Saturday, July 2, 2011

Amazing Architecture # 2 - Sucevita Monastery, Romania

The monastery of Sucevita is one of the largest of the eastern Orthodox painted monasteries in the Bucovina region of north-east Romania. A set of tall stone fortifications protect the buildings inside, foremost among them the main church which was built between 1582 and 1601. The exterior of the church is almost completely covered in a fabulous series of colourful frescoes which are astoundingly well-preserved after centuries of exposure to wind, rain, and winter snow.
In the 16th century the Ottoman Turks were a constant threat to the region, and large armies were readied to defend the territory. The heavily fortified monasteries served as a safe place for the soldiers and local citizens to take refuge in during attacks, and it was decided that biblical paintings should be placed on the exterior church walls in order to teach the bible to the illiterate soldiers camped there, with the added incentive of increasing their fighting zeal against the Muslim enemy.
The frescoes can be read much like a comic strip is today, though scenes such as the Ottoman siege of Constantinople were intended as a stark warning of what lay in store for the people of the region if they didn't organize adequate resistance. Upon entering the monastery through the main gate, the north wall of the church is visible straight ahead. It is almost completely covered by the 'Virtuous Ladder' fresco which shows the 30 steps which must be climbed to get from hell to paradise. Groups of angels encourage the faithful and lead them upwards, while devils grab at their legs from below the rungs, ready to pull them downwards if they should succumb to temptation. The southern wall features a 'Tree of Jesse' which is meant to symbolize the unity of the New and Old Testaments. Surprisingly, the western wall was left unpainted, and legends claim that an artist working on the frescoes fell from the scaffolding and died, which other artists took as a sign that they should leave the job unfinished.
Sucevita is one of the most remote of the Bukovina monasteries, though there are two buses daily from the small town of Radauti which has regular connections to Suceava. There is also a hiking trail which connects the monastery to Putna monastery further to the north.

No comments:

Post a Comment