Moldova is home to eight painted churches covered in brightly colored frescoes dating from as far back as the 15th century, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. What makes these churches special, though, is the way they are painted. It’s as if, back in the 15th and 16th century, local artists decided to paint the comic book version of the Bible onto the sides of their churches. The UNESCO website calls the images “cycles of events taken from the Bible and the Holy Scriptures, in the Orthodox Christian tradition.” The images cover the churches entirely, outside and inside. On the exterior, the frescoes start just above the ground and reach right to the roof line. Inside, every inch of the walls and ceilings is covered as well. Deemed masterpieces of Byzantine art, these churches are one-of-a-kind architectural sites in Europe.
Far from being merely wall decorations, the murals represent complete cycles of religious events. The purpose of the frescoes was to make the story of the Bible and the lives of the most important Orthodox saints known to villagers by the use of images. Their outstanding composition, elegant outline and harmonious colors blend perfectly with the surrounding landscape.
Besides these world renowned architectural and cultural gems, the tour will take you to other hotspots of Romanian history and culture (museums, local craft workshops, historical citadels) in the area around the painted churches that represent the main objective of our tour.
Day 1: Transfer to Suceava
On this day you will be transferred to Suceava, one of the most important cities in the north-east of Romania. As the former capital of Moldavia in the Middle Ages, Suceava is home to the Seat Fortress of the Principality (1388-1565) - a historical and architectural gem consisting of two concentric citadels. Other historical and cultural sites await to be explored in the city during the week that we will be spending here.
Day 2: Suceava - Voroneț - Humor - Cacica - Suceava
We start our tour heading East to the most famous of the painted churches, also called the Sistine Chapel of the East - Voroneț monastery. One of the first churches to be built, in 1488, the church was finished in record time (3 months and 3 weeks) at the order of Stephen the Great. Bearing the name of St. George, the patron of Stephen's armies, the church impresses through the deepness of its original blue hue used for the exterior frescoes, known worldwide as "Voroneț blue". From Voroneț we head back to Gura Humorului where we are going to visit the Museum of Local Crafts which also hosts an exhibition with paintings by local artist George Cotos. Our next stop is at another World Heritage site, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin of the former Monastery of Humor, built in 1530 and beautifully painted on the outside with frescoes depicting religious and historical events. Our last stop for the day takes us to Cacica salt mine, one of the largest salt reserves in Romania, whose galleries have all been hand drilled. An hours drive from here and we are back to Suceava for the evening.
Day 3: Suceava - Vama - Moldovița - Sucevița - Arbore - Suceava
We begin our itinerary with a stop in Vama, one of the oldest settlements in Romania and one with a very intriguing history, here we will visit the Egg Museum and its collection of over 7000 painted eggs gathered from all over Romania and also from abroad. From here we move along towards Moldovița monastery, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites on which our tour is centered. Dating from 1532, the church of the monastery has some of the most well preserved outside frescoes that we will see during our trip. As we continue the road heads up, over the mountains through the 1100 m Ciumîrna pass and leaves us on the eastern slopes of Obcina Mare in Sucevița, the site of another UNESCO World Heritage gem, the Resurrection church of Sucevița monastery. After deciphering the meaning of its frescoes we head out east towards Marginea, a well known village for its unique craft - the black ceramics of Marginea. Moving along on our way back to Suceava we meet our last stop to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, the 1503 built church from Arbore. Its vivid frescoes have been badly during the 17th and 18th centuries but the southern side has been preserved pretty well and shows an iconographic story of the fall of Constantinople.
Day 4: Suceava - Pătrăuți - Dragomirna - Suceava
A short distance from Suceava lies the village of Pătrăuți where lies the only church built by Ștefan the Great (in 1487) that still maintains its original shape. Due to the value of its western side frescoes it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list with the other painted churches of Moldavia. The images here, depicting the Last Judgement have been rediscovered in the 1980s under a layer of plaster. Next to the churches' grounds lies the parochial house which has been converted into an interesting museum dedicated to the life of the Bukovinean priest. From here we move on north to Dragomirna to visit one of the most beautiful monastic sites in Moldova, Dragomirna monastery, built between 1602 and 1609. The day continues with visits to the amazing landmarks in Suceava (the St. John's Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage site), the citadel, the museums etc.)
Day 5: Suceava - Probota - Neamt Citadel - Negru Voda bison reserve - Neamț monastery - Râșca - Fălticeni - Suceava
This is a long day on the road as we will head out to visit the southernmost painted church in the UNESCO list, Probota monastery's St. Nicholas church. Located about 50 km south of Suceava, the church has been built in 1530 by the Moldavian king Petru Rareș. The next stop brings us to an amazing architectural and historical landmark, the medieval Neamț citadel in the town of Târgu Neamț. The town's surrounding area is a treasure of touristic spots, out of which we will visit ”Dragoș Vodă” bison reserve, Neamț and Râșca monasteries. Heading back towards Suceava we pass through the town of Fălticeni where we can also visit the ”Ion Irimescu” Art Museum and ”Mihai Băcescu” Museum of Waters.
Day 6: Suceava - Putna - Bogdana - Radauti - Suceava
The sixth day closes our tour of the UNESCO World Heritage sites dedicated to the painted churches of Bukovina. However our first stop of the day takes us to what the greatest Romanian poet, Mihai Eminescu, called the Jerusalem of the Romanian people, Putna Monastery. Built between 1466 and 1469 at the order of Ștefan the Great, the monastery is also the site of the great ruler's earthly remains and grave. The church is beautifully decorated on the outside and the inside is painted with magnificent frescoes. The monastic complex also houses a museum with historical artifacts dating back to the 15th century. From here we head towards Bogdana monastery, home of the oldest standing church of Moldavia dating around 1360. The town of Rădăuți offers other attractions as well out of which we will be visiting the Ethnography Museum and the Colibaba Ceramics Workshop.
Day 7: Farewell
Photo sharing sessions, delicious breakfast and see you next time.
Prices start with 800 EUR/pers. (minimum of 2 persons) and they have a 50 EUR/pers. discount for group bookings (for example if you book for 3 persons the price will be 750 EUR/pers.; if you book for 5 persons the price will be 650 EUR/pers. etc.)