Snagov Church: Exquisite Paintings and Mysterious Burials
Located on a small island outside Bucharest, Snagov Church is considered to be one of the most important religious monuments in Southern Romania. The church, originally part of a monastery, enjoys this status since the medieval centuries when local princes endowed, strengthened and enlarged it in their effort of supporting the Orthodox Church.
Medieval donations and legendary princes
Strongly connected to the time of Vlad the Impaler who over the centuries inspired more or less accurately the myth of Dracula, Snagov Church was supposedly built on an ancient Dacian site. The religious monument was, however, mentioned for the first time in the second half of the 14th century when a local prince donated an entire village to the monastery. This practice was not unusual at the time, and more documents indicate even more donations in the next century from medieval princes like Mircea the Old or Vlad Dracul.
The former monastery was further enlarged by Vlad the Impaler during his reign from the second part of the 15th century. He added fortification walls, a bridge, a belfry that still exists today, and is said to have ordered the construction of an underwater tunnel. He also built on the island a jail for highwaymen and traitors.
The monastery also had a powerful cultural role as here functioned a printing press used for publishing religious books written in Greek, Russian and even Arabic. It’s here that the first religious service book written in Romanian was printed using the Latin alphabet.
Snagov Church today
The monastery’s church went through many changes over the centuries and it’s one the few parts of the monastery still standing today. The original frescoes done by Dobromir the Young in 1563 are only preserved in the narthex, the rest of the paintings dating from the 19th century. The importance of the medieval frescoes, beyond their artistic value and richness of detail, is enhanced by the large gallery of local princes painted on the walls of the church, this ensemble being one of the most beautiful in Southern Romania.
Besides the church, only the belfry, the fountain and some ruins still stand today from what was once the powerful Monastery of Snagov. Built in a Byzantine style with local influences, the church has four towers, two above the altar, one above the nave and one above the narthex. The exterior of the church still has its original brick decorations, while some of the authentic decorative religious objects are exhibited today at the National Art Museum from Bucharest.
The church of Snagov is also part of the many legends surrounding Vlad the Impaler. Although never proved, this famous medieval prince was supposedly buried here by the monks who found his body and kept the secret afraid of the Ottomans’ revenge. A symbolic tomb of the prince is placed inside the church, in front of the altar. True or not, the church is still one of the most beautiful places near Bucharest, its frescoes and scenic location on Snagov Lake making it a perfect destination for a trip outside the capital.
Mogosoaia Palace is the perfect add-on to Snagov Church for a half-day trip from Bucharest.