Monday, November 6, 2017

The Painted Monasteries of Moldavia

The fame of these Moldavian churches reaches well beyond the borders of Romania. What is so special about them? They were built in the 15th and 16th centuries, at a time of great political and cultural development of Moldavia. The frescoes were typical of Byzantine churches of that time. But what makes them so unique are the frescoes on the outside.

Although they were painted more than 400 years ago, their colors have been preserved despite being exposed to centuries of harsh weather. It amazes the visitor with the perfection of the drawings and their balanced tones. The gorgeous blue of the paintings and the detail of the frescoes almost take your breath away.

The monasteries are situated near Suceava, a city with a magnificent history and founded on the banks of the Suceava River before the 14th century. More important, this was the capital of medieval Moldavia from 1375 until 1565. The entire region of Suceava is filled with reminders of its medieval grandeur. It features some of the finest 15th-century frescoes in all of Moldavia. You may want to start with the Monastery of Moldovita built and painted in 1532-1537. Here the frescoes almost come alive with their rich dark reds and a gorgeous gold.

The road then takes you through a superb landscape, over a high hill covered with forests, to the next stop: Sucevita (1584). This is an impressive site, and unlike its siblings, Sucevita is visited mostly by art and beauty lovers. One side of the high thick walls tell the story of a troubled past. The most interesting scene is The Stairway of Virtue (otherwise known as the "stairway to heaven").

Nearby Suceava, the small town of Gura Humorului is the host of two of the most beautiful Moldavian monasteries: Humor and Voronet. Humor (1530) is located in a village to the West of Gura Humorului. Here you will be amazed by the intricate detail of the frescoes and the gorgeous dark red hue. Especially impressive here is the scene depicting the siege of Constantinople (the Byzantine capital) by the Persians.

On the other side of the valley lies Voronet, built by Stefan in 1488 and dedicated to St. George. It is the most cherished of the painted monasteries, which is easy to understand when you gaze at the unique and wonderful blue color that dominates the walls. The last of these magnificent Monasteries is Putna (1469) built by great Voivode Stefan cel Mare, "Stephen the Great." The monastery also serves as his grave and is today a place of pilgrimage for many Romanians.

The reason why these monasteries were painted on the outside is simple but beautiful. These fine and delicate outdoor frescoes tell a powerful story of faith.

In the middle ages, very few people could read. The sole purpose of the frescoes was to make the story of the Bible and the lives of the most important orthodox saints come to life, using images so everyone could understand the meaning of the Christian holidays and feel closer to God. One of the most prominent features is that each of the five churches has its own dominant color. The composition of these ancient dyes remains a secret of the master painters. Many attempts to duplicate the wonderful colors have all failed.

The painted monasteries of Moldavia are something to see — something you’ll have to see to believe. They can be reached on a one-day tour from the cities of Suceava or Radauti. The Churches of Moldavia were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1993.