A trip to Jassy in 1855

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Turkey, Russia, The Black Sea, Circassia   by Capt. Spencer, George Routledge & Co., London, 1855, Chapter X, pps. 134-138.

   Some years ago on our homeward tour from the East we passed through Upper Moldavia and the Buckowina; and although the journey was made at the commencement of winter when the trees had lost their foliage, and the snow lay thick on the hills and mountains, we could not but admire the romantic beauty of a country alternating in lake and river, forest, glen, defile, and mountain, with now and then a beautiful valley offering the most admirable sites for towns and villages and all the various industrial establishments of a civilized community.
   On leaving Galatz and the monotonous plains of the Danube we entered a beautiful undulating country which continued to improve as we approached Jassy the capital of Moldavia and few towns appear to greater advantage when seen at a distance than the once far famed Jassiorum Municipium. The environs with their extensive gardens have a most picturesque effect while the town being partly situated on a rising eminence and partly lying in a pleasant valley its extensive suburbs scattered about on the surrounding heights and mingling with the pretty forms of domes and impress the traveller with the belief that he is about enter a rich and populous city But alas whatever Jassy have been in the days of the ancient Romaus it is now to the level of all the other wretched towns and cities have seen in the Turkish empire.  
   The streets are still unpaved except one or two of the principal ones and these are merely boarded Still a wooden pavement if kept in good repair possesses some advantages carriages roll over it with great rapidity and it certainly adds very much to the comfort of an invalid but here a channel of dirty water runs underneath that is never cleansed except by a shower of rain and consequently proves very deleterious to the health of the inhabitants for the air is poisoned by a miasma which generates those low fevers and agues that prevail in Jassy, Bucharest and indeed all the large towns in a greater or less degree throughout the year.
   There are however some signs of improvement at Jassy since we see here and there an elegant mansion recently erected and others in the hands of the builder. We can also admire the pretty palace of the reigning prince and that belonging to the real sovereign the Russian Consul but as these stately structures are in juxtaposition with the hut of a tallow chandler or that of a dealer in old clothes the incongruous picture reminds the beholder that he sees civilization struggling with barbarism which is the real character of all these countries and their towns and cities on the Lower Danube so long devastated by wars between the horde of Othman and the horde of Muscovy. 
   Altogether Jassy offers but little to interest a stranger beyond a glance at its motley inhabitants. There are Boyards and Turks, Greeks, Armenians Slavonians, and Jews, to be seen, all adhering as strictly to their own language and peculiar costume,as if their very existence depended upon the cut and form of their garments. Each of these nationalities also occupies a separate district in the town.The Jews are so numerous as to form about a third of the whole population, rather good looking than otherwise, more especially the women whose appearance was much improved by their half oriental dress. The velvet tiara set with pearls and precious stones is said to be of the same form as that worn by the court beauties in the days of King Solomon; which proves that the fair daughters of Israel in those days were so far coquettish as to invent a mode of head dress well adapted to their peculiar style of beauty, as it certainly makes a pretty face look still more captivating; and I was assured by my Jew banker; whose guest I was during my stay at Jassy, that one of these head dresses is not unfrequently worth five hundred pounds sterling, and descends as an heir loom in the family. Nay, added my informant, it is not improbable that one of these costly coronets was made by the court jeweller of the wisest of monarchs!
   These poor people the Jews to whose industry and enterprise as merchants, traders, and shopkeepers, the state is indebted for a great part of its revenue and the country for whatever little commerce still remains. occasionally suffer severely from the fanaticism of the inhabitants, who are credulous enough to believe the most absurd reports that can be conceived; and nothing is too wicked, no crime too revolting to be attributed to the descendants of the people who crucified the Saviour. Still the Jews of these countries however averse they are in general to fighting, do not submit to be led like sheep to the slaughter; they are always prepared if necessary to repel force by force. Unhappily these contests with the Christians of the Greek Church both here and in Russia are too frequent and sanguinary and singular enough their rallying cry Gewalt! Gewalt! is in the German language; and when this is heard, the whole Hebrew population, men, women, and children arm themselves with some weapon of defence, and rush to the scene of action.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2011.