Bucovina is best known for being the land of churches and long-kept traditions. The region’s past has left its traces in many of the monuments still existing today and as a result, it has a series of landmarks that are unique in the country. If you love to uncover the rich history of a place, admire architectural masterpieces and learn about local traditions, Bucovina is the perfect place for you!
The name Bucovina comes from the Ukrainian word “buk”, which means beech tree, thus translating as “the land of beech”. The region was separated by the former Soviet Union in the 20th century in two parts, from which one is on the territory of Romania and the other half is in Ukraine. Here you will find a mix of communities, all of which keep their own customs and traditions. That’s why Bucovina is a fascinating region to explore.
With this thought in mind, we invite to discover the top places in Bucovina to include on your itinerary of Romania:
The Painted Monasteries
These painted monasteries are the representative image of Bucovina and an attraction you don’t want to miss, being special for their architectural style. Most of them date from the 15th and 16th centuries and were built by local rulers. One of them, Stephen the Great, is said to have built a monastery or a church after every one of his victories in battles, becoming the founder of over 40 religious monuments.
Majestic examples of Byzantine art, the monasteries are of startling beauty. They have interior and exterior frescoes that depict religious scenes and portraits of saints and prophets. The complex illustrations attest the importance of religion in the life of local people and, at the same time, managed to serve their purpose of teaching villagers the story of the Bible.
Another particularity of the monasteries is the presence of fortifications – in the past they were used as shelters by locals in times of battles.
Amongst all monasteries, 8 of them, best preserved, were chosen to be part of UNESCO’ World Heritage Sites in 1993: Arbore, Humor, Moldovita, Patrauti, Probota, Suceava, Voronet and Sucevita. Among those 8 monasteries, the most interesting to visit are the following three:
Founded in 1581 by the Movila brothers, the great grandsons of Stephen the Great, Sucevita Monastery is considered to be the last of the painted monasteries of Bucovina. It has the largest number of paintings and the best preserved ones. The frescoes were made by local artists at the beginning of the 17th century and are appreciated for their rich details and bright colors.
Many important religious scenes are illustrated on the walls of the monastery, but The Ladder of Virtues is seen as the masterpiece. It describes the essence of the monastic life, with monks trying to climb a staircase towards Jesus, each step representing a necessary virtue. They are supported by angels, whilst the unworthy monks are drawn into hell by devils.
The Sucevita Monastery also hosts a museum with collections of religious objects and historical artifacts, amongst them valuable manuscripts.
Another top place in Bucovina is the Moldovita Monastery. It was founded by Petru Rares, son of Stephen the Great, in 1532, on the place where now is the village of Vatra Moldovitei. An outstanding example of Moldavian architecture, it stands out through its external frescoes. Similar to the Monastery of Humor, it combines religious and historic motifs, using predominant shades of blue, golden, red and green.
Its highlights are the painting of the Siege of Constantinople, the depiction of the Tree of Jesse, a representation of Jesus’ genealogy and the scene of the Last Judgment. The monastery also houses a museum where a large collection of old manuscripts, icons and embroideries, along with the throne of Petru Rares, can be found.
It is possibly the best known monastery out of the eight due to the unique shade of blue in which it was painted, known worldwide as “Voronet blue” and whose composition remains a mystery even today. It was founded by Stephen the Great after one of his victories in 1488. The exterior frescoes were added later, in 1547 and are a wonderful combination of Gothic, Byzantine and local elements.
Photo credit: Flickr
The stunning paintings gave the monastery the nickname of “the Sistine Chapel of the East”. The monumental illustration of the Last Judgment covers the entire western wall and it is a symbol of uniqueness for the reason that Biblical characters are particularized to the local culture, through the use of traditional clothing or musical instruments.
Though they are not UNESCO world heritage sites the Putna and Dragomirna monasteries are also very interesting to visit.
It is the first monastery founded by Stephen the Great between 1466 and 1469 and it is also the burial place for him and members of his family.
Situated in the Obcinele Bucovinei area, amongst forests and hills, the Putna Monastery envelopes you in a serene and peaceful atmosphere as soon as you set foot on the grounds. Inside the imposing defense walls there lies an architectural masterpiece, a combination of Moldavian elements and Gothic and Byzantine features, most likely a result of the several times the religious monument was rebuilt.
The actual interior frescoes date back to the 20th centuries and are painted in colorful shades, on a gold background. Amongst them, the portrait of Stephen the Great sets itself apart. Worth a visit is also the monastery’s museum, where a collection of rare manuscripts, religious objects, expensive carpets and embroideries from the medieval times can be admired.
The monastic complex of Dragomirna was built at the beginning of the 17th century by the artist and Bishop Anastasie Crimca. It is the tallest monastery of Bucovina, having a height of 42 m and a width of only 9.6m. Thus, its unusual proportions give it a rare slenderness and a beautiful elegance. This impression is accentuated by the aspect of the exterior walls, which lack paintings but are decorated with intricate carvings. Features of the Romantic, Gothic and Classic architectural styles mix harmoniously and can be seen in the distinguished ornamentations.
Stone carvings are also present in the interior of the monastery, where part of the original paintings can also be admired. The small museum offers a valuable collection of historically important objects, such as manuscripts, silverware and religious paintings.
The Black Pottery from Marginea village
Marginea village is the only place in Europe where black pottery is still made using traditional methods. This craft started 500 years ago and nowadays there are only a few families left that kept this tradition.
The black color of the ceramics is obtained through an ancient burning technique. After the vessels are shaped, dried, decorated and once again left to dry, they are burnt at a temperature of over 800 degrees Celsius. They are afterwards left in the oven for a full day, time during which the pores fill with smog and turn black.
The most famous ceramics workshop in Marginea pertains to the Magopat family, which has been performing this craft for over 300 years. There you can witness the entire process of making vessels, from the shaping of the clay to the last stage of burning the ceramics.
There is also an ethnographic museum where the obtained objects are displayed and can be bought at a good price.
The tradition of Painting Eggs for Easter
In Bucovina the days before Easter are special, as it is the time when people immerse themselves in the task of painting eggs. This tradition started centuries ago and nowadays manually painted eggs are an art of its own.
There are two different of decorating the eggs, by using paint and a brush or by using wax, both methods ending with equally spectacular results. The colors and symbols used in this meticulous process have their own significance. For example red is associated with love, whilst black means eternity.
In Bucovina there are two famous museums of painted eggs – The International Museum of Painted Eggs Lucia Condrea in Molodvita and the Egg Museum in Vama. The first of the two displays a collection of over 5000 items, both unique creations of the artist Lucia Condrea and very old local painted eggs. The second museum houses the creations of the artisan Letitia Orsvischi and an international collection which illustrates traditions from foreign countries.
Both of the museum offer workshops where you can try your hand at painting eggs and discover your artistic talents!
The Village of Ciocanesti
Chosen “Romanian Cultural Village” in 2014, this authentic outdoor museum stands out through the unique exterior decorations of the houses, deserving its spot on our list of top places in Bucovina you should visit. The walls of almost each of them are painted with folk motives, inspired from traditional Romanian embroidered blouses and folk costumes, having colorful geometrical shapes and floral motifs.
In the 1950s one resident of the village of Ciocanesti decided to refurbish her house and chose outdoor traditional decorations. It was then that the aesthetic transformation of the village began and it continues until today. Even the church has walls decorated with floral motifs.
The tradition of painting eggs is also well kept here. Ciocanesti houses a Museum of Painted Eggs, with over 1800 items displayed, amongst them remarkably-painted eggs and traditional clothes. The Festival of Painted Eggs takes place here, annually, too.
Close to Ciocanesti you can find the Vatra Dornei resort, known for its healing properties. People come here to enjoy the benefits of the strongly negative ionized air and the mineral springs. Located in a spectacular landscape, it is also a top destination for winter sports. During spring and fall you can ride a horse, hike on the nearby mountains or practice fishing.
Calimani National Park
The area is a volcanic plateau dominated by the Calimani caldera, the biggest inactive caldera in Europe, and other stunning rock formations and craters. The most famous are the unusually-shaped 12 Apostles and the Red Stones.
The natural ecosystem present in the area is rich and diverse, with over 774 species of plants, many of them rare. The Swiss stone pine and the juniper trees are found in abundance.
The Calimani National Park is a great place for hiking, having various hiking trails of different difficulty and offering spectacular panoramas. Visitors can also enjoy other outdoor activities, like bird watching, mountain biking or paragliding.
Photo credit: Cartita Plimbareata
Although not impressive in terms of height, the Rarau Mountains offer fairytale-like views. Dense forests, crystalline waters and massive mountains form a spectacular natural landscape that you can’t help but fall in love with.
The best way to explore the area is by driving on the magnificent Transrarau road. Recently rehabilitated, it connects the villages of Chiril and Pojorata and from the highest point on the route you get to enjoy splendid panoramas. The serpentines reveal stunning rock formations, such as the Lady’s Rocks – a series of 3 slender rock towers or the Devil’s Mills Gorges, where beautiful cascades of various sized fall over vertical walls.
Most of the natural attractions can also be reached by hiking on the marked trails.
One of the top places in Bucovina to enjoy is the Mocanita Hutulca, another of Romania’s narrow-gauge steam trains which runs in the region. While the Mocanita from Maramures is definitely more famous, this one crosses equally breathtaking landscapes.
During the 10 kilometers ride you can enjoy traditional Romania cuisine and gaze at the picture-perfect sceneries. The three-hours-long journey starts and ends in the village of Moldovita, with a short break at Argel.
Cacica Salt Mine
Cacica Salt Mine is one of Europe’s oldest exploitations of salt, having been dug by hand at the end of the 18th century. Still an active mine today, part of it was transformed into a museum. Visitors have access to 4 important sights, located as deep as 37 meters underground.
As you go down, you will first encounter the Roman – Catholic Chapel of Saint Varvara, at approximately 27 meters under earth. It was mainly used by miners to pray before going to work. The next attractions, at 35 meters depth, are the Orthodox Chapel and the Salty Lake, an artificial lake dug manually by miners. Finally, at 37 meters underground you can find a Hall used in the past for meetings and shows.
Photo credit: Locuri din Romania
These were our recommended top places in Bucovina to include on your itinerary of Romania. We can organize for you a tailor-made day trip to any of these attractions and help you unveil authentic Bucovina! For an example of such a trip, see our Best of Romanai Tour or our Maramures and Bucovina Tour.