Orheiul Vechi, also known as Old Orhei, is a spectacular archaeological complex located about 35 miles northeast of Chisinau, Moldova's capital. This beautiful valley, shaped by a tributary of the Dniestr-Raut River, is one of the top attractions in Moldova, with a pristine natural landscape featuring huge limestone outcroppings. There are several ancient monuments and buildings set in the valley, from various historical periods dating from the third century BC to the occupation of the Golden Horde in the fourteenth century. These ancient fortresses and early Christian monasteries are among the most unusual sights in all of Eastern Europe, and a museum at the site provides further information and exhibits. Nearby, the small town that bears the name of the historical site, Orhei Moldova, provides delicious food, wine, local culture, and accommodation for tourists who want to spend more than one day exploring the area.
The oldest monuments at Orheiul Vechi are the remains of an ancient fortress from the third century BC. This community lived in a fortified city on the top of the Butuceni promontory, and today only the remnants of the limestone walls and traces of a religious building still remain. More interesting to the average tourist is the medieval fortress of Orheiul Vechi, which was built by the Mongolian Tatars in the fourteenth century after they had conquered and occupied the area. They built a grand citadel of stone, razing the old wooden fortress to the ground and building on top of it.
What's left of the thick stone walls remain in their trapezoid outline, and the remains of a large building that was probably a mosque can be seen, with several rooms somewhat intact. (After the Golden Horde Tatars left, the citadel was used to house the administration of the region.) Also dating from the time of the Tatars are several public bathing rooms, whose stone outlines can still be seen. These bathhouses were centrally heated with water piped in from various aqueducts, and they continued to function even after the conquerors left. An ancient Tatar khan, the ruler's court, can also be viewed. These medieval ruins are one of the most interesting attractions in Moldova, and they are well worth a visit.
Another unique sight at Orhei Moldova are the old cave monasteries carved into the rocks. Early Christians who migrated to the region were attracted to the natural beauty of the Orhei area, and they enlarged existing caves and carved new dwellings into the limestone. Tourists can visit two distinct cave monastery complexes, the Pestere Monastery and the Monastery of Bosie. Both include rooms in which people lived, as well as chapels carved out of the rock. These monasteries date from between the ninth and the twelfth centuries.
In addition to the unique archaeological structures at Orhei Moldova, the small town of Orhei is also one of the country's most popular attractions. This charming town offers accommodation close to Old Orhei for those who wish to stay the night. Guests can stay on a farm at Casa din Lunca, enjoy friendly hospitality, and get the chance to sample local Moldovan cuisine. Alternatively, the Chateau Vartely is a vineyard that produces top quality wines and also offers accommodation for visitors at affordable prices. You can see the Old Orhei museum complex one day and take a wine tour the next, all the while experiencing the comfort of Moldovan hospitality.