Transylvania and the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
The painted monasteries of Bucovina are great artistic monuments of Europe, painted in the 15th and 16th centuries when Turkish invaders threatened the Principality of Moldavia. Masterpieces of Byzantine Art, they feature vivid portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus, images of both angels and demons, heaven and hell, all of them created to educate and entertain the illiterate soldiers and peasants.
Seven of the painted churches of Bucovina are listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites: Arbore, Humor, Moldovita, Patrauti, Probota, Sfantul Ioan cel Nou ( Suceava ), Sucevita, Voronet.
With almost nine centuries of Saxon presence, central Transylvania claims a specific cultural and architectural heritage unique in Europe; the region is home to nearly 200 Saxon villages, churches and fortifications built between the 13th and 15th centuries as strategic points of defense against multiple invaders. Seven of the fortified Saxon churches are listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites: Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor, and Viscri.
Bucharest, the capital and the largest city of Romania, on old trading town at the crossroads of the main commercial routes connecting Europe and Asia, nowadays with Parisian style wide avenues lined with trees, neo-classical style mansions but also new supertall skyscrapers, the cultural, political and economic center of the country.
Arrive to Bucharest airport and transfer to the medieval town of Brasov.
Day 2 : Brasov
Legend has it that when the Pied Piper of Hamelin enticed the children away from the town and underground they emerged in Transylvania near Brasov’s main square, Piata Sfatului, situated in the heart of the medieval quarter. It is one of the finest Baroque squares in Romania. Here you will visit the 15th century Town Hall, with its quaint Trumpeter’s Tower on top, and the Lutheran Black Church. The church took almost a century to build (1383 – 1477) and is so-called for its soot-blackened walls – the result of a great fire started by the Austrian army that swept through Braşov in 1689. The Black Church is the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul, and its 7 tone bell is the largest in Romania. You will then continue to the Orthodox St Nicholas’s Cathedral, which is easily recognized by its black spires, and then visit the adjacent Romanian School Museum, which displays some of the first textbooks written in the Romanian language and printed in Braşov (dating back to the 16th century).
Day 3 : Brasov – Bicaz Gorges – Bucovina, 350 km
This morning we will check out of the hotel and travel via Red Lake and spectacular winding Bicaz Gorges, enjoying the spectacular scenery of the Eastern Carpathians. Lunch will be taken in a local restaurant close to the Red Lake, which was created in 1837 after a natural landslide. After lunch we will continue our journey north to Bucovina.
Day 4 : The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina, 185 km
Today we visit the remarkable painted monasteries of Bucovina that are amongst the greatest artistic monuments of Europe. The churches that we will visit were painted in the 15th and 16th centuries, when Turkish invaders threatened the Principality of Moldavia. They feature vivid mural frescoes created to educate and entertain the illiterate soldiers and peasants. Brilliant reds and blues are offset by an undercoat of emerald green. Our first visit will be to Moldoviţa Monastery, whose frescoes date from 1537. The monastery was founded by Prince Petru Rareş as an offering to Christ, and his original throne and his portrait are on display. A fresco depicting ‘The Siege of Constantinople’ adorns the bottom of the southern wall, whilst above is the ‘Hymn to the Virgin’ and the ‘Tree of Jesse’.
A fine representation of the ‘Last Judgement’ is set in the open porch. The magnificent paintings, which are predominantly yellow in colour, have been carefully restored. The church is enclosed by bold fortifications and set in beautiful grounds, offering a real air of tranquillity. Lunch will be taken in a local restaurant.
Day 5: Bucovina to Transylvania, 300 km
This morning we travel south through the Carpathians, Europe’s second longest mountain range, which form an arc around Transylvania, to Bistriţa, a small market town in the Bârgău Valley, the heart of “Dracula land” – the setting for much of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The picturesque town has many arcaded buildings and 15th and 16th century merchants’ houses. Lunch will be taken in a local restaurant. We will continue our journey to Târgu Mureş, a Hungarian stronghold, where we will take a short break. Our onward journey continues to Sighişoara, a beautifully preserved medieval town set in rolling countryside.
Day 6 : Sibiu and Biertan, 250 km
Today we visit the charming Saxon town of Sibiu, which combines styles of the late Renaissance, Gothic, Classical and Transylvanian Baroque architecture. Sibiu has been likened to Nuremberg, but many of the houses are painted sky blue, red, apricot and pea green. Our tour will include the evangelical and orthodox cathedrals and the Brukenthal Art Museum. The Gothic Evangelic Cathedral is a massive structure that was completed in 1520 and whose huge imposing tower dominates the surrounding skyline. It boasts Romania’s largest organ, with around 6000 pipes, and is also home to the tomb of Prince Mihnea the Bad, the son of Vlad, who was murdered just outside the church. The Orthodox Cathedral is situated in the New Town, and is the second largest in the whole of Romania. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century and is modelled largely on the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. Its lavish interior is embellished with all manner of Neo-Byzantine designs and frescoes.
The Brukenthal Art Museum is one of Romania’s oldest and finest art galleries. It is housed inside the Baroque palace of Baron Samuel Brukenthal, a former governor of Austria, and was founded in 1817. It boasts an extensive collection of Romanian and western art, including the best of central European silverware, folk art, archaeological finds and Romanian icons. This afternoon we will visit Biertan, set on a hill within 3 rings of walls. The charming village is home to the best known of all the Saxon fortified churches, which has the largest Gothic folding triptych altarpiece in the whole of Romania, whilst the sacristy door is particularly noted for its 17 locks, including a fine golden lock. Biertan was the seat of the Lutheran Bishops until 1867 and their fine gravestones can be seen inside the Bishop’s Tower. Biertan is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Day 7 : Sighisoara – Bucharest, 295 km
This morning we travel south to Sinaia, known as the ‘Pearl of the Carpathians’ due to its magnificent mountain scenery and Peles Castle, a royal palace set in a large park landscaped in the English fashion. It was built in the late 19th century for Romania’s first monarch, King Carol I, and took 39 years to complete. Outwardly it resembles a Bavarian Schloss, in the German Renaissance style, with a host of turrets. It has over 100 rooms richly decorated in ebony, mother of pearl and leather, and each room is styled on a particular country. There are over 800 stained glass windows in the building whose rooms are full of Renaissance armour and weapons, Murano chandeliers and Persian carpets. Romania’s first cinema was established in one of the castle’s rooms.
Continue to Bucharest, Romania’s cosmopolitan capital and a city well known for its wide Parisian-style boulevards and fine pre-World War I buildings. Visits will include the open air Village Museum of vernacular architecture was opened in 1936 by Royal Decree, and the vast park displays numerous houses and other structures from every region of Romania, illustrating the extreme diversity of folk architecture with heavily thatched peasant dwellings, wooden churches, dug-out homes with vegetables growing on the roof, windmills, tall farm barns and a bizarre subterranean house.
Day 8 : departure day
Travel to Bucharest Airport for your return flight.