The town of Suceava, capital of the county of Suceava, is located in the central part of the Suceava plateau, at an altitude of 325-340 m., on both banks of the river that gives the town its name.
Archaeological excavations in various parts of the city have revealed remains that attest the continuity of living on the current hearth of the city since the Neolithic. A Neolithic settlement was identified at the Şipot point, as well as Bronze and Iron Age relics on the plateau to the east of the fortress. Other archaeological evidence proves the presence and influence of local culture and particular allogeneic communities, such as Germanic, Slavic, Tatar, etc. in these places. The geographical position facilitated the transformation of the rural nucleus into an urban settlement, favourable to the exchange of products and the flourishing of crafts.
It is no coincidence that the chronicler Nicolae Costin linked the name of the Suceava fair to the furriers who ”laid its foundation”, specifying that “Soci is the Hungarian word for furrier; and Sucéva = furriery”. Although references to the city as Socăva, Sucéva, Scotorix date from the second half of the 14th century, the city is attested in a document dated February 10, 1388, issued by Peter I Musat announcing the loan from Polish King Vladislav Iagello of 3000 silver zlotys. This is the most reliable date for the first documentary attestation of Suceava.
Suceava experienced rapid development in its early centuries of existence, with its selection as the town’s primary seat proving its growing importance. From a settlement that occupied a small territory, delimited and strengthened by a moat and palisades, with a stone fortress (Cetatea de Vest or Cetatea Şcheia) that collapsed shortly after construction, Suceava became a “court seat”, economic, political, commercial, cultural and religious centre. From the “glorious seat of Moldavia”, Petru, Roman, Ştefan Muşat, Alexandru cel Bun and his successors, Bogdan II, Ştefan cel Mare, Bogdan III, Ştefăniţă and Petru Rareş ruled the destinies of Moldavia. The documents on the country’s administrative, legal, fiscal, and military organisation were issued in Suceava, the place from which the first Moldovan armies left in support of Wallachia under Ottoman attack and Poland under Teutons.
At the beginning of 1475, news of Stephen the Great’s victory over the Sultan’s armies spread throughout Europe from Suceava. The first metropolitan seat of Moldova was established in Suceava, where the royal council resided and the royal chancellery operated. The foundations of Romanian historiography in the Slavonic language were laid at the Royal Court of Suceava, where the Anonymous Chronicle of Moldavia was written. Passing through the Moldavian city, foreign travellers wrote about the Suceava of the 1500s as “the best place to be and safer from invasions” (Paolo Bonici), a fortified settlement “wonderful and almost unconquerable” (Blaise de Vigenere).
Despite everything, Suceava has not been spared throughout its long history from misfortunes, plunder by conquerors, fires and earthquakes, and its brightness began to fade with Alexandru Lăpuşneanu’s decision to relocate Moldavia’s capital to the town near the Bahlui river. The “duel” for dominance between Iaşi and Suceava lasted another century, with the former becoming victorious only after the nation metropolitan was relocated.
Suceava – town of the House of Habsburg
The frequent Turkish-Polish conflicts in the second half of the 17th century, as well as the lords’ abandoning of the former house of the voivodeship, accelerated the city’s decline. The Gate ordered the Citadel to be destroyed as a sign of the fall of the last anti-Ottoman stronghold. The gradual decline was halted during the Austrian rule, established in the international political situation of 1774-1775.
The departure of a significant number of inhabitants and the destruction of many of its buildings did not prevent General Splény from considering Suceava, in 1775, as “the most distinguished and populated town” of the former Principality of Moldavia. This may explain the Austrians’ decision to elevate the settlement to the rank of a free trading city, with considerable autonomy and privileges intended to attract foremen, craftsmen and merchants from the Crown’s hereditary provinces and other countries.
The policy of colonizing the locality with Germans, Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, Czechs – anyone was allowed to “put their house in the deserted places, to make the city again” – was coupled with measures aimed at transforming Suceava into the region’s capital, then the county’s, with appropriate urban and municipal plans. Chernivtsi – the small town chosen by the Austrians as the capital of the province – had, however, managed in the meantime to concentrate the main administrative, economic and political activities in Habsburg Bukovina.
Aside from administrative facilities and achievements such as railways, drinking water systems, sewerage, lighting, there was the picture of a “lifeless city, without trade, without any industry, dull.”
Most of the products of the workshops or modest “factories” with leather, textile and food profile near the railway and customs with the Kingdom of Romania could not compete with those in the great centres of the vast Austrian empire.
The same could be said about the cultural life of the town, although the Romanians of Suceava mobilized all of their resources in the name of national emancipation. Suceava saw the establishment of the “Romanian Club” society, the “Romanian School”, the “Romanian citizens Association”, the “Ciprian Porumbescu Musical-dramatic Reunion”, and the “Suceava Song Reunion “. The “Committee of Intellectuals” obtained permission from the Habsburg authorities to keep the objects and values discovered in the former Seat of Moldova in local collections.
Suceava – the county seat
In November 1918, the city of Suceava was integrated into the borders of Greater Romania and experienced economic, social, cultural and urban development. Having become the residence of the county of the same name, Suceava began a slow expansion towards the left bank of the homonymous river, showing that the terrace on which the urban nucleus was formed was no longer enough.
The interwar period represented for the city a continuation of the development similar to the one of the previous epoch, but with a change of the ethnic profile in favour of the Romanians. The “Ştefan cel Mare” high school continued to be a prestigious centre of education during this period, and the 1935 student congress organized by the Chernivtsi Student Associations symbolically announced the future academic destiny of the city.
Also in the interwar period, the Central Library was founded (today in Bucovina “I.G. Sbiera”), at the initiative of the “Romanian School” society. The image of Suceava as a commercial centre, however, would not be surpassed until the second half of the 20th century, when the communist system imposed the rapid industrialization of Suceava, resulting in the opening of industrial platforms, the replacement of the old architecture with the new residential areas and the inauguration of some public utility buildings – landmarks, such as the Culture House, “Ciprian Porumbescu” Dance Ensemble, Institute of Higher Education, Theatre, Planetarium, and the History Museum.
The political changes of 1989 produced a new rupture in the development of the city, economically but not demographically. With a population of over 100,000 inhabitants, with more commercial and administrative areas than industrial and production, Suceava can be proud of its churches and other medieval monuments, the Bukovina Museum Complex, which includes several museums, high schools and colleges, with the fact that it is an academic centre with an impressive development in the last decade.