The lovely region of Bucovina, once the medieval principality of the province of Moldavia, nestles into the fir-clad Carpathian foothills in the northeastern corner of Romania. Repeatedly invaded by the Turks during the 14th and 15th centuries, the territory was successfully defended by Stefan the Great who ruled from 1457 until 1504. As thanks to God for his victories, Stefan built a monastery after each battle, and his son, Petru Rares, continued the tradition for another half century. Their legacy lives on today in the 48 exquisite painted monasteries that grace the rolling hills of Bucovina, seven of which are Romania’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Thick, protective walls capped with corner towers surround many of the churches and once sheltered large armies of soldiers awaiting battle as the Turks descended upon Romania. Today, a timeless, peaceful aura pervades the scene—rolling hills, pine forests, and picturesque valleys punctuated by brilliant splashes of color and spired domes that reach heavenward.
On our upcoming Transylvania: A Journey through Romania & Hungary, we visit four UNESCO sites, including the three most splendid of Rares’ painted monasteries, each with a distinguishing style, color, or motif.
Sucevita, the Largest & Most Impressive Painted Monastery in Romania’s UNESCO Collection
Built in 1585, Sucevita is covered with thousands of pictures on every façade except the western wall, which is blank. According to legend, the artist fell from the scaffolding before he could complete his work and the wall remained undecorated in tribute. Emerald green is the background color, reflecting the surrounding landscape, and purple, red, and blue dominate the fresco palette. Its most famous painting is the Ladder of Virtues, depicting dozens of symmetrical angels assisting the righteous into Paradise. Sucevita was the last of the monasteries to be painted on the exterior, and the last to become part of Romania’s UNESCO site, Churches of Moldavia.
Moldovita, A Replica of Romania
Moldovita, completed in 1532, wears a predominant shade of sunny yellow and is covered in paintings like the pages of an open book. On the exterior of its trefoil architectural design, detailed scenes from 16th-century Moldavia come to life. The painting considered its most interesting is the vivid documentation of the Siege of Constantinople, representing the victory of the Romanians over centuries of invaders. Folk legends are also interpreted on the facade, especially in the “Customs of Heaven.” Here, a motley collection of souls are being judged and sent to overcome a variety of obstacles before they can enter heaven, assisted by eager angels.
A UNESCO Stunner: Voronet, Romania’s Sistine Chapel
According to an ancient Romanian chronicle, Voronet was founded by Stefan the Great in 1488 after a chance meeting with a hermit, Danil, who advised him to chase the Turks from the region. After a victorious battle, Stefan built the monastery in under three months on the very spot where Danil had his humble wooden hermitage. Often hailed as the “Sistine Chapel of the East,” the frescoed walls depict Biblical scenes and an impressive Last Judgment. The predominant color is a rich blue and today, “Voronet Blue” is part of the lexicon of artists’ oil paint colors. The Tree of Jesse stands out in this sea of blue, a detailed genealogy of Christ bordered by Greco-Latin philosophers, including Aristotle and Plato.
To learn about the other UNESCO World Heritage Sites we explore in Eastern Europe, check out the stops on our Romania & Hungary itinerary.