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Bucovina's Painted Monasteries

We were told to visit this area to see some of the more beautiful monasteries in this region and that many are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

We had the intent of seeing three of the main monasteries and figured by then this will provide us with a good overview of what many others may be like so there was no need to visit more. We drove up from the train as Viseu du Sus to spend the night in Radauti, a place centrally located for being able to see a lot of these monasteries.

The first monastery was Sucevita which we were heading to until we saw a sign for another one, which was only a 3km diversion. Why not? Off we go, and as the road became more narrow, and then became all loose gravel, we questioned whether this was a good idea. It was the longest 3km, with hairpin curves and no way of turning around so we were committed to seeing this place.

Apparently it was quite rare for someone to visit, as one of the monks came out to see if we needed help or had any questions. The church itself was nice, but the view of the valley and mountains made the drive worth it.

After 20 minutes or so we were off to see Sucevita. This is the first of the three main monasteries we would see, and it’s stunning. It’s not the size or shape that is the draw but the frescoes on both outside and inside of the monastery which make this a marvel.

The monasteries we saw were built in the 15th and 16th century, and during this time as folks were illiterate, the church painted the stories of the bible to better help the people to understand, hence the beautiful paintings.

One of the more well know paintings on the exterior is the ladder to heaven, depicting sinners falling to hell through the rung of the ladders, and well the more enlightened ones go to heaven. Suceava was the last of the monasteries to be built and was the largest.

Outside fresco showing ladder to heaven

One cannot take photos of the inside of these monasteries, which we didn’t know at the time as there was a tour group who happened to be there prior to us arriving, and they were taking photos, so we followed their lead. The next monastery, the nuns were like hawks and ensured no one was taking photos, including the women who had her child taking photos on her smartphone. The nun was not having anything to do with these types of shenanigans.

Many of the paintings in these monasteries depicted extremely cruel ways of people being killed. The typical sawing down the middle of a person starting from the head, a few beheadings, and few other assorted ways to torture someone. We still aren’t sure if the dead were sinners or faithful that became saints as most of them seemed to have halos around their heads.

On another note, you can see the apostles, Jesus and Mary, the usual church paintings, all done in vibrant colors, mainly in blue.

The following day we would visit a couple of more monasteries, Humor and Voronet which pretty much had the same theme. More ways to torture someone, Jesus, Mary, Last Supper etc.

The last monastery, Voronet, which is considered the Sistine Chapel of Eastern Europe, built in 1487. Apparently, the blue of the paintings, is very specific which was created from lapis lazuli, and extremely prominent in the frescos. We were told, not sure about this, but the blue is such a specific color they cannot recreate the hue, not even with computers.

Mark and I, although we enjoyed the beauty of the monastery, really couldn’t tell the difference of the blue hue inside this one versus the others we saw. But since we are not artists, who are we to judge.

All in all, very much worth visiting.

From the monasteries we headed back into central Romania and the city of Fagaras. Here we were able to visit a fortress that was originally built back in the 14th century.

Touring the remains of an old residence for Prince’s and Princesses’ along with at one point being a prison is a very different view of what was being built at that same time as the monasteries we had visited earlier.

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