Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today and what we pass on to future generations. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.
There are seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Romania.
The Danube Delta
The waters of the Danube, which flows into the Black Sea, form the largest and the best preserved of Europe’s deltas. It has the largest area of compact reed-beds. The Danube delta was included in the UNESCO project as a Reservationof the Biosphere, thanks to its originality and variety of the ecosystems ( more than 25 types of natural ecosystems).
The amaizing wetland shelters over 300 species of birds, countless fish from royal sturgeon , down to carp and perch, while its 1150 kinds of plants range from sinuous lianas suggesting tropical forests to gently blossoming water lilies. Luxuriant vegetation covers these stretches of water and land. Approximate 15,000 people make their living from fishing, livestock breeding and reed harvesting, in this vast area. Their villages,lapped by the water ways, seem to be untouched by time .if you find yourself in these parts, you will be able to savour spit-roasted fish, fish borsch, pickled fish with garlic fishcake. And you will be sure to be offered wine from the Niculitel vineyard; the most appreciated varieties are the Aligote, Muscat Ottonel and Merlot. The Razim-Sinoe lagoon complex, formerly a marine golf, together with the many islands and sandbanks in the south of the St. George Branch. Are now part of the Danube Delta. On the shores of this lagoon, whose ancient name was Halmiris, the Miletians built the city of Histria, as a Black sea port, in the 7th century BC. The Ruins of another city (Arganum), also built by merchants from Miletus, have been discovered near the Dolojman Promontary.
The Danube Delta reveals a complex biodiversity and a gene-fund of inestimable value for our natural heritage. The International Friends of Nature, based in Vienna, have declared the Danube Delta “Landscape of the year 2007/2008”.
This huge , amazing spread of water, reed and sun, of a unique wealth, biological value, variety and exhuberance, is a major target of tourist interest in nowadays Romania.
The Danube Delta is usually the starting point for unforgettable adventure, the ideal place for cruises, strolling on channels and brooks and discover the wonders of nature.
The Painted Churches of Moldavia
Nowhere in Romania can more churches, monasteries and hermitages be found in such a compact area as in Moldavia; most of them of hundreds of years old.
Built mainly by the Moldavian voievods of the Musatin family, those splendid monasteries served as princely tombs as well . Stephen the Great (1457-1504), “the bastion of Chistianity”, during his forty-seven year reign, built a church or a monastery after each of his battles against the Turks. The Reign of Petru Rares ( 15th cent.) continued the tradition of the great voievode Sthephen. From this period date the priceless murals at Arbore, Voronet, Humor, Moldovita and Probota, all these churches listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites.
The exterior walls of the above mentioned churches are covered in murals painted in incomparable hues of red, yellow, blue and green. Those who see them will never forget these ancient images of the sacred and profane history of the world.
The Monastery of Voronet, 5 kilometers far from Gura Humorului, is reckoned to be the “Sistine Chapel of the East”. On the West facade of the Church founded by Stephen the Great, there is a depiction of the Last Judgement; it was painted after 1547 against a background whose inimitable shade of blue has long become famous. The origin of the “Voronet blue” has still not been elucidated .
The church of the Humor Monastery, situated six kilometers north of the town of Gura Humorului, is one of the most impressive monuments of Romanian medieval art. It was built in the year 1530 by the commander of Petru Rares’ artillery. It preserves the admirable Byzantine murals painted in 1535. The predominant colour is brick red, which distinguishes it chromatically from other such churches.
Moldovita, situated 36 km from Gura Humorului, founded in 1532 by Petru Rares, is one of most beautiful of all the churches with exterior murals in Bukovina. It is remarcable for the golden lustre of its murals, executed by Toma of Suceava in 1537. The best known of the mural scenes is the Siege of Constantinopole, on the south facade, which makes reference to the contemporaneous wars against the Ottomans.
The Probota Monastery was built in 1539 by Petru Rares. It is one of the greatest achievements of Moldavian feudal architecture of the 16th century. The monastery church has both interior and exterior murals, painted in 1532 in the style of the Rares epoch. The murals of the church have been painstakingly restored in recent years.
The church at Patrauti was founded by Stephen the Great in 1487. The original murals in the nave have been preserved entirely. Particularly impressive is the votive painting, an exceptional artistic achievements, and the scene representing the cavalcade of the Holy Cross, clearly an anti-Ottoman allution.
The Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist in the village of Arbore was part of the boyar court of Luca Arbore, the gatekeeper of Suceava in the time of Stephen the Great. The exterior murals were painted in 1541 by Dragos Coman of Jassy, reckoned “a true Pisanello of Moldavia, the greatest artist of the Orthodox East in the 16th century; in the porch can be found the tomb of the founder, the most representative Gothic funerar monument in all Moldavia.
Construction of the Church of St George, at the Monastery of St John the New in Suceava, began during the time of Bogdan the 3rd and was completed by Stefanita Voda, both were the Sephen’s children. Fragments of the exterior murals have been preserved only, on the south wall. Since 1991, the Monastery of St John the New has been the See of the Archbishopric of Suceava and the town of Radauti.
The Wooden Churches of Maramures
No place is more appropriate than Maramures in order to follow the metamorphoses of wood: the region in Northern Romania is renowned for its marvellous culture of woodworking, which has flourished in the villages along the Mara, Iza, Viseu and Tisa Valleys.
The portals of the locals, which are carved with decorative motifs representing stylized solar disks, the tree of life, crosses, geometric figures, are remarkable examples of rustic art.
Compared with the massive churches of stone, the small wooden places of worship offer an alternative order of spatiality. The wooden churches in the Maramures villages of Barsana, Budesti, Desesti, Ieud, Plopis, Poienile Izei, Rogoz and Surdesti, with thei tapering spires soaring to the heavens, seem to have overcome the perishable nature of the material those have been crafted from.
Church of St.Nicholas in Budesti was erected in 1643 on the site of a church dating from the 15th century. Constructed from thick beams and laid upon a stone foundation, the Church was painted in luminous, harmonious colours by one of the most prolific mural painters in Maramures – Alexandru Ponehalschi (1762) . The murals have been preserved intact only on the south and west walls of the narthex. The iconostasis was also painted by Ponehalschi.
The Church on the Hill at IEUD was dedicated to the Birth of The Mother of God, dating frrom the 17th century and was painted by Ponehalschi as well.
The Church of the Blessed Paraschiva in Poienile Izei dates from the 17th century . The altar differs from that of other churches: it has four sides, as in antiquity. The mural, painted in the 18th century are impressive for their eclectic style, combining traditional iconographic elements with other specific to the ages.
The 17th century wooden Church of the Holy Archangels in Rogos, built in 17th cent., is one of the most interesting in all of Maramures. The Church of the Entry of the Most Holy Thoetokos into the Temple in Barsana offers a typical example of Maramures architecture. The church is remarkable for its small scale and rectangular plan; the murals were painted in the 19th century by two locals artists; the composition was influenced by baroque art. The Church of the Holy Archangels in Surdesti is thought to be the tallest historic wooden edifice in Europe, with a tower of 54 meters. The iconostasis of the church is remarkable for its polychrome, gilded Baroque wooden ornamentation.
The City of Sighisoara
Exploring the world of the Middle Ages is possible in the winding streets of Sighisoara, a famous inhabited medieval citadel in Europe .
The citadel of Sighisoara was built on the left bank of the Tarnava Mare River, by Saxon colonists in the 12th century, and has preserved its medieval character unaltered.
After passing beneath the arcade of the Old Clock Tower (the 14th century), we arrive in the central square of the citadel. In old times, trials were held and executions carried out. It was also here that, the “pole of infamy” was to be found, to which evildoers were bound . Then we enter the church of the former Dominican Monastery, founded in the 13th century, with its baroque altar, sculptured in 1680 by Johann west and painted by wandering artist Jeremias Stranovius.
We pass by the Venetian House, the House of Vlad Dracul and the Stag House. We set off up School Street, past old houses with pastel-coloured facades and wooden shutters.
We climb the one hundren and seventy-five steps of the Scholars’ Stairs before reaching the highest point of the Citadel, where we discover the 14th century Church on the Hill, an impressive monument of Gothic architecture. Descend along the old 14th cent, walls which, at a length of 920meters, enclose the Citadel Hill. The walls were formerly bolstered by bastions and fourteen defence turrets, of which nine have been preserved: the Clock Tower, the Towers of the Tanners, Tinsmiths, Ropers, Buthers, Furriers, Tailors, Cobblers and Blacksmiths. Once-a-year, for 14 days in the last week of July, Sighisoara returns to the Middle Ages; knights compete in tournaments, witch trials, ladies in resplendent gowns appear everywhere, minstrels sing their songs; on every street corner, there are improvised plays, concerts of medieval music and all kinds of performances. During the Festival of Mediaeval Arts, thousands of tourists come to take part in this picturesque event.
The Fortified Churches of Transylvania
The fortified churches of Transylvania, looking like small citadels, were built after the Tartar invasion of year 1241.
There are approximately 150 villages which preserves such monuments; seven of those churches have been named UNESCO world heritage sites.
At VISCRI ( Brasov County), near Sighisoara, there is a gothic church built on the site of a Romanesque chapel dated 12-13th century: with a double courtyard and 5 defensive towers.
The Church at PREJMER was built in the 13th century in the early gothic style, with Cistercian influence and was altered during 1512-`515. It preserves a priceless polyptic alter, painted in the 15th century and an organ dating from 1803. It was fortified in the 15th-16th centuries, becoming the strongest peasant citadel in Transylvania. The walls are four meters thick and and fourteen meters high.
At BIERTAN – the village situated 80 km from Sibiu, a fortified church was built between 1492 and 1516.
The fortified complex consists of three precincts, protected by towers and bastions.
The open-plan church built in the late gothic style, with Renaissance elements, preserves a polyptic altar carved in Transylvania between 1483-1525, choir stalls carved in the Renaissance style; a stone pulpit, decorated with carvings inspired by the Passion cycle was attributed to mason Ulrich of Brashov.
From 1572, the church was, for almost three centuries, the Episcopal See of the Evangelical Church.
The church of the village of SASCHIZ was built between 1493-1496. It has a single nave, polygonal apse and sentinel’s walkway. The fortified precincts of the church no longer survive.
Also, at Saschiz, there is a peasant fortress dating from the 14th-15th century.
The settlement of VALEA VIILOR ( 50km from Sibiu ) preserves a beautiful fortified church, dedicated to St. Peter; it was built in the 13th century. At the end of the 15th century, it was enclosed by eight meter-high, strong defensive walls, equipped with turrets; here we can admire a gothic tabernacle and choir stalls in the early Renaissance style (year 1528).
In the village of CALNIC ( 28km from Alba Iulia ) one of the oldest citadels in Transylvania is located. Within the oval-shaped precincts, there can be found a chapel, the three-storey Siegfried Tower and two watchtowers.
In the 15th-16th centuries, it was turned into a peasant citadel and an outer belt of walls was constructed.
The Hurez (Horezu, Hurezi) Monasteru in Oltenia
In the vllage of Romanii de Jos, three kilometers from Horezu – a traditional pottery centre, we find the most representative complex of Romanian medieval architecture in Wallachia, in Brancoveanu style.
The Hurez Monastery (1690-1703) is located in the midst of forests at the foothill Carpathian Mountains; the monastery comprises the main church dedicated to the Holy Emperor Constantine and St Elena, the Chapel of the Birth of the Mother of God, the Infirmary Church built by Maria Brancoveanu, the Hermitage of St Stephen, the Princely Palace and The Watchtower of Dionisie Balacescu .
During the time of Constantin Brancoveanu (1688-1714), Hurez Monastery was a major and thriving centre of culture and art; here there was an extensive library (with four thousand volumes), unique in South-East Europe at the beginning of the 18th century, a school for copyists, scribes and grammarians, also a school for painters whose pupils then worked in Wallachia, Transylvania and south of the Danube.
The museum collection at Hurez Monastery, housed in the Princely Palace, contains old chuch objects ( books, icons and precious fabrics), some of which date from the founding of the monastery.
The Dacian Fortress of the Orastiei Mountains
The nucleus of the Dacian Kingdom was to be found in the Orastiei Mountains, in the southwest of Transylvania. Numerous forts, strategic structures and observation towers were spread over two hundred square km, in three mountains. The Dacian Fortress, built in the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, conquered by the Romans in the early 2nd century AD, are among the most celebrated vestiges of these legendary ancestors of the Romanians, who considered themselves ‘immortal'.
These fortresses, enclosed by perfectly fitting walls of polished limestone blocks (murus dacicus). Represent a “defensive system unique in European architecture. The numerous sanctuaries discovered in their vicinity are a testament to the profoundly religious spirit of this mysterious people. The combination 0f religious and military architectural elements make these citadels unique. The military, political, economic and religious centre of the Dacians was SARMIZEGETUSA REGIA, situated 1200meters above sea level, at the highest point of Gradistea Hill.
Many manmade terraces were carved out of the hillside. The upper plateau is connected to the sacred area of the sanctuaries on two terraces by a via sacra – a monumental paved road with limestone flags. Before it was conquered and destroyed by the Romans, Sarmizegetusa Regia was the most important metallurgical centre outside the Roman Empire.