2009 TNT travel writing awards entrant

Author: Gabriela Sauciuc

Southern Bucovina

They say good things come in small packages.  Romania, the largest country in southeastern
Europe, has its unique culture, which is the product of its geography and of
its distinct historical evolution. There is more to Romania than Dracula.
Visitors, lured by bloodcurdling tales, come to Romania and discover lovely
medieval Saxon towns like Sighisoara, where the real Dracula (Vlad Tepes) first
grew his teeth, rural paradise of Maramures and Bucovina, another rural
paradise with the recognised painted churches considered among the greatest
artistic monuments of Europe.

Bucovina, tucked into the north eastern corner of Romania,
lies in the easily-defended Carpathian foothills where the region’s hero,
Stefan the Great, fought back the Turks in 14th and 15th
centuries and then built churches and monasteries throughout Moldavia to
celebrate his victories. His
descendant, Petru Rares, continued his work by setting the foundations for many
other famous monasteries. There are 48 monasteries in total. These unique
monasteries and Byzantine churches with their exceptional exterior frescoes are
one of the most fascinating sights in Romania. Seven of the painted monasteries
have been included on the Unesco World Heritage List.

The name Bucovina has a Slavic origin and is derived from
the word for beech tree “buk” in Ukrainian; the German equivalent, das
Buchenland, mostly used in poetry, means “the land of beech trees”. In Romanian the original name of the region during
the rule of the Moldavian Principality was “Tara de Sus” (Upper
Country), referring to the altitude, as opposed to the lower plains called
“Tara de Jos” (Lower Country).

 Southern Bucovina was annexed to
Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1775 and returned to Romania in 1918. Northern
Bucovina, previously also part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was lost to the
USSR (now the Ukraine) in 1945 together with its capital, Cernauti and never
returned to Romania.

Most of the
churches are fortified with strong defensive surroundings walls as protection
against Turkish invaders. The exterior walls of the monasteries are richly
decorated with vivid frescoes depicting dramatic Biblical scenes, intended to
teach Christianity to the illiterate by means of pictures. The artwork has
amazingly survived harsh exposure to the elements for over 450 years and the
intense colours have been well preserved.

once the capital of Moldavia and today the largest town in the area, is the
gateway to visiting the painting monasteries of Southern Bucovina.

Bucolic rural landscapes steeped in legend and folklore,
fairy tale villages and some of the Europe’s wildest mountain scenery.  It is a territory with clean unspoiled
nature.  It has a unique landscape: thick
forests and imposing crests (“obcine”). You might even catch a glimpse of a
buffalo, a species that is being reintroduced into a natural reservation.

Reaching the summer pastures you meet proud shepherds who
will literally live in the mountains with their flocks throughout the summer
months, and perhaps even sample their delicious sheep cheese coveted by
Romanians. On high alpine meadows the shepherd in thick fleeces sleeps out with
his valuable flock at night to offer protection from wolves and bears.

A visit to Bucovina would not be complete without some
stunning nature walks through Ceahlau National Park,
Romania’s Olympus – the sacred mountain of the Dacians, the forefathers of the
Romanian people. Make sure you bring binoculars as some 90 species of birds can
be seen in the park area. Hikers won’t want to pass up taking a crack at the Bicaz Gorges, a steep,
twisting-and-turning climb more than three miles long.

In this area there is a natural reservation meant to
preserve the flora and fauna, because here there are several rare species, such
as: the edelweiss, the aurochs, the grouse, the lynx, and the stag.

Bucovina is a magical place. The energy of her cities mixed
with a fascinating and diverse history, boasts an unparalleled culture that
merge flawlessly with the enchanting, inimitable and rugged landscape.