Iasi is situated on the Bahlui River near its confluence with the Prut River in the Moldavian plain. There were recognizable settlements at the site in the 7th century. The town received its name in the late 14th–early 15th century, when it became a fortified customs post on the trade routes along the Prut Valley. In the mid-15th century it became a residence of the prince of Moldavia. From 1564 to 1859 when the Romanian principalities united, it was the capital of Moldavia.
Iasi was devastated several times by Turks, Tatars, and Poles, was burned to the ground on one occasion, suffered a plague in 1734, but it endured as a cultural and economic centre. In 1640 Prince Vasile Lupu established a school and set up a printing press in the Byzantine church of the Three Hierarchs (built 1635–39), from which the first book printed in Moldavia was issued.
Other historical buildings include the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University (founded 1860), the church of St. Nicholas built by Sphen the Great in the 15th century, the Vasile Alexandri National Theatre (1896), and the flamboyant Neo-Gothic Palace of Culture (completed in the 1920s). The city has several educational and research institutes and a branch of the Academy of Romania. The main industrial sectors are food and beverages, chemicals, metallurgy, and pharmaceuticals.