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May - 2005



Monastic fantastic

Take a trip to Valcea county and one will be surprised at the richness of heritage, from ancient remains to medieval monasteries and the genius of Brancusi

South of the Fagaras mountains, Valcea county is overflowing with hundreds of historical and art monuments. These include Neolithic and Roman remains as well as many outstanding monasteries. The Coziei and Buila Vanturarita mountains are protected nature reserves and ancient traditions have been kept alive in the towns and villages in the area.

First up is the One Piece of Wood Monastery. Its name comes from a small wooden church, made of a single old oak tree. Built in the first decades of the 16th century, it is located in beautiful valley, on the edge of an ancient oak forest and is situated in an environment which has been unchanged for centuries. According to the legend, the monastery was built by a monk who had dreamt that he had been urged by the Virgin Mary to build a place of worship from the trunk of a single oak tree.

An excellent example of the Brancoveanu and the post-Byzantine styles is the Horezu Monastery founded in 1694, a very well preserved religious monument. The monastic complex at Horezu includes five churches, a princely palace, a belfry, a 'belvedere', monk cells, carpet-weaving workshops, and mural painting workshops.

The Arnota Monastery is dedicated to Archangels Michael and Gabriel. It was founded by Prince Matei Basarab (1633-1654), who is shown in a painting made by Stroe of Targoviste in 1644. The monastery also serves as a necropolis for its founder.

The Polovragi Monastery was founded in 1648 and decorated between 1703 and 1712 with Brancoveanu style frescos and porch. This porch is constantly supplied with fresh flowers by the nuns and is a place for meditation and for welcoming guests.

The Polovragi Cave (Cave of Pahomie from Polovragi) is located at the left side of the gorge, 200m from the entrance and only 20m from the path through the gorge. The main passage in the cave is electrically lit and consists of a tunnel which is two to eight metres high and about ten metres wide.

Muierilor Cave ('Women's Cave'), is a natural monument, situated in the Getic Depression of Oltenia, in Baia de Fier village. The name comes from the fact that, in ancient times women and children hid in the cave when the men were fighting in battle, and were thus protected from the invaders.



In the city of Targu Jiu, some five renowned sculptures have been on display in the two parks on the left bank of the Jiu River since 1956. 'The Alley of Chairs' and the 'Gate of the Kiss' can be seen in the Central Park. In the Youth Park there is also 'The Infinity Statue' and 'The Table of Silence', designed by local-boy Constantin Brancusi, these are probably the finest examples of public sculpture in the country.

Tismana Monastery is one of the most famous and oldest historical monuments in Romania. It was erected by Vlaicu Voda Basarab from 1375 to 1378 and is one of largest monasteries in Wallachia. It was built under the reign of Prince Radu I (1377-1385) by a monk called Nicodim. The name of the monastery comes from the trees in the surrounding forests most of which are yew trees (Romanian 'tisa'). The monastery is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. In 1564, Master Dobromir of Targoviste painted the church, leaving the original fresco work only in the nave.

In the nearby city of Craiova, the Botanical Gardens exhibits some beautiful examples of local flowers as well as some examples of both Italian and Chinese flora.