Essential facts about Sucevita
Sucevita is located in Bucovina, in the northern part of Romania. Surrounded by the gentle slopes of the Carpathian Hills, the town was for the first time in a written document on August 6, 1582. Today it is known especially because of the famous painted church, the last one of this kind. It is located just 36km (22mi) from the town of Gura Humorului or 54km (33mi) from Suceava.
Sucevita can be reached by car from Suceava, Gura Humorului or Campulung Moldovenesc. There area daily buses between Radauti and Sucevita.
Today, Sucevita is a beautiful little town with many old and traditional houses. The local architecture attracts the attention of the visitors. The beautiful wooden porches, the floral motifs, the roofs made of shingles, the elegant fences or the elaborated wells and gates are a real pleasure to be admired and photographed. The locals of Sucevita are very friendly and sometimes you might spot some of them wearing with pride their old traditional costumes.
The main economy of Sucevita consist of the raising the animals and forestry. The tourism has an important role, too, many little hotels or guest houses being built right after the collapse of the communism.
The Sucevita Monastery – UNESCO site
Located in the village by the same name, 18km southeast of Radauti, in the middle of a lovely mountain scenery, Sucevita Convent looks at a first glimpse more like a medieval stronghold, with tall walls, ramparts and watchtowers.
The monastery was documented beginning with 1586, upon the initiative of Metropolitan Gheorghe Movila, who became monk of Probota Monastery at an early age, went up of all ecclesiastical hierarchy, becoming Bishop of Radauti and later Metropolitan of Moldavia. In fact, the church is the joint foundation of the Movila family, great property owners, scholars, and even rulers of Moldavia, like Ieremia Movila. The last one is considered to be the main founder of the monastery.
After he had become ruler of Moldavia, in 1595, Ieremia Movila added to the church two little porches, the enclosing walls with towers, a princely house, today just a ruin, and cells for the monks.
Not far from the actual monastic place, before 1580, the Movila brothers started to build a masonry church dedicated to the Baptism of Lord Jesus. It had belonged to the monk community until 1832 when it was turned into a parish church.
The legend has it that a sinner woman, in order to redeem God’s forgiveness, for 40 years brought in her buffalo-driven cart the stone needed for the current building to be erected. It is said that in exchange of this hard task she wanted to be buried inside the church; unfortunately for her, she didn’t receive this honor. This is the reason why a female head made out of black stone is carved on one of the belfry’s corners.
The church, dedicated to the “Resurrection of Lord Jesus”, was built in the Moldavian architecture style established at the time of Stephen the Great. Actually, it represents a harmonious blending of Byzantine elements and Gothic art, adorned with architectural elements of the old wooden churches from Moldavia.
Forced by the Ottoman Empire to tear down the fortifications of the major cities, the Moldavians found their escape by fortifying the monastic precincts, which were used in time of foreign invasions as places for shelter or protection. This is the reason why so many monasteries look like small medieval fortresses.
The precincts of Sucevita are almost a square, with sides of 100m by 104m. The walls, 3m thick and 6m tall, are made of raw stone with mortar binder. At the upper part they are provided with firing holes. Four corner towers and one entry tower protect the monastic complex and give to the visitors the impression of a real medieval stronghold. Three of the towers have octagonal shape.
Placed in the north-western part of the precincts, the Bell Tower, in square shape and upheld by three massive buttresses, is ranged on tiers. At the first tier, a painting and restoration workshop was arranged a few years ago. The proper belfry can be reached after an abrupt climbing on a spiral staircase carved into the wall. In this room, whose walls have wide arcades on all four sides, the two original bells are kept. In good working condition, they were donated in 1605 by Ieremia Movila and they reproduce, in cast inscriptions, the scene of the “Resurrection of Lord Jesus”, the arms of Moldavia and the coat of arm of the Movila family.
The entrance tower, in square shape and placed in the middle of the northern wall, has two stories. The first one above the vaulted gateway is the Chapel of The Annunciation. The scene of the Resurrection and the coat of arm of Moldavia, which shows the arms of Moldavia, are placed on the outside façade of the entrance tower, right above the gateway.
The watch way of the northern wall was built probably in the 19th century. Between the belfry and the entrance tower there is an oriel with a small tower. The wooden structure is supported by a column, whose ionic capital has the year 1867 carved on it, probably the year when the gallery was built.
The rest of the residential buildings, the abbey, the guest house, the cells, the museum and the chapel where the daily services are performed, are placed on the eastern side of the precinct.
The church of the monastic place has a trilobated shape and represents the great achievements of the 16th century Moldavian art. The church consists of altar, nave, burial chamber, narthex and exonarthex. Also, Sucevita church has a treasure room placed above the burial chamber. Such a room exists only in two other places, Humor and Moldovita.
The façade of the church is simple, without any row of recesses like other churches. Only the apses are crossed by vertical niches. Probably, the founders wanted to have more large spaces for the frescoes and left the church with a simple architecture. The frames of the windows and the ogee portal of the entrance to the narthex have Gothic-style frames.
The steeple of the church has three bases, one square and two star-shaped, each of them with 12 points.
Sucevita frescoes are the best preserved of all painting sites of the Moldavian art and they were made at the beginning of Ieremia Movila’s reign, between 1595 and 1596. The frescoes were done by a team of painters lead by John and his brother Sofronie. The legend has it that these two fell off the scaffoldings and died, the western side of the church remaining unpainted.
The “Prayer of al Saints” fresco is the most important iconographic scheme and is the biggest composition unfolded on all three apses of the church. It represents the heavenly hierarchy and the church hierarchy. Painted on seven horizontal registers, the amazing procession of seraphs, cherubs, angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs and holy men and women, is named in this way because it represents the communion with God, which can be done only by prayers. In the highest register, The Old Man, set in the eight-pointed star, is flanked by seraphs and cherubs that belong to the first order of the heavenly hierarchy, because they stand immediate and closest around God. In the next register, follows Jesus Immanuel, “the Promise of Salvation”, flanked by angels and archangels, the third order of the heavenly hierarchy. The Icon of Incarnation, represented by Jesus in His Mother’s arms is painted on the third register. The same row corresponds to the prophets who foretold in The Old Testament the advent of Messiah. In the next register, Jesus Christ, High Priest and Judge, is among his apostles. The fifth register shows Jesus in a Chalice, in sacrificial posture at the Holy Liturgy, which is celebrated by archpriests, priests and deacons. In the bottom register, on the façade of the buttress, St. John the Baptists is shown as angel. He is flanked by martyrs, holy men and women.
The Ladder of John Climacus is another important frescoes painted on the northern façade. St. John the Sinaite, also known as Climacus by his Greek name, is the one who elaborated the moral treatise “Ladder of Paradise”. He lived on Mount Sinai in the 6th century, first as a hermit and then as abbot of the St. Catherine Monastery. Very appreciated by the ecclesiastics of Mount Athos, the composition of the Ladder of Virtues was brought in Moldavia by the Greek painter Stamatello Cotronas, the one who painted it at Rasca. It consists of 30 virtues steps (Jesus was baptized when he was 30 years old) which every monk should possess in order to attain perfection. Once passed by the last 3 steps of the ladder, which symbolize the virtue of Love for God, Hope and Faith, the monk is received by the Son of God in the angels’ world. The opposing universes are represented on each side of the ladder: on one side, the ascending triangle populated by angels – 52 in total, arranged in parallel rows, in perfect synchronization; on the other side, the descending triangle, symbolizing the hell, a chaotic mass of terrifying figures and demons. In the triangle of the hell one can see 9 monks who had failed to achieve the perfection.
The Genesis, painted also on the northern wall, right under the cornice, is made up of 18 scenes focused on creation of the proto-parents, on the original sin, on Adam and Eve being driven out of Garden and their tough life on Earth. The cycle ends with Cain killing his brother Abel. While the Genesis fresco represents the fall of Adam and Eve because they disobeyed God’s commandments, the Ladder of John Climacus, represents the spiritual ascent guided by faith, by which man can regain the lost paradise.
Beneath the Genesis, The Life of St. Pachomius is represented in 15 scenes. He’s the one who in the 4th century set out the rules of community life for the monks of Sinai. One of the scenes shows him demolishing a tower, symbol of pride, and so reinforcing the virtue of humility in monastic life.
On the southern wall The Annunciation is presented on 24 scenes. Between the two Gothic windows, Pocrov (cover or veil) fresco, with Russian influence, represents the Incarnation. The Russian influence is revealed also by the architectural forms of the onion-like domes.
Other frescoes of the southern wall are The Crowning of the Virgin Mary and The Martyrdom of the monks from St. Catherine monastery in Sinai who were beheaded by the Muslims. Right above the socle, the Burning Bush composition shows the vision of Moses on Mount Horeb, before receiving the Tablets of Law.
The Tree of Jesse is another important composition painted on the southern wall, unfolded from the cornice down almost to the socle. This fresco shows the prophecy of Isaiah in the Old Testament, which says about a rod growing out of the stem of Jesse. The rod figures the generation of Jesus Christ from the time of King David. Right above the socle, Jesse himself is flanked by important philosophers, among them Thucydides (Udin), Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras.
Inside the church, the frescoes show a subtle play between the abundant gold and the very wide range of colors used by the painters.
The exonarthex is covered in the upper part of the southern, western and northern walls by big compositions of the Old Testament, which show the Incarnation of the Son of God. The eastern wall is entirely covered by the Last Judgment fresco.
The narthex illustrates the ecclesiastical calendar, in its complete form. Each beginning of a month is marked by a golden full moon. It shows on five registers, from east to north, different saints and scenes of martyrdom. The eastern cupola of the narthex features the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah where three angels symbolize the Holly Trinity; the western one illustrates the Old Man in the Sky. Right under the cupolas, one can see the ecumenical Synods, which are councils of the bishops from the whole Christian world. They established the religious dogmas in 7 councils held between 325 and 787. The life of St. Nicholas is shown on the lower southern wall of the narthex, while the lower side of the northern one shows the terrible life of St. George.
The burial chamber displays tombs of Prince Ieremia and his brother Simion. A stone slab covering their tomb is engraved with the Moldavian coat of arms, the head of an aurochs with a star between its horns flanked by the moon and son, and the crossed swords, the heraldic symbol of the Movila family. The frescoes in this chamber illustrates Moses’ life in forty scenes.
The nave’s walls are surrounded by a large composition of the Jesus’ Passions. The western wall of the nave is covered by the votive portraits of the founder and his family. It features the ruler of Moldavia, Ieremia Movila, handing to Jesus, flanked by Virgin Mary, a replica of the church. The Prince is preceded by his elder son and followed by his eldest daughter, his Mother, his wife and then the rest of the family members.
The cupola of the nave is the most important space in a church because it represents the symbol of the heavenly church, wherefrom God looks down at us, His earthly church. The tower dome is covered by the impressive icon of Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Almighty) surrounded by seraphs and cherubs. Beneath the register of six-winged seraphs and cherubs, that are closest to God, follows the register of the Archangels and Angels, shown in human form, as they are closest to humans. Next registers of the tower nave show 12 prophets and the 12 apostles. The base of the dome is covered by the Holly Liturgy. The four evangelists are illustrated on the large pedants of the vault.
The apse of the altar, separated by the rest of the nave through a beautiful wooden screen, is covered by the Assumption fresco.
Because of the remarkable work of Jhon and Sofronie painters, Sucevita, with its abundant green color, represents a real “testament to the Moldavian art”. The iconostasis was made in 1805 and it was donated to Sucevita monastery by Father Superior Ghenadie, as it is carved on the beam above the sanctuary doors. The carving and the paintings belong to the late Baroque art. The decorations consist of acanthus and ivy vines, ionic columns and capitols, friezes with tassels, medallions in tablets, carved in relief and fretwork. The realistic paintings of the iconostasis are far from the usual type of the Byzantine style and probably it was painted by an artist who came from the Galician Greek-Catholic zone. Another wooden screen, made in 1805, was placed on the entrance of the burial chamber, covering entirely the old frescoes.
The monastery’s museum boasts one of the richest and most valuable medieval art collections in Moldavia: the tomb covers of princes Ieremia and Simion Movila, an epitaph with 10 000 pearls from 1597, a silver case with the hair of Lady Elisabeta, wife of Ieremia Movila a.s.o.
Today, the monastic place, transformed into a convent in 1936, with more then 50 nouns, keeps its prime mission: the praying.
Apart from this daily routine, the convent has specialized workshops. There is a workshop where the eggs are adorned, another one where nuns embroider and a workshop where they paint icons in the Byzantine tradition.
Accommodation and Restaurants in Sucevita
Sucevita could be one of the best rural areas of Bucovina to spend some time, to admire the gentle slopes of the Carpathian Hills, to feel God or just simply enjoy the life. There many options for accommodation taking in consideration the size of this little town. A good place to spend some time and eat something delicious would be the Popas Bucovina Complex 4*. Their restaurant is quite good. Don’t miss the local soup called Ciorba Radauteana or the grilled trout. Another good options might be the Sofia Hotel 4* or the Buchen Land Pension 4*.
The Surroundings of Sucevita
Bucovina is known before anything else for its painted monasteries, many of them being part of the UNESCO world heritage. Beside these outstanding landmarks, Bucovina offers a beautiful landscape, an interesting local architecture, many villages tossed on the gentle slopes of the Carpathians, interesting crafts and hospitable people.
Just outside of Sucevita, one can find the village of Marginea, known for its unique black pottery. Here you can observe the talented craftsmen in process of doing their amazing pots or plates.
The town of Radauti might be another interesting stop, especially for its Jewish synagogue. Not far away from the town of Radauti, about 66km (41mi) north-west of Suceava, lies the Putna Monastery, the resting place of Prince Stephan the Great. It owns one of the most interesting museums in Bucovina. Beside the religious edifice you’ll enjoy the local architecture of the small villages scattered all over the hills.
A day-trip can be done to Mitocu Dragomirnei which boasts the amazing slender silhouette of the Dragomirna Convent♥. As it is quite different from the famous painted monasteries, the Dragomirna Monastery is one of the most interesting tourist sight of Bucovina. Not far away from this place lies Suceava, the former capital of Moldavia.
There is no doubt that while in Sucevita you shouldn’t miss the other famous painted monasteries♥ such as Voronet or Moldovita. For longer tours you might go for a hike in the Rarau Mountains or visit the mountain resort of Vatra Dornei.
Tours of Romania
Let yourself impressed by some of the most known tourist attractions of Romania for 9 days. The tour starts in Bucharest, once known as the Little Paris. Then you’ll cross into Transylvania where you’ll enjoy the medieval town of Sibiu or Sighisoara – UNESCO site. You’ll reach the gentle hills of Bucovina where the amazing painted monasteries had been built. The tour continues with the medieval town of Brasov, the famous Bran Castle – also known as the Dracula Castle, and the Peles Castle.
This tour of 12 days covers many of the most interesting landmarks from Romania. Discover famous cities such as Bucharest, Sibiu, Brasov or Sighisoara. Take a break in the rural areas from Transylvania, Maramures or Bucovina. Enjoy cultural experiences with the local and discover the crafts from different parts of the country. With this tour you really become a traveler.