Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great), as the ruler of the medieval principality of Moldavia, is the enduring hero of the Republic of Moldova. The monument that stands today was designed by architect Alexander Plamadeala in 1924, during the interwar period and was revealed in a ceremony on April 29, 1928 (although the archival document above lists 1929 as its completion date) to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of Bessarabia’s incorporation into Greater Romania.
The sculpture was forged from the bronze of Turkish guns which were confiscated as trophies during the Russo-Turkish War from 1877-1878, in which Romania fought alongside the Russian Empire and won their independence from the Ottoman Empire. The use of the bronze from the Turkish guns was symbolic of Stefan cel Mare’s victories against the Turks during his reign from 1457-1504.
The website Old Chisinau humorously states in a phrase that captures the complexity of Moldova’s past, “it would not be a monument to the history of Chisinau if everything continued to go so smoothly.”
In 1940, Bessarabia was ceded to the Soviet Union and in order to protect the monument to the Romanian hero, the sculpture of Stefan cel Mare was evacuated from the region and kept in the town of Vaslui, Romania. The pedestal that held the monument at the entrance to Chisinau’s City Park was destroyed by Soviet authorities.
Bessarabia was returned to Romania for a short time in 1942, when Romania aligned with Germany during World War II. As a result, the monument of Stefan cel Mare was also returned to Chisinau. However, the second time the monument was installed in a different location, a prominent place across from the historic arch where former monuments to Russian Emperor Alexander I and Romanian King Ferdinand I had once stood.
Two years later, Bessarabia was occupied by the Soviet Union and the monument to Stefan cel Mare was evacuated yet again. This time the monument was stored in the town of Craiova, Romania. The monument was discovered one year later and was returned to Chisinau for the final time in 1945, where it was reinstalled in its original location.
The frequent travel caused damage to the sculpture though and the present-day monument has poor reproductions of the original cross and sword held by Stefan cel Mare.