Tucked into the north-eastern corner of Romania, the medieval principality of the Moldavian region, Bucovina lies in between the Carpathian foothills and the Romanian plains. Here the region's hero, Stefan the Great, fought back the Turks in the 14th and 15th centuries and then built churches and monasteries throughout Moldavia to celebrate his victories. There are 48 monasteries in total, complete with fortified walls to protect against invaders. These unique monasteries and Byzantine churches with their exceptional exterior frescoes are some of the most fascinating sights in Romania. Seven of the painted monasteries have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The area is worth visiting, not only for its wealth of religious art and the beautiful monasteries, but also for the natural beauty and simplicity of the region with its rolling hills, forests, and valleys. The countryside is scattered with picturesque villages and rural scenery as local folk go about their daily business. Horse-drawn carts dominate the lanes, driven by people bundled up against the cold, outdoor wells and piles of chopped wood adorn the yards, and produce markets bustle with activity. This fascinating region of Romania is a stark contrast to the frenetic pace and way of life shaped by the modern face of city living.
The largest town in the area, and previous capital of Moldavia, is Suceava, the gateway to the painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina. The town has various sights of interest, including old medieval churches, the Bucovina History Museum, and its main tourist site, the Schaun Citadel, a fortress built to hold off the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1476.
The 15th century painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, they represent some of the greatest artistic monuments in Europe and are among the most picturesque treasures in Romania. Most of the churches are fortified with strong defensive surrounding walls as protection against Turkish invaders that sheltered large armies of soldiers awaiting battle.
The exterior walls of the monasteries are richly decorated with vivid frescoes depicting dramatic Biblical scenes, intended to teach Christianity to the illiterate. The artwork has amazingly survived harsh exposure to the elements for over 450 years and the intense colours have been well preserved. The five main painted monasteries near Suceava are Humor, Voronet, Moldovita, Sucevita, and Arbore. The predominant colour of the artwork at Voronet is a vivid blue that serves as a background to the designs.
The quality of the frescoes, the magnificent Last Judgement and the brilliant colour has earned it the moniker of 'Sistine Chapel of the East'. Humor is characterised by its predominant red colour; and the largest and finest of the monasteries, Sucevita, has its thousands of painted images on a background of emerald green. Moldovita, situated in the middle of a quaint farming village, consists of a strong fortified enclosure with towers and heavy gates, with the beautiful painted church in the centre. Also nearby are Dragomirna and Putna monasteries, the latter home to an active community of monks and a small museum containing medieval manuscripts and rare textiles.
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