MOLDAVIA AND BUCOVINA

Sucevita Monastery sits peacefully within 16th century protective walls

Detail of one of the vivid frescoes on the walls of Voronet

Moldovita reaches up to the sky

Youthful representatives of an age old religious tradition

 

 

Bucovina - the north-eastern province of Romania - is renowned for the beautiful exterior frescoes on the walls of its monasteries. These triumphs of Byzantine-influenced art reflect a development of Moldavian civilisation in the 15th and 16th centuries, under the patronage of Stephen the Great (1457-1504).

Plenty more to discover - from buffaloes to vineyards

Moldavia has an extensive countryside of forests and hills, with many lesser known delights to discover, especially in the region of Targu Neamt. You might even catch a glimpse of a buffalo, a species which is being reintroduced into a natural reservation.

There are hiking routes and camping facilities, as well as good hotels in the main towns. And Moldavian wines have been known for five centuries. There are vineyards that can be visited.

Iasi and Suceava

These former capitals entice you to a stop on most Bucovina itineraries. Iasi is the home of Romania's oldest University and a centre of intellectual life.

Many well-known Romanian writers' houses are preserved as memorials. The best known monument of the city is the Trei Ierarhi Church, dating from 1639. In Suceava, which has direct airline and rail links with Bucharest, it is worth going up to the ruins of Stephen's princely citadel on the heights near the city.

Remember to ask for specialities of Moldavian cuisine in the restaurants. Moldavian cooking and local wines are widely appreciated.

Targu Neamt

This town is the access point for a remarkable group of monasteries and fortresses that are definitely worth a detour.

The 18th century convent of Agapia gleams as white as if it stood on a Greek Island. The Monastery in Neamt is the oldest in Moldavia, while the Neamt fortress used to be a key to the region's defense. A little to the west is the mountain and ski resort of Durau.

 

The Monasteries in Bucovina

The decorated monasteries are the major attraction in Bucovina because of the vivid frescoes on their churches.

The latter depict Biblical and other religious scenes, designed in segments almost like strip cartoons to stir the imagination of the local people and so educate them in the Orthodox spirit.

The churches stand in the centre of the monastery complex and all of them have high pitched roofs and little sunlight comes inside. There are five main monasteries of this kind.

Humor

Humor, founded in 1530, is quite small. Its paintings include illustration of a poem on the "The Siege of Constantinople", which shows the feelings of the Romanians towards the Turks.

The aim was to maintain the Christian faith among Romanians. On other walls are the "Return of the Prodigal Son" and the Devil amusingly pictured as a greedy woman.

Centuries ago the monks here at Humor ran a school where calligraphers and miniature painters learnt their craft.

 

 

Voronet

This "Sixtine Chapel of the East" was built by Stephen the Great in 1488 and the vivid colours of its frescoes added later.

The "Sixtine Chapel" of the East - Voronet

The paintings show an adaptation of classic Byzantine art to Moldavian realities.

Thus the archangels' trumpets take the shape of the local shepherds' horn or "bucium" and souls doomed to hellfire wear the turbans of the Turkish enemy.

Sucevita

The Sucevita Monastery complex, set in a beautiful green valley, is fortified like a citadel with watch towers at its four corners.

Thousands of pictures decorate the walls of the church. In fact they outnumber the pictures at any of the other monasteries, yet the western wall is blank.

Legend says it that the artist fell off the wall scaffolding and was killed, so it remained undecorated. When you go there, look for the complex "Jesse's Tree" on the southern wall.

 

Moldovita

Striking shades of red, blue, yellow and brown characterize the monumental scene of the "Siege of Constantinopole" on the walls of the Moldovita church.

Inside, 16th century furniture survives, including Prince Petru Rares' chair, as large as a throne. The Prince built Moldovita and his statue stands outside.

Arbore

Quite small, and without the high cupola that distinguishes most monastery churches, Arbore is predominantly decorated in shades of green. Look for the scene from "Genesis" along the western wall, since it is particularly lively and graceful.

The "Sixtine Chapel" of the East - Voronet

A glimpse on the Agapia convent which stands among the simple but lovely houses of the nuns.