The Union Square represents a spatial landmark of the city and the intersection place of three major streets: “Ștefan cel Mare” Boulevard (the former Big Street), Alexandru Lăpușneanu Street (the former Serbian Street) and Cuza Vodă Street (the former Golia Street).
The square has a special meaning to Romanians because in front of Petre Bacalu’s Inn (situated in the past on the parking space in front of Victoria Cinema), “Hora Unirii” was danced for the first time in 1857, and then, after the announcement of the Union of Romanian Principalities on the 24th of January 1859, which was made through the double election of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. This historical moment is illustrated in a famous painting by the Iași artist Constache Agafiței, found at the Museum of the Union. This is also the place were the first unification gathering took place, during the oath taken in June 1917 by the Transylvanian volunteers to free Transylvania.
Before 1877, in the Grand Hotel Traian’s place there was a line of booths owned by mayor Scarlat Pastia. He ordered their demolition and the construction of a beautiful building to host the National Theatre. The mayor was very satisfied with the projects of the famous architect Gustave Eiffel in Iași – The wall and iron market (1873) and the Ungheni Bridge over the river Prut (1877). The first metal frame building in the city was made after Eiffel’s plans in 1879, before he designed the Paris Tower. Due to high costs, the mayor had to sell the building and the next owner transformed it into a hotel.
The square started to get larger once some buildings were demolished in 1881, becoming a meeting place for the citizens of Iași. Since the death of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza in 1873, historian A. D. Xenopol and Nicolae Iorga made pressures for erecting a monument in his honour. The political opponents have made the fund raising difficult, but after many persuasions, the king accepted to contribute to the creation of the statue. Thus, in 1912, in the presence of King Charles I, the statue was inaugurated. The bronze monument and the statuary group from the lower side represent Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s main advisors (C. Negri, M. Kogălniceanu, N. Kretzulescu and general I. E. Florescu), and they are the work of the Italian sculptor Raffaello Romanelli.
The old small and coquettish square, with famous breweries and bohemian restaurants, would be completely modified after the 1944 bombings and the systematization process during the Communist period. Thus, Bacalu’s Inn, the Motas houses or the Sidoli Cinema and Circus all disappeared. The tram line which linked Cuza Vodă Street to the current Independenței Boulevard passed near the statue and the esplanade. In 1961, the current shape is defined, vastly extended and more spacious, flanked by the Traian (1879) and Unirea Hotels (1969), Victoria Cinema (1961), Braunstein Palace (1911), Junimea Library and the blocs of collective flats with shops and art exhibitions on the ground floor and mezzanine.
One of the key elements of the square is the symbolic marble mosaic (1962) illustrating the legend of Moldavia’s birth. The chronicler Grigore Ureche tells us that Dragoș Vodă, the Maramureș prince reached the north of Moldavia during auroch (an ancestor of the bison) hunting, and his dog, Molda drowned in the fast waters of the nearby river. In her memory, Dragoș named that river “Moldavia”, name taken afterwards by the state he founded.
The Union Square presents three of the nation’s pillars: Traian – the beginning of the Daco-Roman civilization, Dragoș – the founder of Moldavia and Alexandru Ioan Cuza – Romania’s first ruler. It is the main public manifestation place of Iași, where every year, on the 24th of January, thousands of people gather to celebrate Union`s Day, dancing “Hora Unirii” around the statue of Cuza.
For more information regarding the architecture of the square, click here.