It doesn’t quite matter if your faith is strong or not, the orthodox monasteries of Bucovina and their surroundings will amaze you from the very beginning till the end of your journey. Located in the northern part of Moldavia and named after the German word “buchenwald” – or in English – beech forest, the land is “dressed” with beautifully painted monasteries renowned for they 400 years old well preserved frescoes…
But Bucovina has more than that to offer. An ancient legend tells us about a young prince who reigned happily in his country near the Carpathians. Nothing special so far. But, one day he heard a rumor about a bison so proud and powerful, that no one dared to hunt. The people were telling that the creature had a shining star on its forehead and the cold morning star between its horns.
Excited by the story, the prince called his men and went hunting into the dark forests of the land we call now Moldavia…
For several days he restlessly followed the tracks of the bison until one day he saw his faithful dog fighting with an almost unreal, white creature. The bison almost instantly killed the dog and turned against the hunter. Dragos, because this was the prince’s name, in a moment of inspiration combined with fear, hit the bison right on the star between his horns. The animal fell down as stroked by lightning. When the other hunters came to see what happened, the prince told them in a proud voice – “This is the bison I defeated! Look at his strong head. This trophy will become the emblem of my country and this river, together with the country it flows through, will be named after my faithful dog – Molda.
So said the legend…
Now, the mighty bisons were reduced to a natural reservation, but still, one of the largest of its kind from Europe. This beautiful animal can be found in all the local folkloric art, in open markets and also on Romania’s most famous stamp – “The Bison Head”, issued first in 1858.
The painted monasteries of Bucovina
Bucovina is well known for its bright and colorfully painted monasteries. They all lie in the region close to the town of Suceava. The monasteries were built during the 15th-16th century at a time in Moldavia ruled Stefan Cel Mare, well-known for its resistance of 47 years in front of the Ottoman Empire. Its been said that every time a battle was won, he built a monastery. And he won lots of battles.
One of the amazing and unique things about these monasteries is that science still cannot determine the composition and resistance of the colors used to paint them. In the absence of scientifically explanations, rumors began to emerge. One of them tells us that the painters who were working at the monasteries were brought lots and lots of casks with tuica (a local brandy which you definitely must try). It’s been told that they mixed some of the brandy with the colors used to paint the monasteries. Should that be true or not, the result was and still is amazing.
Another common characteristic of these monuments is that the biblical characters are dressed like local people, although there were and still are strict rules about the religious tradition.
Still, besides these shared features, every monastery its different from the other:
Voronet has its “Voronet blue”- a colour impossible to describe, that changes according to the weather outside.
Sucevita is the last built monastery. Initially built as a fortress, Sucevita has the best preserved paintings. A legend carved in the walls of the fortress tells us about a woman that worked 30 years for the construction of Sucevita, by carrying stones from the mountains. Her face is now sculptured for eternity in a rock.
Moldovita was built around the year 1450 but collapsed and was rebuilt in 16th century. The beauty of this monastery lies in its predominant colors: gold and some pure red that makes a sunset burn in jealousy.
Arbore is named after its builder Luca Arbore and has been dedicated to the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The combined colors of the monastery (red, green, blue, ochre and pink) remained a secret that the painters took with them to their graves.
Humor was built around the year 1530 and the particular asset of its construction is the illusion that the monastery is floating above the earth under it.
Putna has a very interesting story regarding its location. The chronicles said: “When he decided to build the Monastery of Putna, Stefan Cel Mare launched his arrow from the top of a mountain that was in the neighborhood of the monastery and on the very place the arrow fell, the sanctuary or the altar was built”. Putna was the greatest monastery ever built by Stefan Cel Mare, so glorious that its paintings were covered in gold.
Thanks to the foreign invaders and their greed, the external golden paintings were destroyed, but the interior remained mostly untouched, for the delight of its visitors.
Dragomirna is the narrowest church in all Romania maybe due to the influences at that time (it was built in 1609). The inside is colored in red, blue, gold yellow and it’s painted with images and scenes from old church manuscripts. While being inside, if you dare to look at the ceiling above the altar, you’ll suddenly feel like flying, because of its amazing height and colors.
And that’s about it. It would be impossible for us to describe all the wonders hidden inside the counties of Bucovina and Moldavia, so we guess you’ll have to come and see them for yourself. And why not, add your own travel log to this description.