The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

The Painted Monasteries Highlights

Among the most picturesque treasures of Romania are the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina (in northeastern Romania). Their painted exterior walls are decorated with elaborate 15th and 16th century frescoes featuring portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus, images of angels and demons, and heaven and hell.

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 murals. 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.

Visitors to the Painted Monasteries will often witness a nun or a monk beating a long beam with a mallet, tapping out a call to prayer. The tradition started during the siege of Moldova by the Ottoman Empire when the Turks forbade the ringing of bells. The striking of wooden or metal bars, known as toaca, replaced the ringing of bells and thus, became a tradition, reinforced by the fact that in times of war, bells were often melted down to make cannons.

Whether you are interested in religion, history, art or architecture, you will be intrigued by the construction and decor — exterior and interior — of these edifices.

The best-preserved are the monasteries in Humor, Moldovita, Patrauti, Probota, Suceava, Sucevita, and Voronet. Another, a small church, is located in the village of Arbore. Seven of the churches were placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1993. The eighth, Sucevita, is awaiting sanction to be added on the list.

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