In the heart of Bukovina, one of the most historically rich regions of Romania, Suceava has many noteworthy examples of its ancient past, such as famous painted monasteries and ancient buildings, as well as unspoilt nature - it is not by chance that Bukovina translates as “country covered by beech forests”.
On the banks of the river of the same name, the city of Suceava, which was once the capital of Moldova, is now one of the busier resorts of Romania thanks to convenient connections to its airport, (only 9 miles from the city) which was named after the ruler Stephen the Great who was beloved by his people.
The city’s morphological characteristics vary from rolling hills to picturesque rivers, and it has an attractive and peaceful landscape. Despite being targeted for a long time by the Ottomans, Suceava was never conquered thanks to the impressive fortifications built in the fifteenth century by Stephen the Great - still existing - which tower over the hills and offer a breathtaking view of the city: for all of his life this brave king defended his state from the expansionist ambitions of the Kingdom of Hungary, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In 1775 the city became part of the Habsburg Empire, where it garnered great importance as border city, since the border with Romania, of which it was not yet part, passed a few kilometres from the city; it returned to Romania at the end of World War I.
Suceava is home to many monuments, including beautiful churches: the fourteenth century Church of Mirauti, the oldest of the city, where the princes of Moldova were crowned; the Church of St. George, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the painted monasteries of Bukovina: the church is painted inside and outside with stunning scenes from the Old and New Testament.
There are many monuments that tell stories of the past: the Ethnographic Museum of Bukovina, which houses a rich collection of folk costumes, household tools, local crafts, and is located near Piazza December 22, in the heart of the city of Suceava; Museum village Bukovina, which features open-air displays of examples of rural architecture; the History Museum of Bukovina, which displays weapons, coins, ancient documents, all gathered in the Museum Complex of Bukovina; as well as the Princely Inn, a place where nobility (hence the name) once relaxed after hunting in the forests.
A stroll around the city immerses visitors in the culture and history of the Romanian people, but above all, Suceava is the starting point from which to admire the much renowned painted monasteries of Bukovina, the so-called 'monastic archipelago' of Byzantine masterpieces, unique to this world, which are also painted externally with bright colours ranging from yellow ochre to turquoise blue. The frescoes date from the fifteenth and sixteenth century with scenes from the Bible, which also depict historical personalities: princes and Moldavian rulers are rendered alongside saints and prophets, while the Turks, historical enemies of the Romanians and Christianity, are relegated to hell and depicted as demons.
The most famous is Voronet, considered the Sistine Chapel of the East for its amazing frescoes inspired by the Old and New Testament, which was erected in 1487 by Stephen the Great to celebrate the victory over the Turks.
Do not miss the Moldovita monastery, located in the centre of a forest, with the best preserved exterior frescoes of all other monasteries. It is possible to stay near these unique monuments of devotion and learn the secrets of ancient Moldovan crafts, such as painting eggs - a unique tradition in the area -, carpet weaving, wood carving or ceramics and taste the local cuisine, such as soups, known as ciorbe, imaginatively made with various ingredients like vegetables and meat, or fish, and often garnished with delicious meatballs and always with a distinctly spicy flavour.
Text by Anna Glik
Photos: Sisterscom.com, Shutterstock
Photos: Sisterscom.com, Shutterstock
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Monuments and Museums
Located within the monumental Fortress of Suceava, it dates back to the late fourteenth century and was built for the defence from the Turks. Originally built of wood, stone elements were later added with high defensive walls of over 100 feet. It is a monument that impresses due its grandeur, even if only ruins still stand, but from which an unparalleled view of the city can be enjoyed.
ST. GEORGE’S CHURCH
A UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other monasteries in the immediate area, this beautiful church has wonderful facades painted with scenes from the Old and New Testament. Inside, it houses remarkable mosaics on its vault and the relics of St. George, kept in a silver coffin and decorated with scenes from the saint's life.
BUKOVINA VILLAGE MUSEUM
In this open-air museum you can admire all of the artistic and cultural heritage of the area. The village includes a church, peasant houses, workshops, a mill and an inn. Some of the houses tell the stories of the spiritual paths of the peasants of Bukovina: for example in Sraje House you can see the depiction of the baptism, and in Volovăţ House, the marriage and the funeral.
CHURCH OF MIRAUTI
Dating back to the fourteenth century, its importance stems from the fact that this is where the kings of Moldavia were crowned until 1522, including Stephen the Great (1457-1504).
PRINCELY INN AND ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM OF BUKOVINA
In this sixteenth century museum, an example of the oldest civil architecture in Suceava, typical homes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are on display, with an exhibition of the tools needed for the various trades of the area and a kitchen equipped with utensils from the time. In addition, traditional folk costumes and an interesting collection of black and glazed ceramics, a local craft, are on display.
HISTORY MUSEUM OF BUKOVINA
This museum offers an extensive display of medieval armour, coins and tools which were used in the area. This should be visited before the painted monasteries in order to better understand the significance of these masterpieces.
NATURAL SCIENCE MUSEUM
This very interesting museum displays a wide variety of local fauna and flora. The Vivarium, with live animals, mostly birds, is a real treat for the little ones.
Painted monasteries, Unesco Sites
It is from here that you may want to begin your journey to visit these places of mysticism, because it is the closest to the city (about 20 miles). The main features of this small church are the sixteenth-century frescoes on the exterior walls representing the Genesis, byDragos Coman, among the greatest fresco painters of area. A curiosity: the monastery has no bell tower because only the monasteries built by princes were allowed that privilege, while Luca Arbore was just a wealthy landowner, who had wanted the monument as a family chapel.
It looks like a fortress, but inside its walls is an interesting museum with beautiful furniture, a royal throne and other valuables. On the entirety of the outer facade, the story of the siege of Constantinople unfolds, a motif inspired by the poem dedicated to the Virgin Mary for rescuing the city from the Persians. Along with the depiction of the Saints are characters from classic history such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles.
In the rather austere style, with a stone facade, it was built more for defence than for devotion. Today, visitors can also spend the night within its walls.
This is the best known monastery due to the beauty and abundance of colours in its paintings, which gave it the name ‘the Sistine Chapel of the East’. It was built by Stephen the Great in just four months to celebrate the victory against the Turks. The dominant colour is abright blue, known as Voronet blue, whose composition remains a mystery to this day.
Built in the sixteenth century, it features frescoes illustrating the story of the Prodigal Son in brown, blue and green. Inside, it houses a valuable collection of icons painted in the sixteenth century.
This Orthodox Monastery features exterior frescoes depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament in vivid colours, which are dominated by a beautiful bright green. Once a princely court, it is one of the largest complexes and features four huge corner towers.
Airports nearby Suceava
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