Adventure in RomaniaIf you want the full Orthodox experience in Romania, you have to see the churches of Southern Bucavino. A good starting point to see the churches is the town of Vatra Dornei. Now, there were advantages and disadvantages in taking a tour. On the plus side, I never would have been able to find them on my own. Perhaps I would have found some, but it was so much easier to be delivered to the doorstep. However, when you take a tour to many different locations in one day, it doesn’t matter if the tour is in Romanian (which it was) or any other language. Destinations blur together. It was certainly the case on this tour. I was blurred.
I knew nothing about the monasteries in advance. Yes, I should have read the guidebook before visiting. Lesson learned. But, surprise was also good. I knew the monasteries were built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but I had no idea that many of them were painted inside and out. That was the inspiration of Grigore Rosca as a means of educating the illiterate of biblical events. Painted in a Byzantine style, they art also had a healthy infusion of traditional folk art and lore. Thankfully, they were built with large eaves that helped to protect a lot of the art. Of course, the interiors were much more protected and preserved, but some of the exteriors were in amazing condition.
They monasteries weren't just churches. They were built as fortresses to protect the Orthodox Church from invasion by Turk and Tatar infidels. There were dwellings for the monks and nuns (who still lived on the grounds), guard towers, elegant walls, and now each had a museum to share its history. However, as I said, the monasteries blurred together in a one day trip. I took notes from my guidebook of the ones I think I visited.
Voronet Monastery was built in 1488 by Stephan the Great after a successful campaign against the Turks, pushing them back across the Danube. The frescos painted between 1547 and 1550 have given this monastery the nickname as the "Oriental Sistine Chapel". And, it is most noted for the painting of the Last Judgement and a special blue paint that nobody knows how it was made. Naturally, it's called Voronet Blue.
Humor Monastery, founded in 1530, was protected by a wooden stockade instead of a stone rampart. Maybe they should have had stone? Eventually, the place was overtaken by marauding Turks.
Sucevita Monastery was in full festival swing, probably unimaginable when the place was founded in 1584. There were carousels, food vendors, medieval contests, souvenir hawkers, crowds, and police thronging the entry area. However, inside the gates, all was calm.
The claim to fame in Suceviata was the Ladder of Virtue mural covering the northern wall. A host of angels escorted the righteous up a ladder to heaven. However, there were also sinners who fell through the rungs and into the arms of grinning devils.
Putna Monastery didn't have the external murals that attracted visitors to other monasteries. It was all very understandable. The place was burned down and rebuilt in 1484, 1536, and 1691. It was damaged by war three times in the seventeenth century. And, if that wasn't enough, there were the earthquakes of 1902 and 1955. But, since it was founded by Stephen the Great in 1466, and the founding father of Romania was also buried there, Putna Monastery held a rightful place in the country's history. Mihal Eminescu, Romania's national poet (1850 - 1889), commemorated the site in a speech in 1871. "Let us make Putna the Jerusalem of the Romanian people, and let us also make Stephen's grave the altar of our national conscience." It was little wonder why this was the one monastery my driver told me that I needed to visit.