Romania

Historic Centre of Sighișoara

The Historic Centre of Sighișoara (Sighișoara Citadel) is the old historic center of the town of Sighișoara (German: Schäßburg, Hungarian: Segesvár), Romania, built in the 12th century by Saxon settlers. It is an inhabited medieval citadel that, in 1999, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 850-year-old testament to the history and culture of the Transylvanian Saxons.

Birthplace of Vlad III the Impaler (in Romanian Vlad Țepeș), Sighișoara hosts, every year, a medieval festival where arts and crafts blend with rock music and stage plays. The city marks the upper boundary of the Land of Sachsen. Like its bigger brothers, Sibiu (Hermannstadt) and Braşov (Kronstadt), Sighișoara exhibits Medieval German architectural and cultural heritage that was preserved even during the Communist period.

Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania

The south-eastern Transylvania region in Romania currently has one of the highest numbers of existing fortified churches from the 13th to 16th centuries. It has more than 150 well preserved fortified churches of a great variety of architectural styles (out of an original 300 fortified churches).

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania are seven villages (six Saxon and one Székely) founded by the Transylvanian Saxons. They are dominated by fortified churches and characterized by a specific settlement pattern that has been preserved since the Late Middle Ages.

Viscri

Viscri’s population is of Roma majority, with a few Romanians, and about 20 Germans. It lies northwest of Rupea and can be reached through Dacia on a 7 km unpaved road. The village is best known for the highly fortified Viscri fortified church, originally built around 1100. It is part of the villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, designated in 1993 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The first documentation of Viscri is a record of church taxes dated around 1400, in which the village is referred to as being part of the Rupea parish. Its inhabitants consisted of 51 farmers, 1 school master, 3 shepherds and 2 paupers.

The origins of the fortified church date from 1100 when the Székelys built a small church with a single hall and semicircular apse. Around 1185 the church was taken over by Saxon colonists, and the Székelys were forced to settle further north. In the 14th century the eastern part of the church was rebuilt and in 1525, the first fortifications with towers were added. In the 18th century the church was surrounded by a second defense wall. After 1743 a covered corridor for the storage of corn was built. A century later, two chambers in the defense corridor of the bastion were turned into school rooms. The classic 19th-century altar has as centerpiece “the Blessing of the Children” by the painter J. Paukratz from Rupea. The font was made from a capital of the 13th-century church. To this day, the church is surrounded by a cemetery with gravestones dating back to the “Bijelo Brdo culture”.

In 2006, The Prince of Wales bought and restored two 18th century Saxon houses in the Transylvanian villages of Mălâncrav and Viscri to help protect the unique way of life that has existed for hundreds of years and promote sustainable tourism. The buildings have been sensitively restored and converted into guesthouses for tourists. They remain in keeping with the surrounding architecture and feature a number of Transylvanian antiques but with modern facilities where possible. The renovation of these buildings has helped provide a sustainable future for the people of rural Transylvania while also enabling residents to maintain their traditional way of life.

Biertan

Biertan (German: Birthälm, Romani: Biyertan, Hungarian: Berethalom) is a commune in central Romania, in the north of the Sibiu County, 80 km north of Sibiu and 29 km east of Mediaş. Biertan is one of the most important Saxon villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, having been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1993. The Biertan fortified church was the see of the Lutheran Evangelical Bishop in Transylvania between 1572 and 1867.

The commune is composed of three villages: Biertan, Copșa Mare (Gross-Kopisch; Nagykapus) and Richiș (Reichesdorf; Riomfalva), each of which has a fortified church.

The first documentary testimony about the village dates from 1283 in a document about the taxes paid by the inhabitants of 7 villages and so it is believed to have been founded sometime between 1224 and 1283 by Transylvanian Saxons. The village settlement quickly developed into an important market town and by 1510 Biertan supported a population of about 5,000 people. Between 1468 and the 16th century a small fortified church (die Kirchenburg) was constructed and developed. After the medieval period the town declined in importance with the rise of neighbouring Sighișoara (= Schäßburg in German), Sibiu (Hermannstadt) and Mediaș (Mediasch).

In the census of 1930 Biertan had 2331 inhabitants, of whom 1228 were Transylvanian Saxons. During World War II many men were conscripted into the Romanian army and later the Waffen-SS. After the war many Transylvanian Saxons were expelled from the region. Following the collapse of Communism in 1990 many more left for Germany.

Today the whole commune has a population of about 2,500 and the village of Biertan alone has about 1,600 people. It is one of the most visited villages in Transylvania, being the historically important place of the annual reunion of the Transylvanian Saxons, many of whom now live in Germany.

Wooden churches of Maramureș

The Wooden churches of Maramureș in the Maramureș region of northern Transylvania are a group of almost one hundred Orthodox churches, and occasionally Greek-Catholic ones, of different architectural solutions from different periods and areas. The Maramureș churches are high timber constructions with characteristic tall, slim bell towers at the western end of the building. They are a particular vernacular expression of the cultural landscape of this mountainous area of northern Romania.

Maramureș is one of the better-known regions of Romania, with autonomous traditions since the Middle Ages – but still not very much visited. Its well-preserved wooden villages and churches, its traditional lifestyle, and the local colourful dresses still in use make Maramureș as near to a living museum as can be found in Europe.

The wooden churches of the region that still stand were built starting from the 17th century all the way to 19th century. Some were erected on the place of older churches. They were a response to the prohibition against the erection of stone Orthodox churches by the Catholic Austro-Hungarian authorities. The churches are made of thick logs, some are quite small and dark inside but several of them have impressive measures. They are painted with rather “naïve” Biblical scenes, mostly by local painters. The most characteristic features are the tall tower above the entrance and the massive roof that seems to dwarf the main body of the church.

Eight were listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1999, for their religious architecture and timber construction traditions. These are: Bârsana, Budești, Desești, Ieud, Plopiș, Poienile Izei, Rogoz, Șurdești.

Bârsana (Hungarian: Barcánfalva) is a commune in Maramureș County, Romania. It is composed of two villages, Bârsana and Nănești (Nánfalva). It also included Oncești village until 2004, when it was split off to form a separate commune. As of 2002, Bârsana had 6,352 inhabitants, all but ten of whom were ethnic Romanians. 86.7% were Romanian Orthodox, 7.8% Greek-Catholic and 3.1% Pentecostal.

Bârsana

Bârsana’s Church of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple is one of eight Wooden Churches of Maramureș listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, another wooden monastery was built in Bârsana.

Rogoz

The Church of the Holy Archangels in Rogoz village is one of eight Wooden Churches of Maramureș listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Among the town’s historic buildings are also the Roman Catholic church (1752), the Calvinist church (1839), the Orthodox church (1906-1912), the old school (1858), and the old town hall, now a dispensary (19th century). Rohia Monastery is also located within the town limits.

Șurdești

Șișești (Hungarian: Lacfalu) is a commune in Maramureș County, Romania. It is composed of seven villages: Bontăieni (Pusztatelek), Cetățele (Györkefalva), Dănești (Bajfalu), Negreia (Nyegrefalva), Plopiș (Nyárfás), Șișești and Șurdești (Dióshalom).

In 2002, the commune had a population of 5479, of whom 99.6% were ethnic Romanians. 55.3% were Romanian Orthodox, 40.7% were Greek-Catholic, and 2.5% were Pentecostal.

Churches of Moldavia

The eight Romanian Orthodox Churches of Moldavia are located in Suceava County, northern Moldavia, and were built approximately between 1487 and 1583.

Since 1993, they have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Church of the Resurrection within the Sucevița Monastery was added to the site in 2010.

Arbore Church

The Arbore Church (Romanian: Biserica Arbore) is a Romanian Orthodox monastery church in Arbore Commune, Suceava County, Romania. Built in 1502 by Luca Arbore, and dedicated to the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, it is one of eight buildings that make up the churches of Moldavia UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also listed as a historic monument by the country’s Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.

Humor Monastery

Humor Monastery located in Mănăstirea Humorului, about 5 km north of the town of Gura Humorului, Romania. It is a monastery for nuns dedicated to the Dormition of Virgin Mary, or Theotokos. It was constructed in 1530 by Voievod Petru Rareş and his chancellor Teodor Bubuiog. The monastery was built over the foundation of a previous monastery that dated from around 1415. The Humor monastery was closed in 1786 and was not reopened until 1990.

The church has been inscribed by UNESCO on its list of World Heritage Sites, as one of the Painted churches of Moldavia.

Humor was one of the first of Moldavia’s painted monasteries to be frescoed and, along with Voroneţ, is probably the best preserved. The dominant colour of the frescoes is a reddish brown. The master painter responsible for Humor’s frescoes, which were painted in 1535, is one Toma of Suceava.

The subjects of the frescoes at Humor include the Siege of Constantinople and the Last Judgment, common on the exterior of the painted monasteries of Bucovina, but also the Hymn to the Virgin inspired by the poem of Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople relating to the miraculous intervention of the Theotokos in saving the city from Persian conquest in 626. The Persians are, however, depicted as Turks which is a common device in these monasteries, their paintings being used in part for political propaganda in addition to their spiritual meaning.

Moldovița Monastery

The Moldovița Monastery (Romanian: Mânăstirea Moldovița) is a Romanian Orthodox monastery situated in the commune of Vatra Moldoviței, Suceava County, Moldavia, Romania. The Monastery of Moldovița was built in 1532 by Petru Rareș, who was Stephen III of Moldavia’s illegitimate son. It was founded as a protective barrier against the Muslim Ottoman conquerors from the East.

Stephen the Great, the King (in Romanian Domnitor) of Moldavia from 1457 until his death in 1504. He was very religious and built churches after many victories. Stephen’s illegitimate son, Petru Rareș, who ruled Moldavia from 1527 to 1538 and again from 1541 to 1546, promoted a new vision for Bukovina churches. He commissioned artists to cover the interiors and exteriors with elaborate frescoes (portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus).

The best preserved are the monasteries in the towns of Sucevița, Moldovița, Voroneț, Humor, Suceava, Pătrăuți, Arbore and Probota. These eight monasteries—including the Monastery of Moldovița—were placed on UNESCO World Heritage list in 1993, as the Painted churches of Moldavia.

This monastery, built by Voivode Petru Rareș, is one of the eight monasteries in Northern Moldavia with frescoes painted on the outer walls. Sister Maika, who has been living in the monastery for more than 50 years, says that it is “the holy scriptures in color”.

Moldovița’s frescoes were painted by Toma of Suceava in 1537. They are filled with yellow accents and are well preserved. The predominantly yellow-and-blue paintings on its exterior represent recurring themes in Christian Orthodox art: a procession of saints leads up to the Virgin enthroned with the Child in her lap, above the narrow east window; the “Tree of Jesse” springs from a recumbent Jesse at the foot of the wall to marshal the ancestry of Christ around the Holy Family; The “Siege of Constantinople” commemorates the intervention of the Virgin in saving the city of Constantinople from Persian attack in A.D. 626 (although the siege depicted is rather the Fall of Constantinople in 1453).

Tall arches open the porch to the outside and daylight. Within it, “The Last Judgment” covers the entire surface of the west wall with its river of fire and its depiction of the sea giving up its dead to judgment. Moldovița and Humor are the last churches built with an open porch, a hidden place above the burial-vault, and with Gothic-style windows and doors.

Church of the Holy Cross, Pătrăuți

The Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Romanian: Biserica Înălțarea Sfintei Cruci) is a Romanian Orthodox church in Pătrăuți Commune, Suceava County, Romania. Built in 1487, with Stephen III of Moldavia as ktitor, it is one of eight buildings that make up the churches of Moldavia UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is also listed as a historic monument by the country’s Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.

Voroneț Monastery

The Voroneț Monastery is a medieval monastery in the Romanian village of Voroneț, now a part of the town Gura Humorului. It is one of the famous painted monasteries from southern Bukovina, in Suceava County. The monastery was constructed by Stephen the Great in 1488 over a period of 3 months and 3 weeks to commemorate the victory at Battle of Vaslui. Often known as the “Sistine Chapel of the East”, the frescoes at Voroneț feature an intense shade of blue known in Romania as “Voroneț blue.”

The monastery is located to the south of Gura Humorului in Suceava County, in the valley of the Voroneț River. The legend of the origin of the church unites two men central to Romanian history: the founder of the monastery, Stephen the Great, and Saint Daniil the Hermit, the first abbot of the monastery. The tomb of Saint Daniil is located within the monastery.

The church is one of the Painted churches of Moldavia listed in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

The age of the monastic site is not known. A legend tells us that Stephen the Great, in a moment of crisis during a war against the Ottoman Turks, came to Daniel the Hermit at his skete in Voroneț and asked for advice. Daniel told him not to surrender the fight. Then, after victory, he must build a monastery dedicated to Saint George.The original entrance above the Church of Saint George, now in the exonarthex, bears the inscription.

I, Voivode Stephen, by the Grace of God Ruler of Moldavia, son of Bogdan, have started to have the monastery of Voroneț built to the glory of the holy and well-known St George, the great and victorious martyr, in 6996 in May on 26, on one day of Monday, after the Pentecost and I had it finished the same year, in September, 1488.

The church was built on a triconch plan (with three apses), with a chancel, a naos with its tower, and a pronaos.

In 1547, the Metropolitan Bishop of Moldavia Grigorie Roșca added the exonarthex to the west end of the church and had the exterior walls painted. His contribution is recorded on the left of the entrance door.

By the Will of the Father and the Help of the Son and the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit and by the great pains taken by the faithful Kir Grigorie, Metropolitan of the whole Moldavian Country, there was added this title porch and the exterior of the whole church was painted, for the sake of his soul, in 7055 (1547).

The monastery contains tombstones commemorating Saint Daniel the Hermit, Grigorie Roșca, and other patrons of the church and noblemen.

Voroneţ was known for its school of calligraphy, where priests, monks and friars learned to read, write and translate religious texts. The school produced two notable copies of Romanian translations of the Bible: The Codex of Voroneț, discovered in 1871, and The Psalter of Voroneț, found in 1882. These books are now held at the Romanian Academy.

The monastery was deserted soon after 1775, when the Habsburg Monarchy annexed the northern part of Moldavia. The monastic community returned to Voroneț in 1991. Since their return, those living in the monastery have constructed housing for the resident nuns, a chapel, fountains, stables, barns, and a house for pilgrims.

The katholikon (main church) of Saint George at Voroneț Monastery is possibly the most famous church in Romania. It is known throughout the world for its exterior frescoes of bright and intense colours, and for the hundreds of well-preserved figures placed against the renowned azurite background. The small windows, their rectangular frames of crossed rods and the receding pointed or shouldered arches of the interior doorframes are Gothic. The south and north doors of the exonarthex of 1547 have rectangular frames, which indicate a transition period from Gothic to Renaissance. But, above them, on each wall is a tall window with a flamboyant Gothic arch. The whole west façade is without any openings, which indicates that the intention of the Metropolitan Roșca was from the beginning to reserve it for frescoes.

On the north façade is still visible the original decoration of the church, the rows of ceramic enamelled discs in yellow, brown and green, decorated in relief. These include heraldic motifs, such as the rampant lion and the aurochs’ head of the Moldavian coat of arms, and creatures inspired by Western European mediaeval literature, such as two-tailed mermaids. The tower is decorated with sixteen tall niches, in four of which are windows. A row of small niches encircles the tower above them. The fragmented roof probably follows the shape of the original roof, which doubtless was made with shingles.

Sucevița Monastery

Sucevița Monastery is an Eastern Orthodox convent situated in the Northeastern part of Romania. It is situated near the Suceviţa River, in the village Sucevița, 18 km away from the city of Rădăuţi, Suceava County. It is located in the southern part of the historical region of Bukovina (northwestern Moldavia). It was built in 1585 by Ieremia Movilă, Gheorghe Movilă and Simion Movilă.

The architecture of the church contains both Byzantine and Gothic elements, and some elements typical to other painted churches of northern Moldavia. Both interior and exterior walls are covered by mural paintings, which are of great artistic value and depict biblical episodes from the Old and New Testament. The paintings date from around 1601, which makes Sucevița one of the last monasteries to be decorated in the famous Moldavian style of exterior paintings.

The interior court of the monastic ensemble is almost square (100 by 104 meters) and is surrounded by high (6 m), wide (3 m) walls. There are several other defensive structures within the ensemble, including four towers (one in each corner). Sucevița was a princely residence as well as a fortified monastery. The thick walls today shelter a museum that presents an outstanding collection of historical and art objects. The tomb covers of Ieremia and Simion Movilă – rich portraits embroidered in silver thread – together with ecclesiastical silverware, books and illuminated manuscripts, offer eloquent testimony to Sucevița’s importance first as a manuscript workshop, then as a printing center.

In 2010, the monastery has been inscribed by UNESCO on its list of World Heritage Sites, as one of the Painted churches of Moldavia.

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