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Traditions of life in the heart of Old Orhei.

Old Orhei

Old Orhei

The archeological complex Old Orhei is situated in the valley of a right tributary of the Dniestr (Nistru) – Raut River, between the villages Trebujeni and Butuceni, district of Orhei, 60 km North East from Chisinau. It is located in a well marked historic-geographical zone, famous and known among natives since ancient times as “Codrii Orheiului” (the Woods of Orhei) or “Tara Orheiului” (the Land of Orhei)- once forming a distinct territorial administrative body component of one of the many medieval Romanian countries in the immense Carpathian – Danubian space. At Old Orhei nature and human civilization have blended organically, forming a perfect scene of the millennial works.

The name of the archeological reservation, and respectively, of the museum complex, derives from the name of a historical settlement, the medieval city Orhei, existing on these lands since the XV-XVI centuries. The name evolved to Old Orhei after the settlement was left and a new city was founded, having nowadays the same name.

The museum complex Old Orhei is a system of historical monuments and natural landscapes situated on meander promontories (headlands), formed by the sinusoidal bed of the Raut river, between the villages Trebujeni and Butuceni. Parts of the Old Orhei complex are two huge promontories (Pestere and Butuceni), joined by three other adjacent promontories (Potarca, Selitra and Scoc) placed in a range from North to South.

The central promontory or the exact place of the medieval Orhei and of other archeological sites from different historic eras with a representative architecture such as land walls, citadels, stone complexes, the gate called Pestere (deriving from the many caves carved in the Raut’s bank). The promontory is of an irregular oval shape, oriented from West to East, having a maximal length of 2000 meters and a maximal width of 700 meters, surrounded from three directions (North, East and South) by Raut River’s water, gathered in a very deep canyon, carved in sarmathian limestone layer (of about 16-18 million years old), with rocky and steep edges, with a height up to 100-120 meters, forming a genuine natural fortress. Nowadays the only access to the respective place, is, as in historic times, in the western part where the river bed in a gradual turn to the North almost reaches a segment of the passed canyon, narrowing greatly the bottom of the promontory (till 100 meter in width), which due to the steep edges on the Northern part represents the only connection with the interior of the described territory. The Northern part of the promontory is a high hill with steep, inaccessible verge edges, which southwards and eastwards descends to a slope becoming the meadow of the Raut river, guarded by the rocky sides of the Butuceni promontory from the opposite bank of Raut. Nowadays, the Branesti - Trebujeni highway crosses the Pestere promontory (located in the northern sector) along its abrupt side, penetrating from the west through the same “access gate” of the promontory, used by the local people for thousands of years. The highway crosses the territory of the headland from the west to the east, descending gradually to a Ferro-concrete bridge on the eastern side of the Trebujeni village. In the central part of the promontory, from the above described highway, a path goes down to Raut river, then turns westwards reaching another modern bridge from reinforced concrete, placed over the Raut on the western part of the Butuceni headland and the Butuceni village.

The Butuceni headland contributes greatly to the Old Orhei landscape and scenery. Together with the Pestere promontory they form an integral, complete complex, harmonizing from all points of view. The Butuceni promontory has an extraordinarily geological view, with tens of calcareous slates with a perfect horizontal alignment, a great number of spacious caves and smaller grottos, carved in the stone walls. On the other hand, the headland is wonderful from the view point of its unique scenery, its evident archeological scent, denoting at each step ancient stone and ground fortifications, spiritual underground complexes, and other ancient traces. All of this impresses and unforgettably overwhelms any visitor of the Old Orhei. The Butuceni headland has a prolonged form of 3000 meters, and 300 meters in width on its Northeastern end up to 15 meters on its center part. It is oriented from east to west, with a noticeable curve to the Northwest in its Western part. The Butuceni headland, like Pestere promontory, represents an obvious natural fortress. In the Northern part, the almost vertical bank of Raut River protects the latter. In the Western part the opposite inaccessible, steep and much taller bank of the Raut guards it. In the South East and East it is protected by the rocky, steep edge of the promontory nearby the Morovaia village. The access to the interior of the natural fortress from the Butuceni headland was in its Northeastern part, more precisely in the Northern part of this sector, where a 200 meters wide passageway could be found. The passage is guarded in the East by the canyon of the Raut River, nearby the Trebujeni village, and in the West - by the canyon of a left Raut’s tributary nearby the Morovaia village. The superior part of the Butuceni promontory is relatively horizontal, with a slight gradual sloping westward. The Orthodox St. Mary Church is situated in the central part of the headland. Being built in 1904, it imposes itself as dominant in the Old Orhei area, giving the archeological complex both an austere and mysterious air. Nowadays, like in early days, the promontory is crossed from the East to the West by a road coming from the accessible to the central and western parts. In the central part of the headland, a lateral way derives from the mentioned road leading to the interior of the Butuceni village, situated at the base of the headland, in its southern part nearby Raut’s meadow.

To the North from Orhei, at about 1.5-3.0 km, three other headlands are found. These are of the same beauty and interest from the viewpoint of landscape and archeological monuments as the other two described already. One of them is placed on the right from the Raut (Potarca), and the other two on the left bank (Selitra and Scoc). To the south from the Butuceni headland, right in front of it, are found “Ruptura Bacotei” with the Chiliilor headland, a steep slope representing a splendid geological monument with plenty of archeological traces.

These headlands complete in a substantial way the image of the archeological complex of Old Orhei, adding new natural, historic, cultural elements to the scenery. Since ancient times the Old Orhei area benefits from favorable conditions for agriculture, various occupations and trade development. Among these are: black, fertile soils perfect for an intensive agriculture; rich pasture lands to feed numerous herds of cattle, sheep and goats; limestone for building; clay of different types for building and pottery; navigable flowing waters with plenty of fish, only 7 km away from the Dniestr, the largest river east from the Carpathians.

Since early days people acknowledged this wealth and obvious benefits, as the fortified character of the landscape, trying to use these advantages to organize a continuous day to day life in the region. Altogether these factors determined the permanent character of the human habitat in Old Orhei region, beginning with prehistoric times and, with small pauses, continued till Middle Ages and actual stage.

Culture people mentioned the archeological complex of Old Orhei since XCIII century. Among the illuminated personalities drawing attention upon the antiquities from Old Orhei could be mentioned the great scholar and science man Dmitrie Cantemir, the poet Constantin Stamati, and many others. But The historian Vladimir Kurdinovskii identified the ruins near Trebujeni and Butuceni with the medieval city Orhei, for the first time. In 1906 he stated: ”…namely this place, where Raut turns suddenly from Trebujeni towards Butuceni, Orhei was situated…” In 1947 archeological excavations at the Old Orhei complex were initiated by Gheorghe Smirnov. With the help of many researchers they continued for years till present.

As a result of archeological researches it was concluded that within the archeological complex of Old Orhei cultural layers from all known historic eras on the territory between the Dniestr and the Prut Rivers are clearly identified. These are: the Stone Age (30-20 thousand years BC), the Stone and Copper Age (IV-III millenium BC), the Bronze Age (II millenium BC) the transition to the Iron Age (XII-X centuries BC), the Early Iron Age (VIII-I centuries AD), the late Ancient Period (III- IV centuries AD), the early Middle Ages (V-XIII centuries), and late Middle Ages (XIV-VXII centuries). Among these archeological vestiges could be mentioned at least 8 unfortified settlements (30-20 thousands years BC, IV-III mil. BC, II millenium BC, XII-X centuries BC, VIII-VI centuries BC, II-I centuries BC, III-IV centuries AD, V-XIII centuries AD); 5 necropolises (II-I centuries BC, X-XI centuries AD, XIV century, XV century, XVI century), 6 distinct fortified ground wall systems (IV-II centuries BC, and XIV-XVI centuries), a round and wood citadel (VI-III centuries BC), a ground citadel (XII-XIV centuries), a stone citadel (XIV-XVI centuries), and 2 old cities (Sehr al-Jedid, XIV century and Old Orhei XV-XVI centuries ). Also, 4 stone and ground fortresses should be mentioned on the adjacent promontories from the IV-III centuries BC (Trebujeni-Potarca, Trebujeni-Scoc, Trebujeni-Selitra, and Mascauti-Cetatuie). All of these together form the so-called archeological complex of Old Orhei.

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