The Northern part of Moldavia is known by the name of Bucovina (sometimes written Bukovina). Preserving history is one of the main features of this special region. If you like to visit medieval castles and fortresses, Bucovina is a region where you will have the opportunity to admire a few.
One of the most famous touristic attraction is SUCEAVA fortress. It was first mentioned in 1388 but it was later transformed into a residence castle by Alexandru cel Bun and Stephen the Great (15th century) when Suceava became the capital of Moldavia province. At the initial walls (10 m high and 2 m width) there were added new ones and a deeper water ditch was dig to surround the castle. This is the explanation why Suceava fortress couldn’t be conquered despite the fact it was under siege several times by Turks and Polish armies – in 1467, 1485, 1497 and 1509. Only treason was the key for making possible its occupation by enemies (September 18th, 1538). Later this castle was burnt and then destroyed. Nowadays, this fortress is a part of Suceava city so you can reach it easily.
Tourists coming to Bucovina are astonished by all sort of traditional decorative arts found here especially at the countryside. The use of textiles for decorating interiors was an expression of the family social standing. So women worked hard to create many beautiful things. As a matter of fact, any young girl had to have a dowry consisting of carpets, rugs, pillows, table-cloths and folk costumes before getting married. Those things were arranged in a special wooden box expecting the day of marriage. Nowadays, anyone agrees that the quality of materials, the harmony of colors, the symbolism of patterns of folk textiles must be admired equally. Also working wood was a tradition in this mountainous region. And you may be heard of black ceramics made in Marginea which is well known all over Europe.
Spending memorable holidays in Bucovina mountain resorts might be an inspired option. These forests are very old and in many places they are still wild. Alpine pastures can be found too. It was a time when Romanian mountains were the secret place for people trying to escape from intruders (Turks especially). From those ancient times Romanians kept in mind an expression saying “forest is Romanian’s brother“. These resorts and spas are visited annually by thousands of tourists. One example: Vatra Dornei – a beautiful little town established in the last decade of 16th century. This place has an average in annual temperature about 40 grade C. Tourists come here in all seasons visiting the surroundings (Suhard, Birgau, Giumalau-Rarau and Caliman mountains). Usually they take a few minutes to rest in the central park full with playful squirrels. You may find here people coming to treat their myocardial problems, nervous disorders, digestive diseases, etc.
The most famous attraction of Bucovina are the strongly fortified and painted monasteries/churches that are unique all over Europe : Voronet, Arbore, Humor, Moldovita, Sucevita and Putna. Even Romanians love to visit from time to time these beautiful monuments where they may find a special pious atmosphere. You may ask yourself what was the reason to add paintings to those religious monuments. The answer is simple : as a Chinese proverb says “a picture speaks thousand words“. Besides, people living those times didn’t know to read or to write so a painting was a direct way of teaching them Bible precepts and saints lives. Outside frescoes were typical to all Byzantine churches built in 15th century or even older. But Moldavian churches have inside frescoes too – which is a specific feature found only here. They are now on the list of UNESCO monuments.
Voronet monastery is placed not far from the town Gura Humorului (close to Suceava city). It was built by the will of the Prince Stephen the Great (ruler of Moldavia) between the 26th of May and the 14th of September in the year 1488 – having as patron saint St. George the Martyr (victory carrier saint). In 1547 under the supervision of the Metropolitan Bishop Grigore Rosca the porch was added and all the exterior paintings were carried out. Monastic life here was interrupted in 1775 (when the Bucovina region was taken by the Habsburg Empire) but in 1991 came to Voronet a community of nuns so today this beautiful monastery is alive again. As for the frescoes decorating the exterior and the interior, specialists are still amazed by their artistic value. The paintings on the porch represent the Christian Orthodox Calendar. Above the entrance, in the narthex, lies a superb icon called “Dulcea Imbratisare” (the “Sweet Embrace“). The tomb of St. Pious Daniil the Hermit who was elected as the first Abbot of this monastery can also be found in the narthex. The monastery’s votive painting is found in the nave, where His Majesty Stephen the Great along with Lady Maria-Voichita and his son Bogdan are depicted. The altar itself is highly artistically painted and adorned with the representation of Our Lady Mary holding Jesus the child between two angels. Voronet monastery is considered to be the “Sixtine Chapel of the East” due to the magnificent frescoes on the west wall – a representation of the “Last Judgement“. Also the unique nuance of blue color, named “Voronet Blue“, may be found in the lexicon of art alongside colors such as the “Titan Ted” of Rubens and “Veronese Green“. On this blue background can be admired the “Tree of Jesse“. From the architectural point of view, the monastery resembles to the other churches or monasteries built under the rule of Stephen the Great.
Humor monastery is placed in the Western side of the Moldavian town Gura Humorului (only 5 km far away). It was built in the 15th century by the boyar who ruled the entire Humor region. After that monastery became ruins, a new church was built nearby in 1530 – the present Humor church. It is entirely painted but unfortunately on the Northern side frescoes were destroyed by the weather (rain, snow, wind). The paintings on the southern facade are the best kept. Angels faces appear very clear. Also the siege of the former Byzantine capital – Constantinople – by the Persians can be found here but Turks were painted instead of Persians (you must know that Turks were Moldavians’ enemies those times). Inside the Humor church you will be impressed by the great number of paintings showing Angels, prophets, apostles, hierarchies, and martyrs. Holy Virgin Mary is represented in a praying position, wearing a medallion with Jesus at the neck and surrounded by 16 Angels. The walls of the altar were painted with four scenes from The Secret Dinner.
Arbore church was built between April and August 1503 by Luca Arbore – one of the most faithful boyars of the Prince Stephen the Great (since 1486 he was the Gatekeeper of Suceava fortress and in 1497 he defended it bravely against Polish attacks). The painting of the exterior walls of the Arbore church is one of the most laic phenomena of Moldavian medieval art. It was made many years after its construction. The main author of the painting (Dragos Coman of Iasi) was not a cleric so he had another way of seeing things (for example he drew many non-canonical gestures and attitudes for the characters). This is the explanation why so many people are shown in motion and their silhouettes have an amazing elegance. A unique case in the Byzantine iconography – you may admire here the great emperors Constantine and Elena. Main color used was a beautiful emerald green. Arbore church has a commemorative plaque dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
The hilly place near Moldovita valley is very beautiful having old forests around as far as you can see. In those ancient times, here lived many hermits. Moldovita Monastery was erected in 1532 by the special care of the Moldavian ruler Petru Rares. This fortified monastery has four towers, stone walls higher than 6 meters and having a thick around 1.20 meters and a solid entrance tower. “The Annunciation” church of Moldovita Monastery is considered by many mural painting experts as “one of the most important monuments of medieval Romanian art“. Incredibly beautiful frescos surround this church both on the outside and on the inside. The entire painting was finished in 1537. St. George killing the Dragon, St. Dimitrie and St. Macarie are only a few saints who can be found on the outside Eastern fade. They are very important saints of Orthodox religion. The inside of the porch is covered with The Public Judgement and moments showing God making the world. The scene of the Holy Spirit’s descending and that of The Crucifixion are presented in the Northern and Southern apses. Main colors are dark red and gold yellow. In 1593 the priest Gavril of Suceava added floral painted patterns to the iconostasis. Of a high artistic value is the altar screen made of wood-carved with gilt stucco. For its artistic and historic value, Moldovita Monastery received “The Golden Apple” European prize granded by the International Federation of Tourism Journalists and Writers.
Sucevita Monastery is placed in a lovely woody landscape. Here in 15th – 16th centuries was built a wooden hermitage. In 1584, the Radauti Bishop Gheorghe Movila built a bigger church which was patronized by the Lord’s Resurrection. A few years later, Ieremia Movila (the Bishop’s brother) brought a few changes to the church. The walls surrounding the monastery are 6 meters in high and almost 3 meters thick, with towers on every side of them. A real fortress! The church of this monastery has an imposing bell-tower. The paintings were inspired by the Old and the New Testament, from the history of the Christian church and from the life of the Greek-Catholic culture. The specific color is blue. You may admire here 13 scenes inspired from the Genesis, the stairway of virtue (a plastic vision of the Judgement Day), the Lord’s Lifting to the sky, Holy Virgin Mary surrounded by Apostles and scenes from St. George and St. Nicolas lives. The monastery’s thesaurus includes an Epitaph created in 1597 (adorned with 10,000 pearls), two tomb covers embroidered with golden thread and pearls on silk, religious crosses, old icons, and many other manuscripts decorated with miniatures.
Putna Monastery was the first monastery built by Stephen the Great. The whole construction was made between 1466-1469 and then modified by the same ruler in 1484 (after a great fire) because he wanted it to be his place of eternal rest. The Tower of the Thesaurus is the only one left from the fortifications of Stephen the Great’s monastery. The Entrance Tower is made of a base floor crossed by a passage and a vaulted floor; it seems to be added in 17th or 18th century. The church is divided into five separate rooms (named: porch, pre-nave, the tomb room, nave and altar). It certainly belongs to he original plan. The blessing of the church took place on September 8th, 1470 – as the chronicles said. You must know that an important school of copiers for religious books functioned within the Putna monastery. In its Museum can be admired a valuable collection of embroideries from Stephen the Great’s time, religious manuscripts, priests clothes, beautiful old icons, and silver ware. Putna Monastery was an important cultural-artistic center of Moldavia. It worth to visit this unique place full of history! It is a unique experience to see so many things made by hard-working people who lived more than 500 years ago.
One last remark : you can see all these monasteries during a one-day tour, starting from Suceava city or Radauti, approximately in this order: Moldovita, Sucevita, Putna, Arbore, Humor and Voronet.