Kishinev was primarily influenced by a district called Alexandrov, pogrom Alexandrovskaia Street

Located within a mile of the Byk River, the city center of Kishinev was primarily influenced by a district called Alexandrov. This area was mainly centered around Alexandrovskaia Street, situated to the south of Lower Kishinev. Located immediately beyond it, and in fact just around the corner, there existed a complex network of intricate, meandering trails that ascended and descended along the side of a hill. A multitude of tiny, multifamily dwellings were constructed in close proximity to courtyards, frequently incorporating commercial establishments or workshops, and occasionally housing synagogues within the same structures.

Kishinev was primarily influenced by a district called Alexandrov

The area was characterized by its muddy conditions in the spring and dusty conditions in the summer. It lacked abundant trees and open spaces, and did not have the large parks that were prominent in the nearby center, just a few blocks away. According to Pushkin, this “old town” had narrow and winding streets, unclean markets, little stores, and houses with tiled roofs. It also had parks with Lombardy poplars and white acacias. However, its vibrant appearance was only appreciated by visitors from outside the town. By the early 1800s, it was already a highly unattractive sight. A significant number of the most economically disadvantaged Jewish residents of the city resided in close proximity to others in this particular region.

Some of them occupied structures that were constructed in the late 1700s, while a substantial portion of the land remained a valley filled with remnants from the Ottoman era. The provision of sewerage, street paving, and electricity was restricted to the most affluent parts of the city, and even then, it was only introduced in the early twentieth century.

To get Old Town, also known as Lower Kishinev, one had to descend several blocks towards the river Byk. This river, which was essentially a swampy continuation of the Dniester, emitted a foul odor for a significant portion of the year. Kishinev in the early twentieth century maintained the atmosphere of a border town, characterized by a significant population of seasonal workers, primarily peasants in search of winter jobs.

The city’s vast disparities in wealth and poverty were particularly pronounced, even when compared to the norms set during the tsarist era. Shabbily constructed hovels, so poorly assembled that even a gentle storm appeared capable of demolishing them, were situated only around the corner from the most magnificent boulevards. However, the mayor of the city, Karl Schmidt, who had been in office for twenty-five years since 1903, firmly asserted that if the city maintained its current strong commercial trajectory, it may soon surpass its rival and constant source of inspiration, Odessa, in terms of significance.

The city’s economic growth, despite experiencing a significant increase in population during the second part of the nineteenth century, was remarkably sluggish. Despite having a population larger than Kiev’s approximately 110,000 at the beginning of the twentieth century, Kishinev, the empire’s fifth-largest city, had far inferior infrastructure. Kishinev did not get electric trams until 1913, but Kiev had them starting from 1892. The decision to establish a Kishinev electric utility was made in 1889, but, building did not commence until 1907 and it took an additional two years to become operational.

Bessarabia’s combination of inertia and corruption persisted and thrived despite the region’s growing economy. Despite the close proximity of the Dniester River, the water supply remained insufficient. The medical conditions in Kishinev, particularly outside the city, were extremely poor in comparison to the rest of Russia. In 1914, the entire Kishinev area was served by only six doctors and twenty-five medical assistants. Additionally, approximately two-thirds of newborns born in Bessarabia at that time did not survive childbirth.

Along with all of this horrible inefficiency and civic indifference, the city had excellent schools, a magnificent ethnographic museum that opened in 1874, attractive public parks, and lovely neighborhoods just south of Alexandrovskaia Street that included rows of spectacular mansions. On Sundays, bands routinely performed in its main park, and accounts from the 1903 pogrom indicated that on the first day of the riot, a Sunday, the sound of music could be heard drifting from the park as nearby shops were plundered. “Rather pretty place,” Michael Davitt remarked, evidently startled, in notes he wrote after arriving in the city.

“One or two extremely attractive boulevards with trees and numerous magnificent buildings made of bright yellow stone. Streets are wide and at right angles, like in an American city. Pavement is rough. Three or four new tiny parks have been planted. A beautifully constructed gymnasium for boys and one adjacent for girls.”

Despite its new trolley-car system, Kishinev was a site where almost everyone walked, because it took around half an hour, or less if one walked quickly, from the vast streets so praised by Davitt to the town’s miserable northern fringe on the banks of the Byka. Almost the whole city was unpaved and pitch-dark at night; power only served the city’s richer neighborhoods, which were largely unaffected by the pogrom.

On the first night of the massacre, rioters had to trek through mostly darkened streets; by the second, the disturbance had been nearly totally subdued in their pursuit of wine, pillage, and women and girls.