THE MONASTERY MOUNTAINS. This range lies in the easternmost Carpathians where three “obcinas”, or mountain ridges, rest side by side. Obcina Mare – the Great Ridge, home to the largest number of monasteries – lies furthest eastward. At the foot of mountains only twelve hundred meters tall, painted monastery churches have stood for half a millennium. Deep in the ancient Muntenian principality of Moldavia, long dead heroes, rulers, voivodes, and princes rest beneath the gravestones of forest-fringed orthodox monasteries. Everything about them is simple and modest. Clear brooks flow near verdant forests. Enter any church and thousands of faces stare down at you from the walls – saints and sinners painted in colors that neither fade nor tarnish. A dusky and secretive world. Faces appear on the outside walls of churches too, shining with bluish hues beneath an azure Moldavian sky. Saints gaze with dark, glittering stares, their beards woven reverently like braided loaves. Sinners and saint-slayers all have small pointy noses. Evil Turkish soldiers had their eyes gouged out by pilgrims long ago. Others, too, have carved into the old paintings. Ever since 1775, when the Sublime Porte ceded northern Moldavia to Maria Theresa who renamed it Bukovina, Austrian pilgrims have travelled to those forest monasteries and carved their names barbarically into the painted walls. Thousands of ornate signatures can still be seen today. Years there are also different, counted from the creation of the world. Thus 1981 is said to be the year five thousand seven hundred and forty-one.

If you ever venture into those lands, little brother, visit the monasteries by mountain route. The journey from Putna to Sucevița monastery will take several hours, and you will have to cross a fir-covered mountain ridge where heart-leaf oxeyes shine from green riverbanks. The path on the rim becomes nearly indiscernible, grouse fly from thickets, the smallest chick taking last to the air. Great silver beeches of Bukovina. From Sucevița to Moldovița, you must cross the main ridge. Forests rise up to the mountain rim on the eastward side, the west-facing slopes are a mix of trees and grass. Do not forget that most beautiful is the descent to the monasteries.