The Church of Densus: Probably the Oldest Church in Romania
Densus Church or Saint Nicholas Church is considered by many the oldest church in Romania and is, in fact, the only one where the religious service is still held regularly after 700 years. A one of a kind monument from the Country of Hateg, close to the UNESCO Heritage Sites from Orastie, this church was built with thousands of years old materials from the time of the Roman Empire.
The first documentary attestation of the church was done in 1360, but there are lots of suppositions that indicate the monument to be older, adding more mystery to its unknown origins. According to some of these theories, the church was constructed on the place of an ancient temple dedicated to the God of Mars or on the place of a mausoleum of worship for general Longinus Maximus who was killed by the Dacians. One of the most interesting stories about this church is that it was originally a Roman pagan temple from the 4th century. This theory places Densus as the oldest church in Romania, partially based on the fact that the altar is placed south and not east like in other Christian churches. True or not, this small church sure seems from another world.
The church of Densus had many turning points during its history. One of the most important moments was in the 19th century when locals wanted to destroy it in order to build a bigger church. The monument was saved by the Hungarian authorities that were ruling Transylvania at the time, and Densus Church was declared a historical monument soon afterwards.
Byzantine style mixed with Roman columns
Its unique architecture makes the church of Densus one of the most beautiful in Romania. The church is built in a Byzantine style, 30 meters long and 18 meters wide, and its walls are done from bricks, columns and statues from Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana, the ancient roman capital of the Dacian Kingdom. The pro-nave is surrounded by four columns made of tombstones and even the rooftop is also made of stone, the main construction material.
The monument also conserves the original interior mural paintings dating from 1443, including the painting of Baby Jesus dressed in a national Romanian costume, an unconventional image for an Orthodox church, and another reason why Densus is a church like no other in the Romanian space.
More impressive and inspiring than any of the contemporary built churches, this small church should be on every list of the best places to visit in Romania. It’s a rare symbol of history, culture and spirituality from the dreamland Country of Hateg, the place where thousands of years ago the Roman Empire defeated the Dacians and where the long process of the Romanian identity began.
If you travel to the Country of Hateg, also include the UNESCO Heritage Sites of Orastie and the ancient roman capital of Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the ruins of the medieval fortress from Colti and the large Corvin Castle, all of them easily reached from the church of Densus.
The old churches of Sintamaria Orlea and Prislop are also more than worth a visit if you’re interested in the religious tradition of the region.
Densus is very close to Retezat National Park, one of the last wilderness areas in Europe.