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 mentioned for the first time in a written document on August 6, 1582. Today, it is known especially because of its famous painted church, the last of its kind. It is located just 36km (22mi) from Gura Humorului or 54km (33mi) from Suceava.
Sucevita can be reached by car from Suceava, Gura Humorului or Campulung Moldovenesc. There are daily buses between Radauti and Sucevita.
Today, Sucevita is a beautiful little town with many old traditional houses. The local architecture attracts the attention of the visitors. The beautiful wooden porches, the floral motifs, the shingled roofs, the elegant fences, and the beautiful roofs of the local wells and gates are a real pleasure to be admired and photographed. The locals of Sucevita are amiable, and sometimes you might spot some of them wearing with pride their old traditional costumes.
The main economy of Sucevita consists of forestry and raising livestock. Tourism has an important role, too, with many little hotels and guest houses being built right after the collapse of Communism.
The Sucevita Monastery – UNESCO site
Located in the village of the same name, 18km southeast of Radauti and the middle of lovely mountain scenery, Sucevita Monastery (in this case, a convent) looks more like a medieval stronghold, with tall walls, ramparts, and watchtowers.
The monastery is first mentioned at the beginning of 1586, when the metropolitan priest, Gheorghe Movila, decided to build it. He became a monk of the Probota Monastery at an early age, went through all of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, becoming Bishop of Radauti and later metropolitan priest of Moldavia. In fact, the church is the joint foundation of the Movila family, who were great property owners, scholars, and even rulers of Moldavia such as Ieremia Movila – considered to be the main founder of the monastery.
After becoming ruler of Moldavia, in 1595, Ieremia Movila added to the church two little porches, the enclosing walls with towers, cells for the monks, and a princely house, today just a ruin.
Not far from the site, before 1580, the Movila brothers started to build a masonry church dedicated to the Baptism of Lord Jesus. It belonged to the monastic community until 1832 when it was turned into a parish church.
Legend has it that a woman who had sinned to receive God’s forgiveness had for 40 years brought the stone needed for the current building in her buffalo-driven cart. In exchange for this hard task, she wanted to be buried inside the church – but unfortunately for her, she didn’t receive this honor. This is 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 architectural style established at the time of Stephen the Great. It represents a harmonious blending of Byzantine elements and Gothic art, adorned with architectural elements of the old wooden churches of 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 used in times of foreign invasions as places for shelter protection. This is the reason that so many monasteries look like small medieval fortresses.
The precincts of Sucevita are almost square-shaped, with sides of 100m by 104m. The walls, 3m thick and 6m tall, are made of raw stone with mortar binder. The upperparts are provided with firing holes. Four corner towers and one entry tower protect the complex and give the visitors the impression of a real medieval stronghold. Three of the towers have octagonal shapes.
Placed in the north-western part of the precincts, the Bell Tower, square in shape and upheld by three massive buttresses, is arranged by tiers. At the first tier, a painting and restoration workshop was established a few years ago. The belfry itself can be reached after some steep 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. They reproduce, in cast inscriptions, the scene of the “Resurrection of Lord Jesus,” the arms of Moldavia, and the coat of arms of the Movila family.
The square entrance tower, placed in the middle of the northern wall, has two stories. The first, above the vaulted gateway, is the Chapel of the Annunciation. The scene of the Resurrection and the coat of 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 probably built 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 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 located on the eastern side of the precinct.
The monastery church has three apses and represents one of the great achievements of 16th century Moldavian art. The church consists of an altar, nave, burial chamber, narthex, an exonarthex. Also, the 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 rows of recesses like other churches. Vertical niches cross only the apses. The founders probably wanted to have large spaces for the frescoes and left the church with a simple architecture. The frames of the windows and the portal of the entrance to the narthex have Gothic-style frames. The church steeple church has three bases, one square and two star-shaped, each of them with 12 points.
Sucevita frescoes are among the best-preserved examples of all sites of Moldavian paintings and were made at the beginning of Ieremia Movila’s reign, between 1595 and 1596. The frescoes were done by a team of painters led by John and his brother Sofronie. Unfortunately, legend has it that the brothers fell off the scaffoldings and died, so the church's western side remained unpainted.
The “Prayer of all Saints” fresco is the most important iconographic scene and is the biggest composition spread out over all three church apses. 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 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. 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 the Messiah's advent in the Old Testament. In the next register, Jesus Christ, High Priest, and Judge are among his apostles. The fifth register shows Jesus in a Chalice, in sacrificial posture at the Holy Liturgy, celebrated by archpriests, priests, and deacons. In the bottom register, on the façade of the buttress, St. John the Baptist is shown as an angel. Martyrs and holy men and women flank him.
The Ladder of John Climacus is another important fresco painted on the northern façade. St. John the Sinaite, also known as Climacus by his Greek name, is the artist who wrote 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. Much appreciated by the ecclesiastics of Mount Athos, the composition of the Ladder of Virtues was brought to Moldavia by the Greek painter Stamatello Cotronas, who painted it at Rasca. It consists of 30 steps (Jesus was baptized when he was 30 years old), each of them symbolizing a virtue. Every monk should possess these virtues to attain perfection. Once having passed 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 hell, a chaotic mass of terrifying figures and demons. In the triangle of hell, one can see 9 monks who had failed to achieve perfection.
The Genesis, also painted on the northern wall, right under the cornice, is made up of 18 scenes focused on creating the first parents, on the original sin, on Adam and Eve being driven out of the Garden of Eden, and their 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 paradise lost.
Beneath Genesis, the Life of St. Pachomius is represented in 15 scenes. In the 4th century, he set out the rules of community life for the monks of Sinai. One of the scenes shows him demolishing a tower (a symbol of pride) and reinforcing the virtue of humility in monastic life.
On the southern wall, The Annunciation is presented in 24 scenes. Between the two Gothic windows, the Pocrov (cover or veil) fresco, with Russian influence, represents the Incarnation. The Russian influence is also revealed by the architectural forms of the onion domes.
Other frescoes of the southern wall are The Crowning of the Virgin Mary and The Martyrdom of the Monks from the St. Catherine monastery in Sinaia, who the Muslims beheaded. Finally, right above the plinth, the Burning Bush composition shows the vision of Moses on Mount Horeb before receiving the Ten Commandments.
The Tree of Jesse is another important composition painted on the southern wall, unfolding from the cornice down almost to the plinth. This fresco shows the prophecy of Isaiah in the Old Testament, which says about a rod growing out of the stem of Jesse. It represents the genealogy of Jesus Christ from the time of King David. Right above the plinth, 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 abundance of gold and the wide range of colors used by the painters.
The exonarthex is covered in the upper part of the southern, western, and northern walls by large compositions of the Old Testament, which show the Incarnation of the Son of God. The fresco of the Last Judgment entirely covers the eastern wall.
The narthex illustrates the ecclesiastical calendar in its complete form. A golden full moon marks the beginning of a month. It shows different saints and scenes of martyrdom on five rows, from east to north. The eastern cupola of the narthex features the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, and three angels symbolize the Holy Trinity; the western cupola 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 entire 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 wall shows the terrible life of St. George.
The burial chamber displays the 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 auroch with a star between its horns flanked by the moon and sun, and the crossed swords are the heraldic symbol of the Movila family. The frescoes in this chamber illustrate the life of Moses in forty scenes.
The nave’s walls are surrounded by a large composition of the Passion of Jesus. The western wall is covered by votive portraits of the founder and his family. It features Moldavia, Ieremia Movila, flanked by the Virgin Mary, handing a replica of the church to Jesus. The Prince is preceded by his elder son and followed by his eldest daughter, his mother, his wife, and 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, i.e., from where God looks down at us, His earthly church. The dome is covered by an impressive icon of Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Almighty) surrounded by seraphs and cherubs. Beneath the row of six-winged seraphs and cherubs closest to God follows the row of the Archangels and Angels, which are shown in human form as they are closest to humans. The next row of the tower’s nave shows 12 prophets and the 12 apostles. The Holy Liturgy covers the base of the dome. Finally, the four evangelists are illustrated at the base of the vault.
The altar's apse, separated from the rest of the nave by a beautiful wooden screen, is covered by a fresco of the Assumption.
Because of the remarkable work of the painters John and Sofronie, Sucevita, with its abundant green color, represents a real “testament to Moldavian art.” The iconostasis was made in 1805 and was donated to the Sucevita monastery by Father Superior Ghenadie, which is carved on the beam above the sanctuary doors. The carving and the paintings belong to the late period of Baroque art. The decorations consist of acanthus and ivy vines, ionic columns and capitols, friezes with tassels, medallions in tablets, all carved in relief and fretwork. The realistic paintings of the iconostasis are far from the usual type of the Byzantine style and were probably painted by an artist from the Galician Greek-Catholic zone. Another wooden screen, made in 1805, was placed at the entrance of the burial chamber and covered the old frescoes entirely.
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; a carpet with 10 000 pearls from 1597, a silver case with the hair of Lady Elisabeta, wife of Ieremia Movila, etc.
Today, the monastic place, transformed into a convent in 1936 with more than 50 nuns, keeps its prime mission: prayer.
Apart from this daily routine, the convent has specialized workshops. For example, a workshop where the eggs are decorated, another workshop where the nuns embroider, and a workshop where they paint icons in the Byzantine tradition.
Accommodations and Restaurants in Sucevita
Sucevita is 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 to enjoy life simply. There are many options for accommodations, considering the size of this little town. A good place to spend some time eating 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 option might be the Sofia Hotel (4*) or the Buchen Land Pension (4*).
The Surroundings of Sucevita
Bucovina is known above anything else for its painted monasteries, many of them being part of the UNESCO world heritage. Besides these outstanding landmarks, Bucovina offers a beautiful landscape, interesting local architecture, many villages 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 the process of doing their fascinating ceramic work.
The town of Radauti might be another interesting stop, especially for its Jewish synagogue. Not far away from the town, about 66km (41mi) northwest of Suceava, lies the Putna Monastery, the resting place of Prince Stephan the Great. It houses one of the most interesting museums in Bucovina. You’ll also enjoy the typical local architecture of the small villages scattered around the hills.
A day trip can be made to Mitocu Dragomirnei, which boasts the beautiful slender silhouette of the Dragomirna Monastery. As it is quite different from the other famous painted monasteries, the Dragomirna Monastery is one of the most interesting tourist sights of Bucovina. Not far away is 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 Sucevita
If you want to visit Sucevita, you should book one of our tours of Romania, passing through this beautiful place. You can have our Treasure of Romania Tour, a tour which will take you not just through Sucevita, but also through other important parts of Bucovina. Another tour of Romania, which passing through Sucevita and other parts of Bucovina, is Romania in Depth Tour.