The impressive number of churches to be found in Bucovina, Romania, with their fine exterior and interior frescoes, have been preserved and handed down from medieval times, and because of their uniqueness and artistic value, were added to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List in 1993. There is, indeed, no other place in the world where such a group of churches, with such high quality exterior frescoes, are to be seen.
Sprinkled among the green hills, secular woods, and the picturesque villages, the painted monasteries are the true jewels that appear here and there in the sunny valleys, in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature. These art monuments of the medieval Romanian environment, founded by the rulers of Moldova in a time of threats and battles against primarily the Ottoman Empire, became strong nuclei of culture and creation, focusing around them the artistic and intellectual life of Moldova. The innovations used in order to build them, as well as the outstanding exterior fresco, unique in the world for their size, are registered in the UNESCO catalogue, and protected as “Great Monuments of the World.”
Moldovita, Humor, Arbore, Sucevita and especially Voronet are preserved in remarkable condition. The brightness of the exterior paintings is still vivid, despite their exposure to all weather conditions. As soon as you pass the gates of the monasteries, these huge paintings, which are outlined against the background of a blue summer sky or of the sparkling white of snow, will send you to a world of spirituality.
Built of stone and bricks, these sites obey the requests of the Greek Orthodox religion and, by organizing the inner space, are derived from the Byzantine tradition. Their shape is given by the triconch and rectangular shape, or sometimes by an original blending of the two. The innovation consists of the construction of the nave by an extremely intelligent system, unique in the medieval architecture, of superimposing huge arches, which render a greater stability and expression to the whole building. All the elements of the construction play an important role in its decoration: the round shapes of the abutments, the unpolished stone elements, the portals and windows, and the mingling of the arches and niches. All of these emphasize the effect of verticality on the edifices.
But there are so many things to say about these gorgeous artifacts of the orthodox faith! Historians and art critics deal with them in huge tomes and complicated terms. Their biggest force lies in the impression that they leave on the traveler, in the tranquility that they bring into their souls, in the peace and recollection of atmosphere, and in the direct connection with times enveloped in mystery, which continue to fascinate to this day.