From Curchi Monastery, we continued on to Orhei Vechi, stopping briefly at a small monastery that was out of the way for a peek. Then we continued on until we reached a vantage point. Orhei Vechi is located in a large bowl-like valley, with cliffs on two sides and the river weaving along the edges. We could see the Orhei Vechi Monastery on the other side of the bowl.
From here, we took a short detour to view the remains of a fortress, as well as some Turkish baths left from one of the various points in history Moldova was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Caves in Orhei Vechi:
We also hiked up to some caves, which though natural and impressive, have been covered in graffiti and litter.
Orhei Vechi Monastery:
Then we finally arrived at our main destination: Orhei Vechi Monastery. We looked around the small museum, then walked with a guide up to the cave monastery, located under the bell tower. Inside, there is a small chapel and a room with a low ceiling carved into the cave. This is where the monks lived and spent most of their time, laying and sitting on the hard stone floor. The monastery dates back to the 1400s and also includes a church.
Our last stop on the tour of Orhei Vechi was a “peasant” house. This is a preserved old home that shows how Moldovans used to live. There was the main house, which consisted of a living room to the left (with space above the soba, or stove for about 8 children to sleep), a central hall, and a casa mare to the right. The casa mare would have only been used for guests or when there were special events and occasions. In another building, there was a separate room that would have been used in the cooler months for the entire family. Two small beds would have been for the parents, and a sleeping loft of sorts above the soba would have slept about 10 children. There was also a beci (pronounced “betch”, underground root and wine cellar) next to this.
This wrapped up our guided tour, and we headed back to Chisnau for the night.
On Sunday morning, we headed towards Orhei Vechi, which is probably the most popular tourist destination in Moldova. We had hired a guide, and both of us were really happy to ride in a comfortable, air-conditioned car instead of a rutiera! On our way, we stopped at Curchi Monastery. The monastery was built in the 1700s, though the current churches were built in the late 1800s. When we arrived in the parking lot, we got out and got our first glimpse of the church, which is situated above a pond.
We walked around the grounds, and even caught part of a church service. Pictures aren’t allowed inside the churches, but they had been beautifully restored. In comparison to other churches and monasteries I’ve visited here in Moldova, these were decorated in richer colors. The entire inside was covered with large murals. The monastery had been used during Soviet times to store grain, and renovations were completed in 2006.
Yesterday, following our language classes in the morning, the Peace Corps staff here in Moldova organized a cultural excursion to visit three Moldovan monasteries. At each monastery, we went in the churches, explored the grounds, and a priest/monk/nun told us a bit about their faith and the history of the monastery.
The first monastery we visited was Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry in Suruceni, which is a monastery of nuns.
The main church was built between 1825 and 1828. In addition to being a monastery, the grounds have also housed schools, an orphanage, and housed carpenters, blacksmiths, and shoesmiths. The monastery was closed in 1959 under Soviet rule. All of the icons, books, and vestments were either destroyed or removed. The monastery became a hospital for narcology patients. St. George church was used as a club with a stage. St. Nicholas church, the other church on the property, was used as a hospital and the sanctuary was a surgery ward. The monastery reopened in 1991 as a monastery of nuns. Renovation work has been conducted, but work still needs to be done.
After our visit at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry, we headed to Sfantul Nicolae Monastry in Condrita.
It is believed that the monastery was started sometime around 1783. By 1946, much of the monastery was occupied by a local forestry school. In 1947, the monastery closed. It was a forestry school until 1960, and then a camp until 1993, when it reopened. During Soviet rule, all of the icons were destroyed except for two, which the remaining monks smuggled off the grounds. The murals of the main church were destroyed or painted over during this time as well.
The monastery has two churches- the main church, which is in a bit worse of shape, and a second church, which has both an above-ground and underground sanctuary.
The third monastery we visited is one of the largest and oldest monasteries in Moldova: Capriana Monastry. The monastery consists of three churches, including the oldest in Moldova. The oldest church, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, was built between 1420 and 1425. It is believed to have been built by the father of Stefan cel Mare (the ruler during those years and most popular person in Moldovan history- every town and village has a street named after him and a statue of him). The church has been restored several times due to powerful earthquakes.
Another of the churches is St. George’s Cathedral, which was built in the late Baroque style (which is very unusual for Moldova). This church was built in 1907. The monastery was confiscated by Soviet troops in 1940, but continued to function until 1962, when it was closed. One of the churches became a House of Culture, another was a hospital for children suffering tuberculosis, and the third housed pesticides. The monastery reopened in 1989.
All of the monasteries were so peaceful and quiet and relaxing. They were also so beautiful! It was also really interesting to learn more about how Soviet rule affected religion and religious buildings.