Not so long ago Romania was split into three principalities, The Romanian Country (Țara Românească), Transylvania and Moldova. The latter occupied a rich land up north, behind mountains, hills and large rivers. All three of them were constantly threatened by the Ottoman Empire. The major cities were guarded by citadels locals could hide out into in case of an attack. But it was Ștefan cel Mare, ruler of Moldova between 1457 and 1504, who began to build something that would also protect the souls of his people. After each great battle he had won, he would set the ground stone for another monastery. They would usually be placed close to small villages, in remote and picturesque settings. Each of them is unique and they take pride in their complex mural paintings that can still be admired today.
Suceava is known as the gateway to Bucovina. Once you pass over you will notice how the scenery changes and hills are taken over by the mountains outlining the valley ahead. The road goes deeper inside, along the Moldova River. Bucovina is known as the Land of painted Eggs (Țara Ouălelor Încondeiate) and this is probably its best kept tradition. This doesn’t only happen on Easter, but all year round. Skilled hands remove the interior, only leaving the shell of the egg, which is then carefully covered in numerous floral motifs.
Each crossroad means another decision. There are signposts for the most important landmarks at every corner. Having a hard time making up our minds, we postpone and find ourselves in Câmpulung Moldovenesc, a small resort under the Rarău Mountains. The valley is narrowing. Where to go from here? Should we cross Obcinele Bucovinei, the small rounded series of mountains on the right? That seems like an interesting choice. So we begin our journey from one monastery to the other, in a place where history is easily confused with the present.
The winding road climbs up above the valley, making way for a nice view over the mountains and plains.
The origins of the Moldovița Monastery are still a mystery. In the 15th century, the old stone construction collapsed due to a land slide. It was rebuilt in 1532 by Petru Rareș, the son of Ștefan cel Mare and one of the rulers of Moldova.
The ivy covered walls must be guarding something important. Small pointed towers lay on each corner. The entrance is through a larger, square tower. The dark corridor is the crossing between two opposites, the present secular world outside and the religious traditional one inside. Once you go in, all is forgotten and time seems of no essence.
The inner yard isn’t very big. Nuns mix together with the tourists. The old church is standing proud in the middle, covered in paintings showing not only religious scenes, but also various historical events. The cells are built in the monastery’s thick walls. The facade is covered in lively colored flowers, climbing up and reaching for the small windows. They barely leave any space in between for the stone to show. In a small corner we find the monastery’s museum. We enter through a small wooden door. Three chambers show a collection of old manuscripts. Among them, the stall of Petru Rares is the most valuable piece of its kind in Moldova.
The Moldovița Monastery resembles a small castle ripped out of the pages of a fairy tale. The round towers guarding it, the closed walls, all the flowers and the attention to detail trap you inside this soothing atmosphere. Everything around welcomes you to sit down on a bench, relax and forget all about what is happening outside.
Once again we pass through the large tower and so we return to present times. But there’s something so romantic about the place that doesn’t let you leave just yet. The hill behind seems like the perfect place to catch our breath and to have another look at the monastery and at the surroundings. How come the grass is so green here?
Well, this was the first Bucovina monastery we visited on the first of our three day trip. We also found out that we were on the Painted Eggs Trail. This means that we can find artistically painted eggs for sale at every monastery we encounter on this path.
We leave Moldovița behind and head out to Sucevița. Stay close for the next monastery.