Bendery (A.K.A. Bender, previously known as Tighina), on the western banks of the Dniestr River, isn’t exactly a delight to behold, but strangely it’s a far cry from gloomy Tiraspol. This is where the worst fighting took place during TransD’s divorce from Moldova in the early 90s, yet it has recently made something of a miraculous recovery. The physical and figurative battle scars have noticeably healed and the center in particular has opened up, becoming a green, breezy and pleasant place. It’s so much more sociable and inviting than Tiraspol that you might wonder if you’ve unintentionally crossed the border back into Moldova. The city boasts busy cafes, non-Soviet inspired sculptures and a palpably less guarded air.
Plenty of military powers have rotated through the area; Moldavian prince Stefan cel Mare built a large defensive fortress here in the 16th century on the ruins of a fortified Roman camp, but it didn’t last long. In 1538 the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent rolled in, dispensed with Stefan’s guys and converted the fortress into a Turkish raia (colony). He also renamed the city Bendery, meaning ‘belonging to the Turks’ (funny that the uber-nationalistic Transdniestrans haven’t amended this defilement). During the 18th century, Bendery was finally seized from the Turks by Russian troops who went on to massacre all Turkish Muslims in the city for good measure. From 1812 on, Bendery has been permanently in Russian hands and a Russian peacekeeping force remains to this day.
Bendery’s main sight is the surviving Turkish/Moldavian fortress, which is still in excellent condition. It was used as training grounds by the Transdniestran military until 2008, when it was finally opened to the public for tours.
At the entrance to the city, near the Bendery-Tiraspol bridge, is a memorial park dedicated to local 1992 war victims with yet another eternal flame and tank with the Transdniestran flag. The city center has several evocative memorials scattered about, in memory of those killed during the civil war.
Near the train station is a Train Museum, housed inside an old Russian CY 06-71 steam locomotive, though the place seemed permanently closed when I stopped for a visit. Adjacent is a typically Soviet, oversized granite mural in memory of the train workers who died in the 1918 revolution.
Tel. +373 (0) 552 29 660
ulitsa Tkachenko 10
As of summer 2008, this was the only hotel open to foreigners in Bendery. The large rooms and thin beds here are incredibly over-priced. The complex includes a sauna, billiards room and ‘nightclub’.