Gagauzia

One of the more obscure parts of Europe, the autonomous region of Gagauzia is the least visited region of Moldova, which is the least visited country in Europe. Unlike Transnistria which seeks independence, Gagauzia was comfortable with gaining autonomy within Moldova in 1990.

It is home to about 170,000 people, 5% of Moldova’s population, living in 3 towns and 27 villages in 1,800 sq km of southern Moldova. Gagauzians originated in Turkey but due to conflict with other Turks moved to Bulgaria where they converted to Orthodox Christianity. The Russians relocated them from Bulgaria to Moldova in the early 19th century. They are heavily influenced by Turkey (with an Ataturk library in Comrat) but are Christians.

They speak their local Turkic language and Russian, but little Romanian (the main language in Moldova) as it is learnt as their second or third language at school.

The capital of Gagauzia is Comrat, the eleventh largest city in Moldova, home to around 20,000 people. It’s a quiet place but there were a few things to see, most colourfully the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Comrat Regional History Museum was surprisingly large and interesting, with no explanations but plenty of historic objects from the region, though I didn’t take any photos inside.

The main street was named after Lenin, with a statue of him in town.

I went for a couple of runs in Comrat, and after covering 11km I can safely say that there is little else to see in town, though the setting and rising sunlight helped the photos. Driving out of town there is a lake just beyond where I turned around running, a recurring theme on my runs on this trip so far.

To end with a charming spot we visited before reaching Gagauzia. Just over the border into Moldova, Valeni was the perfect place for lunch, an explore of a traditional Moldovan house, and an entertaining local cultural experience with singing, dancing, and a demonstration Moldovan wedding ceremony, during which I was the groom…

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