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Dates of visit:
March 28, 2007 -
April 14, 2007

We rate this trip a:

Trip Highlights:
 Revisit Bucharest
 Bucegi Mountains
 Revisit Sibiu
 Maramures Region
 Wooden Churches
 Peasant traditions
 Merry Cemetery
 Bukovina Region
 Painted Monasteries
 Railroad Excursion
 

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Poland
Ukraine
*** Bukovina ***
*** Romania's Painted Monasteries ***

*** Bukovina, Land of Birch Trees ***
*** Romanian Easter (Paste) ***
*** Moldovita, Sucevita and Putna Monasteries ***
        Map of Romania
        Travel Route
        Introduction to Bukovina
        Primer on Painted Monasteries of Bukovina
        Romanian Easter (Paste)
               Site Gallery - Easter Meals and Traditions
        Moldovita Monastery
               Site Gallery - Moldovita Monastery
        Sucevita Monastery
               Site Gallery - Sucevita Monastery
        Putna Monastery
               Site Gallery - Putna Monastery and Surrounds
Introduction to Bukovina

Beautiful BukovinaLocation of Bukovina ...

Bukovina ... Tucked into the northeastern corner of Romania, and the medieval principality of the Moldavian region, Bucovina lies in the easily-defended Carpathian foothills where the region's hero, Stefan the Great (Stefan cel Mare ruled between 1457-1504), fought back the Turks in the 14th and 15th centuries and then built churches and monasteries throughout Moldavia to praise God for allowing him to win. He used to build one monastery after each of his battles.

His descendant, Petru Rares, continued his work by setting the foundations for many other famous monasteries. There are 48 monasteries in total, some with fortified walls to protect against invaders. These unique monasteries and Byzantine churches with their exceptional exterior frescoes are one of the most fascinating sights in Romania. Seven of the painted monasteries have been included on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Much of the former Romanian province of Bucovina, previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was lost to the USSR (now the Ukraine) in 1945 together with its capital, Cernauti. The name Bucovina came into official use in 1775 with the region's annexation to the Austrian Empire The name has a Slavic origin and is derived from the word for beech tree 'buk' in Ukrainian; the German equivalent, das Buchenland, mostly used in poetry, means, literally, "beech land", or, more poetically, "land of beech trees". In Romanian the original name of the region during the rule of the Moldavian Principality was "Tara de Sus" (Upper Country), referring to the altitude, as opposed to the lower plains called "Tara de Jos" (Lower Country).

Bucovina is worth visiting, not only for its wealth of religious art and the beautiful monasteries, but also for the natural beauty and simplicity of the region. It is a territory with clean unspoiled nature. It has a unique landscape: thick forests and imposing crests ("obcine"), branching off from the Carpathians, which allow a wonderful panorama of valleys, with houses scattered here and there, with large gardens and farm yards inviting one to lie down by the haystacks and look up at the blue sky with its marvelous hues. You might even catch a glimpse of a buffalo, a species that is being reintroduced into a natural reservation.

The countryside is scattered with picturesque villages and rural scenery as local folk go about their daily business; horse-drawn carts dominate the lanes, driven by people bundled up against the cold, outdoor wells and piles of chopped wood adorn the yards, and produce markets bustle with activity. These are some of the scenes the traveler will encounter in this fascinating region of Romania, a stark contrast to the frenetic pace and way of life shaped by the modern face of city living.

For more detailed information on this region ... Bukovina

Primer on Painted Monasteries of Bukovina

Painted Monasteries

Painted Monasteries of Bukovina ... Romania is abounding of places of worship: hermitages, churches, monasteries, temples, basilicas, etc. They have been built during almost a millennium, in a multitude of architectonic styles.

When visiting those places one must keep in mind that the Romanian architecture is a mixture of the Byzantine style and Western influences from Renaissance to Baroque.

The painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina are some of the greatest artistic monuments in Europe and among the most picturesque treasures in Romania. Most of the churches are fortified with strong defensive surrounding walls as protection against Turkish invaders and they sheltered large armies of soldiers awaiting battle. The exterior walls of the monasteries are richly decorated with vivid frescoes depicting dramatic Biblical scenes, intended to teach Christianity to the illiterate by means of pictures. The artwork has amazingly survived harsh exposure to the elements for over 450 years and the intense colors have been well preserved.

The five main painted monasteries in Bukovina are Humor, Voronet, Moldovita, Sucevita and Arbore, although there are many more lesser-known complexes equally worth visiting. The predominant color of the artwork at Voronet is a vivid blue that serves as a background to the designs. The quality of the frescoes, the magnificent Last Judgment and the brilliant color has earned it the moniker of 'Sistine Chapel of the East'.

Humor is characterized by its predominant red color; and the largest and finest of the monasteries, Sucevita, has its thousands of painted images on a background of emerald green.

Moldovita, situated in the middle of a quaint farming village, consists of a strong fortified enclosure with towers and heavy gates, with the beautiful painted church in the centre. Also nearby are Dragomirna and Putna monasteries, the latter home to an active community of monks and a small museum containing medieval manuscripts and rare textiles. They are all UNESCO sites.

Romanian Easter (Paste)

Painted eggs

Easter ... in Romania this religious holiday is called Paste. It is a great religious celebration all over the Christian world because it commemorates the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus. Historians say that in ancient times there were pagan rituals which celebrate the coming of spring (the Vernal Equinox). For example the Druids welcomed spring making bonfires in May. Also the ancient Saxons used to worship their Goddess called Eastre in the early spring because she was a symbol of nature re-birth. In fact, her name (Eastre or Eostre) was the basis for the modern English word "Easter". Christian missionaries had the idea to convert those pagan feasts into one Christian holiday which is now even more important than Christmas.

Before 325 A.D. Easter was celebrated in any day of the week. But in this particular year, the Emperor Constantine established the Easter rule: it will be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first ecclesiastical full moon (which differs from the full moon we see on the sky) after the Vernal Equinox - March 21st. Also Easter must be preceded by a 46 days of Lenten which is ...

Read complete full story at Romanian Easter [160Kb].


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Traditional Romanian Easter incorporates meals that are prepared well in advance, for it is understood that the Saturday immediately before Easter day is a day of rest and a reflection on the religious significance. This author, during this trip made specifically to participate in this solemn celebration, savored some of the better known entrees and delighted in their taste and presentation. Below is a gallery of the meals encountered.

Resurrection MassTradition also mandates that worshippers attend a Midnight Resurrection Mass at a church, basilica or monastery of their choice (or at least make an effort).

This author, although not of the Orthodox faith, manages to do so at the Barsana Monastery on the evening (that ran into the morning) of Easter Sunday. This ritualistic celebration was inspiring as devoted worshipers participated in this tradition as the gallery below demonstrates.


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Site Gallery - Easter Meals and Traditions
 
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Moldovita Monastery

Moldovita MonasteryLocation of Moldovita Monastery ...

Moldovita ... Year Built: 1532; Built by: Prince Petru Rares. The most distinctive feature of the Church of the Annunciation is the open exonarthex with its three tall arches on the west fašade. The exterior paintings are the best preserved of all the churches of Bucovina. Alexander the Kind built the first monastery in Moldovita on the banks of the Moldovita River at the beginning of the 15th century.

The site chosen was far from other villages, in the middle of the forest. He donated lands and Tartar slaves to the establishment, and the first community around the compound was created. The monastery is mentioned for the first time in a document of 1402, and successive other documents tell of new donations. There is no record of how, or when, the monastery was destroyed, but possibly an earthquake ruined it at the beginning of the 16th century.

Only low stone ruins remain of the first church. It was built of rough blocks of stone on a triconch plan, with three apses. Originally, it had only a chancel, a naos and a narrow pronaos. When the monastic community increased in size, a second, much larger, pronaos was built to the west end of the edifice. As is the case with many other monasteries built during the first century of Moldavia's existence, Moldovita was also re-founded by Petru Rares.

The present Church of the Annunciation is confirmed by the commemorative inscription on the south fašade of the church. The church is rather long, as it has, besides the obligatory chancel, naos and pronaos, a burial chamber and an exonarthex. A graceful octagonal lantern tower with four windows stands above the naos, and a hidden treasury room was built above the burial chamber. The open exonarthex with large openings is its most distinctive feature, built on the model of the Church of Humor.

The church was painted in 1537 both inside and outside. The significant stylistic differences between various scenes indicate that there must have been several painters at work in Moldovita.

In 1607 Bishop Efrem of Radauti built the solid precinct wall with three towers. The gate tower and the southeast corner tower are square, but the northeast corner tower is round. A vaulted gateway leads through the gate tower into the compound. The arch of the gateway is decorated with carved stone rosettes. In the northwest corner of the compound is a two-storey building, the former clisiarnita, or treasury house. Now the building is the monastery museum. The collection includes embroideries, icons, liturgical books, archaeological finds and the church seat of Petru Rares.

The exterior painting of the Church of the Annunciation is the best preserved among all the painted churches of Bucovina. Especially on the south and east fašades, there are paintings that have not been faded by the passage of time, and that are able to suggest how bright the decorated fašades were during the reign of Prince Rares.

Just under the eaves are 105 niches, each painted with an angel. On the western pillar, just to the left of the entrance and the tall opening of the south fašade, there are three Military Saints on prancing horses and with either a lance or a sword in hand.


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Site Gallery - Moldovita Monastery
 
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Sucevita Monastery

Sucevita MonasteryLocation of Sucevita Monastery ...

Sucevita Monastery ... Year Built: 1583. Built by: Ieremia, Simion and Gheorghe Movila. This classic Moldavian church with its five rooms shows the first new architectural tendencies: smaller niches, and three bases for the tower. The frescoes are very remarkable, colorful and well preserved.

Three Movila brothers built the Church of the Resurrection of Sucevita around 1583. The church is the only painted church that was not founded by a ruling prince, although the Movilas were descendants of Petru Rares on their mother's side. Quite soon after the monastery was built Ieremia Movila became the ruler of Moldavia, and his brother Simion reigned in Walachia. The third brother, Gheorghe, who was during that period the Bishop of Radauti, rose to become the Metropolitan of Moldavia.

The church was painted around 1595, nearly half a century after its "sister" churches. It is considered the last flowering of the custom of painting the church fašades that mark the reigns of Stephen the Great and Petru Rares. Building and painting a church that closely resembled the edifices their ancestors raised decades before, was a way for the Movilas to claim to be part of the royal line of Stephen the Great.

At the same time, though, the monastic compound of Sucevita and its buildings herald the architectural innovations of the following century. The massive precinct walls were built after 1595, during the reign of Ieremia Movila. Each wall is nearly 100 meters long, three meters wide and more than six meters tall, and created the atmosphere of a mediaeval fortress. The walls are strengthened with buttresses, bulwarks and imposing towers. Narrow loopholes in the upper part of the walls indicate that a defensive catwalk encircled the compound.

Each of the five towers has a different plan. The square gate tower with its pointed octagonal turret is in the middle of the north wall. A vaulted gateway, with heavy buttresses on either side, leads through to the compound. Above the arch of the gateway is a semicircular niche with a painting of The Resurrection and the carved coat of arms of Moldavia. Above the gateway, there are two stories with rooms.

On the first floor is a small chapel dedicated to the Annunciation. The northwest tower is the bell tower of the monastery. It is the most massive one of them all, with three three-tiered buttresses on the outside. The buttresses were added later, as were the gate tower buttresses. On the ground floor is a small laboratory for the restoration of icons, where trained nuns work. On the top floor is the belfry with four big arched openings. The two bells that Ieremia Movila donated in 1605 are still used daily. The other three towers are octagonal but each different from the other: the northeast tower has three stories, the southeast five and the southwest two.

A wooden glazed gallery was built on the north wall during the 19th century. The slender wooden turret has the date 1867 carved on it. The Church of the Resurrection, although still built on the model of the classic Moldavian church, shows the first new architectural tendencies.

The porches were added quite soon after the church was built, by Ieremia Movila himself. The frescoes are very remarkable, colorful and well preserved. The number of scenes and personages is higher than in any other church in Moldavia. Unlike most other cases, the names of the painters are known: the brothers Ion and Sofronie, who carried out the work from 1595 to 1596.


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Site Gallery - Sucevita Monastery
 
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Putna Monastery

Putna MonasteryLocation of Putna Monastery ...

Putna ... Year Built: 1466-1469. Built by: Stephen the Great.. The present church was practically rebuilt between 1653 and 1662 by Vasile Lupu and his successors.

The imposing Putna Monastery is situated about 30 km northwest from the town of Radauti, near the Putna River. High, forested hills and wild landscape surround the monastery and the village with the same name. Stephen the Great built the monastery as his burial place between 1466 and 1469 and the Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin was consecrated one year later.

The first superior was Archimandrite Ioasaf from Neamt Monastery, the first important monastic centre in Moldavia. The superior was accompanied by calligraphers, who were the first teachers of the new monastery school that followed the example of the school of Neamt. It started as a school of rhetoric, logic and grammar for future chroniclers and clerical staff, but soon Putna became one of the most significant cultural centers in the country.

Only three years after the monastery was completed, a fire destroyed it, but it was immediately rebuilt. It was destroyed again in 1653 by the Cossack army of Timus Hmelnitchi, the son-in-law of Prince Vasile Lupu. The present church was practically rebuilt between 1653 and 1662 by Vasile Lupu and his successors. The ground plan follows the plan of the original edifice, as could be ascertained when the foundations of the first church were excavated from 1968 to 1970.

Stephen the Great ruled for half a century, 1457-1504. He earned his surname "Great" for his several successful military campaigns against the infidel Turks. He is also famous for building and influencing the building of dozens of churches and monasteries all over Moldavia. Allegedly he founded a religious edifice after each important military victory.

In the Putna monastery, is found the tomb of King Stephen the Great and several of his family members. His tomb became a place of pilgrimage. The icon waves and the tomb covers are evidence of the creative spirit of the Moldavian artists of his time.

The church was unusually large for its time, but the explanation was that it was built to be the burial place of the Prince, his family and his successors. The thick walls are made of massive blocks of stone, and twelve buttresses support the walls. Originally there were only six, and the other six were added during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Although the present church follows the ground plan of a typical 15th and 16th century Moldavian church, it has many architectural and decorative features that are typical of 17th century churches. The exterior walls are not the smooth fašades of earlier times, but two rows of blind arcades go around the building, smaller ones above the twisted stone cable, and tall ones below it.


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Site Gallery - Putna Monastery and Surrounds
 
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