Posted on 2018-05-31    Category Places to visit

Today will go to Bucovina, the northern side of Moldova. Moldova, it was a big medieval state which in 1812 was broke in 2 parts: the eastern side between the rivers Prut and Dnipr was occupied by the Russian Empire and the rest, between the rivers Prut and Siret remain in Romania. In 1918 the part occupied by the Russians request the union with Romania and comeback to the motherland. In 1940 was again occupied by the soviets this time and became a soviet republic until 1991 when proclame its independence under the name of Republic of Moldova.

The Oriental Carpathian Mountains are the largest volcano chain from Europe, even that is not active. Because of the post volcanic activity, we have those minerals waters so benefic for the body, and marvelleous balneo resorts. One of the mineral waters which goes to the market from these region are Dorna and Bucovina.  Before starting our story about the painted monasteries of Moldova I will tell you that, the majority of them were built during the time of Stephen the Great (1457-1504) who reigned about 47 years and had 40 battles in total of which he lost only two. So, after each victory he built a church or a monastery to thank God for the help in battle. One of them was painted during his life time, like Voronet for example, but others were built by his son, the next ruler Petru Rares who started to spread this „fashion“ of the exterior painted churches all over Moldova. Because of those 2 rulers we can today visit those splendours which are the painted monasteries of Moldova.

Moldovita Monastery

It is the most complete monastery of the famous 4 in Moldova. It was erected in 1532 during the reign of Petru Rares; one of the sons of Stephen the Great. It is a mixture of architecture between Byzantine and Moldavian styles and the Gothic style which existed in Transylvania - gothic elements we can observe in the windows. The church was built and painted to correspond to the religious philosophy of the „space way“ from our imperfect world to the perfect one of God.

Everything begins on the western side where on the pillars of the porch are painted scenes from the Old Testament which told us the history of mankind from the Garden of Eden continuing to the life of Adam and Eve expelled from Eden. Through the pillars you can see The Last Judgment - a warning of what can happen if you are not following the right way. Entering inside you will find many saints painted on the walls which will guide you to the shrine, the liturgical place where God meets us during the religious service. The painting from outside is united with the one from the inside into a space of preparation and one of fulfillment. The images of the saint, apostles, hermits, priests, and archangels are united together to help us with their advice to make the step to the spiritual perfection. The entire church is a very strong symbol of the orthodox teaching and deserves time to study it and uncover its secrets.

Sucevita Monastery

Tradition says that on the valley of the river Sucevita, between the hills there was a wooden church in the beginning at the 16th century. The legend says that later for the forgiveness of some sins, a woman brought by her cart for 30 years the necessary stone for the construction of the future monastery. The monument was built by the Movilesti noble families. Built in the style of Moldovan architecture, with Byzantine elements and Gothic elements, the church keeps the same trefoil plan and the closed porch as in the time of Stephen the Great.  After his enthronement as the ruler of Moldavia in 1595, Ieremia Movila extended the church with two little porches by the church entrance, on the northern and southern sides. He added enclosing walls with towers, which give the monastery its appearance as a medieval fortress, a royal house the ruins of which are still visible on the northern side of the establishment as well as cells for the monks. It was under the rule of Ieremia Movila that the interior and exterior painting of the church, too was done. The church dedicated to the „Resurrection of Lord Jesus“ is built in the Moldavian architecture style which was consolidated under the rule of Prince Stephen the Great and Saint, actually a harmonious blending of elements of Byzantine and Gothic art, extended with architectural elements of the old wooden churches in Moldavia.

In the burial chamber are buried the two ruling brothers: Ieremia and Simion Movila. The tombstones are made from Ruschita marble extracted from Romania. The interior painting covers all surfaces of the walls. The exterior painting of the Sucevita Monastery is the best preserved one of the group of Moldavian churches with exterior painting the only one that preserves its northern side, where „The Ladder of Virtues“ is represented the most impressive scene, due to its wide scale and to the contrast between the order of the angels and the chaos of the hell. The scene features the fight between good and the evil - man’s effort to step up toward perfection, in order to regain his redemption lost through sin.

Also here you will find many other symbols that are in Moldovita Monastery and a religious Calendar painted in the first two rooms of the church. Also in the narthex you will find painted the images of Creation.

This is another example of a different type of church; but which in its own way respects the religious themes of painting; as in the other ones.

 Cacica Salt Mine

In 1780 in the place where is situated the city Cacica, 8 km away from Gura Humorului, salt was discovered by the Austrian authorities (which own this old Romanian land at that moment) In 1798 was started here a salt mine drawing workers from all the regions of the Hapsburg Empire, especially from Poland. The things to be visited inside are The Roman-Catholic Chapel St. Barbara, The Ortodox Chapel, The Salt Lake and the Ball Room. The maximum depth for visits is 37 meters where the Ball Room is. What is nice is that the salt mine is still in use and salt extracted from here can be bought at the exit where you bought the tickets. Across the street you’ll find the Catholic Church which was built in 1908 by the Polish community here. In the year 2000 this church received the title of Basilica Minor from the Pope John Paul the II-nd.  The church was built in neogothic style from carved stone and red bricks being 40 m.  long, 23 m. wide, 14 m. HIGH. inside, 50 m. the tower. Also it has many stone ornaments and above the main entrance into the church a big crucifix of stone and above engraved in stone the year the church`s construction was completed 1904 and the monograme in gold of Mary.

The shrine has the icons  made from wood by an Austrian company and it was cleaned for the first time in the last 106 years in 2010. Inside of the church exist another two lateral altars: one dedicated to Saint Josef and the other one to Saint Barbara. Alsoin here exist an icon of Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. The icon is painted on canvas  and is blackened by time which is why it is called „The Black Madonna“.

Humor Monastery

Humor Monastery it is one of the best known foundation`s of the Moldavian middle ages. In the endless forests from the foot of the mountain Obcina Mare, Vorne of Suceava named Oana, constructed a prayer place on the Humor river valley after the year 1400; during the time of Alexander the Good. In the inner courtyard you still can see the ruins of the first church. The church now standing was built in 1530 as it is written on the south wall, by the porch: „this establishment was started and finished due to the goodwill and help of our blessed ruler Petru Rares; the son of the old Stephen the Great. With all the contribution and pains taken by the servant of God, Noble Toader, the Great Chancellor and his wife Anastasia, on this 15th day of August, in the year 7038“. In that period they were calculating the calendar starting from the beginning of the world so that’s why it is the year 7038 instead of 1530.

Later in 1641, Vasile Lupu erected a defence tower and strengthened the surrounding walls. The architecture of the sacred monument of Humor displays some special characteristics. This is the very establishment where the open porch was used for the first time in the construction of churches in the area of Moldova. Then comes the ante-nave; and following its line are the tomb chamber and a new room on the upper story - the secret chamber- placed precisely above the tomb chamber. To the east, the church ends in a semi-circular apse of the altar divided from the nave by a remarkable altar screen carved in yew wood donated by Gheorghe Movila in 1590.

The west wall and the vault of the exonarthex are reserved for a single composition, The Last Judgment, following the example of the St. Nicholas Church of Probota. The noble figure of Christ is above Adam and Eve. Below them is the Hand of God holding the scales to weigh the souls, and the Archangel Michael defending poor souls from the devils. The whole left side of the wall shows on three registers, groups of Righteous, Saints, Holy Women, Martyrs and Prophets. St. Peter is leading them towards Paradise, a garden on a white background, where the Virgin Mary and the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, wait for the saved souls.  On the south wall, „The Siege of Constantinople“, „The Burning Bush“, „The Life of Saint Nicholas“, „The prayer of all the saints“ is situated on the apses of the church. The church at Humor is the first church from Bucovina with the exterior painted. In the lobby, the paintings represent The Sinaxar (The calendar of the church) the icon of the Assumption of the Virgin and of the Holy Virgin praying to the prophets and angels. In to the burial chamber the vault is covered with scenes from the life of Virgin Mary. In the narthex are faces of saints, the Crucifixion of Jesus, and His resurrection; and on the top of the tower, Jesus Pantocrator. In the Narthex too are the votive paintings. The altar on the vault is represented traditionally - The Mother of God with baby Jesus, together with faces of saints and The Last Supper.

The architecture of the Humor Monastery is very important because it is the first example in the construction of the churches from Moldavia, of the open porch and a small room on the first floor named secret chamber above the burial chamber. From the porch we enter in pronaos, then in to the burial chamber and into the nave To the east the church ends in the apse of the altar separated from the nave by a very old iconostasis made from wood. One of the hardest ordeals which finished  the monastic settlement at Humor took place in the 18th century, in 1774 when the region of Bukovina was occupied by the Austrians. Within less than a decade most of the monasteries were closed and the Monastery of Humor was turned in 1785 into a school for the local children. In 1850 it was turned into a storage house for the local authorities and later it became the village parochial church. Much later it became a historical monument and was entered the painting restoration programs under the aegis of UNESCO between 1972 and 1974. Today, for the nuns in the Monastery of Humor life means a mingle  prayers with work in the monastery workshop, where they paint icons, decorate eggs (following the local traditions) or work the land during the warm season.

Arbore Church

It was built by Luca Arbore one of the captains of Stephen the Great in 1503. The church has a rectangular plan without a tower. The interior painting it was seriously affected in the XVII-XVIII centuries when the building remained without a roof.  The grave of Luca Arbore is decorated with gothic style symbols and it is situated on the left side at the entrance into the church.  The exterior paintings bring two innovations in the Moldavian painting.  On the western wall appear depicted images of the fight of St. George with the dragon and in one of the images the dragon is represented with the body on one wall and with the tail on the other. Another novelty is represented by the moment when the people are invited to celebrate the victory of St. George and one of them is depicted sitting at a table with their back to the viewer. These are the most important reasons to come here to Arbore to see real novelties in the Romanian art of the XVIth century preserved until our day.

Voronet Monastery

Voronet monastery is situated in the village with the same name, 36 km from Suceava and just 4 km from the downtown of the city Gura Humorului. It is one of the most valuable foundations of Stephen the Great. The church was erected in the year 1488 in 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days between may 26th and September 14th which was a record for that time and something magical with the repetition of the number 3 (holy trinity). The work was begun of course on a Monday at dawn; the symbol of a perfect beginning.

The exterior painting of Voronet dates from time of Petru Rares and it is realized very well chosen as the best ensemble of medieval Moldavian art. The biblical figures from these exterior frescos have heart and life. The frescos have living colours; close to nature with much green and blue. Walking into the entrance of the church you will find the paintings of the military saints such as George, Demeter, and Mercury. St. George is not such an important saint because his life does not carry attributes as defender of the virgins, saviour of the just or carrier of the flag as national killer of the evil etc. On the contrary his life was a very peaceful one and the miracles attributed to him happened after his death. What it is interesting is that here we have a case of synthesis as in the case of Christmas December 25th which was for the Dacians (the ancestors of the Romanians) but for other nations too, the day of Mythras a solar god. But the church often did  such things to convince people to embrace the new religion. Returning to Saint George we say that, it overlaps with the symbol and the legend of the Thracian Knight very popular in the Danube area. In this way we have a continuity of the old religions in Christianity by the phenomenon named synthesis.

The west wall has the impressive scene of the Last Judgement which contains 4 parts. On the upper part is God surrounded by the zodiac signs. The second part has the Diesis scene framed by the apostles sitting on chairs. From the feet of the Saviour starts a river of fire where the sinners are melting. The third part is Etimasia of the Holy Ghost symbolized as a dove standing on a throne. Beneath it is a hand of God keeping in it the souls of the believers and a balance above a man who is judge, Saint Gospel and the first fathers of the Romanian nation having to the north a group of believers guided by the Saint Apostil Paul, and to the south groups of non-believers, led of course by Mohamed, who conquered Constantinople which is represented by Moses.

The fourth part in the middle appears the scale of good and bad; facts which are kept by the hand of God which carry on it the souls of people.

We see in the same part the fight for our souls between angels and devils; on the right is hell on the left is Heaven. In hell we can see the river of fire which carries people arriving in hell. On the same right side we can see the resurrection of the dead. Also, wild animals give back the people which were eaten by them to be judged. (the scene is represented by the parts of human body which emerge from the mouth of the animals or fish).

The angels, who announce the resurrection of the dead are using for this some Moldavian instruments instead of the trumpets from the Bible.

The Fifth part shows us a Moldavian ship at sea, which is proof that the Moldavians of Stephen the Great were sailors too, not just agricultural workers. Also here we can see an angel receiving the soul of a man ( shown as a small white man depicted near the mouth of Hell/purgatory) playing a local type of guitar to King David. On the left side you can see saint Peter in front of the believers leading them to Heaven, and in heaven waiting for them Virgin Mary; Abraham and Jacob have in their lap some traditional Moldavian towels; the souls of the believers and a man carrying a cross. It is the thief crucified at the same time with Jesus, and Jesus told him „...I tell you the truth. In this night you’ll be in Heaven with me“. As you can see he is in Heaven.

Talking about painting we can observe a breaking of the church rules. We have in the exterior painting close to the main door on a buttress, a representation of Daniel the hermit with the halo of a saint around his head immediately after his death, which did not conform with reality because the confessor of Stephen the Great was not recognized as a saint by the church.

In the painting of the holy Apostles exist many faces of Moldavian peasants, as they are throughout the church, including a detailed picture of the Moldavian plough used by Adam in a painting situated on the north wall at the upper part. Together with these elements we have the local model of guitar used by King David, so we can say that Voronet is like a time capsule.

This kind of deviation from the religious rules occurred with the approval of Stephen the Great the Moldavian prince. One argument will be that comparing to the other monasteries in the area which were constructed with a burial chamber, the Church of the Voronet Monastery was built as a memorial monument at the outset. Reterning to the frescos and especially to the large fresco of The Last Judgment we notice the existence of a dragon. This type of dragon was considered extinct thousands of years ago when it existed in the forests of Moldavia. In proof of this fact the German scientist Athanassius Kircher affirmed in 1665 that in 1660 a dragon similar to  the flying dragon from the Voronet fresco was killed near Rome.

Conrad Gessner in Historia Animallum affirmed that in to the 16th century this kind of animal lived in the south of Europe. The dragon from Voronet could be based on one living in the area. In this way, the painting from Voronet transmits testimony that in that period a kind of dragon lived in the Moldavian forests.

The golden number of Phitagoras was used in the church construction. According to this, the main dimensions of the church follow this golden number. The fractions between total length, length to the middle of the tower, width, apses, the interior of the apses and maybe others remain always the same and always equal with this golden number. This number has many particularities. From an artistic angle, the golden number is the fraction between the length and width of a perfect rectangle. Another important aspect connected with the church at Voronet, and other Romanian churches refers to their construction with 4 special chambers: altar, nave,  lobby, and porch.

Their function is very well known: at the altar sits the priest, in the nave only the men who participate in the religious service, in the lobby sitting - the ladies and the porch  connects with the exterior and is also the place for funerals and the place for baptism. These 4 cha mbers are corresponding to the 4 vital centres which constitute the human body : the head, the soul, the heart and the belly button.

Suceava Citadel

During the reign of Stephen the Greats, “a vulture of fame hovers above Suceava” (Mihail Sadoveanu a very important Romanian writer) it was the fame achieved on the battlefield by the Moldavian soldiers who for many years defended the gates of the citadel from all attacks. Built at the end of XIVth century during the time of Petru I Musat, the ruler who established the throne of Moldavia at Suceava, the citadel was  the most powerful of the Moldavian fortifications system.  Surrounded by strong       walls towers, fortified with large ditches for defence, it was impregnable. In the middle of the XVth century new techniques of fighting , artilery, spread to Eastern Europe and required the increase of siege resistance capacity of the citadel at Suceava. The ruler Stephen the Great had the merit (1457-1504) of restructuring the throne Citadel of Suceava and others  adapting it to the new conditions of battle. The old defence ditch was filled and the rectangular fort was surrounded by an interior wall built in two phases. During the first one, prior to the Otoman siege in the summer of 1476, the inner wall with a thickness of 1 - 5m  was reinforced with two square towers. After siege the first line of walls is reinforced with another inner wall with a thickness of 3m. and the square towers were transformed into bastiones with artillery platforms on their top. Now the defence ditch which surrounding the citadel on the east side, south side and west side was dug and the entrance moved to the east side. The entrance had a bridge with a fixed part and a mobile part and a three gates system.  Defended by the soldiers who stayed the guards rooms. The ineriors too, were modified beeing adapted to the necessities of life at the royal court in the fashion of the time. On the east side was the small chapel and the ruler`s apartments, and on the west side in the basement were the cellars, and on the floor above a large room magnificently  decorated with gothic sculptures, where was the ruler’s council. The rest of the rooms of the citadel were assigned to the soldiers, because here the ruler only lived here in case of danger.

During the time of Stephen the Great the citadel was besieged three times in 1476, 1485, 1497 and never conquered. In 1476 the citadel repulsed the siege of the Ottoman Empire`s army led by the conqueror of Constantinopol himself, Sultan Mahommed II,  bringing crusade to the Neamt citadel. In 1497 it was besieged for 21 days by the army of Ioan Albert the king of Poland, the citadel resisted and the army  returned to Poland beeing destroyed on that way in the Cosmin Forrest. In 1504 Stephen the Great died here.

Unbeatable for decades, this fortress was destroyed by treason. In 1538, the sultan Suliman the Magnificent, attacked Moldova. On September 18  the Turkish army of 200.000 soldiers arrived outside the walls. Suliman prepared his army for battle but he did not fight. He waited.  He waited because of the nobles. The nobles were leaving Petru Rares (a son of Stephen the Great) to surrender the country to the Turks and this opened for the first time the gates of Suceava. The following years saw the installation on the throne of the ruler Stephen Grasshopper, two years later in 1540, in the citadel of Suceava he was killed „up in a turret“.

Burned by the order of Alexandru Lapusneanu in his second period on the throne at the request of the sultan, the citadel regained its military importance in the time of Ieremia Movila, but before the army of Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) the gates of the citadel opened alone. (1600) Vasile Lupu ordered modifications to the citadel. The inner courtyard was lost for a loggia sustained by brick pillors. On the south side a bathroom was built and a prison in the tower on the middle of the south side of the citadel. The last episode of the history of the citadel was during the time of Dumitrascu Cantacuzino in 1675. This ruler at the order of the Turks, destroyed the citadel and a few years later an earthquake destroyed it completely citadel it became a stone quarry for the inhabitants of the city gradually covered with earth. The first dig was here between 1895-1904 with the purpose of uncovering the walls. In 1951 at Suceava the first school archaeological was arranged as a site inform medieval Romanian history lead by professor Ion Nestor.