Moldova lies between latitudes 45° and 49° N, and mostly between meridians 26° and 30° E (a small area lies east of 30°). The total land area is 33,851 km²
The largest part of the nation lies between two rivers, the Dniester and the Prut. The western border of Moldova is formed by the Prut river, which joins the Danube before flowing into the Black Sea. Moldova has access to the Danube for only about 480 m (1,575 ft), and Giurgiulesti is the only Moldovan port on the Danube. In the east, the Dniester is the main river, flowing through the country from north to south, receiving the waters of Raut, Bâc, Ichel, Botna. Ialpug flows into one of the Danube limans, while Cogâlnic into the Black Sea chain of limans.
The country is landlocked, even though it is very close to the Black Sea. While most of the country is hilly, elevations never exceed 430 m (1,411 ft) - the highest point being the Balane?ti Hill. Moldova's hills are part of the Moldavian Plateau, which geologically originate from the Carpathian Mountains. Its subdivisions in Moldova include Dniester Hills (Northern Moldavian Hills and Dniester Ridge), Moldavian Plain (Middle Prut Valley and Balti Steppe), and Central Moldavian Plateau (Ciuluc-Solonet Hills, Cornesti Hills (Codri Massive; "Codri" meaning "forests"), Lower Dniester Hills, Lower Prut Valley, and Tigheci Hills). In the south, the country has a small flatland, the Bugeac Plain. The territory of Moldova east of the river Dniester is split between parts of the Podolian Plateau, and parts of the Eurasian Steppe.
The country's main cities are the capital Chisinau, in the centre of the country, Tiraspol (in the eastern region of Transnistria), Balti (in the north) and Bender (in the south-east). Comrat is the administrative centre of Gagauzia.
The name "Moldova" is derived from the Moldova River; the valley of this river was a political centre when the Principality of Moldavia was founded in 1359. The origin of the name of the river is not clear. There is an account (a legend) of prince Dragos naming the river after hunting an aurochs: after the chase, his exhausted hound Molda drowned in the river. According to Dimitrie Cantemir and Grigore Ureche, the dog's name was given to the river and extended to the Principality.