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The beautiful churches and monasteries of Romania

Updated: Apr 1


Inside of a Romanian Orthodox church

Located in Eastern Europe, Romania is a captivating country with so much to offer its visitors. It is, in my opinion, highly underrated. Picturesque small towns, inspiring castles, pretty landscapes, fascinating culture, delicious food and low prices are just a few of the reasons to visit this amazing country. One of the biggest draws, however, are its churches. It has some of the most beautiful churches I have seen. Jaw dropping mural paintings and frescos, brightly colored walls and ceilings, intricate tiled mosaics and sparkling gold leaf are all on display in the gorgeous Romanian churches. Its churches are a central part of Romanian culture, as places of celebration, worship, gathering and even defense.


In this post I am going to categorize the churches into five categories. They are: Orthodox churches, monasteries, fortified churches, the painted churches of Moldavia or Bucovina and the wooden churches of Maramures. I will only touch on the many gorgeous and interesting churches this amazing country possesses.

 

Orthodox churches


Orthodox church in Romania

Romania has a long religious history with the roots of Orthodoxy tracing back to the establishment of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the 14th century. Throughout the centuries, Orthodox Christianity has played a pivotal role in shaping Romania's identity, culture, and spirituality. With over 14,000 Orthodox churches in the country, these exquisite buildings are symbols of the religious beliefs of the Romanian people.


Holy Trinity church Sibiu Romania

Orthodox churches in Romania are characterized by their distinctive architectural styles, heavily influenced by Byzantine architecture from the Eastern Roman Empire, the Baroque style, as well as local traditions. They are almost always oriented east/west, with the entrance at the west end. This symbolized the worshiper entering from darkness (the West), into light (the East). There are no pews in the church with the worshipers standing during the services. Instead of the long naves that are so common in western Europe, the Orthodox churches are usually more centralized with a wide main worship area and smaller structures at the four corners. Domes are used to symbolize heaven and the walls and ceilings are covered in brightly colored frescoes of Bible stories and saints.  Many Orthodox churches are adorned with an intricately carved wooden screen depicting religious scenes and saints. 


Here are a few well known churches to visit:


Patriarchal cathedral in Bucharest

Patriarchal Cathedral, Bucharest (Metropolitan church):

As the spiritual heart of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest is a must-visit for any traveler exploring Romania's religious heritage. Dating back to the 17th century, its impressive domes and ornate interiors reflect a blend of Byzantine and Romanian architectural influences. This designated historical monument - monument istoric was begun in 1655 and finished in 1659. An interesting fact is that in 1862 the Romanian prime minister was assassinated as his carriage passed in front of this cathedral. 


Timisoara Metropolital cathedral

Three Hierarchs Metropolitan Cathedral in Timisoara:

This beautiful cathedral is a stunning blend of Byzantine and Baroqe styles with impressive domes and ornate designs. This church is the second tallest in Romania and has 11 towers. 


Interior of Sibiu Holy Trinity cathedral

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Sibiu Transylvania:

This church was inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as well as the traditional Romanian church architecture of the area. Construction of the church began in 1902 and took only 2 years to complete. It is stunning inside with its colorful frescos and intricate designs. 


Fortified churches

Romanian fortified church

Scattered across the Southeastern Romanian region of Transylvania, are over 150 of the original 300 fortified churches offering travelers a fascinating glimpse into the country's tumultuous past. The fortified churches of Romania trace their origins back to medieval times between the thirteenth century and sixteenth century when Transylvania was under constant threat of invasion and raids by the Ottoman Empire and nomadic tribes. The fortified churches played an important role in society. To protect themselves and the surrounding area, local villagers and clergy in these rural areas fortified their churches, transforming them into impregnable citadels capable of withstanding sieges and attacks.


fortified church in Romania

These fortified churches served not only as places of worship but also as defensive strongholds, housing entire communities and supplies during times of conflict. Founded by the Transylvanian Saxons, there are seven fortified churches that together, are listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The churches are either Romanesque or late Gothic style and are placed in the middle of the fortification with high, exterior walls. The walls usually contain rooms for storage and housing. Many have a tall tower used for observation, some of which were originally a church tower but were adapted for defensive purposes.  In times of peace, these fortified churches served as a center of the community where markets, religious holidays, celebrations and other gatherings took place.


walls of a fortified Church Romania

Consider visiting:

Prejmer Fortified Church, Brașov County:

One of the most impressive fortified churches in Romania, the Prejmer Fortified Church is on the UNESCO's World Heritage list  and is renowned for its well-preserved fortifications and intricate architectural details. Built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century, it features thick walls, bastions, and a maze-like interior designed to confuse attackers.


Viscri church Romania

Viscri Fortified Church, Brașov County:

Tucked away in the charming village of Viscri, this fortified church is a hidden gem full of rural charm and historical significance. Dating back to the 12th century, it has a bright white exterior and a simple interior adorned with medieval frescoes and wooden furnishings.


Viscri walls Romania

Biertan Fortified Church, Sibiu County:

Perched on a hill overlooking the quaint village of Biertan, this fortified church is a masterpiece of Transylvanian Saxon architecture. Its imposing fortifications and fortified towers, along with its ornate interior and medieval lockup, make it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts.


Biertan Romania

Saschiz Fortified Church, Mureș County:

With its distinctive clock tower and commanding presence, the Saschiz Fortified Church illustrates the strategic importance of fortified churches in medieval Transylvania. Visitors can explore its fortified walls, climb the tower for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and admire its exquisite frescoes and altarpieces.


Ladder in Romanian bell tower

Monasteries 

Sanai Monastery Romania

The history of monasticism in Romania dates back many centuries, with the establishment of the first monasteries in the early Middle Ages. Throughout their history, monasteries played a vital role in preserving the Orthodox faith, fostering education, and providing refuge for monks and pilgrims.


cloisters of Romanian monastery

Romanian monasteries are famous for their exquisite architecture, intricate frescoes, and tranquil surroundings. Many of these monastic complexes serve as centers of spiritual pilgrimage, attracting visitors from around the world seeking solace and a deeper connection to the divine. There are over 300 monasteries in Romania, many of which are still working monasteries. Visiting the monasteries in Romania is a fascinating and unique experience. They are peaceful, and serene but also great works of art. 


Sinaia Monastery Romania

Some monasteries to visit:


Horezu Monastery, Wallachia:

Located in the rolling hills of Wallachia, the Horezu Monastery, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, is known for its exquisite Brâncovenesc style architecture. Its elegant courtyards, ornate façades, and richly decorated interiors make it a must-visit destination for art and architecture enthusiasts. The monastery was founded in 1690 by Prince Constantine Brancovan. The school of mural and icon painting, which was established at the monastery in the 18th century was famous throughout the surrounding area and across the Baltic region. 


Putna Monastery, Bucovina:

Founded in the 15th century by Stephen the Great, the Putna Monastery is a symbol of Romanian spirituality and national identity. Stephen the Great built dozens of churches and monasteries in the area. His tomb is here and has become a place of pilgrimage. In 1470, it was dedicated to the virgin Mary but was almost completely rebuilt in the mid 17th century. Its fortified walls, towering spires, and serene surroundings offer visitors a glimpse into the country's tumultuous history and enduring faith.


Cozia Monastery, Oltenia:

Perched on the banks of the Olt River, the Cozia Monastery is a haven of tranquility and contemplation. Built in the 14th century by Prince Mircea the Elder, its elegant architecture and serene ambiance make it a popular pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians.


Curtea de Argas monastery

Curtea de Arges Monastery

Resembling a large mausoleum, the cathedral at the Curtea de Arges Monastery is a beautiful example of Byzantine architecture. It has two central domes with two leaning and twisting cupolas near the front. The windows are mere slits and each dome is topped with a triple cross which symbolizes the Trinity (the Father, the Son and the holy spirit). There is a famous legend that belongs to this church. It is said that the architect was having trouble finishing the walls. When the Prince threatened him and his assistants with death, the architect suggested the ancient tradition of burning a live woman inside the walls. It was decided that the first woman to arrive the next morning would be the sacrifice. The assistants warned their families and the woman to show up the next morning was the architec'ts wife. She was sacrificed and the church was built. 


Antim Monastery Romania

Antim monastery:

Located in Bucharest, this great church and monastery was built between 1713 and 1715. Seven monks currently live there. During the communist regime, the government threatened to demolish this church. A project was organized to move the church to a different location and it was saved. 


Painted Churches of Northern Moldavia


painted church of Moldavia Romania

Located in Suceava county, the painted churches of Moldavia consist of 8 churches on the UNESCO world heritage site list. They are also known as the painted monasteries of Bucovina. These churches are covered inside and out with colored frescoes depicting religious stories and symbols as a way of teaching the people Bible stories and other religious ideas. Built between the late 15th and 16th centuries, many of the churches were built to celebrate battles won against the Ottoman Turks and other enemies. Probably the most famous of the churches is the Voronet Monastery. This small church  was built in 4 months as a pledge from Stephen the Great to his advisor, a hermit named Daniil. Voroneț Monastery is known for its bright blue frescoes, one of which depicts the last judgment. It has the nickname of "the Sistine Chapel of the East."


Voroneț Monastery Romania

The other painted churches are relatively close to each other making them easy to visit. The eight churches are: Beheading of Saint John the Baptist church, Assumption of the Virgin, Annunciation church, Holy Rood church, Church of St. Nicholas, St. George church of Suceava, St. George church of Voronet and Resurrection church. 


Wooden churches of Maramures

Wooden church of Maramures

Another group of churches on the UNESCO world heritage sites list is the wooden churches of Maramures. Maramures is a region in Romania that has had autonomous traditions since the late middle ages. There are close to 100 wooden churches in this area, reflecting the unique culture and traditions of the people.This is only about a third of the original churches. The churches still standing were built from the 17th to the 19th century. They were built in response to the Catholic leaders forbidding the building of stone Orthodox churches.  Most of these churches have a tall, slim bell tower at the west end of the building. They are made from logs with shingled roofs and painted mostly by local artists. They used traditional techniques passed down through generations, their huge roofs often dwarfing the structure underneath. 


wooden church of Maramures

Some Wooden churches to visit:

Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, Maramureș:

Located in the picturesque village of Ieud, this UNESCO-listed wooden church is one of the oldest and most well-preserved examples of Maramureș architecture. Adorned with intricate wood carvings and vibrant frescoes depicting biblical scenes and local folklore, it offers visitors a captivating glimpse into Romania's rural heritage.


Church of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, Bârsana:

Situated amidst rolling hills and lush forests, the Bârsana Church is renowned for its towering spire and ornate wooden carvings. The church's interior is adorned with elaborate frescoes depicting saints, angels, and biblical narratives, creating a sacred atmosphere of beauty and reverence.


Church of the Holy Paraskeva, Poienile Izei:

Tucked away in the heart of the Iza Valley, the Poienile Izei Church is a hidden gem beloved for its simplicity and authenticity. Built entirely of wood and adorned with hand-painted decorations, it offers visitors a peaceful retreat amidst the tranquil beauty of rural Romania.


inside of a wood church of Maramures Romania

Surdești Church

With its distinctive tall spire and intricate carvings, the Surdești Church is a masterpiece of Maramureș architecture. The church's exterior is adorned with colorful frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible and local folklore, making it a must-visit destination for art and history enthusiasts.


The best way to visit many of these churches is to rent a car. This gives you the freedom to get to all the off the beaten path areas at your own pace. If this is your first time driving in Romania, don't worry. The roads are well maintained and it is not too busy. If that still makes you nervous, try to find an organized tour that will take you to all the sites on your list. Finding public transportation to some of these remote locations can be challenging. 


Alba Lulia Romania

I have just scratched the surface with the awe inspiring and gorgeous churches of Romania. There are hundreds worth your time. The Black church in Brasov is a beautiful Gothic church with a pipe organ boasting over 4000 pipes! St. Michael's cathedral in Alba Lulia, which dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest church in the country. We also love Sinaia Monastery, Malancrov, Sabata de sus Monastery, New st. George church in Bucharest, Stavropoleos church, St. Nicholas church in Budapest, Kretzulescu church....the list goes on and on.

interior of Romanian church

The churches in Romania are breathtaking in their beauty, but also offer a look into the fascinating history and culture of this amazing country. They are some of the most picturesque treasures of Romania and the best places to go to not only learn about the country, but also find tranquility and peace. Whether you are looking up in to the dome of a brightly colored Orthodox cathedral, looking down from the tower of a fortified Church, walking amongst the monks at a Monastery, or marveling at the characteristic wooden churches, you will be enthralled with the beauty and artistry of the beautiful churches and monasteries of Romania. 


Ready to travel to Romania? Contact us at eurotravelsbydesign@gmail.com and we will custom create the perfect itinerary for you. 






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