The Painted Monasteries of Moldavia – Suceava, Moldavia, Romania

The Sistine Chapels of the East

A handful of vividly painted monasteries are the highlight of this dramatically remote corner of Moldavia in northeastern Romania, one of Europe’s most scenic and unspoiled areas. Most of the monasteries are painted inside and out, top to bottom, with elaborate frescoes – promises of redemption, warnings of damnation – remarkably fresh in color and quality despite 500 years of exposure to the elements and the whims of many rulers.

Acclaimed as masterpieces of art and archi­tecture of the 15th and 16th centuries, when this area was under the threat of invasion from the Turks, the fortified monasteries were cov­ered with biblical scenes to educate the illiter­ate faithful in the ways of Orthodox Christianity.

A kind of poor man’s Bible, these late medieval billboards are brilliant examples of a Byzantine aesthetic infused with the vitality of local folk art, mythology, and historical references to the Turks and past battles won and lost.

Arguably the most striking is the 15th-century monastery of Voronet, known by Romanians as the Sistine Chapel of the East. Its unique cerulean blue is obtained from lapis lazuli. Nearby are the painted monasteries of Sucevita, Moldovita, and Humor, all inhabited by small communities of nuns who keep their brand of Orthodox Christianity fervently alive in this dramatic mountain outpost where life has obliviously resisted the passing of the last few centuries.

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