Orheiul Vechi is the most iconic place of Moldova, recently registered on the list of UNESCO due to its historic value. It holds scenic views of the hills and caves, including a monastery in a cave, as well beautiful views over the Butuceni and Trebujeni village. It is considered one of the most powerful energetic places in the country with plenty of space for hiking or discovering the local heritage. If you wish to discover the roots and culture of Moldova, this place is a MUST to visit, especially as it’s only 45km’s away from the capital!
So what’s the history of this place? Well, Moldova has been conquered for thousands of years by different tribes and empires and this settlement actually contains some of the archeological remains of those times. Between the XIII – XIVth century this area was under the control of tatar-mongols during the Golden Hoard period which renamed the city as Shehr al-Jadid. The original settlement was destroyed and rebuilt in oriental style, having a mosque and public baths. Until to this day you can see only the bath remains in Old Orhei, becaue they have burned everything else down when they left the region.
After a while moldovans have gained power and kicked out the Golden Hoard, but later on the tatars came back to reconquer the area. Moldovans have managed to strengthen it with a fortress, plenty of churches, houses and defense structures which helped them stand their ground and become one of the most important defense spots in the country. Defeated, the tatars never came back to reclaim this land.
Nowadays, the Monastery cave which is so famous for it’s placement is as well known for it’s legend. It is said that the ruler of the Golden Hoard hid his golden cart and all of his treasures and gold in the walls of rocks when he found out that they were under attack and going to lose.
Not only a place for hiding gold, but for hiding pilgrims and orthodox christians during the Soviet Union period. As religion was forbidden, many followers and monks used this place as their sacred space. Today it is still a church which is used by locals for praying and a visit point for locals and foreigners. There is a newer church build nearby where all the religious services take place. If you wish to attend the service in the main church, you can do so daily at 7am or from 5pm.
One more interesting fact about Orheiul Vechi area is that over 30 million of years ago this region used to be the bottom of the “Sarmatic” Sea which stretched all the way to Central Asia. Nowadays you can find the proof just by looking at the rocks and walls in the region – sea shells! Even in the cave monastery you will notice that there are many sea shells in it’s walls.
A few steps away from the cave monastery there is a cross with the “Flower of Life” symbol on it which is considered to make your wishes come true just by putting your hand on it, which is why there tends to be a queue.
Down the hill on the right side is the Butuceni village which boasts traditional moldovan style houses and village life. At the entrance of the village there is a tourist information point for those that need info about the area, including public transport timetable.There is also the village museum which you can visit to discover how traditional moldovan houses looked inside and what the life in the area was and still is like. Entrance to the museum is 10 lei. For those seeking to experience the most authentic of village life, they can communicate with the locals as some of them sell their home made products – wine, pies, honey.
In regards food, there are a few places to try out. There are two main restaurants “Eco Butuceni Resort” and “Villa Etnica” which provide traditional moldovan cuisine and wine. Also nearby there are a few more options, including airbnb’s which provide lodging. On certain ocassions or holidays you can catch a little concert with moldovan folk music.
Other things that this place is famous for, is being a spot for paragliding and parachute jumping, as well for hosting music festivals, such as “Gustar” which takes place every year in the month of august and DescOPERA – opera open air.
If you plan to visit Orheiul Vechi, you have a few options transport wise. There is a mini bus which goes daily from the central bus station in Chisinau towards Butuceni at the following times: 10:20/ 15:00/ 18:15.. Do not take the Orhei mini bus as that one goes in the Orhei city, which is not Old Orhei area. The other options which are more costly are taking a taxi which for the day costs you around 50 euros, rent a car or book a tour guide.