Moldova’s most important archaeological site and ecclesiastical complex is found about 12.5 miles (20 km) southeast of the modern city of Orhei and follows a pronounced meander in the Răut River. The complex is close enough to the capital city of Chişinău to make a fascinating day trip through time as it forms an open-air history book dating right from the Dacian early settlers around the 4th century BC through the Middle Ages and almost to modern day.
Stretching over 220 hectares of untamed river valley, the complex counts ancient Dacian fortifications, medieval earthworks, the remains of Turkish wash houses, caves dug into the soft limestone rock and Orthodox monasteries among its manifold attractions. There’s a small exhibition center near the rural village of Trebujeni that sells a guide to the marvels of Old Orhei (40 lei) as well as an ethnographic museum in nearby Butuceni.
Orthodox monks built the cave monastery into the valley’s limestone ridge in the 13th century and all that is visible from the outside is a bell tower and stone cross. Although it was abandoned in the 18th century, a few monks returned in 1996 and the monastery is slowly being brought back into use; its jewel-like stone interior is once more covered in icons and frescoes. In the same year services resumed at the Orthodox church that stands high on the ridge; this was built in 1905 but was closed down under Soviet rule before Moldova threw off the shackles of Communism in 1989.
Butuceni, Orhei. Open Tue–Sun 10am–6pm. Trebujeni Exhibition Centre: adults 10 lei; concessions 5 lei. Butuceni Ethnographic Museum: xxxx. Old Orhei Archaeological Complex: xxx. Old Orhei is 40 miles (60 km) northeast of Chişinău and accessed by car along the M2, although five buses per day leave the city for Trebujeni. Cover shoulders and legs when visiting the monastery; women must also cover their hair.