The following article, published on March 9, 2015 in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet, explores one of Europe’s most unique and evocative collection of monasteries- the ‘painted monasteries’ of the southern Bucovina, in Romania’s northeastern province of Moldavia.
The five-centuries-old monasteries were built by Moldavian ruler Stephen the Great and the princes who followed him. They attested to the struggle of Christian Romanians often besieged, not only by the advancing Ottoman Turks, but occasionally by Poles or Hungarians. Stephen earned his moniker ‘the Great’ by winning almost of his battles.
The monasteries sprawl across a bucolic stretch of rural Romania, comprising a collective UNESCO-Heritage Site. They are very unique in that their frescoes were painted not only indoors, but on the outer walls of the churches (those on the walls facing north, which gets the bulk of the wind and the rain, have fared worse than the paintings on other sides).
Art historians marvel at their vivid and expressive nature, and the specificity of their tones; indeed, the color ‘Voronets blue’ (associated with the monastery of the same name) is a unique derivative of lapis lazuli found only here.
The historic Bucovina region sprawls across Romania’s border with Ukraine, and the town of Suceava makes a good base for visiting the monasteries (though there are also guest houses in the countryside, and accommodation can be found at a small number of monasteries.
It’s easy to rent a car and drive through this relatively compact area, but for context and entertaining background on what you’re seeing, small group day trips are available and not expensive. Try AXA Travel in Suceava (www.axatravel.ro), which can also arrange local self-catering digs. The more distant but larger Iaşi is the Moldavian capital, and one of Romania’s most cultured cities.