Vibrant Murals Over These Romanian Monasteries Inside And Out

This UNESCO World Heritage site is a biblical tapestry of Byzantine art.

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A MASTERPIECE AWAITS in the remote village of Voronet, in the northern Romanian region of Moldova. A biblical mural depicts angels and devils on opposite sides of a scale, scrutinising a man’s life, good deeds weighed against sins.

Around them, corpses rise from graves, joining scores of others awaiting the Last Judgment. It’s a graphic, gripping scene and it’s no wonder the 500-year-old painting has earned the Voronet Monastery the title of "Sistine Chapel of the East."

It’s one of eight similarly painted monasteries that together make up the Churches of Moldavia, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A few stand out, telling their tale in living colour. Voronet’s monastery uses a blue-grey shade so distinctive that it has given its name to a colour: Voronet blue. The Humor Monastery has an entirely different feel, with a terra-cotta red. And colours decorating the church at Sucevita remain the brightest, with pigments expertly derived from crushed minerals, semiprecious stones, and rare clays.

The Eastern Orthodox Church covered the buildings inside and out with paintings to teach religious themes to the masses.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JORGE FERNÁNDEZ, GETTY IMAGES

The buildings were commissioned in the 15th century by Stephen the Great, who defended the region against invaders and even formed an alliance with Vlad the Impaler, a historic figure also known as Dracula.

Because few peasants could read, the Eastern Orthodox Church covered the buildings inside and out with graphic paintings to teach religious themes, creating a biblical picture book of Byzantine art.

Wandering through church grounds, you may encounter nuns and monks who announce prayer times by beating a hammer on a wooden board, a tradition dating to the time when occupiers banned the ringing of the bells.

When to go

Winters in Romania can be bracing, and transportation is difficult, so aim to visit mid-April to early-October.

How to get there

Suceava, the closest city to the monasteries, can be reached by air or train from Bucharest and Vienna, Austria, and is about 160 kilometres from the monasteries. Once in the region, it’s best to rent a car, as the sites are spread out and difficult to reach on public transportation.

 

Lead Image: Moldovita Monastery is one of eight vividly painted houses of worship commissioned by Stephen the Great in the 15th century.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JORGE FERNÁNDEZ, GETTY IMAGES

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