We were told that the Painted Monasteries in the north of Romania are a must see. Our research showed these to be 440km north of Bucharest. Google maps told us it was a 6.5 hour drive. The TomTom disagreed – our friend Jane indicated an 8.5 hour drive to see some churches!!
We hired a car for a week and headed to Suceava where we found a fort under (re)construction and some amazing Romanian Orthodox churches.
Suceava was, for a period in time, capital of the Moldovian Kingdom, an area that now stretches across northern Romania and a part of the Ukraine.
Typical Romanian food was harder to find, the offerings included Italian, Catalan and Mexican.
The rain continued as we set out on a 300km trek to see the best of the painted monasteries. They all date back to 14th – 16th centuries and were built by Stefan the Great (St Stefan) and his son Petru Rares, to commemorate the battles they won. They won many battles, so there are many monasteries.
Paintings on both the inside and outside walls have survived in varying degrees over the past 600-700 years. In fact archaeologists are unsure of the exact recipe for the paints that have given them such brilliance and longevity.
Typical Orthodox topics are depicted in all the churches
- biblical stories (the last judgement day with glorious Heaven and St Peter at the gate with his key, devils, Hell and damnation, Purgatory and it’s suffering)
- martyrs, with graphic details of their horrible deaths
- the Orthodox calendar of saints
- various kings, princes and noblemen with their families, who were the benefactors of the churches
As we also saw in Russia, Orthodox churches used their walls as a graphic lesson in living a good life, for it’s mostly illiterate congregations.
The long drive was not without interest. This is a poor part of Romania. Families hoe the crops manually and walk home after a long day in the fields with a hoe over their shoulder. Horse and donkey carts abound, carrying hay, wooden logs, families, whatever. Small stalls by the road sell honey, cheese, oil, vinegar. Older people watch the world go by from benches, built outside their front fences.