Travel in Moldova: Soroca

Soroca is a small city in the far north of Moldova.  While it’s pretty far from Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, the roads are pretty decent (at least for Moldova) and it is easy to see the main sights within a fairly short period of time.  We spent a very, very hot afternoon exploring Soroca, visiting the Soroca Fortress, Thanksgiving Candle Monument, and “Gypsy” Hill.

Soroca Fortress is a medieval defensive fortress built originally in 1499 in wood then rebuilt completely in stone in 1543.  The original fortress was built on the orders of Stefan cel Mare, known as the best ruler in the history of Moldova.  The fortress was built in the shape of a perfect circle with five bastions spaced at exactly equal distances.  The design was based on the supreme law of harmony or “the golden section”, making it a unique example of medieval defensive structures in Europe.  We walked around the fortress, enjoying the various views of the Nistru River.

Next, we drove through “Gypsy” Hill, which is a street along which the Roma population of Soroca has built huge, ornate houses (Note: the term gypsy is generally considered a derogatory term by most Romas.  The correct terminology is Roma, but in all tourist information, the road is called Gypsy Hill).  Some of the houses are based off of famous architecture from around the world, including the United States Capitol Building.  While many of the houses are unfinished, the architecture and details are very unique and interesting.

Our final destination was the Thanksgiving Candle Monument.  I had heard there were 600 steps involved, but for some reason I thought the steps were to go to the top of the monument, not up to the monument.  In hindsight that really doesn’t make sense as that would be an incredibly tall tower.  We also made the mistake of using Google Maps to find the monument, which led us to a series of very narrow, obviously less-traveled roads.  Long story short, the stairs lead up to the monument (there are no stairs inside), starting at the Nistru River and you probably should not drive the roads that connect to it, thereby missing all the steps.  Oh well, we tried.  The monument was inaugurated in 2004 and was built in the memory of all of the cultural monuments that once stood in Moldova but were destroyed over the years, primarily by the Soviets.  The views overlook the Nistru River and are really quite stunning.

Notes and tips about visiting Soroca:

  • Soroca is located about three hours from Chisinau.  There is public transportation, but it would be difficult to do a day trip if using public transportation.
  • Soroca Fortress is quite impressive and worth a visit.  I think the cost of entrance for one adult ticket was 10 MDL (Moldovan lei).  There are some signs in English and you can explore at your own pace.
  • If you visit “Gypsy” Hill, please be mindful that the houses are private residences and while some of the owners are open to photos and such, others are not.  Be respectful.
  • There is a parking lot below the Thanksgiving Candle Monument (it’ll be along the Nistru River), then 600 steps up to the monument.  There is a cost of 20 MDL per person to visit the monument.
  • Lodging is quite limited in the northern part of Moldova, so be aware of that.  There is a hotel in Soroca but if you are used to Western-style hotels, it may not be for you.  There are also some Airbnb listings in the area, but all that I found were outside of Soroca.