Painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina

Romania is abounding of places of worship : hermitages, churches, monasteries, temples, basilicas a.s.o. They have been built during almost a millennium, in a multitude of architectonic styles. When visiting those places keep in mind that the Romanian architecture is a mixture of the Byzantine style and Western influences from Renaissance to Baroque.

Tucked into the northeastern corner of Romania, and the medieval principality of the Moldavian region, Bucovina lies in the easily-defended Carpathian foothills where the region’s hero, Stefan the Great (Stefan cel Mare ruled between 1457-1504). fought back the Turks in the 14th and 15th centuries and then built churches and monasteries throughout Moldavia to praise God for allowing him to win. He used to built one monastery after each of his battles. His descendant, Petru Rares, continued his work by setting the foundations for many other famous monasteries. There are 48 monasteries in total, some with fortified walls to protect against invaders. These unique monasteries and Byzantine churches with their exceptional exterior frescoes are one of the most fascinating sights in Romania. Seven of the painted monasteries have been included on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Much of the former Romanian province of Bucovina, previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was lost to the USSR (now the Ukraine) in 1945 together with its capital, Cernauti. The name Bucovina came into official use in 1775 with the region’s annexation to the Austrian Empire The name has a Slavic origin and is derived from the word for beech tree ‘buk’ in Ukrainian; the German equivalent, das Buchenland, mostly used in poetry, means, literally, “beech land”, or, more poetically, “land of beech trees”. In Romanian the original name of the region during the rule of the Moldavian Principality was “Tara de Sus” (Upper Country), referring to the altitude, as opposed to the lower plains called “Tara de Jos” (Lower Country).

Bucovina 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. It is a territory with clean unspoiled nature. It has a unique landscape: thick forests and imposing crests (“obcine”), branching off from the Carpathians, which allow a wonderful panorama of valleys, with houses scattered here and there, with large gardens and farm yards inviting one to lie down by the haystacks and look up at the blue sky with its marvelous hues. You might even catch a glimpse of a buffalo, a species that is being reintroduced into a natural reservation. 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. These are some of the scenes the traveler will encounter in this fascinating region of Romania, a stark contrast to the frenetic pace and way of life shaped by the modern face of city living.

Moldavian wines have been known for five centuries. There are vineyards that can be visited.


Suceava, once the capital of Moldavia and today the largest town in the area, is the gateway to visiting the painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina. There are a couple of places of interest in town, including old medieval churches, the Bucovina History Museum and its main tourist site, the Schaun Citadel, a fortress built to hold off Mehmed II in 1476.

The painted monasteries of Bucovina

The painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina are some of the greatest artistic monuments in Europe and among the most picturesque treasures in Romania. Most of the churches are fortified with strong defensive surrounding walls as protection against Turkish invaders and they 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 by means of pictures. The artwork has amazingly survived harsh exposure to the elements for over 450 years and the intense colors have been well preserved. The five main painted monasteries near Suceava are Humor, Voronet, Moldovita, Sucevita and Arbore. The predominant color 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 Judgment and the brilliant color has earned it the moniker of ‘Sistine Chapel of the East’. Humor is characterized by its predominant red co lour; 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. They are all UNESCO sites.