Moldovita Monastery is one of the eight painted churches included on UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all masterpieces inspired by the Byzantine art of the 15th and 16th centuries. Their distinctive element – the external walls covered with frescoes representing complete religious cycles – makes them unique in the myriad of churches built anywhere in the world at that time.
Their spiritual function was supported by their political and educational role that aimed to defend and strengthen the Orthodox Church in a time when both Protestantism and Islamism were at the borders of the medieval Romanian provinces.
The geopolitical context of Moldavia in the 15th and 16th centuries – back then also incorporating present-day Bucovina – was one of the defining conditions that marked the appearance of the Moldavian architectural style, so representative for the painted churches.
A separate province with independence goals, Moldavia of those days was often involved in smaller or greater military conflicts against the Ottoman Empire that outnumbered the small state in every way, from financial to military resources. A few brave local princes contributed decisively to maintaining the autonomy of Moldavia, even if only partially, in the troubled medieval centuries.
Beyond their military role, these rulers assumed a powerful spiritual role and marked their strong relation with divinity by building new churches and supporting financially the Church whose influence was capital. One of these princes was Petru Rares, the son of Stephen the Great, the prince who had the greatest contribution to the development of the Moldavian style.
Continuing the work of his father, Petru Rares founded Moldovita Monastery in 1532, very close to where his great-grandfather had built a church more than a century before. Surrounded by fortification walls with four corner towers and a solid gate tower, the monastery combined the religious and defensive elements, a common practice of a time when enemy attacks often took place.
Built on the typical triconch plan, using the Moldavian vaulting system, the church from Moldovita also has a burial room between the narthex and the nave and a small hidden niche, elements that appeared before at Humor Monastery.
The paintings from Moldovita Monastery are among the most impressive from the eight UNESCO churches. The dominant colors are red, yellow, and green, while the background is mainly white and dark blue. The multitude of religious characters is precisely and skillfully painted, conveying both their emotion and importance, the main purpose being moral and religious education. Its external and interior walls are covered with frescoes that represent ample cycles like the ‘Tree of Jesse’, the ‘Akathystos Hymn’, the ‘Last Judgment’, and the ‘Great Prayer of All Saints’.
Several elements make the paintings from Moldovita stand out. Above the altar, Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus is surrounded by her parents in a scene that otherwise is dominated by archangels while in the Cycle of Passions from the nave, Jesus and Pontius Pilate appear discussing in a casual manner. Plus, the scene of the Siege of Constantinople, a central theme for all the painted churches, is best-preserved here.
If you’re curious to understand and discover its outstanding value, in just one day you can easily visit Moldovita Monastery plus two or three more of the painted churches of Bucovina, truly captivating works of art, top attractions of this beautiful part of Romania.
Bucovina is a very popular destination for Romanians, and it tends to books fast. Be sure to reserve your rooms in advance to enjoy a great experience in this beautiful land. We warmly recommend the guest houses: La Moara and Casa Cristina from Fundu Moldovei; Hilde’s Residence and Bucovina Residence from Gura Humorului; Doina Bucovinei from Manastirea Humorului; Bucovina Lodge Pension and Casa Elvira from Vama. Piatra Pinului Ski from Voronet is the best option if you prefer to stay in a hotel.
Visit the museum of Moldovita Monastery. You can see the throne of Prince Petru Rares, old books, and icons, and a veil that is over 500 years old.