Curtea de Arges Monastery: Legends and Unique Architecture
Curtea de Arges Monastery is one of the most famous monasteries in Romania and a must-see attraction if you’re looking to discover centuries-old religious sites. It’s the monumental church and its unique architectural style that make this monastery one of the most representative in Romania, a country that has hundreds of religious monuments of venerable age.
The burial place of Kings Carol the 1st and Ferdinand and Queens Elisabeta and Maria, this church – also known as the Cathedral from Curtea de Arges – had an overwhelming influence in the past on the architectural style of many religious monuments from the southern part of the country.
From medieval plans to royal renovations
Built 500 years ago by the medieval Prince Neagoe Basarab, the church was from the beginning a key religious landmark in Southern Romania given the use of expensive and rare materials and the hand-carved decorations inspired not only from the Byzantine tradition, but also from the Ottoman world. The consecration ceremony from 1517 highlighted the importance of the edifice, so high that the patriarch of Constantinople and many representatives of the monasteries from Mount Athos attended the event.
The following centuries proved, however, to be harsh on the monastery. A series of fires, earthquakes and attacks seriously damaged the church that also served as a necropolis for its medieval founder and descendants. It was partly restored by Princes Matei Basarab and Serban Cantacuzino, but it’s the first king of Romania, Carol the 1st of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1866-1914) who decided and completed the amplest renovation work.
Assigned to the French architect Emile Andre Lecomte de Nouy, the reconstruction of the church was done between 1875 and 1886. The restoration criteria of the time meant, however, that the church was almost completely rebuilt and repainted. Following this complex process, the church was enlarged to make room for the royal necropolis, the spiraled towers were shortened and their circumference enlarged. Sadly, this controversial type of renovation destroyed the original frescoes, among the most valuable in Romania, replacing them with large-scale oil paintings. You can admire some of the old pieces of frescoes at the National Museum of Art from Bucharest.
The legend of the biggest sacrifice
The Monastery of Curtea de Arges is at the center of a very popular Romanian legend. The story is that one of the main constructors, Manole, saw all his day work destroyed during the night. In the end, he could only finalize the work by sacrificing his wife, placing her inside the walls of the church even if that meant her death. The name of the main character seems to be the only real part of this dramatic legend as the 16th century chief of construction was the Armenian Manoli from Niasia.
Looking more like a mosque than a typical Orthodox church, Curtea de Arges Monastery is a wonderful historical and cultural site where your religion, or lack of it for that matter, has no importance. It’s the necropolis of the royal family and of medieval princes who, centuries apart, fought for the independence of Romania or of its provinces. It’s the enduring testimony that art and cultural influences overstep the religious boundaries to create monuments that represent the architectural beauty of all faiths.
You can easily visit the monastery from Curtea de Arges if you plan to drive from Bucharest to Sibiu, using the high-altitude Transfagarasan road.
Drive to Poenari Fortress, the true legacy of Vlad the Impaler.
In Curtea de Arges, you can also visit the 14th-century church Saint Nicolae. It has some of the oldest and most important frescoes in the country.
If you drive from Bucharest, stop to visit the Museum Golesti.