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The culture of Moldova – a treasure of traditions and customs

Moldova Info → General information → Moldovan customs and traditions

The cultural heritage of Moldova is abundant with traditions and customs. The territory of modern Moldova was once inhabited by geto-daci tribes, whose predominant occupations where agriculture and goat herding. Hundreds of years B.C. traditions and customs started taking form to be preserved to this day. The traditions in Moldova are primarily related to national music, dances, songs, and food, wine, as well as ornamentation arts and crafts. Many of the modern traditions are a product of crossing between geto-daci culture and the culture of other civilizations like the Greeks, the Slavs, and most of all the Romans.


When the territory of Moldova became a part of the Roman Empire around 117 A.D., many of its existing traditions and customs changed and adopted the traits of Roman culture, even the language changed radically under the influence of Latin. But let’s take a break from this anthropological discourse and move on to the more common side of the question. Moldovan traditions are best evidenced in such areas as national music and dances, national foods, handcrafts, customs related to weddings, engagements, and baptizing, Christmas and Easter, as well as some interesting pagan rituals like Martsishor.

The most eloquent traditions in Moldova are those related to weddings, engagements, and baptizing. At this type of events many bright aspects of Moldova’s cultural heritage are presented – starting from the order in which the guests are to be seated and ending with the dishes in which the food is served. An authentic Moldovan wedding cannot take place without national music and dances. After having drank a considerable amount of wine the guests start dancing the Hora. Hora is a national dance that requires a relatively large group of people to hold hands and form a circle. There can be several circles one inside of the other, all moving in opposite directions. All this dancing is accompanied by live music. The most popular Moldovan musical instruments are ţîmbal, cimpoi, fluer, nai, cobza, and toba. The rhythm of Moldovan national music is generally upbeat and joyful, however many slower lyrical motives are present.

One of the primary sources of Moldovan national music is the Doina. Doina is a lyrical song which appeared on the territory of Moldova before the invasion of the Romans around 100 A.D. This song is somewhat bitter and mellow and is usually sung in moments of grief and mourning. Another popular musical tradition is Colinda, which appeared during the birth of Christianity. Colinda can be both used as a noun and a verb representing the action of singing a Colinda. The process of Colinda entails a group of people going from door to door dressed in national clothes, with masks and animal furs, singing song, playing music and dancing in exchange for symbolic gift in the form of food, drink, or some crafted items. Colinda in Moldova is related to the Slavic "Kolyadka" and has both religious and pagan routes.

Moldova is located in favorable climate conditions which permits the successful cultivation of various fruits and vegetables. The country has also developed sheep and goat herding since B.C times. The Moldovan national foods are abundant in both vegetable and meat recipes. One of the best known Moldovan national dishes is Mamaliga –a sort of porridge served with diced meat, sour cream, cottage cheese, eggs, and mujdei. Other popular foods are prepared from eggplant, peas, bell peppers, lamb, mutton, veal, pork, and rabbit meat.

Imprints of grape vine found on the territory of Moldova show that grapes grew here as early as 6 million years ago. The improvement of political relations with the Greeks at the end of III B.C. and the coming of the Romans only accelerated the development of winemaking in Moldova. Wine became the major export during the middle ages. Traditional strains are Fateasca Alba, Fateasca Neagra, Rara Neagra, Galbena, Plavai, and others. Moldova also cultivates strains from France such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Aligote, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Muscat. Until this day private (household) wine making is very widespread and no national holiday can be conducted without lots of good Moldovan wine. The most appreciated strains are those originating in Moldova –Fateasca Alba, Fateasca Regala, and Rara Neagra are served at the royal courts of Great Britain and Denmark. One of the most ancient traditions in Moldova is pottery and ceramics crafts in general. Ceramic items are still popular today and are widely used in households. The best known pot types are ulcior, burlui, oala, and gavanos. Ceramic pots are used both to preserve and prepare traditional foods. For example Ghiveci, a traditional Moldovan recipe, is prepared in a ceramic closed bowl placed in the oven and roasted.

What distinguishes Moldovan ceramics is the ornament embossed on the pots, bowls, and jugs. It is a simple ornament consisting of lines, dots, and circle placed in such a way that provides uniqueness and originality. Traditional traits can be seen in the form, the colors, ornament, and the technique of ceramics. Another area of traditional craft is woodcarving. Important witnesses of national mastery are household items such as tables, chairs, shelves, chests, spindles, shanks, etc. Wood carving of building columns is also popular; some very intricate carves can be witnessed in porches, window frames, and doors. To truly enjoy the beauty and mastery of traditional wood carvers you need to visit Calarasi, Straseni, or Rezina regions in Moldova.

Embroidery is a traditional women craft of Moldova and until recently there was not a single household in a single village where women did not decorate handmade clothes, curtains, tablecloths, and towels. The most impressive ornamentation is that of women’s blouses; the ornament is placed in such a way that it highlights the proportions of the body and the constructive expression of the item. Some of the most frequent motives are of floral nature, but zoomorphic and anthropomorphic patterns can be seen as well. Embroidery is popular among many cultures; however the Moldovan art is distinguished through the colorful ornamental themes. Ornaments such as rivers, chickens, butterflies, ram horns and the path of the Ceban (an ancient name for herder) are most common. The same pattern can be called with different names depending on the intention of the crafter. The principles of ornamentation of carpets are similar to those used in embroidery, wood carving and pottery –sequencing of zigzag patterns in red, golden, blue and black colors. The artistic level of traditional Moldovan embroidery can be witness by visiting the historic-cultural museum in Chisinau, Moldova.

One of the spring traditions in Moldova is called Martisor. On the first of March, the first day of spring, it is customary in Moldova to give to give the gift Martisor. Martisor is the name of the holiday and the name of the decoration. A Martisor is a small decoration that resembles a brooch and is usually worn next to the heart. The main characteristic of the Martisor is the combination of red and white colors; and it can be just a thread worn around the wrist, or on a chain around the neck. According to the old legend, when the first snowdrop flower fought its way through the snow, spring started helping it moving the thorns from around it. Seeing this winter became angry and raised some very strong wind to suppress the spring’s effort and so spring was wounded by a thorn. A drop of red blood on white snow symbolizes the victory of spring over winter. Martisors are usually worn all March and then hanged on trees while making a wish. The legend says that the wishes will come true.


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