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Dates of visit:
September 1 - 20, 2010

We rate this trip a:

Trip Highlights:
 Meeting Cousins
 Historic Bulgaria
 Roman Ruins
 Nature Reserves
 Rock Churches
 Black Sea Coast


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Bulgaria - Part 0 - Introduction, Portrait & History of Bulgaria
Bulgaria - Part 1 - Rock Curches, Rusenski Lom, Medieval City of Cherven
Bulgaria - Part 2 - Nove, Ulpia Eskus, Belogradchik Fortress, Vratsa
Bulgaria - Part 3 - Sofia, Poenari Fortress, Trigrad, Shiroka Laka, Plovdid
Bulgaria - Part 4 - Nesebar, Balchik, Kaliarka, Yailata Reserve, Tsarevets Hills
Romania - Part 2 - Sibiu, Fortified Churches of Biertan and Viscri
Exploring Romania's Cultural Highlights
Introduction to Romania

This is the author's fifth trip to Romania since 2001 and he has seen virtually every corner of the country. There is much to be said about and in favor of this eastern-European country. Instead of rehashing previously published opinions and facts about Romania, we recommend that any visitor to this site review prior postings in order to gain a better understanding of the country's bounty.

Prior visitations that are published on this site are:

Romania 2001 ...
Bucharest, Sighisoara, Painted Monasteries of Bukovina, and more
Romania 2002 ... Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu, Lepsa, Rasnov, and more
Romania 2005 ... Danube Delta, Tulcea, Iron Gates, Timisoara, Monasteries, and more
Romania 2007 ... Sibiu, Busteni, Maramures, Wooden Churches of Maramures, and more

Arges Monastery

Location of Arges Monastery - #1

Arges Monastery Argos Monastery, foundation of waivode Neagoe BASARAB, is a masterpiece of the Romanian architecture, unique by its beauty, greatness and artistic value from the S-E of Europe.

The ruler Neagoe built the Monastery, at the beginning of the 16th century (between 1512 and 1517), on the place of the Old Metropolitan Church of the Romanian Country, whose construction had begun since 1351.

The cult halidom was built from Albesti Stone of Muscel, marble and mosaic pavements brought from Constantinople. Many famous craftsmen worked at this Monastery, among them being the legendary Master Manole.

In 1894, D.N. Popescu tells in one of his works about the Monastery's legend, that, coming from the hunt that had started In Campulung, the ruler arrived at Curtea de Arges where he found "a demolished and unconsolidated church". Seeing this, Neagoe swore that he would make this church look very beautiful. According to Gavril, Protul demolished the walls "from the basement" and built his church.

As an architect, N. Basarab had worked at Constantinople at building a mosque with 999 windows and 333 rooms "at the call of sheik Semedin Bachiarl". For this construction at Constantinople, Neagoe had been helped by famous sculptor and constructor, Manoil de Nalsia probably Master Manole.

The Sultan Baiazid II, satisfied with the work of Neagoe at Constantinople, had promised Neagoe the throne of the Romanian Country and the materials that had left after the mosque's construction: marble of Paros, porphyry for mosaic floors, cedar wood from Liban, big lead slabs and tins.

Among them, the legend remembers a Serbian (Iasiu), a Saxon known at Argos by the name of Sasul and Dan (some valleys from the south of the county are named after them).

Neagoe and two other men were hired from Arges: Abu and Dragut, but also other craftsmen that were forming the well-known team from the legend: "nine great craftsmen, journeymen and masons, with Manole ten, who goes beyond them".

According to the legend, the monastery's construction, permanently supervised by the ruler, had lasted a long time, because the walls were damaged by some "villains", with the help of gunpowder. It is possible that the fault should be of the unstable and swampy soil, since there was a valley nearby the construction ("The Valley of Mic" and the springs around it).

Therefore, under the walls that were "constructed and then demolished", there were put coals and oak tree trunks in order to absorb the excess humidity.

In 1517, the construction is finished, and Neagoe, due to various material reasons, does not paint the monastery. He sanctifies it on the 15th of August 1517, with the patron saint "The Assumption of the Virgin".

At the Monastery's sanctification, on the 15th of August, 1517, took part the ecumenical patriarch Teolipt of Constantinople, the metropolitans from Seres, Sardla, Midia, Melinchia, all the abbots of the monasteries from Mount Athos, together with Gavril "Protul" and the abbots from the Romanian Country, headed by Macarie the metropolitan, and a lot of people from all over the country.

Arges Monastery Curtea de Arges Monastery has an impressive architecture, with four tall steeples, the ones from the front side being a spiral shape (popular term "twisted rope"). The cross shaped building has the inferior parish register taller, split in rectangular panels, with sculptured frames embedding the windows. The superior register is split in a double number of semicircular panels with different decorative shapes, carved in stone.

The specialists have identified more than 150 golden, blue and green decorative objects.

At the arches' intercrossing, there are some email patens with little birds a golden stone dove having in its beak a small bell that is ringing when the wind is blowing. The cornice is made of 3 superposed Arabian lines. There is a big clubs shaped steeple above the nave. Three steeples are above the pronaos. The roof is made out of lead. The height at the big steeple is of 31 m, the whole building having 756 sq. m.

Arges Monastery Its founder as a waivode metropolis sketched Curtea de Arges Monastery. Romanian rulers and kings and their families are inside the monastery: On September 15, 1521, Neagoe Basarab was buried in his foundation; Despina The Lady, the wife of Neagoe Basarab, was brought here in 1556, two years after her death in Sibiu, In 1554; The gravestone of the ruler N. Basarab is made of grey marble from Macedonia; The gravestone of Lady Stanca N. Basarab's daughter; the gravestone of ruler Radu from Afmatl, considered an authentic and unique stone monument in Romania, reminds us of the 20 battles he had had with the enemies; the gravestone of king Carol I, made in 1927 with Carrara marble; the gravestones of Queen Elisabeta and their daughter, Maria; the gravestones of King Ferdinand made of marble from Ruschita and of his wife queen Marla.

The present rood screen made by L. du Nouy is very big, built of golden beautifully decorated marble, creating a special light inside the Church. The old rood screen, reconditioned at Sibiu, with his help Calinic Episcope, can be found in the Episcopal Palace Museum.

The inside painting was finished by the famous Dumitru Zugravul (The Painter), being finished in 1526, during the reign of Radu from Afumati, the ruler's son In law.

In the winter of 1610, the armies of Gabriel Bathori profaned the tombs and took gold, silver and precious stones and the lead from the roof. The monastery remained like this until the rule of Matei Basarab (1632 - 1654) who had put a new lead roof, brought new holy cups, and rebuilt the monks' cells and the bell tower and had partially remade Dobromir's painting.

Serban Cantacuzino (1678 - 1688) mends "all the damages", builds a new rood screen. These works have been made with the help of the "stone digging master Grigore Cornescu".

Between 1875 and 1886, the monastery is being reconditioned during the rule of King Carol I, by the painter Lecomte du Nouy, who was helped by the painters Pierre Decasse and the Romanian painters P. Popescu Pascanu and N. Gabrielescu.

Between 1886 and 1890, the new Episcopal Palace was built, then the south wing, palace that is at the east side of the Church and whose style combines Brancoveanu architecture with the classic Romanian monarchal style.

A French style park was made out here, and its leafage through the sun's light reveal beauties that nowhere in the world could be found. On the west side of the enclosure, protected by a wooden square built by queen Elisabeta, it is a monumental stone Cross from 1661 - 1662 [7170], reminding us of the plague epidemics, when `the monastery's abbot Stefan" had died.

THE HOLY WATER PLACE: component element of the architectural complex, in front of the monastery's entry, the holy water place that is "an outdoor praying altar at the church's patron saints: The Assumption of the Virgin, St. Filofteia, and The Healing Spring, as well as water's sanctification place on the Epiphany" It is built from marble columns whose decorated capitals with stalactites are united by lacy arches that sustain its cupola.

Text source: COMORILE ARGESULUI, Euro Press Pitesti, 2005, Author: Nicolae Badiu

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Gallery - Arges Monastery
Arges Monastery Arges Monastery Arges Monastery
Arges Monastery Arges Monastery Arges Monastery

Poenari Fortress (Vlad Fortress)

Poenari Fortress (Vlad Fortress) - #2

Poenari Fortress Mountain The Poenari Fortress is placed on the top of Cetatuia Mountain, at 25 km north from Curtea de Arges. Its name was given after that of a village found at 6 km distance. It is also known as "The Fortress of Vlad Tepes" or "The Fortress of Negru Voda".

Initially the nucleus of the fortress consisted of a squared tower (the external sides: 8.15m x 8.5 m the inner sides: 4.30m x 4.60m). It is considered to be built in the first half of the 14th century, during the reign of Basarab 1 (1324-1351/1352), the founder of Walachia. The fortress was built directly on the rock. It is made of mortar pasted crude stone. It had three wooden floors. Its roof was shingle covered.

The voivode Vlad Topes (1448, 1456-1462, 1476), the son of Vlad Dracul and the nephew of Mircea cel Batran, built a 60 meters long and 10-15 meters wide curtain which surrounded the tower which meanwhile became a donjon. The curtain is flanked by three semi rounded towers built on the southern side. This moment of the extension of the edifice was mentioned by the chronicler Radu Popescu who wrote that "in order to punish some of the inhabitants of Targoviste who had caused a sorrow to one of the Vlad Voda's brothers" in the Thursday Saint the voivode sent his servants to capture the men and women and boys and girls and put them working at the building of the Poenari Fortress until they got exhausted.

Poenari Fortress The cause of the notoriousness of this fortress is the Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" (1898), which unjustly presents the voivode as a vampire, conformable to the sources he used i.e. the engravings and the descriptions of the Saxons who were his main opponents. The walls were built conformable to the Byzantine tradition, which consisted in the raising of the stone outsides and then the filling of the inner space with emplecton. The archaeological researches performed between 1968 and 1970 revealed another series of inner walls belonging to a construction whose purpose could not be established. A 4m/3m room - which is partly crumbled - situated inside a rock is of a particular importance because it was the place where the water was kept. It was built in the same time with the walls and it was lined with red mortar. This Byzantine technique provided a perfect impermeability.

The fortress was built by the first Basarabs and it was used for different purposes along the time: shelter place for the voivodes and the prison for the boyars found guilty by "hiclenie" (betrayal).

Poenari Fortress - Zwinger Alley Milea, one of the boyars kept prisoner here, tried to depose the voivode Vlad Calugarul. In order to release him, his father Voico al Tatului offered half of the locality Topoloveni to the Nucet Monastery, which was built by the chief magistrate Gherghina, the head of the fortress. The first chief magistrate of the fortress was Ratea (July 1481), then Gherghina followed between December 1501 and December 1507. Gherghina was the brother of Lady Rada, the wife of Vlad Calugarul, and vlastelin of Radu cel Mare and Danciu.

Radu de la Afumaji, the son in law and the successor of Neagoe Basarab, gave in the fortress in 1522 as a consequence of the pact made with the king of Hungary, Ioan Zópolya. In its exchange he received the estates from Vintul de Jos and Vurparul, which were possessed in condominium with the voivodes from Transylvania.

The 14th of the 20 battles was held against the "horani" (who probably were village boyars belonging to the faction adverse to Radu de la Afumaji) at the Poenari Fortress.

The last of the chief magistrate, the boyar Neagu, is registered in the documents from Brasov, as an applicant for money needed for the fixing of the fortress. Because his request was rejected the fortress was abandoned and consequently ruined.

The first commander of the Transylvanian garrison was Nicolae Thomory (1524-1526), Peter Off (1526-1529) followed. Radu de la Afumaji was assassinated by a philo-Turkish group of boyars in the plot in which the commander of the garrison was also murdered. As a consequence, the treaty from 1522 was revoked and the Romanian voivodes lost their estates from beyond the mountains.

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Gallery - Poenari Fortress (Vlad Fortress)
Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress
Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress
Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress
Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress Poenari Fortress

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway - North of #2

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway Some 40km east of Sibiu, the DN7C, also known as the Transfagarasan Highway, branches off the road to Brasov, heading straight for the towering Fagaras Mountain range. The highway is open only a few months a year due to snowfall; snow can still block roads in June, while October brings the first new loads.

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway Approaching from the south, one will pass the fantastically twisted monastery at Curtea de Arges (see above), the (real) Dracula Castle ruins at Poenari (see above) and the huge Vidraru Dam. After that, nature takes over, and the gravel road slowly makes its way up through forests and alpine meadows to the ridge.

The road does not actually cross a pass as the ridge is too jagged; a 890 meter long tunnel (the highest point of the road; 2,042 meters) links the two valleys.

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway The difference between the two sides is stunning. On the southern side, the road slopes up gradually through pleasant green scenery. Once through the tunnel, one may notice a sharp decline in temperature and possibly a dramatic change of weather. Here on the northern side, the landscape is barren and alpine, there is snow even in the warmest months, and the road steeply drops in sweeping curves down an amazing glacial valley before levelling out on the Transylvanian plain.

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway The Transfagarasan Highway was built at considerable cost in the 1970s. After the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, dictator Ceausescu was afraid the same thing might happen to maverick Romania, and had this road built so that troops and tanks could cross over the Carpathian mountains quickly.

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway The efforts made to build the road were enormous. It was built using essentially slave labor - soldiers - in only four and a half years. In this time, just on the north side of the range, 3.8 million cubic meters of earth and rock were removed. More than six million kilos (13.2 million pounds) of dynamite were used to blast through the rocks on this side - that's 625 train wagons full. Four years long, there would be five blasts every day at set times. In between, soldiers would drag the rocks away, and would bring machinery higher up.

Transfagarasan Alpine Highway Monuments may praise certain pioneer groups for overcoming a difficult stretch, but there is no plaque to commemorate the casualties. Unofficially, it is estimated that 38 soldiers died during construction. On September 20, 1974, the road was opened by a happy dictator and his beloved wife, and was even named after him - "Drumul Transfagarãsan Nicolae Ceausescu".

Nature paid its price too: the once pristine crocus meadows are still strewn with the concrete foundations of workers' barracks and concrete and iron from the lifts. Sadly but unsurprisingly, nobody feels inclined to clear up the mess.

Text Source: In Your Pocket

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Gallery - Transfagarasan Alpine Highway
Transfagarasan Alpine Highway Transfagarasan Alpine Highway Transfagarasan Alpine Highway

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