The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. The daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules etc. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches and dinners indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Bucharest - 3 nights
Day 1: Wednesday 25 May, Arrive Bucharest
- Orientation Meeting and early Welcome Dinner
Those taking ASA’s ‘designated’ flight will arrive at Bucharest’s Henri Coanda Otopeni Airport, Otopeni. After clearing passport and customs, we shall drive to our Bucharest hotel. If you are travelling independently to Bucharest, we can arrange a private transfer for you, or you should take an officially marked taxi to the Mercure Bucharest City Center. There will be a short orientation meeting before we enjoy an early evening meal together. (Overnight Bucharest) D
Day 2: Thursday 26 May, Bucharest
- Morning coach tour of central Bucharest
- National Museum of Romanian History
- National Museum of Art of Romania: European masterpieces
- Romanian Athenaeum (exterior)
- Visit and drinks at Vasile Grigori Museum
Bucharest, first mentioned in documents in 1459, evolved from a 14th-century settlement that was part of a chain of fortresses built across the Danube plain to protect Wallachia from the Turks. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was subject to Phanariot Greeks, who ruled as clients of the Divine Porte. In 1862, when Moldavia and Wallachia were united, it became Romania’s first national capital. Bucharest has a unique urban form. Unlike many Western European capitals it was never surrounded, and therefore constricted, by a city wall; the Turks would not allow the fortification of Wallachian cities. Although Bucharest does possess a tightly packed historic core, the Lipscani district, most of the city developed over a wide area, its beautiful 15th and 16th century monasteries, inns and palaces separated by swathes of countryside; Bucharest’s early plan seems to have been based loosely upon the Italian schema for an ‘ideal city’, originating in European notions of Jerusalem. In the 17th century, more churches were built, and in the 18th century many villas were added. The Phanariot Greeks built houses based upon the homesteads and inns of the Christian quarter of Istanbul, with deeply overhanging eaves and courtyards. The Phanariots also introduced public squares – maidan – of the type that is seen throughout Asia (eg Isfahan). The creation of the first Romanian state in 1862, and the subsequent incorporation of Transylvania after WWI, led to two periods of great creative energy, seen in literature, music, art and architecture, and reflected in the physical development of the capital. In both phases of development buildings began to fill the green spaces between the older monuments. In the earlier phase, Bucharest gained the title ‘Little Paris’ in part due to its magnificent monuments in the French style like the Bucharest Athenaeum (1888). At this time also, a fascinating Romanian National Style emerged. This ‘Brancovan’ style, characterised by picturesque arcades with intricate arches, was based upon architecture from the time of Constantine. The interwar period saw a flowering of early modernism in Bucharest, exemplified by the houses of Marcel Iancu. During the Communist period massive monuments like Ceausescu’s House of the Republic (now Palace of Parliament) were imposed upon the city.
We shall visit the world’s largest building after the Pentagon, but shall also see lovely old churches, old palaces, and fine Beaux-Arts, Art Nouveau and Brancovan, and modernist architecture. Central Bucharest also retains lovely parks and lots and lots of small, leafy, out-of-the-way cafés.
After touring central Bucharest we shall visit the National Museum of Romanian History. Its great treasure is an extraordinary collection of gold artefacts dating from as early as the Palaeolithic period (600,000-6000 BC) and covering ancient Dacia, the Migration Period, the emergence of the medieval Moldavian and Wallachian principalities, Gothic and Renaissance Transylvania, the Phanariot period, the emergence of the National monarchy, and the 20th century. The other exhibit that we shall view in this museum is the great collection of plaster casts taken from Trajan’s Column, in Rome, picturing Trajan’s invasion of Dacia (101-102 and 105-106 AD). This priceless gift was given to Romania by the Italian government. The many plaster casts allow you to explore close up the vast, intricate relief cycle depicting the Roman army’s operations in this region.
We shall eat lunch amid rich wood sculpture and panelling, gilt and painted walls, fine ironwork and stained glass in the wonderful Neo Gothic Caru’ cu Bere restaurant that was founded in 1879, and has remained unchanged since it was moved to its present location in 1899. The Caru’ cu Bere will give you a taste of Romanian café life during the late 19th and early 20th century when Bucharest was the most vibrant cultural centre of Eastern Europe.
We shall spend some of the afternoon in the rich European collection of the National Museum of Art of Romania. This museum, housed in the former Royal Palace, is composed of a wing dedicated to Romanian art and a European wing whose fine collection, including works by Brueghel, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Cranach, Zurbarán, El Greco, Rembrandt, Monet, Pissarro, Signac and Sisley, derives from the 19th-century Royal Collection.
After exploring this collection we shall view the exterior of Bucharest’s Athenaeum. Its magnificent opera hall, designed by the French architect Albert Galleron, is arguably the finest 19th-century opera hall in Eastern Europe. The building is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic, named after Romania’s greatest composer; Yehudi Menuhin was his most famous pupil.
We shall end this afternoon nearby in the fascinating Vasile Grigori Museum, where you will explore the collection of this important Romanian modern artist. Drinks and snacks will be served at the museum. (Overnight Bucharest) BL
Day 3: Friday 27 May, Bucharest
- Mogosoaia Palace
- Lunch at Stirbey Palace
- National Museum of Art of Romania: Romanian Collection
- Theodor Aman House Museum
- Special Dinner at the Restaurant Savart
Just outside the city we shall endeavour to visit Mogosoaia Palace. Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu built Mogosoaia (1698-1702), one of the most beautiful and distinctive palaces in Eastern Europe. It is in the Brancovan or Brâncovenesc style, the revival of which we have noted in 19th-century Bucharest architecture. The palace has a symmetrical plan inspired by the Italian Renaissance, but is adorned with wonderful galleries with intricate arches, ascribed variously to the influence of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. Although inspired by foreign models, these elements are combined in an utterly unique way, reflecting the fascinating syncretism of Romanian culture.
Nearby we enjoy lunch at the beautiful Stirbey Palace, which encompasses a wide lawn, church, chapel, summer pavilion, park, water tower and lake. The sumptuous palace in the style of a Swiss hunting lodge with fine Neo-Gothic elements, was built for Barbu Dimitrie Stirbei, prince of Wallachia, in 1850. Its fine Neo-Byzantine chapel was completed at the end of the century.
After lunch we return to the centre of the city to visit the National Museum of Art of Romania, where we shall explore the extensive Romanian art collection. This includes icons and iconostases, rich textiles and intricately carved wooden thrones and doors from Orthodox churches and monasteries, courtly garb and decorative objects from the Moldavian and Wallachian principalities, Gothic treasures from Catholic Transylvania, as well as a very significant 19th-century and early modernist painting and sculpture collection. The medieval collections reflect Romania’s fertile mix of Eastern and Western cultural elements. The 19th-century collection begins with portraits in which men are clothed in the fashions of the Ottoman court, whereas women follow French fashion. There is also a large corpus of Romanian Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist works, whose fine quality shows the country’s close links to Paris. Modernist artists include the famous Romanian artists Constantin Brancusi and the Dadaist Marcel Iancu (Marcel Janko). This rich collection, of the works of artists like Nicolae Grigorescu, Theodor Aman, and Matisse’s old friend Theodor Pallady, like Bucharest’s architecture and Enescu’s music, show the cultural vitality unleashed by Romania’s attainment of national unity.
Our day concludes with a visit to the lovely small house museum of one of Romania’s finest 19th-century artists, Theodor Aman. After travelling to Crimea during the Crimean War, where he painted The Battle of Alma, Theodor gained a scholarship to study in Paris, where he was much influenced by the Barbizon School. Some of the most fascinating works in the house museum’s collection are small sketches painted on the lids of cigar boxes, which are very like those of Australia’s Heidelberg School.
This evening we dine at the contemporary gourmet Restaurant Savart, where chef Manuela Paraschivescu has created an eclectic menu with influences from all around the world. (Overnight Bucharest) BLD
Sibiu - 3 nights
Day 4: Saturday 28 May, Bucharest – Curtea de Arges – Cozia – Sibiu
- Biserica Domneasca St Nicolae, Curtea de Arges
- Episcopal Church, Curtea de Arges
- Cozia Monastery
This morning we depart Bucharest early by private coach for the Wallachian Royal shrine of Curtea de Arges (Court on the River Arges), where we shall visit two extremely important and beautiful churches. Curtea de Arges is located in the upland region of Wallachia called Muntenia, on the southern verge of the Transylvanian Alps. The Biserica Domneasca St Nicolae is a stunning small Byzantine construction variously dated between the 12th and 14th centuries. It was modelled upon the churches of Constantinople that take their name from the Comnenus dynasty (1081-1185). It is liberally decorated with a large cycle of frescoes, whose style and iconography, like that of the church of St Saviour in Chora in Istanbul, is based upon the Erminii, a Byzantine manual that laid down strict rules for the creation of images.
After lunch in Curtea de Arges we shall visit the early 16th-century Episcopal Church founded by Prince Neagoe Basarab (1512-1521). This church, with whom the tragic poem of the builder Master Manole is associated, perhaps best of all represents the fascinating syncretism of Romanian culture. To a Byzantine triple-apsed east end is linked a grand narthex – a royal mausoleum – giving the church a basilical plan usually associated with the West. Its extraordinarily intricate façade architecture, however, is even more fascinating. It has many Byzantine elements and Islamic motifs that seem to derive from Persian art, as well as distinctive Romanian ‘barley-sugar’ cupolas.
On our drive north into Transylvania this afternoon you will gain your first taste of the awesome scenery of Romania. We follow a narrow valley through the Carpathians into Saxon Transylvania and along the way we visit Cozia Monastery. This little-visited but lovely complex has two churches; a monastery church and infirmary church (1542). The monastery church was completed in 1390 by Serbian architects and is modelled on the churches of the Morava Valley. Trefoil in plan, with a long rectangular narthex, it is tall and narrow. The exterior walls are decorated with filigree latticework, decorative tiles, blind arcades and classical columns. Influences for these motifs are as diverse as Classical Greek and Islamic forms.
After visiting Cozia, we drive through the steadily narrowing Olt River Pass into Transylvania. Transylvania has a totally different cultural landscape to Wallachia. This is the territory of German villages and fortified churches. The latter are medieval complexes with a church surrounded by up to four rings of walls watched over by martial towers. These religious citadels protected the people and their livestock from Turkish and other incursions in a land which was constantly contested by outside powers. Much of the region’s wealth derived in the Middle Ages from the migration of Germans who brought with them technology such as looms, giving birth to a thriving textiles industry. Textiles were also traded, and one fascinating local custom was that the inner walls of churches are often hung with old, extremely rare Turkish carpets.
We shall encounter a number of these fortified churches, called ‘Real Citadels of Faith’. The Germans built their towns along the main trade routes that have long, continuous streetscapes of coloured façades. Wide, arched entrances to courtyards puncture these façades. Goods were stored and agricultural implements, animals and produce kept in the courtyards. With its fortified churches and distinctive towns this region makes you feel as though you have been transported back to late medieval Germany, into a Brueghel painting. (Overnight Sibiu) BLD
Day 5: Sunday 29 May, Sibiu
- Orientation tour of Sibiu
- Council Tower and other medieval towers
- Brukenthal Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
- Evening Talk on Romanian History and Culture
We spend the day in Sibiu, a Transylvanian town founded by medieval German migrants. Its oldest street dates from the 12th-century migration of Flemings, Frankonians and Saxons to Transylvania. Sibiu’s houses are prettily coloured with steep roofs punctured by quaint openings that look like half-closed eyes; these vents were used to air goods stored in their attics. Sibiu is also the home of ASTRA (Asociatia Transilvenene de Arta si Literatura), a society founded in 1861 to encourage Romanians in Transylvania to appreciate and explore their own culture. ASTRA founded important museums and many of the region’s greatest writers were members.
We visit the fine city square, beautifully restored when Sibiu became ‘Capital of European Culture’ for 2007; Forbes lists Sibiu as the 8th-most idyllic place in the world to live. At one end is the medieval council tower, which was both a centre for urban life and a symbol of the city’s pride and independence.
We shall also visit Romania’s second finest art collection, after the National Museum of Art of Romania (Bucharest). After a decade living in Vienna as Governor of the Great Principality of Transylvania (1777-1787), Baron Samuel von Brukenthal returned to Sibiu with his collections, and the Hochmeister’s Calendar for the year 1790 mentions among the attractions of the city a painting collection including 800 paintings displayed in the halls of the Brukenthal Palace. Over time this collection was enriched. The collection of European paintings originally belonging to Brukenthal now includes around 1200 works from major schools from the 15th to the 19th century. The Flemish and Dutch schools are represented by masters from centres such as Anvers, Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht. The pride of this collection is a group of paintings by Hans Memling, Jan van Eyck, Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Pieter Bruegel the Younger. Masters such as Lucas Cranach the Elder represent the Germans and Austrians. The Italian school, although made up of a relatively small number of works, nevertheless includes renowned artists: Botticelli, Tullio Lombardo, Titian, Paris Bordone, Sebastiano Ricci and Alessandro Magnasco. The afternoon will be at leisure. This evening, there will be an illustrated talk on Romanian history and culture in the hotel. (Overnight Sibiu) B
Day 6: Monday 30 May, Sibiu – Biertan – Sighisoara – Apold – Cisnadie – Sibiu
- Fortified church of Biertan
- Fortified church of Axente Sever (time permitting).
- Apafi Manor
- Medieval Citadel of Sighisoara
- Fortified church of Apold
- Fortified church of Cisnadie
Today we explore the development of the Transylvanian fortified church and city. Biertan is one of the finest, most complete, extant examples of a fortified church. It stands on a hill above its village, approached by a long covered wooden staircase and defended by high walls and fortress towers. Within the fine Gothic church hang old guild banners (the guilds of the town were responsible for defending the enceinte as well as furnishing the church) and there is also a beautiful altarpiece. The treasury of the church is protected by a powerful old wood and iron door that has an extraordinarily intricate locking system so unique that it was exhibited at a 19th-century Paris exhibition.
After visiting Biertan we shall, if time permits, visit the lovely Apafi Manor, which has been restored by the Mihai Emenescu Trust. It was built by the Hungarian princely family, the Apafi, probably in the 15th century. It is most unusual to have a Hungarian manor house in a Saxon village. Hungarians seldom governed Saxon communities. Archaeology reveals that the Manor House was built in several phases. There was a house on the site in the 15th century. The present house was built, in its original form, by (or possibly before) the 17th century. It appears to have been altered in the 18th-19th centuries. This manor lay in ruins until the Mihai Emenescu Foundation, which numbers among its past and present board members Patrick Leigh Fermor, John Julius Norwich, Yehudi Menuin and Sir Stephen Runciman, took it over and restored it as a small guesthouse; the patron of the Foundation, who has been deeply involved in restoring a number of Saxon monuments, is Prince Charles.
We shall spend the middle of the day exploring Sighisoara, one of the most visually exciting fortified towns in Romania. It is made doubly romantic by its association with the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who is believed to have brought the children of the ungrateful citizens to the myriad passages and catacombs beneath the citadel. Set on a rock surrounded by the ‘silver coils of the Tarnava Mare [River]’ as well as by deeply forested hills, Sighisoara is the most complete fortress city in Transylvania. Strong towers, each built in a distinctive style by a different guild of the town, protect its walls. Of particular interest is the Clock Tower that has an intricate clock with seven oak figures symbolising days of the week that used to appear on the hour. These figures contain a marvellous mix of references to Greek mythology, local legend and astrology. The oldest private building in the citadel is the 15th-century house of Vlad Dracul, father of Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia, who may have been born here. There is an old German school with Baroque frescoes and a church with magnificent paintings and fine altarpieces, one of them by Johannes Stoss, the son of the famous Nuremburg sculptor, Viet Stoss, a leading figure of the Northern Renaissance.
We return to Sibiu via two more lovely fortified churches, Apold and Cisnadie. The former is located on high ground at the centre of Apold village. It has a double defensive wall, towers and a fortified belfry. PLEASE NOTE: The keys to many fortified churches (other than Biertan, which is a public monument) are held by people in the towns in which the churches are sited. Our access to these churches therefore depends upon their availability on the day of our visit. Of the four churches listed above, we shall endeavour to visit at least two. Tonight we shall dine together at ‘The Old Sibiu Restaurant’. (Overnight Sibiu) BLD
Baia Mare - 1 night
Day 7: Tuesday 31 May, Sibiu – Cluj-Napoca – Baia Mare
- St Michael’s Church, Cluj-Napoca
- Bontida Bánffy Castle
Today we drive through the heart of Transylvania to Baia Mare in the far north of Romania. Along the way we visit Cluj-Napoca, a city whose form, like that of Sibiu, took shape when German migrants, brought here by Hungarian kings to protect the south-eastern flank of their Danubian kingdom, imported the urban and rural cultures of the Rhineland and Flanders. Their industriousness as cultivators, craftsmen and merchants made Cluj-Napoca a thriving centre. In the 15th century Hungarians arrived, inflecting the old German town with Magyar forms. In the 18th century it was the turn of the Habsburgs, whose Austrian subjects transformed the city with grand Baroque monuments.
We shall have lunch in Cluj and shall visit St Michael’s, the largest Gothic church in Romania. After lunch, we shall visit Bontida Bánffy Castle, a grand estate of the powerful Hungarian Bánffy family with different sections in the Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical and Gothic Revival styles. The palace was heavily damaged during World War II and is gradually being restored with the patronage of Prince Charles and Princess Margareta of Romania. (Overnight Baia Mare) BLD
Borsa - 1 night
Day 8: Wednesday 1 June, Maramures Region: Baia Mare – Sapanta – Bârsana – Rozalvea – Ieud Deal – Bogdan Voda – Borsa
- Merry Cemetery, Sapanta
- Wooden churches & villages of Maramures region
Today we drive from Baia Mare to Borsa. These towns stand at either end of one of the most extraordinary cultural landscapes in Europe. The Maramures region constitutes a group of isolated valleys, skirted by mountains and deep forests, which harbour a culture distinguished by its astonishing continuity with the past. Part of its population is even believed by some scholars to be the final pure remnant of the ancient Dacians.
Scattered through the valleys are towns and villages with wooden churches that constitute the densest and richest collection of traditional wooden architecture in the world, many of it preserving medieval forms. Oak and pine houses, built from the wood of nearby forests, reflect styles that once predominated throughout Eurasia, from northern Europe to Anatolia. Even more distinctive are the region’s churches. These also evolved from a general idiom (seen from Scandinavia to Croatia) but took on specific forms in Maramures such as incredibly tall, elegant steeples, double-skirted roofs, and shingle cladding. These churches, moreover, contain a priceless heritage of interior wall paintings that mix Byzantine, Latin and folk elements.
In the meadows themselves, low soil ridges that are often mistaken for ancient terracing serve to separate small land holdings, as they once did in the medieval West. Set against a backdrop of mountain and forest, inflected by exquisite wooden buildings, they constitute an unsurpassable landscape of beauty. The people of Maramures have also preserved traditional clothing styles and distinctive festivals of which there are few equals. We shall drive through a number of valleys today, visiting communities and exploring villages and churches.
A particularly idiosyncratic element of local folk culture is Sapanta’s so-called ‘Merry Cemetery’ in which wooden carved and painted grave markers depict local inhabitants with inscribed details of their lives; some of the inscriptions are hilarious, recounting the occupants’ foibles! (Overnight Borsa) BLD
Sucevita - 1 night
Day 9: Thursday 2 June, Borsa – Câmpulung Moldovenesc – Vama – Moldovita – Sucevita
- Wood Art Museum, Câmpulung Moldovenesc
- Vama: Art of painting eggs
- Monastery of Moldovita
- Monastery of Sucevita
This morning we depart Borsa for Gura Humorului in the Moldavian region of Bucovina via the famous monasteries of Voronet and Humor. Once into Moravia we follow a small, fast flowing river through historic villages like Ciocanesti. Village houses here are decorated with brightly coloured painted patterns reminiscent of the stitched designs on local textiles.
In the mid-morning we visit the Wood Art Museum at Câmpulung Moldovenesc. This town, whose name means ‘Moldavian Long Field’, has for centuries been a centre for lumber and possesses a museum that is unique in Europe. Twenty rooms displaying every imaginable artefact, including shoes, beehives, butter churns, farm implements, furniture, animal traps, large sleds and even 300-year old wagons, all made of wood, provide a vivid visual narrative of peasant life. The myriad objects in this wonderful little museum form a telling companion to Romania’s fascinating local architecture and extraordinary corpus of folktales and rich musical tradition.
We shall have lunch in the town of Vama, where we will be introduced to the Romanian art of painting eggs.
After lunch we drive to the first of our famous painted monasteries, Moldovita. In the 14th century, hermits began to inhabit the forests covering the hills along the Moldovita Valley and the Cimirna Rivulet. Here a small wooden church was built, and the hermitage surrounding it coalesced into an early monastic community. This constituted the first foundation on the site of the later institution of Petru Rares Voivode (1532). A fortress with powerful walls, corner and entrance towers now protects a magnificent complex. In the centre of this complex stands a tripartite plan church, its walls covered by frescoes like the pages of an open book.
The dominant colour at Moldovita is a sunny yellow gold. Modovita has a distinctive architectural character. The nave is unusually large and incorporates two rooms. The tomb room (tainita) is hidden because it was there that the treasure of the monastery, its plate, vestments and other goods, were secreted in times of danger. The church’s murals were finished in 1537, five years after its construction. The starlit vault of the pronaos and two icons of Holy Virgin show the Moldovita painter’s masterly fusion of Western and Eastern art. The Moldovita complex includes the Clisiarnita, the house of Voivode and his family (or possibly a house for important guests). It is a monumental construction on the north-west side of the complex, where some of the church’s treasures were kept. Sacred vessels, votive lamps, fine embroidery, manuscripts and icons were kept here for centuries. In the north-west corner of the enceinte rises a tower named Clisiarnita with a circular turret and winding stair. Its high roof increases the impression of verticality.
We continue to Sucevita. Ieremia Gheorghe and Simion Movila built this monastery in 1585. It is composed of a large fortified yard, with high walls and towers, boyard (aristocratic) and monastic houses. The church at the centre of this ensemble is a masterpiece of Moldavian medieval architecture. Sucevita’s paintings (1601), covering its interior and exterior walls, are one of the most valuable corpuses of Romanian painting. With them the great epoch of Moldavian exterior wall painting ended. One of Sucevita’s most unforgettable scenes depicts a long ladder running diagonally across the wall to heaven, climbed by monks assisted by angels. This is a metaphor for their struggle against sin. A number of the aspirants fall between the ladder’s rungs and are dragged down to hell by demons. Above the ladder is a vast choir of angels, their wings forming startling colour rhythms across the church wall. (Overnight Sucevita) BLD
Piatra Neamt - 1 night
Day 10: Friday 3 June, Sucevita – Arbor – Humor – Voronet – Neamt – Piatra Neamt
- Arbor Church
- Monastery of Humor
- Monastery of Voronet
- Monastery of Neamt
Today we visit three more of the magnificent painted churches and monasteries for which Bucovina is justly famous. These constitute one of the most significant corpuses of religious buildings in Eastern Europe. The monasteries were built in the lands of the Moldavian realm, which prospered for a short time due, in large part, to its inaccessibility. It is a place of high, densely forested mountains and deep valleys, a fragmented topography that was difficult for foreign hegemonies like the Habsburgs and the Turks to control. This unique landscape, which favoured local rulers, provides an unforgettable setting for the richly painted churches we shall visit.
Our first visit is to the lovely small church of Arbor, which is particularly noted for the Italian influence upon its paintings. Italian trade with the Black Sea passed through Moldavia and along this route came Italian artists. Whether by an Italian or a Romanian heavily influenced by Italians, the paintings of Arbor’s west end are noted for their powerful spatial organisation, showing that the artist had mastered the style of artists like Giotto.
We next drive to Humor Monastery, another important medieval monastery, founded in 1530 by a Moldavian boyar (aristocrat), Toader Bubuiog, and his wife Anastasia, during the reign of Petru Rares. Close by are the ruins of an earlier church from the reign of Alexander the Kind (1400-1432). Humor is architecturally important because it was the first foundation to have an open porch and tainita (a hiding room) above the room of tombs where church treasures were hidden. The open porch leads to a narthex and thence to a nave, which is separated from the circular apse by a beautiful ancient iconostasis carved in wood.
The interior and exterior walls of Humor Monastery church are covered with frescoes in the Byzantine style. In the narthex is a series of images representing the Synaxary (Calendar), the icon of the Assumption of the Virgin, the icon of the Akathist Hymn of the Virgin, and portraits of the great Christian hermits and angels. On the vault of the room of tombs are scenes from the Life of the Virgin. Portraits of saints and the monastery’s donors and a cycle of Christ’s Passion and Entombment decorate the nave walls and on the vault is Christ Pantocrator. The altar with its sacred images completes this precious ensemble of fresco-paintings. The apse vault bears images of the Virgin with Christ, the Last Supper, saints and Church leaders, following Orthodox iconographic tradition. The delicate, untouched exterior frescoes, the masterpiece of the monastery, are by Toma Zugravul (1535). They depict the Annunciation, the Tree of Jesse and the Last Judgement. Particularly interesting are depictions of the siege of Constantinople.
Our final visit for the morning is to the monastery of Voronet, built in 1488, and dedicated to St George the Martyr. A pious hermit, Daniil, and Prince Stephen the Great were responsible for its foundation, a princely token of gratitude for divine intervention in a battle against the Turks. Daniil became the first abbot, and is buried in the narthex. In 1547, Bishop Grigore Rosca, whose tomb is also here, added the porch and the exterior paintings. Monastic life at Voronet was interrupted in 1785 when Bucovina was annexed to the Habsburg Empire. It became a working monastery again in 1991 with the arrival of a community of nuns who combine their life of prayer and worship with housekeeping and farm work, running a painting workshop and providing guided tours of the monastery for visitors. The paintings in Voronet’s porch represent the Christian Orthodox Calendar. Above the entrance, in the narthex, lies a superb icon – Dulcea Imbratisare (the Sweet Embrace). The monastery’s votive painting is found in the nave. Stephen the Great, the Lady Maria-Voichita and Bogdan, his heir, are depicted in the act of donating the monastery to Christ, through the mediation of St. George the Martyr. The imperial doors of the gilded yew-wood iconostasis are a masterpiece of wooden sculpture, as is the throne of the Metropolitan Bishop Grigore Rosca.
The artistic climax of the building is, however, the Last Judgement on the exterior west wall. Voronet’s colour is a unique blue, seen especially in the background of the Tree of Jesse. Graeco-Latin philosophers are depicted in the borders to the left and right of the Last Judgement. On the left of the entrance door lies the haloed image of St Daniil the Hermit. Above the door is the beautiful Deisis Icon. It depicts Christ as Judge flanked by Mary and St John the Baptist who both mediate on behalf of the visitor. The paintings in the nave and at the altar were blackened from the smoke of hundreds of years of burning candles, and are at present undergoing restoration.
We shall eat lunch before driving south to the Monastery of Neamt. Neamt does not have the exterior frescoes of the other monasteries we have visited. It does, however, have beautiful polychrome shaped brickwork enlivened by coloured glazed ceramic shapes set into its walls. The monastery is particularly important as the early royal monastery of the great ruler, Stephen the Great. He established an important community here that included important schools of manuscript illumination and textiles production. After visiting Neamt we drive to our hotel in Piatra Neamt. (Overnight Piatra Neamt) BLD
Brasov - 2 nights
Day 11: Saturday 4 June, Piatra Neamt – Bicaz Canyon – Prejmer – Brasov
- Bicaz Canyon
- Fortified Church, Prejmer
Today we drive south through the Carpathian Mountains via the awesome Bicaz Canyon (Cheilele Bicaz – ‘the Keys of Bicaz’) to Eastern Transylvania.
After lunch near the Canyon, we drive south through the open grasslands of one of the most beautiful areas of Romania, a fascinating region of beautiful villages, probably founded in the 14th century for the Székely families who had arrived in this particular area in the late 12th and 13th centuries. The Székely people have remained here to this day. They speak a dialect of Hungarian and use strange runes that you can see on the elaborate carved gateposts of their houses. The history and ethnicity of the Székelys is uncertain. Perhaps the most cogent explanation is that they were a border people moved south to create a southern buffer by the Magyar (Hungarian) Árpád dynasty. But it is also sometimes argued that they arrived in Romania before the Magyars settled the Hungarian plain and were once part of either the Hun or Avar migratory groups. Diverse explanations of their origins reinforce our appreciation of the extraordinary complexity and diversity of Romanian history and culture.
Near our destination, Brasov, we visit the Fortified Church in Prejmer, which is considered the equal of Biertan. The thick, high walls of this 15th-century complex surround three courtyards, in the largest of which is an austere Gothic church. Prejmer is more elaborate than Biertan and its position on a plain required that it have higher walls. On their inside face are a large number of cells reached by interesting wooden walkways. These cells acted both as residences and storerooms for the surrounding community that retreated to this fortress in times of danger. Some stores were, in fact, kept here permanently in case the locals were surprised by an attack and did not have time to stock their citadel. (Overnight Brasov) BL
Day 12: Sunday 5 June, Brasov – Sinaia – Brasov
- Peles Palace Castle, Sinaia
- Pelisor Palace, Sinaia
- Black Church and its collection of Turkish carpets, Brasov
Early this morning, we drive into the Carpathian Mountains to the beautiful mountain resort of Sinaia, where we visit the great 19th-century palace complex of the Romanian royal family. Peles Palace Castle is a massive, late 19th-century German Neo-Renaissance fantasy, built as a summer retreat for King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta. Its extraordinary historicist interiors range from Gothic halls to an Islamic Revival section inspired by the Alhambra, Granada.
We shall also visit the nearby palace of Pelisor, built for Carol’s nephew and heir, Prince Ferdinand, and his consort, Marie of Romania, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Marie of Romania was an extraordinary woman. She was a botanist, artist and writer of children’s books, and a keen patron of the Romanian National Revival. Although less grand than Peles, Pelesor is far prettier. It is light and airy, with lovely interiors not unlike those of Edwardian England.
In the late afternoon we return to the proud Saxon city of Brasov to visit the Black Church. We have now left the lands of the Székely and entered a Saxon realm. This area was heavily influenced by the Teutonic Knights, some of whom came south to Romania (whilst others pursued their ‘crusade’ to take Catholicism to the north-east – and founded Prussia). The Teutonic Knights, a military order that had developed during the Third Crusade, built great fortresses in this region. They were finally ousted by the Hungarian monarchy when they became too independent and powerful. Brasov prospered through its location on the main trade route between Moldavia and Wallachia. Its greatest treasure is the Black Church, named for the discolouration of its walls by fire during the Austrian invasion (1689). It is a typical Germanic hall church and its rich interior has fascinating paintings of guild insignia and one of the world’s greatest collections of Turkish carpets, donated to the church by Armenian merchants returning from the East.
The Brasov display is, in fact, the best of many collections of oriental textiles in Romania, and reflects the fact that this region was one of the major conduits of oriental riches to the markets of Northern Europe; carpets depicted in the paintings of artists like Jan Van Eyck and Hans Holbein reflect this extensive trade. The Black Church collection, which hangs from its galleries, within its choir stalls and along its walls, is said to equal those of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. (Overnight Brasov) BLD
Bucharest - 1 night
Day 13: Monday 6 June, Brasov – Bucharest
- Village Museum
- Art Collections Museum
- Farewell Dinner
We drive this morning to Bucharest. When Romania attained nationhood its frenetic urban life contrasted markedly with the culture of the vast majority of its people, who lived in villages, husbanding their flocks and tilling the land. This enduring peasant culture, unchanged for centuries, kept alive local traditions that had disappeared or were fast disappearing from more industrialised countries. This meant that 19th and 20th-century Romanian folklorists, writers, composers and artists were able to document traditional life with a richness and profundity that is unequalled elsewhere.
It is partly for this reason that Bucharest’s Village Museum, with an extraordinary heritage of traditional village buildings, is believed by many to be the best of its kind in the world. We shall visit this outdoor museum. Most foreigners have no idea of the extent, quality and variety of Romania’s art collections.
The afternoon will be at leisure. There will be an optional visit to the Art Collections Museum, a complex that houses a large number of 19th- and 20th century works for which there are no permanent homes. There will be a farewell dinner in Bucharest. (Overnight Bucharest BD)
Day 14: Tuesday 7 June, Bucharest (tour ends)
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends in Bucharest. Those travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will be transferred to the airport. If not, travellers may take a taxi or arrange a transfer with ASA, or stay on to see more of this fascinating country. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B