erected after the plans of the Swiss architect Louis Blanc, in French eclectic style, combining Classic and Baroque styles. In front of the University there are the statues of the great historian A. D. Xenopol (rector of the University) and of the prime-minister Mihail Kogălniceanu (with two alto-reliefs representing his role in the election of Cuza in 1859 and in the Land Reform in 1864). The main hallway from the ground floor, with an impressive length of almost 130 metres is suggestively called the “Hall of Lost Steps”. The 19 niches are beautifully decorated with surrealist wall paintings of the painter Sabin Bălașa. They reflect the national spirit and culminate to the north with the painting “Homage to the Founders”. Alexandru Ioan Cuza can be seen in the middle of the composition, surrounded by his close ones (Mihail Kogălniceanu, Costache Negri, Garabet Ibrăileanu) or the continuators of the university (rector A. D. Xenopol) and, curiously, by the opponent of the Union and of Cuza – the erudite Gheorghe Asachi. But the last one was the initiator of the Mihăileană Academy of Iași, foregoing of the University and poet of historical legends (Dochia and Traian, Stephen the Great) which are the base of the cosmogonic inspiration for some paintings in the Hall. Totally, the scene of the 12 figures surrounding Cuza has the symbolic aspect of a “Last Supper” in which the base of modern superior education was settled.
The old wing (right) has two architectural jewels: the Old Hall and the Library – one of the most beautiful in the world, today belonging to the “Gheorghe Asachi” Technical University. The new wing (left) has the “Mihai Eminescu” Magna Aula, dominated by Sabin Bălașa’s painting “Galaxy of love”. Nowadays, the University comprises 15 faculties, a European Study Centre and various research centres, with almost 23.000 students and 850 professors and is internationally acknowledged through its excellence and innovation in education and research.
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Iași – War capital
On the 6th of December 1916, the German army occupied Bucharest and the state institutions and many civilians ran to Iași. The people of Iași and the other Moldavians had a rough time between 1917-1918 as Romanian resistance. Over 300.000 refugees were hosted in a city with almost 70.000 citizens and depleted of resources. The presence in Iași and on the front of the French mission led by general Henri Mathias Berthelot helped the Romanian Army to regroup after losing control over the southern part of the country. Near the university, on the street bearing his name, we can find the house where the general lived. The smiling angel with a beard and moustache who supports the weight of the richly adorned balcony is an attraction for tourists. Queen Mary, also known as “Mother of wounded ones”, after staying for two weeks in the royal train in the Grajduri train station, went to the Cantacuzino-Pașcanu Palace (today, Children’s Palace), which also hosted the headquarters of the IV Army Corp. The queen was always close to the soldiers hosted in high-schools, schools or institutions in Iași that were transformed into hospitals, one of them being the hero Ecaterina Teodoroiu. Excepting those wounded in battle, more and more people became ill with typhus, an epidemic which devastated Moldavia and made hundreds of thousands of deaths. On top of all of these dramas, in the Ciurea train station near Iași, on the 13th of January 1917, the biggest train accident in the world (at that moment) took place. That was the moment when over 1000 refugees and soldiers who piled up in and on the wagons, after the Germans conquered Brăila, lost their lives. After starting the Great Union in Iași, on the 1st of December 1918, King Ferdinand I returned victorios to Bucharest and Iași remained the symbol of national resistance for all Romanians.