Monday, 15 April 2013

Day trip to Bender and Tiraspol

At Bender Fortress

A look through Bender Fortress

Being a year in Moldova there are certain things I definitely want to see from the country. Actually the list is still quit long: the 100 knolls (a curious natural phenomenon), criva (with the third largest gypsum cave in the world), wineries (Moldova has the largest subterranean wine cellars in the world) to name just a few things.

Country within a country
One of the things on the list is going to Tiraspol, the capital of a separate region in Moldova with its own government and currency. Its independency is not recognized by most countries and Moldova considers it as "an autonomous territorial unit with special legal status". It is often characterized as a resort for criminals and traffics of all kind (drugs, weapons, organs). Most embassies advise to be extra cautious, but in practice most tourists visit the places without major problems. Most people go there to walk along the main street, visit the monuments and to take a walk along the River. A popular souvenir from this place is a bottle of cognac from the Kvint factory.

Passing the border

Last Sunday I finally planned a visit, though planning is a big word for just going to the central bus station and look for a bus. It was easy to find as a man was shouting ‘Bender’. For 25 Lei we stepped in. We needed to complete a registration form to pass the border Moldova – Transnistria. One part stayed with the customs authorities. The other part we needed to keep until leaving the country. This done we passed the border without any problems.

Bender fortress
One us wanted to take a picture of the sign Bender as it is one of the characters in the famous cartoon ‘The Simpsons’. Unfortunately they use the Russian alphabet here: so if it would make sense anyway to take a picture of it, now it didn’t make any.

However Bender is also interested for another reason, as it is the location of an important medieval fortress. Originally it was a Roman fortified city known as Tighina and in 1408 it was mentioned as an important customs post. Under the rule of Stefan cel Mare the fortress became part of larger system of fortification together with Soroca, Hotin and Cetate Alba against the Tatars. In 1538 the fortress was conquered by the Turks and renamed as Bender (which means port in Turkish). In the 18th century the fortress has been modernized by the prince of Moldova Antioh Cantemir under supervision of the Turks.
During the Russo-Turkish wars the city fell 3 times under Russian rule. In 1918 as part of Bessarabia, the city belonged to Romania and it was also a place of heaving fightings during the war between Moldova and Transnistria (1990 – 1992).

For 50 Lei you can get a guided tour through the complex. Despite the clear signing (really, I guess we were talking too much) we first went the wrong way. Inside the fort is a museum and you get a detailed explanation of different torture instruments. After that you have the opportunity to walk along the walls, if you aren’t afraid of heights. 

Height fear

We continued our way to Tiraspol by a trolleybus. Coming into Tiraspol we passed Sheriff footbal stadium, Sheriff petrol station, Sheriff supermarket and we could also have seen various other businesses under this name.
The idea was to walk along the main street, see the Soviet monuments and go back along the Dniester River… and that’s exactly what we did. 
From the governmental palace with the famous statue of Lenin we walked down the main street, passing a war memoriam. This monument remembers the victims of the war in Afghanistan and the war with Moldova between 1990 and 1992. Tiraspol has a nice location along the Dniester River which allows for a nice walk. One day is not enough to get a real grasp of this city, but it was worth the visit.

Statue of Lenin in Tiraspol

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