Day 3 – Moldovița and the Bucovina monasteries
Driving tour of the four major monasteries:
Moldovița monastery is a 5 minute walk from Vila Crizantema so we went to visit the afternoon we arrived. It costs 5 lei to enter and you can take photographs outside but not inside. You can’t wear short or skimpy clothes in the monastery complexes. Even men in shorts (if they’re above the knee) will be given a little wrap to wear.
Moldovița church was built in 1532 and decorated in 1537. It sits within a fortified monastic complex. The decorative scheme has yellow as the dominant colour (each monastery has its own decorative colour scheme) and takes for its adornment a very similar scheme to the other big monasteries in Bucovina.
The southern exterior shows the 626 siege of Constantinople towards the west end with the center of the south wall taken up by a huge tree of Jesse.
The porch at the west end of the church features a huge and intricate ‘doom’, a representation of the last judgement, with the righteous to Jesus’ right hand side and the dammed to His left.
The grounds around the church are beautifully manicured with plants climbing up the fortifications. There’s also a small museum on site displaying a range of artifacts from the monastery’s history.
After an excellent night’s sleep in our cute alpine style room, we were off to see the rest of Bucovina’s monasteries. According to the rough guide, this is a little visited part of Romania, probably owing to its remoteness from any of the major airports.
It is totally worth the journey, the painted churches are completely unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere (and I’ve seen a lot of churches). The decoration covers every inch inside and out and everything is painted with a remarkable level of consistency. Hundreds of small squares representing Bible and Apocryphal stories stare down at you from the walls, with a slightly overwhelming number of depictions of beheadings (!).
The grandest of the monastery complexes we visited was Sucevița monastery which sits in a large fortified complex.
The decorative scheme is in blues and greens and the most striking of the paintings is the huge Jacob’s ladder which takes up nearly the whole North wall with row after row of uniform angels in different colours. The inside is equally awe-inspiring with hundreds of pictures of Saints’ lives dotted across ever inch of interior.
Humor monastery is the smallest of the monasteries I visited and has a reddish-brown as it’s signature colour. It also includes a large Last Judgement scene in its decorative scheme.
The grounds are a bit smaller than the others but there’s also a watch tower you can climb up for views over the countryside. Just be aware that it is extremely steep and very narrow. You can also see daylight through the boards which make up the wooden platform around the top, so if you’re not a fan of heights you might want to give it a miss! Humor also charges 5 lei for entry and 10 lei to take photos.
Voronet Monastery is close to Humor although much lager in scale and is reputed to have been built in under 4 months. It has a blue signature colour scheme which is so renowned that it’s called ‘voronet blue’.
The most striking feature of Voronet is that instead of a West door, the west exterior wall has no openings and is instead covered by the most vivid and spectacular Last Judgement. Particularly striking are the neat rows of clergymen destined for paradise whose orderly and geometric depiction represents their piety.
Benches are laid out so you can sit and study the painting for a while. This was probably my favourite of the monasteries due to the scale and detail of the Last Judgement painting.
After the Bucovina monastery tour it was a few more hours in the car headed south towards Lake Bicaz, also known as Lacul Izvorul Muntelui. The roads in this part of the country are terrible and we spent the best part of one hour bumping and jarring from pot hole to pot hole. There isn’t really a way around this, you just have to slow down, but vigilant and sometimes just brace for impact.
You’re rewarded for your driving efforts by mile after mile of unspoilt forest and rivers and a parade of charming little towns and villages. The most fascinating thing is to watch all the locals at work. Out in the countryside it seems that the overwhelming majority are farmers and even those that aren’t seem to keep a few animals and grow their own vegetables. Every town and village also has a resident stork or five with huge nests built atop telegraph poles.
Dotted across the landscape and far up into the hills stand pitched wooden barns which we were told were to house hay for the animals through winter, it being more convenient to have supplies up in the hills near where the animals graze than at home.
Neat haystacks line the road throughout the countryside and sheep, cows, horses and chickens wander the mountains and the verges grazing at will. Everyone drives pretty fast in Romania but it’s wise to take account of the speed limits through bad roads and towns and villages. A lot of life happens on or around the road in Romania and you frequently come speeding around a corner to find a dog, horse and cart or child merrily wandering in the street.
The last leg of our journey took us down a treacherous steep and rocky trail to our accommodation. We stayed a few hundred meters from Lake Izvorul Muntelui, which is a man made lake resulting from a damn at the southern end of the lake.
I tried a Moldovitan traditional dish for dinner called Tochitura- a combination of polenta, fried eggs, cheese, red onion and several types of pork (mine came with bacon, sausage, liver and just plain old pork). Pork seems omnipresent in Romanian cooking but it was the only animal not spotted on our trip!