Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe. It covers 13,100 square miles (33,900 sq. km), making it a bit larger than the state of Maryland. It shares borders with Romania and Ukraine.
Moldova has been inhabited for millennia, often being used as a way-point by invading peoples. The Goths, the Slavs, the Magyars, the Huns, and the Mongols, all held Moldova at different times, each adding their own bits of culture to the region.
In the 14th century the Principality of Moldavia was formed, which contained much of what would later be Romania and Moldova. Originally Moldavia was intended as a buffer zone for nearby Hungary, but it soon declared its own independence, remaining independent for a few decades before a vassal of Poland, starting a period where both Hungary and Poland would vie for political control of the region.
In the early-16th century Moldavia came into conflict with the Habsburgs, suffering substantial losses. The region was so weakened that it was no longer able to defend itself against the Ottoman Empire, with whom it had been clashing for more than a century, and eventually became a vassal of the Ottomans.
Moldavia for the next century would largely become a battlefield between the Ottoman Empire and the Russians, suffering widely for it. The Poles also attempted on numerous occasions to seize sections of Moldavia, but were driven back each time by the Ottomans.
In the late-18th century Moldavia became a Russian protectorate, and by the early-19th century the eastern half of Moldavia, the section now known as Moldova and then known as Bessarabia, had come fully under the control of the Russian Empire. In the mid-19th century Moldavia and Wallachia combined their forces and declared independence as the Kingdom of Romania, but Bessarabia remained under Russian control.
In 1917, in the wake of the Russian revolution, Bessarabia declared itself independent as the Republic of Moldova. In 1918 the new nation voted to join with Romania as part of the Greater Romanian union, but the new Soviet powers moved in and occupied the territory, declaring it the Bessarabian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1924, after the formation of the Soviet Union, Moldova was declared to be the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
During World War II, the region came briefly under Romanian control during German occupancy, but following World War II was reassimilated into the Soviet Union as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The post-war period was characterized by harsh crackdowns on the ethnic Romanians living within the Soviet Republic, and resulting backlash from the Romanian population against the Soviets.
In 1991 the Republic of Moldova declared its independence, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. For a period there was a push for unification with Romania, but beginning in 1993 the country began to move further away from Romania. Russia and the new Republic of Moldova sparred over the region of Transnistria, a conflict that continues to remain just below boiling. Ties between Romania and Moldova remain close, albeit complex and not always entirely friendly.
Moldova is a beautiful country, offering the picturesque Eastern Europe most people dream about. The highlight of the country, though, is in its wineries, and that’s why most people visit. Cricova is the place to start in the wine world, with almost 75 miles (120km) of underground tunnels that are literally full of wines to taste. The cave monastery at Orheiul Vechi is another sight well worth seeing. Dug out of a cliff on the edge of the Raut River by monks in the 13th century, it was abandoned from the 18th century to the end of the 20th century, but in the last decade has begun to be restored by a new order of monks.
Flights arrive daily in Kishinev from all over Europe, and US visitors can come through a European hub. Trains and busses connect Moldova to Romania as well, although the busses are renowned for being a rather difficult ride.