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.
Photo by Michal Unolt
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 renovatioms
Built 500 years ago at the initiative of the medieval prince Neagoe Basarab, the church was from the beginning a key religious landmark in Southern Romania. The consecration ceremony from 1517 highlighted the importance of the edifice. The patriarch of Constantinopole and many representatives of the monasteries from Mount Athos attended the event.
But, the following centuries proved 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 who decided and completed the most ample reconstruction 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 reconstructed and repainted, respecting the original church plans. Following this complex rehabilitation process, the church was enlarged to make room for the royal necropolis and the spiraled towers were shortened and their circumference enlarged. Parts of the original frescoes are exhibited at the National Museum of Art from Bucharest.
The sacrifice legend
The Monastery of Curtea de Arges inspired a very popular Romanian legend. The story is that one of the main constructors, Manole, saw all his day work destroyed by night. In the end, he had to sacrifice his wife by incorporating her in the walls of the church, this being the only way he could finish building the church. 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 in fact the Armenian Manoli from Niasia.
You can easily integrate the monastery from Curtea de Arges in your trip through Romania if you plan to drive from Bucharest to Sibiu, using the high-altitude Transfagarasan road.
After visiting the church, drive to Poenari, the true fortress of Vlad the Impaler. The roads are very good and you’ll see many traditional houses typical for this region, historically known as the Country of Muscel.
In Curtea de Arges, you can also visit the princely church, outside the monastery. Dating from the first part of the 14th century, this is the oldest church in Southern Romania built by a prince.
If you drive from Bucharest, you can also stop – before Pitesti – to visit the Museum Golesti that has a rich open-air collection of traditional houses.