Europe’s Most Unique Fresco Paintings

Unique in Europe for their one-of-a-kind, inside-out appearance, these fresco paintings on Moldavian Churches stand out for being more than mere wall decorations – they are systematic, comprehensive, and inclusive visual representations of the religious cycles in the Bible.

The Last Judgment fresco
Detail of the fresco "The Last Judgment" on the western wall of the Voroney Monastery near Suceava, Romania. Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket via Getty Images

The “eight wonders” of cleric architecture, masterpieces of fresco art, and statements of the Byzantine and gothic styles can be found in the Romanian county of Suceava. Despite being located in one of the country’s most northern regions, the churches gather thousands of visitors of all ages, nationalities, and denominations yearly. One look is more than sufficient to understand why.

Suceava: painted to impress

Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Churches continue to amaze and impress. Painted inside-out in vibrant, vivid, and detailed fresco paintings, the appearance of the Churches is one of a kind.

To say that these churches are mesmerizing is an understatement. Although all eight of them are placed in the same region and can be visited in one day, it is recommended to take 2 to 3 days to better comprehend the particular characteristics presented by each of the edifices.

Out of all of them, the Voroneț Monastery is the most peculiar. The fresco’s beautiful and vivid blue color is granted due to a specific mix of pigments, one that remains to this day, more than five centuries after its completion, still unknown to the world.

What is known for sure is that this special blend made it possible for the paintings to keep their vibrant aspect and that it is called Voroneț Blue. Frescos in this monastery showcase some of the most important scenes in the Bible, such as the Last Supper, the Washing of the feet, or the Last Judgement, which secured it the nickname: the “Sistine Chapel of the East.”

It was the anonymous painters’ strong desire to present the Bible stories in a way so they could be “read” with just one look. But the beautiful paintings have one more (not so) hidden particularity: the saints and characters of the Bible are all portrayed wearing traditional clothing. Eve is shown spinning the wool while Adam is working the land next to a bullock cart.

Cain, Angels, Elijah, and many other characters of the Bible are represented in similar traditional manners. One can only guess whether it was a simple coincidence based on the artist’s knowledge or an attempt to further present the Bible in a manner understandable to peasants and civilians.

Moldavian monasteries: Byzantine and gothic

One of the last churches to have been completed is the Sucevița Monastery, also known as the Ressurection Church. The paintings were finished in 1601, making the monastery one of the best preserved among the eight Churches.

The monastery church of Sucevița has not undergone any major changes throughout its history, remaining in complete architectural and design integrity to the original date of completion. Therefore, if you want to experience the beauty of Moldavian monasteries, Sucevița should make the top of your list among the eight of them and a compulsory stop.

Each of the temples presents its own history and particularities while being simultaneously connected and creating a conglomerate of traditional Byzantine art with gothic influences.

This is why, despite being relatively close to one another, one day is not enough to grasp the meaning of each of them fully. And while it may seem like time stops in place when visiting them, that is sadly not the case in real life. This is why you should plan your trip ahead so that you can allocate sufficient resources to experience these UNESCO sites to their fullest.

Naomi Gherman

Master student in Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations at Babeș-Bolyai University, eager to share more about our world's most fascinating stories and people. Romania-based reader, writer and content creator with a strong interest in journalism, foreign languages and politics.

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