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The Techirghiol Spa and Sanatorium (SBRT), which in June 2014 celebrated its 115th anniversary, is an oasis of hope for body and mind wellness where more than 14,000 patients a year come.


The beneficial health effects of the stimulating local climate, of sapropel, of water rich in chlorine, sodium and iodine as well as the professionalism of the medical staff make the sanatorium, which has a capacity of nearly 1,000 beds, to be fully occupied throughout the year, except December and January.

‘Approximately 2% of the Romanian population have visited us. There is a rising trend in the number of patients. The sanatorium meets the same conditions as any another similar unit in Europe. Over 10 million euros have been invested in recent years in improving services and raising the comfort level, using our equity and funds from the Ministry of Health. Wings A and B are refurbished and modernised, and we hope to complete all rehabilitation projects for the entire premises,’ SBRT Manager Vasilica Rusu told Agerpres.

According to medical director Elena Ionescu, most of the patients from other countries seeking the medical services provided to the Techirghiol Sanatorium come from Russia, Israel and the European Union, some of which are Romanians settled abroad.

‘We are always turning down patients because we do not have enough beds. Appointments are made long before for chronic patients, but we keep a few beds for acute patients. (…) Patients are scheduled by their physicians,’ said Elena Ionescu.

According to her, the main conditions that can be treated successfully at Techirghiol are musculoskeletal, rheumatic, inflammatory and posttraumatic conditions, as well as conditions of the respiratory tract, dermatological, neurological and gynaecological conditions.

‘We are glad to see that, from year to year, the Techirghiol Sanatorium turns into a meeting ground for increasingly more Romanians and foreigners. (…) Things are going on so fast, both as far as the infrastructure of the sanatorium is concerned and as far as the scientific and medical components are concerned, that we barely cope with the changes. (…) The mud is in a perfect condition and we discover increasingly more interactions between it and the health of the body,’ said the doctor, adding that research is being conducted to demonstrate the anti-aging value of the Techirghiol mud.

As far as the conditions for which a SBRT treatment is contraindicated are concerned, Ionescu gave as an example the cardio-vascular pathology, stating that ‘all the patients of the sanatorium are seen by a doctor before starting any treatment, in order to exclude all risks.’

Increasingly more young people have been among the patients of the sanatorium in the recent years, and one explanation for the situation does not exclude the fact that the youth get sick because they no longer exercise and they spend too much time in front of computers.

‘The largest share of the patients is made up of the elderly, but as the years pass the percentage is reversed. Increasingly more young people come to the sanatorium. (…) Maybe the young people understand the need for disease prevention or maybe they come because they no longer exercise, have a sedentary lifestyle, sit at the computer too much and get sick. (…) I think there is a balance between the two aspects,’ argued the medical director of the sanatorium.

Because there are patients who arrive at the Techirghiol Spa and Sanatorium without being able to move on their own and leave ‘on their own feet,’ as representatives of the sanatorium claim, several dozen of these people have donated to the sanatorium their wheelchairs, crutches, and canes that were used and were no longer needed. Thus, the idea of establishing a museum of wheelchairs inside the sanatorium came to life.

‘The Techirghiol Sanatorium has a museum of wheelchairs, crutches, canes, various walking aids, a museum set up using donations from the patients who have gone home without needing them anymore. (…) The museum is not active now. (…) The patients donated them as a token of gratitude for the fact that we healed them and in order to help other patients with the wheelchairs and the walking aids,’ said the SBRT representatives.

About the Techirghiol sapropel mud, former Health Minister Vasile Cepoi said that this natural healing resource is in danger of decay.

‘In my opinion, yes, it is in danger. Because I saw they started building very close to the lake, which can change a number of natural factors such as air and water streams and lead to mud degradation. That is why I was saying that clearer legislation is needed on defence premises for areas with natural healing factors. (…) There is a Government project, an inter-ministerial group that I coordinate, set up last year and taking care exactly of this issue. We are going to release a strategy from which to issue subsequent pieces of legislation conducive to solving many problems, one of which is this. It is not the Techirghiol alone, but all the spa resorts,’ said Cepoi.

According to him, Techirghiol is a reference for the internationally recognised healing properties of the natural factors in the coastal zone, but health tourism in Romania is not stimulated.

‘Health tourism needs to be stimulated, given that before 1990 Romania was 14th to 15th in the world rankings, while currently it is no longer in any ranking. When it comes to health tourism, the tourist component should be developed, because, for example in Techirghiol, the medical component is well represented, but unfortunately, tourism is not well represented. Recreational tourism in health tourism has a number of particularities and, on the one hand, tranquillity has to be observed, but on the other hand the desire for relaxation and entertainment should also be kept in mind. Authorities and investors should think about this because only this way will Techirghiol become a magnet not only for Romanian, but also for foreigners,’ said Cepoi

The Legend of Techir tells the story of how the healing properties of the mud in Lake Techirghiol were discovered.

Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, a crippled and blind old man named Techir, left only with his donkey, one day happened on the mud of Techirghiol Lake that had attracted mainly his donkey. The old man struggled for hours to get out of the foul smelling mud but his stubborn donkey would not budge. Once they came out of the mud, Techir realised that his eyes could perceive light again and his legs, helpless for a long time, started to obey him. At the same time, the ugly wounds on the donkey’s back had healed and its body became visibly nimbler. The news that the mud in Lake Techirghiol would be miraculous spread quickly, and upon hearing what miracle had happened to Techir and his donkey, people started coming in droves to Techirghiol to bathe in the mud for healing. AGERPRES

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For over 620 years, the Neamt Fortress has been standing guard over the Ozana Valley to Agapia and Varatec. The fortress was mentioned by great writers of Romania in their works.

Photo credit: (c) Adrian CUBA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

In his ‘Muma lui Stefan cel Mare’ (Stephen the Great’s Mother), Stefan Bolintineanu describes Stephen’s defeat in the battle of Valea Alba-Razboieni to Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.

In his ‘Sobieski si romanii’ (Sobieski and Romanians) Costache Negruzzi mentions the bravery of the Moldavian armies before the Polish armies, as well as the strategic position of the fortress.

Great storyteller Ion Creanga in his ‘Amintiri din copilarie’ (Memories of My Childhood) describes the local river of Ozana as beautifully flowing and crystal clear, in which the Neamt Fortress had been mirroring itself for so many centuries.

The earliest history of the fortress history dates back to the end of the 14th century. It had been built strategically atop the Plesu Hill by Petru I Musat, between 1374-1391.

‘There were three brothers, Peter, Stephen and Roman Musat, who broke up at the right time and Peter Musat came from Suceava, from beyond the hill, and placed here the foundation of the fortress. The main entrance to the fortress is not where tourists enter today, but through the second gate, the gate referred to as the Musat Gate, and the bridge was originally in a straight line,’ museologist Mihai Cucolea tells Agerpres.

Photo credit: (c) Adrian CUBA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Photo credit: (c) Adrian CUBA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

He adds that the strategic and military strengthening of the fortress was performed by ruler Stephen the Great and Holy. ‘Great prince Stephen the Great and Holy reinforced the entire land of Moldavia in military and then political terms. It is about the capital city of Suceava and the fortresses of Soroca, Chilia, Tighina, Hotin, Cetatea Alba, Baia, Scheia, Roman and the Neamt Fortress. He brought in Italian, Transylvanian and Moldavian craftsmen and erected it. It had three floors, it was very comfortable, it had a roof of lead and brass foil, in a word it was shaped like a castle. The Voivode also changed the defence system of the fortress. He had the linear bridge demolished and made the bridge in the form of a semicircle, the bridge on which tourists come in today. But the bridge had no railing, because the enemies must be received ?properly,'”says Cucolea.

Poet Stefan Bolintineanu depicts in his ‘Stephen the Great’s Mother’ how the Voivode, defeated by Sultan Mahmud the Conqueror returned to the Neamt Fortress, only to be urged by his mother to seek revenge and die a hero.

‘The battle took place at Valea Alba Valley — Razboieni, where Stephen the Great and Holy lost. Hurt, he withdrew to the fortress late at night, knocked at the gate and the voice of an old woman asked who was there. Inside the fortress, in times of war, his family would probably be inside the fortress, his mother included as the chroniclers say, part of the wealth of Moldavia brought from Suceava, very many children as to not to be kidnapped and turned into janissaries, and troops that would stand guard. Stephen left for Suceava, where he knocked on the door to the cell of monk Daniil Sihastru, the hermit, but the monk did not welcome him in as he was praying. Only after finishing his prayer did the monk welcome him in and gave a piece of fatherly advice. ‘My lord, do not bow the country down to the enemy. Keep fasting for you and your army for three days and three nights, and place an icon of St. George the victory bearer, on the battle flag, build him a church, and victory will be yours, my Lord.’ As the priest said and thanks to the ruler’s wisdom, the Turks were lured here at the fortress. They vainly tried to capture it for two days, after which they began to bombard the fortress. Very sharp spears had been placed under the bridge and the bridge could not be used for crossing. Others fell into traps or died of arrows fired from the castle, and Mahmud returned to Istanbul. Stephen rounded the prisoners of war in the courtyard, he waved his sword on the ground and told them: ?you have sought earth and water, so dig to find water and if you do find it you will be free.’ They dug about 110 meters until they reached the Ozana and built a well in the process. The prisoners who were still alive after that were freed,’ says museologist Cucolea.

For as long as Stephen the Great and Saint ruled, no Moldavian fortress feel into the hands of the enemy.

‘Inside the Neamt Fortress, there were two prison houses: one for dishonest merchants and thieves and one for the treacherous boyars. Stephen the Great was followed by Alexandru Lapusneanu, who put the citadel to the fire. In 1691, the King of Poles, Sobieski, came to the place on a military campaign. He stopped over at Cotnari, where he learned about a fair lady, daughter of ruler Vasile Lupu, living in Preotesti that was keeping the ruler’s fortune. He found her and took her and the treacherous boyars to the Neamt Fortress believing that the riches were stored there. They found nothing and killed her in terrible pain in the area where the Mint is standing now. The gates to the fortress were opened to King Sobieski by the treacherous boyars,’ says Cucolea.

Photo credit: (c) Adrian CUBA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

That was not the only time when the gates to the fortress were willingly opened.

‘For the second time, the gates opened in 1600 to unifier Michael the Brave, and the third time is today, when they open to over 150,000 visitors annually. After the structure was demolished in 1718, by Phanariot rulers, only the outer rooms and some doors were left standing of it. The fortress was refurbished for the first time in 1966, and the latest refurbishment took place in 2011 on funds from the European Union. Today, people dressed likes medieval Moldavian soldiers welcome the visitors to places inside the fortress called ?The Black Gaol,’ ?The Mint,’ ?The Kitchen,’ and ?The Assembly Room,” says Cucolea.

Every year in early July, the Days of the Neamt Fortress are held and a Medieval Arts Festival, while in August the fortress hosts a national festival of lute music. AGERPRES

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The largest collection of Eneolithic art in South-Eastern Europe is assembled at the Cucuteni Museum in Piatra Neamt, a section of the Neamt County Museum Complex.

Photos: Cucuteni Eneolithic Art Museum

Archaeologist Daniel Garvan, a Cucuteni culture specialist, told AGERPRES that the highlights among the 7,000-year old artifacts are the famous ‘Ring Dance of Frumusica’, ‘The Council of the Goddesses’ or ‘The Thinker of Tarpesti’, figurines that stirred the interest and imagination of archaeologists with their expressiveness.

The eponymous site of the Cucuteni culture is located on the present-day spot called Cetatuia, of the Baiceni commune — Iasi, and was discovered in 1884 by folklorist and ethnographer Theodor Burada. The first researches were performed by Nicolae Beldiceanu and Grigore Butureanu in 1885. The Piatra Neamt museum was inaugurated 120 years later, in 2005. It is headquartered in a heritage building from the year 1930, a former seat of the National Bank of Romania. The grated vaults where the cash or valuables of the Romanian state were kept are still in place, now preserving priceless artefacts.

The headquarters were not picked just randomly and the choice is not necessarily related to the security of the building, but to its location, the historic center of the Piatra Neamt municipality.

Archaeologist Daniel Garvan says the artifacts are regarded as objects of art.

“The Cucuteni Eneolithic Art Museum represents a national one-of-a-kind by the theme approached, being simultaneously a history and an art museum which currently houses the most important collection of Eneolithic art in Southeastern Europe. This is dedicated solely to the Cucuteni culture, with its two basic components: decorative and figurative art. The most spectacular artefacts are showcased here, genuine objects of prestige belonging to the Precucuteni — Cucuteni — Trypillian Cultural Complex, in fact the most important and spectacular European prehistoric civilization.

“The exhibition includes both three-dimensional objects and photo-documentary resources belonging to all phases and development stages of this civilization, represented in its entire area. Cucuteni means painted ceramics and statues, because the other artefacts can be found in all cultures. We do not know if in that time painted pottery was considered as a work of art produced for this purpose or if these were everyday objects. It is a question that will remain unanswered,” said archaeologist Daniel Garvan.

Due to their uniqueness and long age, the artefacts were invited to international exhibitions, and the most important exhibits could be admired in the U.S., Switzerland, Vatican City, Greece or Poland.

Some objects also have a contemporary story, as is the case of the ‘Ring Dance of Frumusica’. The historians relate that in 1973, when the National Museum of History was established, spectacular items were collected from several museums and they also requested the ‘Ring Dance’. Its restorer, archaeologist Aurel Buzila, made an exact copy of it and sent the replica to the National Museum of History without anyone noticing this, so that the Bucharest museum opened with a copy of the original artefact on display.

In its basement, the building of the Cucuteni Eneolithic Art Museum accommodates an impressive repository of archaeological items, as well as the restoration-conservation laboratory; the ground floor and the 1st floor are occupied by the permanent exhibition arranged in three halls. There is also a vault on the ground floor where the valuables of the banks formerly headquartered here were kept and where the Cucuteni culture artefacts are currently preserved. A modern multimedia center in two rooms on the first floor, equipped with last generation audio video electronic equipment, offers the visitors enlightening presentations.

The second floor is intended for temporary exhibitions which constantly switch within the two halls and a hallway.

The first room, located on the ground floor, is themed to the history of Cucuteni researches. A series of graphic materials illustrate the portraits of outstanding personalities of Romanian archeology, but not only, as well as the main stages of research into this civilization. A natural demarche was to highlight the major role the Piatra Neamt History and Archaeology Museum has played over time in researching and fully shining a light on the Cucuteni cultural heritage. The most important cultural-scientific events related to the Cucuteni culture are also reviewed here. Also on display are the main monographs and summary works, catalogs and collections of studies and articles that rendered visible in publishing media the discoveries made over time throughout the Cucuteni area.

The second room, which is also on the ground floor, is devoted exclusively to decorative Cucuteni art, represented most often by the painted decoration of the pots, although etched, incised and grooved decorations are also showcased. Almost the entire range of shapes and decorations is displayed, with four major categories of vessels — probably for ritual worship — being clearly outlined: crown-vessels, binocular-vessels, ring-dance vessels and the vessels with support and small columns. It should be noted that they are specific to this civilization alone. The vessel discovered at Izvoare was transposed to the logo of the Neamt County Museum Complex.

The third room, located on the first floor, houses the masterpieces of Cucuteni decorative art illustrated by plastic anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and ornitomorphic stand-alone motifs or painted on vessels, relief protomes applied on the outside of the pots, models of shrines and various ornaments and worship items. Noteworthy among the exhibits are the famous Cucuteni worship complexes at Poduri and Ghelaiesti.

The fourth hall on the second floor is dedicated exclusively to temporary exhibitions that are in constant succession. This gives the possibility to exhibit for quite a long period other types of items specific to the Cucuteni cultural milieu, discovered at some sites and researched by specialists from other relevant institutions in Romania.

The first temporary exhibition hosted by the Cucuteni Eneolithic Art Museum is the one titled ‘Cucuteni Masterpieces from the Scanteia Site — Iasi County’; this is a settlement dating from the first development phase of the Cucuteni culture, which produced a very rich and spectacular heritage found in the collections of the Institute of Archaeology and of the History Museum of the Iasi-based “Moldova” National Museum Complex. It was minutely researched for many years by renowned specialist Dr. Cornelia-Magda Lazarovici.

Subsequently, this was the venue for the exhibition ‘Art and Passion’, which brought together the most valuable exhibits belonging to the “Cucuteni for the Third Millennium” Foundation in Bucharest, from all stages and development phases of this civilization in Romania. In the fourth hall there are currently about 500 valuable items discovered in recent years in the most important Cucuteni settlements on the present territory of Romania, and the adjoined hall depicts some aspects of the older archeological excavations conducted here under the lead of Dr. Dan Monah; all these items are included in the tribute exhibition ‘Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru. 30 Years since the First Excavations.’

The fifth hall, also located on the second floor, and the lobby initially illustrated some of the masterpieces of the Trypillian area outside the borders of Romania, brought together in the photo-documentary exhibition “Cucuteni — Trypillian Eneolithic Art in the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine”. This included various types of pottery, plastic anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations, shrine mock-ups and religious and ornamental objects, among which the treasure cache at Carbuna — Republic of Moldova stands out. Also shown are some personalities who distinguished themselves through research conducted in the Trypillian area, as well as graphic reconstructions of the giant settlements of those ancient times.

Later on, a number of artefacts belonging to the Boian civilization, the linear pottery, Precucuteni and Stoicani-Aldeni-Bolgrad cultures, respectively, were displayed in the fifth hall as part of the exhibition titled ‘Precucuteni. The Origin of a Great Civilization’ organised with the support of the “Eastern Carpathians” Museum of Sfantu Gheorghe and the County History and Archaeology Museum of Ploiesti.

Currently, the same exhibition space encompasses valuable items belonging to some of the most brilliant prehistoric mainland civilizations — Gumelnita and Cucuteni. ‘Ancient Civilizations of Europe’ is an exhibition organised with the support of the Teleorman County Museum in Alexandria.

Most of the artefacts on display were discovered during archaeological investigations carried out by professionals and contributors of the institution — outstanding personalities of Romanian archeology — especially at the now famous Cucuteni settlements in the present territory of Neamt County: Izvoare, Tarpesti, Bodesti, Piatra Soimului, Ghelaiesti, Traian, Valeni, but also outside county boundaries, at Trusesti and Targu Ocna. The tell settlement at Poduri — Bacau County, which is the top important settlement of the Precucuteni — Cucuteni — Trypillian cultural complex in Romania and one of the most important in Europe, remarkable through the amount, diversity and quality of the Cucuteni vestiges, is a site ranked in the “national importance” category.

In recent years the site received generous financing from the Ministry of Culture; in recognition of the importance of the research and promotion of its assets by the International Center for Research on Cucuteni Culture, the exhibition titled ‘Poduri — the Ghindaru Hill. A Troy in Moldavia’s Subcarpathians’ and the accompanying volume were awarded the Adrian Radulescu prize.

In the short time since its inauguration, the Cucuteni Museum has earned recognition for its uniqueness and spectacular character, becoming one of the most popular and visited institutions of its kind in Romania. It has thus heavily contributed to asserting Piatra Neamt city as an important cultural, scientific and tourism centre in the country and abroad. Throughout this period, its priceless treasures left a strong impression on culture lovers who also noted their appreciative thoughts in the museum’s Book of Honor. Recognized as a centre of outstanding cultural, scientific and artistic value, the Cucuteni Eneolithic Art Museum is definitely enshrined in the Romanian and international cultural landscape. In 2006 the Ministry of Culture and Denominations awarded it the Iulian Antonescu prize for the museology management project and the accompanying volume, called ‘The First Cucuteni Museum in Romania.’

The Cucuteni Eneolithic Art Museum in Piatra Neamt is open to visitors from 10:00 to 18:00 from April to September and from 09:00 to 17:00 between October and March; the admission price is 2 RON for adults and 1 RON for students. AGERPRES

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Located eight kilometres away from the Piatra-Neamt municipality, the Bistrita Monastery is one of the most important monastic settlements in the Neamt County, built by ruler Alexander the Good in 1407. The ruler endowed the monastery with villages, estates and expensive jewels.

Photo credit: (c) Paul BUCIUTA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The monastery entered a new historical stage in 1498, when ruler Stephen the Great built a one-storey belfry with a small chapel dedicated to St John the New of Suceava, the mural painting, preserved until today, being of a great artistic and iconographic value.

In 1546, Peter Rares rebuilt the surrounding walls of the monastery and the entrance tower, erected a new princely house next to the ruins of the first founder’s home, and ‘restored the holy monastery from scratch’, as according to a document from 1546. He also endowed the monastery with the Mojesti village. Eight years later, ruler Alexander the Good completely rebuilt the monastery.

The Bistrita Monastery has a special historical and archaeological value, having been built in the Byzantine style, with rich ornaments. The original front door is still well-preserved until today.

Highly remarkable is the icon of Saint Anne, given as a present to Lady Anne, the wife of ruler Alexander the Good, in 1401, by Empress Irene, the wife of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and Patriarch Matei of Constantinople. Later, the princely family donated the icon to the Bistrita Monastery. In the 18th century, the icon was restored and in 1853 it was placed in a pew made out of carved wood covered in gold, donated by Hieromonk Varnava, the Abbot of the Pangarasi Monastery, who was cured here of a serious disease, as the medallion above the icon tells the story.

The main building of the Monastery is square-shaped, being surrounded by a 4 to 6 metres high stone wall with battlements. The entrance to the monastery is made through a canopy tower, with a chapel devoted to St Nicholas built upstairs by Peter Rares, between 1541 and 1546. The wall also had a defence role, having been rebuilt in 1776 by Abbot Iacov the Archimandrite.

In the north-eastern wing of the church there is the Belfry Tower built by ruler Stephen the Great, in 1498. In the churchyard there is also the royal house of Alexander the Good, restored by Peter Rares, alongside one row of monks’ cells from the 18th century.

The Bistrita Monastery is the place where one of the oldest monuments of the Romanian medieval culture, the diptych of the Bistrita Monastery, can be found. The diptych offers the most interesting data about the beginning of the voivodal history and the beginning of the church history in Moldavia. Started, continued and concluded at this monastery, including the names of rulers and their family members, bishops, archimandrites, monks, donors, high dignitaries, scribes, governors, boyars and soldiers who fell on the battlefield at Podul Inalt, this document is, without any doubt, a historiographical work of a great importance for the history of Moldavia. The first entry in the diptych was the date of 6915 (the year 1407, when the diptych began to be written at the Bistrita Monastery).

Photo credit: (c) Paul BUCIUTA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The introduction includes general considerationS about mercy and salvation, followed by the listing of the benefactors of the monastery, which list had to be approved first by ‘the abbot with counsel from all the other brothers in Christ.’ Then follows the list of the godly rulers of Moldovlahia’.

The diptych was written by more than one person, which was proved by the various handwriting styles it shows. Thus, two pages and a half, where the rulers until Stephen the Great are listed, are written in one style and then follows a series of other different styles.

Although the introductive part has on it the supposed date when they started to write the diptych, the debate over the precise date of this important document was quite vivid, renowned scholars coming up with different hypotheses.

After studying this valuable manuscript, Damian P. Bogdan came to the conclusion that the first three pages were copied during the rule of Stephen the Great after a diptych dated in 1407, which was probably written on wooden boards or painted on the wall behind the table of oblation. Later, the diptych was completed with names and notes, the last one being from 1682.

Starting with 1407, after Dometian became the Abbot of the Neamt and Bistrita Monasteries, the diptych was recopied, completed with new names of rulers, hierarch, monks and believers and translated into Romanian.

No one seems to have ever questioned the place where the diptych was written and neither the authors or the writers of this valuable historiographical document. The document itself says it very clearly that this was — the Bistrita Monastery — the place where the first words were written and also the subsequent completions.

The writers of the diptych didn’t put their names in, but from the content it becomes very clear that they were monks living at the Monastery. For instance, the decision to write in the diptych the names of the founders and donors only after getting the approval of ‘the abbot with counsel from all the other brothers in Christ’ was taken at the Monastery.

The theological considerations on benefaction, reward and salvation, from the introduction, were probably the words of a monk. The correct mentioning of the ranks and titles of the clerks that appear in the diptych — Metropolitan, Bishop, Archimandrite, Abbot, Monk, Hieromonk, Hierodeacon, Confessor, Verger (Grigore), the Ecclesiarch of the Metropolitan — all are proofs that the authors were monks who were familiar with the religious terminology. Moreover, they mentioned famous copyists and miniaturists from the Neamt and Putna Monasteries, such as Gavriil, Paladie and Teodor.

Most probably, this historiographical work was written either in the altar or at the abbot’s place under the abbot’s guidance, either in the anonymous monks’ cells, who had to be scholars back then.

The grave of ruler Alexandru the Good, his wife Anne, of Alexandru, the son of Stephen the Great, and of Chiajna, the wife of Stefan Lacusta and Anastastie, the Bishop of Suceava are to be found in the church of the Bistrita Monastery. AGERPRES

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Erected in 1991 in Hasca clearing of Stanisoara Mountains, by archimandrite Justin Parvu, Petru-Voda Monastery is an altar built in the memory of those who suffered in the communist prisons. Having been imprisoned for 17 years in almost all communist jails, father Justin Parvu said he felt ever since the prison years he had the mission of building a monastery back home.

Photo credit: (c) Gabriel APETRII / AGERPRES STREAM

‘The longest road is the one from home to home,’ father Justin quoted poet Nichita Stanescu as saying.

The monastery can be reached through a forest road, a by-passing from Petru Voda village, connecting Poiana Largului to Targu Neamt town.

The monastic complex erected by father Justin Parvu is made up of two monasteries, one in Petru Voda and one in Paltin-Petru Voda. If in Petru-Voda, a monk monastery, there is only the church and their sanctums, in Paltin-Petru Voda father Justin built a church, sanctums for nuns, an asylum for elder people, an orphanage and a clinic with general practice and dentistry consultation rooms, all for needy people.

The nuns of Paltin have a laboratory for the preparation of natural remedies, through medicine herbs processing. The team preparing these remedies is made up of doctors, pharmacists and GM nurses.

The social and medical activity of all these places is coordinated through a foundation initially called Petru-Voda and renamed Justin Parvu, in the memory of its founder. The foundation also owns a book publishing house, Petru Voda Monastery Publishing House and Atitudini magazine.

The most known figure of the monastic places is, most certainly, that of the founder, archimandrite Justin Parvu, increasingly more often compared with father Arsenie Boca.

Justin Parvu was born in Petru-Voda village, on February 10, 1919, and began his monastic life at Durau Monastery, at the age of 17. In 1939, after he became a monk, he entered the monastic seminar of Cernica, near Bucharest. During the Second World War, between 1942 and 1944, he served as military priest on the Eastern Front, all the way through Odessa. After the communists took power, the father was arrested on political grounds and sentenced to 12 years in prison, serving his sentence in the jails of Suceava, Vacaresti, Jilava and Aiud. Before being sent for re-education to Pitesti, he was sent, while still a prisoner, to work in the mine of Baia Sprie. He served the largest part of the sentence in Aiud prison, which was also the toughest period of the 17 years of detention.

After he finished his sentence, in 1960, he got 4 more years of prison for not having abandoned his faith. In 1964, he was released and became a forest worker. After two years, in 1966, he came back to the monastic life, at Secu Monastery, where he was a monk priest. With the intent of controlling him, the communist ruling forced father Justin in 1975 to serve in Bistrita Monastry. After 1990, father Justin returned to Secu Monastery and worked as priest and confessor at this monastery. Two years later, he withdrew to solitude, thinking of spending the rest of his days in fasting and prayer. In 1991, he established the Monastery of Petru Voda. The father continued his mission of changing even a bit this world, and in 2000, he built a nuns’ hermitage near Petru Voda Monastery, an education centre for children and an asylum for elder persons and three years later he established an orthodox education and attitude monthly publication, called Glasul Monahilor (The Voice of Monks).

Father Justin Parvu died on June 16, 2013, at 94 years of age, and was buried near the church he built in Petru-Voda. The cemetery of this church is also the resting place of priest Gheorghe Calciu Dumitreasa and poet Radu Gyr.

The name of Petru-Voda Monastery has been connected over the past few years with data concerning the active involvement in national disputes like that on biometric passports or on the exploitation of shale gas. Thus, through the voice of archimandrite priest Justin Parvu positions contrary to the idea of introducing the respective type of passport have often been expressed. In 2013, on the ground of a wider movement supporting the manifestations against the exploitation of shale gas, part of the monks of Petru-Voda made a solidarity gesture with the anti-Chevron protestors of Pungesti — Vaslui. This gesture materialised in bringing to the protest site a symbolic roadside crucifix from the Petru-Voda Monastery cemetery.

The monastery’s community is also linked to some controversial moments. Thus, archimandrite Justin Parvu was recorded on video in February 2009 and 2011, while the nun choir of Paltinu was singing to him, on his birthday, legionary songs.

In November 2013, seven years after father Gheorghe Calciu Dumitreasa was buried in the monastery’s cemetery, his remains were exhumed, contrary to the provisions of his testament. By father Calciu’s son perseverance, who threatened to send the monastery to court, his body was buried again, although part of the monastic community wanted his canonisation, as the remains were not rotten.

Shortly after that, in January 2014, on the monastery’s website, a release in the form of an open but not assumed letter by the monastery’s leaders accused the intelligence services of supervising and controlling the activity of the monks through some moles, for deteriorating the image of the monastery.

Beyond all these aspects, the Monastery of Petru-Voda remains a piece of heaven, a place of high spirituality, sought by thousands and thousands of believers. AGERPRES

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The Ceahlau Mountain is a central symbol of Neamt County and is also featured as a main element on the county’s crest. Identified for hundreds of years as a genuine Olympus of Romania, the Ceahlau or Dacians’ Kogaion – Axis mundi (mentioned in the writings of Strabo) – was regarded since ancient times as a sacred mountain.

Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The local elders say that on clear summer days, the Ceahlau can be admired from as far as the mouths of the Danube. The highest peak of the massif is considered Ocolasul Mare, with an elevation of 1,907 meters, while the Toaca / The Semantron peak measures 1,900 meters. The Ceahlau Massif that includes the Ceahlau National Park is located in the central group of the Eastern Carpathians, in the southeastern part of the Bistrita Mountains, at the intersection of the 47th north parallel with the 26th meridian east.

The mountain hosts a rich fauna, with the most important species being the Carpathian bear, the wolf, the mountain rooster, the chamois or the viper, but also a distinctive flora the pride of which is the delicate edelweiss.

Photo credit: (c) Nicolae BADEA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

To build on the sightseeing potential of the Ceahlau Massif, it has been fitted out with routes and resting places as early as in the previous last century. The Cantacuzino family laid out around 1860 the first hiking trail leading to the heights of the Ceahlau, and the first refuge huts were built at sites where powerful springs sparkle down the rocks: near Fantana rece in 1906, and near Fantanele in 1914, respectively.

Some of the main tourist attractions are represented by the conglomerate structures in the central area, the most spectacular forms being Toaca/The Semantron, Panaghia, Caciula Dorobantului/The Footman’s Cap, Piatra cu Apa, Detunatele/The Lightning-struck Cliffs, Dochia, Claile lui Miron/Miron’s Haystacks. Another interesting activity for climbing enthusiasts are trips along the various scaling routes in the massif.

Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Only two chalets operate in Ceahlau, Dochia and Fantanele, but the locality of Izvorul Muntelui and the resort of Durau have plenty of hostels and hotels to provide tourist accommodation.

The Fantanele Chalet
Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

In summer, the climb to the Dochia chalet is possible along 7 tourist routes. The trail running from the Izvorul Muntelui Chalet to Curmatura (the Saddle) Lutu Rosu — Piatra cu Apa — Detunatele — Dochia Chalet has an altitude difference of 953 metres and can be completed in about three hours and a half.

The Dochia Chalet
Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The trail Izvorul Muntelui Chalet — Curmatura Lutu Rosu — Paraul Izvorul Alb — Stanca Dochiei — Jgheabul cu Hotar — Dochia Chalet takes about 4 hours.

Another trail, Izvorul Muntelui Chalet — Poiana Maicilor/The Nuns’ Glade — Claile lui Miron — Piatra Lata — Dochia Chalet, takes a bit longer, that is some 6 — 7 hours.

From the resort of Durau one can climb to Poiana Viezuri — Cascada Duruitoarea / The Rumbling Waterfall — Poiana Scaius — Curmatura (the Saddle) Piciorul Schiop — Dochia Chalet in about 5 hours.

The Durau Monastery
Photo credit: (c) Simion MECHNO / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Starting from the Neagra village through Curmatura Varatec — Poiana Maicilor — Claile lui Miron one reaches the Dochia Chalet in about 7 hours.

Another route has the commune Bicazu Ardelean as starting point, goes through Telec village and the point of confluence of the Bistra rivers, climbs to Curmatura Scaune, then to Curmatura Stanile and ends at the Dochia Chalet; this one takes some five hours and a half to complete.

Mount Ceahlau is at the center of several legends.

One has it that the mountain was built under imperial command. Wishing to defend the inhabitants of these places against the barbarian hordes sweeping in from the east, the Roman Emperor Trajan, conqueror of Dacia, ordered that this mountain be raised to put an obstacle in the way of the invaders. To accomplish the Emperor’s command, all of Decebal’s subjects taken as slaves were rounded up and told of the tough ordeal standing ahead of them. They had to carry and place on the site of the future mountain one stone upon another, rock over rock, until the mound was high enough to satisfy the Emperor. Their toil was terrible and most of them perished from exhaustion, but the order was carried through. The Emperor, pleased with the accomplishment, demanded that a soundboard be placed on the mountaintop.

A soldier was ordered to stand guard and hammer on it whenever he would spot the enemies at the horizon, thus announce the inhabitants in the valley. This was so until one day when the soldier was killed by an arrow shot by the foes and there was nobody to beat the soundboard any more.

Ceahlau National Park
Photo credit: (c) Nicolae BADEA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

A beautiful legend is spun around Dochia’s rock. They say that it is the petrified frame of an old shepherdess who set off wrapped up in nine sheepskin coats with her flock, towards the top of the mountain, although the elements were adverse to the journey. As she traveled, it started raining and snowing and as the upper coat was getting soaked wet and wore heavily on Dochia’s shoulders, hindering her advance, the old shepherdess one by one took off eight of the nine coats. And then God sent a bitter freeze that mercilessly turned her to stone together with her sheep and goats.

Another legend presents Dochia as an emperor’s daughter on the run from the invader monarch who wished to marry her; Dochia disguised herself as a shepherd girl and climbed with a flock of sheep in the mountains. As the weather was mild, she started taking off her coats one by one. But almost near the top, a big freeze suddenly set in, as if in winter. Unaccustomed to the cold but fearing to return, Dochia began to murmur against God. The Almighty punished her by turning her into stone and the sheep into boulders. Another variant says that just as she was about to fall into the hands of the conquering emperor, the girl asked God to turn her into stone, and He granted her wish. AGERPRES

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Considered by its GDP, Covasna County is said to be poor, yet it is home to one of the most extensive, rich and valuable mineral water resources in Europe.

Photo credit: (c) Lucian TUDOSE / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Covasna has thousands of mineral water springs teeming all over the place, some grown to the status of brand, others known only by the locals who use them as cure to various diseases. Some localities have almost no freshwater well, instead there is mineral water aplenty to pull up with the dip-bucket. Each well has a different composition, a different taste and different curing properties.

Long ago, locals with a health condition didn’t rush to the doctor, but rather sought a healing mineral spring.

The Valcele spa, situated near the city of Sfantu Gheorghe, and whose heyday fame bested that of Karlovy Vary, has a mineral spring with an extremely high content of magnesium — 335 ml per litre, making it an excellent cure for the plague of this century — stress. It also helps in gastritis, ulcer, osteoporosis, rheumatism and many other conditions that are usually being treated with lots of money and handfuls of pills. Valcele has had quite a range of high-profile visitors who sought the curing effect of its mineral water and bubbling soaks. Even crowned heads, including King Carol I and King Ferdinand of Romania counted to the spa visitors.

Prince Milos Obrenovich of Serbia, who visited Valcele in 1841, donated money for a church to be built here after having successfully pursued treatment at this spa. This is also where some of the time’s highbrows who spearheaded Romania’s political and cultural movements, such as historian and politician Nicolae Balcescu, philologist and politician Ion Heliade Radulescu, folklorist, composer and writer Anton Pann, poet and diplomat Dimitrie Bolintineanu, literary critic and politician Titu Maiorescu and Metropolitan bishop Andrei Saguna spent some time, says museographer Nicolae Moldovan, now at the venerable age of 92, the one who collected testimonials, documents and photographs and produced the monograph of Valcele.

Unfortunately, the spa’s glamour faded out, the once smart villas are now in disrepair, and if it weren’t for the vintage photos, one could hardly imagine its times of glory, when the brass band played in the park to entertain the swarms of tourists strolling on the walkways. Today, the spa of Valcele dwells in anonymity, yet the mineral water keeps flowing.

It flows as a reminder of the ever-present change, or maybe, for some of the locals just to wash their rubber boots under the spurt of mineral water; however, the townsfolk still come from tens of kilometres to get the precious liquid. This is also home to the only plant in Romania where medicinal mineral water is bottled manually, pure water, with no addition or “enhancement.”

“It is bottled just as it springs from the ground, with no intervention, without removing or adding anything to it. The water reaches the customer just as it was prepared and balanced in the most performing lab I know — nature,” says Silviu Manole, owner of bottling company Wega Invest.

Sugas Bai, a small and lovely vacation spa lying near Sfantu Gheorghe, has the Elisabeta spring that has been used for centuries as a remedy against liver diseases and gastritis.

In Balvanyos, in the north of the county, there’s the ‘eye curing spring’ that treats conjunctivitis. The trees surrounding the creek have myriads of handkerchiefs fluttering from their branches, left there by those who used them to wash their eyes with the miraculous water and who believe the tales of the elders that they will thus rid themselves of the disease.

Among the thousands of mineral springs of Covasna County there is one that can precisely “foretell” the weather 24 hours in advance. It’s the ‘Putya’ spring in the locality of Micfalau, called by the locals “the weather telling creek”. If the water is turbid it is sign it will rain, and if it is limpid, it will be sunny weather. The locals say the spring has never been wrong in centuries and that they trust it more than the TV weather bulletins.

Alone in the surroundings of the resort of Covasna, which is the site of Romania’s only hospital for cardiovascular rehabilitation, there are over 1,000 mineral springs, some of which have been known since the times of the Romans.

The genesis of the mineral waters is closely connected to the post-volcanic phenomena in the area.

“Traversing the successive soil layers, the water washes off and dissolves the minerals and salts in the depths of the earth and emerges to daylight loaded with gas and mineral salts,” explains geologist Kisgyorgy Zoltan from Sfantu Gheorghe, who has a rich collection of mineral bottle labels put together in more than three decades. He has more than 1,000 items of which the oldest is dated 1902 — the Maria Spring in Malnas. A read of the chemical composition on the labels shows one that each spring is unique.

Fully aware of the county’s underground treasure, the Covasna authorities have kicked off together with their Harghita County peers a project aimed at revamping several spas left to decay but also at developing several other localities with a balneal potential. Called the ‘Trail of Mineral Waters’, it runs through the localities of Bixad, Belin, Malnas, Valcele, Bodoc, Sugas-Bai, Martanus, Baraolt (all of them in Covasna County) and Borsec, Tusnad, Jigodin, Homorod, Remetea (in the neighboring Harghita County). No less than 10 ml euros have been invested so far, over half of which came from European funds.

The bathing pool in Baraolt was revamped, a new moffette-capturing facility was built in Bodoc, two mineral springs were piped and directed to a freshly built bath facility. In Malnas, the pavilions covering two springs were refurbished and the park was revamped; spa centres were built in Sugas and Valcele, complete with pools, Turkish baths, Finnish saunas, fitness halls and other leisure spaces.

”Investments were needed because such riches are to no avail if one cannot offer the tourist some extra amenities,” said Sfantu Gheorghe Mayor Antal Arpad.

In the past, almost each locality in the county had a popular mineral bath, a kind of bathing place where people came for soaks because they helped in everything. These were small wooden tanks, usually placed in forested locales, around such a body of water. They were abandoned with the passing of time and invaded by vegetation, but some have still seen that that the mineral springs they had heard from the elders don’t clog and vanish in forgetfulness.

Local authorities thought that rebuilding these traditional baths the way they were in the past would prove a tourist attraction. This was not necessarily about the curative effect of the water, but mainly for the unique atmosphere.

And with these time-passing facilities, another tradition came back to life: communal work. Some came with their physical skills, others with materials and others with food for volunteers. This is how some of the bathing sites were rebuilt at Cernat, Bodoc, Olteni, Peteni and Hatuica, where the tourist can spend a couple of quiet hours away from the city noise and everyday worries.

Covasna County Council President Tamas Sandor said that this project is important not just because it opens new perspectives to local tourism, but also because it helps preserve the traditions of the Szekelys in the region.

Covasna locals even have a festival dedicated to the mineral water: called ‘Aquarius’, it is aimed at popularizing mineral water, especially un-bottled, drunk directly at the source. Specialists say that not all mineral waters ”resist in bottles” and therefore, for their properties and curative effects not to go wasted, they should be drunk straight from the source.

The festival takes place every year in another locality where the mineral water is brought in barrels. Mineral water tasting events and drinking competitions are held on this occasion, exhibitions of vintage labels, photographs and postcards are organized, as well as scientific lectures, concerts and shows; much to the public’s delight, there is also a traditional pancake-baking contest with mineral water.

For one to recognize a quality mineral water one must be careful to the composition. The experts’ recommendation for the cure to be effective is to read the label and choose a water containing the minerals the body is lacking.

Covasna is by no means a poor county, blessed as it is with this source of healing and abundance, its ever-flowing streams of mineral water. AGERPRES

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With Moldova having Odobesti and Muntenia having Dealu mare, Oltenia in its turn has an important, old and traditional wine region: Dragasani. Located in the south of the Valcea County, where ‘the sun loves the most the mild hills of the Olt River meadows,’ lives surrounded by worldwide awarded wine varieties.

Photo credit: (c) Vasile MOLDOVAN / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Confined to a relatively small area, the Dragasani wine region spreads west and north of the Dragasani city, including several viticultural areas corresponding to the following localities: Dealul Oltului, Dragasani, Calina, Prundeni, Zavideni, Orlesti and Scundu, Sutesti, Verdea and Mitrofani, Creteni, Nemolu, Aninoasa and Olteanca.

‘Dragasani vineyard has an over 500 year old tradition. Among the properties in this area, there were the vines of Ban Buzescu, Ban Ghica, Clucereasa. Princes Bibescu and Stirbei, same as many old noble families also owned famous vines in the aforementioned areas. A first US grafted vine was planted in Baratia in 1895 by the Valcea Prefect at that time, Dumitru Gheorge Simulescu, at the initiative of Ioan C. Bratianu, who also brought some Vermorel atomizers for spraying the vines against mildew, after they proved to give good results in Florica (Muscel),’ says Gheorghe Iordache, former mayor of the city of vines and one of the greatest viticulturists in the area.

According to him, French ampelography specialist J. Roy Chevier, speaking about Romania’s old vineyards, pointed out that here the rulers, the boyars and the monasteries had outstanding vines and produced good table and export wines. J. Roy Chevier also says that ‘the wine of Cramposie of Dragasani was tried out for turning it to champagne in Stuttgart by N. Berger, with the best results.’

The wines of Dragasani received awards in France, where German chemist Dr. C. Bischof, a member of the jury, while analysing them, said: ‘The Romanian white wine is a normal, excellent wine, which must be taken into account as a clean, natural wine. The red wine shows, in all essential analysis norms, it has the same quality as the French wines, especially the Bordeaux wines and the best red wines.’

The wines were appreciated again at the Paris’ World Fair of 1900, when, among others, I. C. Bratianu’s white, red and muscatel wines of the 1886 and 1889 crops were awarded medals, the same M. C. Danaricu’s muscatel and white wines of the 1890 and 1896 crops.

The beginnings of the wine industrialisation have as initiator Joseph Condemine, a French tradesman who exported oak wood for barrels to France. He settled in Dragasani in 1846 and on March 4, 1849, he drew up the statutes of an anonymous enterprise called ‘The Oenology Company,’ engaged in wine trading on Wallachia’s territory, with its headquarters in Dragasani. Among the shareholders there were rulers Barbu Stirbey, boyars Ioan Filipinescu, Ioan Otetelisanu, Constantin Sutu, Bengescu and a few Frenchmen, among whom Labouret (married to one of Condemine’s daughters, Fairon).

The oldest viticultural station of Romania was established in Dragasani in 1936, under the coordination of the Agriculture Ministry. Among the wine varieties created by the Viticultural Station in the over 80 years of activity, it is worth mentioning varieties for table grapes with early ripening, present and acknowledged national and international wide, Azur, Calina, selected Cramposie, Vilarom, Novac, Negru de Dragasani, Alutus, as well as clonal selections — Sauvignon 62, Romanian muscatel 104, Cabernet Sauvignon 7.

The nationalisation, fortunately didn’t harm the wine varieties, but caused much damage to land owners. Among those who lost everything was Princess Maria Stirbey, who inherited the largest viticultural area of the country that went to the property of Dragasani State-Owned Enterprise (IAS). However, as a paradox, the communists respected the viticultural industry and preferred to bring specialists to this IAS and to the research station.

‘After 1990, the wine industry of Dragasani had entered a declining trend and even worse was that upon recovering their plots of land people started to take out the noble vines and plant corn instead,’ Dragasani Municipality current mayor Cristian Nedelcu underscores.

This disaster lasted almost 10 years, he says, but with the retrocession law, the heirs of those who owned renowned vineyards managed to be repossessed and to revive the viticultural tradition.

In 2001, the vineyards and the wine cellar of Stirbey were restored to the rightful heirs. Baroness Ileana Kripp, Princess Stirbey’s granddaughter, in her desire to revive this family tradition, together with her husband renewed the vineyards and equipped the wine cellar with modern technology, for improving the performance of the wine making process and for providing the customers with best quality wines from the Stirbey domains of Dragasani.

Together with the Stirbey vineyards, Dragasani also hosts the Isarescu House of Wines, the Iordache Wine Cellars, or the Avincis Wine Cellars (belonging to Valeriu Stoica).

‘The aristocratic complexion of the wines of Dragasani sells the wines very well. In the modern and globalised world, the nobiliary distinction associated to some common goods is a significant marketing element,’ Nedelcu says.

At present, according to the statistic data, Cramposia de Dragasani sells best in Austria and France and the Romanian muscatel of Dragasani is the vineyard’s best sold wine in France. On the French market, the wines of Dragasani are ranked — at least in terms of prices — on an average level. They are sold for 11-12 euros a bottle.

On Dealul Viilor (Vines’ Hill), resembling the region of Tuscany, according to specialists, the town hall initiated a niche tourism project. The vine and wine road will cross almost 300 hectares of vine and will connect four wine cellars. The entire promotion was made on Government and European funds. An amount of 5 million lei will be invested in the vine and wine road, and one million euros has already been used to restore a unique museum of the vine and wine, which will become another tourist attraction of the area.

‘For Dragasani, the greatest challenge is thus the promotion of the viticultural tourism in occidental manner. In the current context, the viticultural tourism represents a necessity to Dragasani, therefore it has an imperative nature. Dragasani has the potential of the French, the Italian, the Spanish areas. Dragasani’s prosperity widely depends on its economic development,’ believed the mayor of Dragasani.

The wine cellar owners have built guest houses and expect tourists, who want to breathe the fairy-tale aroma of the noble wine of Dragasani, while taking a walk through the vines, witnessing the harvesting, the making and the tasting of the wondrous liquor.AGERPRES

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‘I was young when the first bucket cranes arrived in the meadow and I saw how the peasants kissed the buckets with more passion than they used to kiss the icons in the church. They had tears in their eye, and they looked as though God Himself came down to Earth,’ Ion Horascu, the mayor of the Prundeni commune in Valcea County recalled the atmosphere from back in the 1970s-1980s, when the first tools of construction companies came in the area to engineer the course of the Olt River.

Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

In fact, the Olt River, having the second-largest flow in Romania, can be considered to be the first in the country that was fully regulated, with no less than 13 hydropower stations placed along its course, in Valcea County only, starting with the one in Robesti, continuing with the ones in Cornetu, Gura Lotrului, Turnu, Calimanesti, Daesti, Ramnicu Valcea, Raureni, Govora, Babeni, Ionesti, Zavideni and Dragasani, and with another one still being under construction in Caineni.

‘The Olt River, like any other mountain river, in fact, has always been difficult to handle, not only the localities situated in Valea Oltului (Oltul Valley), in the gorge area and in Tara Lovistei (Lovistea Land), but especially those in the south of the county, where every year, every autumn to be more precise, and every spring, when we are facing heavy rainfalls, the river overflows and submerges the arable land,’ said the Valcea Prefect, Dumitru Cornoiu.

Thus, in the mid-1970s, the authorities started a project known to those who studied geography back in the communist era as ‘the chain of hydropower plants on the River Olt.’ It is about a system of power stations that was meant to help in at least three ways: first of all, it was supposed to regulate the river course and also the river flow due to the dam and also to generate electricity by using the water force and irrigate the agricultural land by using the water from the reservoirs.

As a novelty, there is a fourth sector in which the hydropower system built on the Olt River seems to be useful, that is the tourism sector, as the lakes are also used nowadays for recreational purposes.

‘The basic, simplified, principle used in building a hydropower plant, is that the construction works will take several stages to complete. Thus, corresponding to the first stage will be the diversion of the watercourse to expose the riverbed so that the workers can build the facilities there, the second stage will be for the actual works at the dam and the dykes to be conducted, for bringing back the waters in their original riverbed, and also for collecting and redirecting the water flow through the plant, and, finally, the third stage will be for the installation of the hydro-aggregates and implicitly the commissioning of the facilities,’ said engineer Mihai Sporis, former director of Hidrolectrica Valcea.

Before 1989, these operations used to take three up to four years, at the most, to complete, given that construction works were carried out simultaneously at three hydropower stations. That’s why, 11 of the abovementioned facilities were made in approx. 10 years, during which time such brands of the Romanian industry as Energomontaj, Hidroconstructia, UCM Resita, Lugomet, Carmoet and also Hidroelectrica, got to be consolidated. In 1989, they began the construction works at the last hydropower unit ever built in the Valcea County, namely CHE Caineni, which today, due to the current bad economic shape of Hidrolectrica (undergoing insolvency) is subjected to a preservation procedure.

The history of the hydropower system actually began in Valcea in the mid-1960s, when the most complex hydropower system was based here, namely the Lotru-Ciunget power generation complex. Special engineering works were carried out on the Lotru River between 1965 and 1985, resulting in the building of 160 kilometres of adduction galleries and a complex diversion and power intake system, for storing the water from the limitrophe river basins in one single reservoir, Vidra, the third by size in Romania.

The average annual potential of the Lotru basin is of 1,243 GWh, out of which 510 MW are used by the CHE Ciunget power plant, representing the largest installed power used on Romanian rivers and the second one after the Iron Gates II. The energy recovery from the reserved flow which is the Vidra Lake is done by discharging the falling water flow in three stages between 1,289 m elevation and 300 m elevation, through the Ciunget, Malaia and Bradisor power plants, Ciunget and Malaia being built underwater.

For all these reasons, Valcea is nicknamed the capital of the hydropower system in Romania. It has the largest number of such complex hydropower plants in the whole country and two regulated rivers, Olt and Lotru. Unfortunately, tens and hundreds of workers lost their life while building these power generation complexes.

As a curiosity, in 1980 the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is said to have wanted a single huge hydropower station built at the Olt River gates, on the spot of where today is the CHE Cornetu power plant, explained Mihai Sporis. It would have been an immense construction, with a reservoir designed to measure approximately 40 km in length, to reach as far as to the border with Sibiu County. However, Ceausescu gave up the idea of this project, when he realized that he was supposed to relocate two localities and raise the road and the railway up to a height of 50 m, on the mountainside. At the same time, the geographical area known as the Lovistea Depression would have disappeared under the water.

The complex hydropower plants on the Lotru and Olt Rivers have severely changed the relief in the north of the Valcea County. There have been, of course, numerous disputes on this topic. Personalities in the ecology field claim that all these works have triggered a huge catastrophe for man, while determine the changing of the ecosystems here, the fauna and flora in the region being very much affected by the deforestations, detonations and the urbanisation process that took place in this region. It is said that many types of fish that used to migrate along the Olt River course disappeared, as the river was turned into a network of lakes linked through cascades to one another. The Ostrov Island from Calimanesti, a special spa and deondrological park, was also sacrificed, although it could have been saved, according to some opinions, on condition that the CHE Calimensti plant would have been located a little further than its current location, downstream the Olt River. There are, however, some ecologists, as for instance Professor Gheorghe Ploaie, Phd., who is saying that Valcea gained ‘no less than 7 new deltas, ecosystems, in the area of the reservoirs on the middle course of the Olt River, with a specific vegetation and fauna to the delta.’

Important transformation were also seen in demographic terms, with the opening of the construction sites in the 1970s-1980s having attracted here Romanians from all over the country, small towns such as Brezoi, Babeni or even some of the neighbours belonging to the Ramnicu Valcea Municipality have significantly increased in size.

Some archaeological sites and historic monuments also suffered because of the construction works at the hydropower plants, but, fortunately, three major objectives from the cultural and historic heritage of the area could be saved: the Roman camp Arutela and the ruins of the Old Cozia church were relocated and restored in new locations, while the Ostrov Hermitage church, rebuild by Neagoe Basarab back in the 16th century, was raised to a higher level, the same as a part of the Ostrov Island.

However, despite everything else, the Lotru-Ciunget hydropower complex and the ‘chain of hydropower stations on the River Olt’ represented an irrefutable economic achievement, which, among other things, contributed to the prevention of the natural disasters that used to periodically hit this region, when the Olt River overflowed its banks (and the same when the Lotru River overtopped its bank), which natural disasters were for the first time recorded in history related to the destruction of the Roman camp located on the left bank of the Limes Alutanus fortified line.

‘If the case would be that the Olt and Lotru rivers weren’t regulated, now, in the summer of 2014, we would have for sure witnessed a catastrophe, we would have seen a third of the county territory submerged, if not even more,’ concluded Prefect Dumitru Cornoiu. AGERPRES

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Valcea County is known to Romanian pilgrims as the Romanian Mount Athos because here, in Oltenia near the mountains, are no less of 29 monasteries, some of them of inestimable value recognized even beyond Romania’s borders, such as Horezu, a foundation of ruler Constantin Brancoveanu (1688-1714), a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Horezu Monastery
Photo credit: (c) Alex TUDOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

“Adding to these the monasteries and the sketes that have in time become parish churches, Valcea at one point had 60 monastic centers, being one of the largest eparchies, founded in 1503. It was here that books were printed, libraries built, it was here that Brancovenesc-style painting and architecture found a large home, the Valcea cultural patrimony including several important exhibits of the Brancovenesc style”, says Florin Epure, Director of the Valcea Cultural Directorate.

It is said of these places that they are “a true garden of Romanian and universal Orthodoxy in which the seeds of Orthodox Christianity, the seeds of the ancestral faith sprout vigorously since the dawn of the creation of the Romanian nation”, as Vartolomeu Androni, the abbot of Cozia monastery recounts.

Cozia Monastery
Photo credit: (c) Liviu POPESCU / AGERPRES PHOTO

On the bank of the Olt river, at the exit from the resort at Calimanesti, lies, since the end of the 14th century, the foundation of Mircea the Elder, Cozia. Harmoniously proportioned, with rich ornamentations, it was built by local craftsmen and craftsmen brought from the Morava river valley, adorned by Georgian stonemasons and painted by masters of Byzantine fresco painting brought from Constantinople. Cozia is also the resting place of Mircea the Elder and Teofana, the mother of Mihai Viteazu. The monastery lies on the main road tying Ramnicu Valcea to Sibiu.

Further up from Cozia, also on the bank of the Olt river, pilgrims, after stopping at the Schitul de sub Piatra (The skete under the rock), also known as Cozia Veche (Old Cozia), which was restored in 1995 upon the 1602 original foundations, can pray at the Cornet Monastery, built in 1666 by high boyar Mares Bajescu and his wife Maria. The monastery, situated in a piedmont, was in danger of demolition at the end of the 19th century, when the railroad to Sibiu was built. Finally the decision was made to construct a tunnel, and as such the monastery lies directly above the railroad.

In Calimanesti we may find the Ostrov Skete, the church between the waters, a monastery that was raised, together with the island on which it was standing, by 4 meters to not be affected by the flooding following the building of the Calimanesti Dam. Ostrov is a princely foundation, being raised on the orders of ruler Neagoe Basarab and his wife, Despina Doamna between 1521-1522′

Also near Calimanesti lies the Turnu Monastery, raised in 1676 by the Archbishop of Ramnic, Varlaam, who later became the Wallachian Metropolitan, with the aid of merchant Ene of Pitesti. Within the monastery, pilgrims can pray in the small cells dug into the rocks where at one point in history recluse monks would pray.

The ecclesiastic heritage of Calimanesti also includes the Stanisoara Monastery, situated at the base of the Cozia Massif, attested in 1747 and redone by two monks from Mount Athos, Sava and Teodosie. Above the monastery one may view the giant waterfall made by the Pausa river in its narrow road toward the Olt river, while near the overhang of the waterfall lies the former Pausa Skete, built in 1654-1658, believed to be the foundation of Lady Balasa, the wife of ruler Constantin Serban.

On the road towards Ramnicu Valcea, in the Muereasca commune, lies the church “of the curse”, in fact named the Frasinei Monastery, the only place of worship in the country where women have no access and where monastic life is organized by extremely severe principles, just as in the Mount Athos monasteries. Dating back to the early 19th century, the current monastery is the foundation of Saint Calinic from Cernica. It was finished in 1863, that being the time when Saint Calinic issued the command that no woman is to cross the threshold.

Across the Olt river, in Daesti, is the former skete of Fedelesoiu (today a parish church), a princely ensemble carefully restored in recent years, initiated by ruler Grigore Ghica and finished by Metropolitan Varlaam in the period when the Brancovenesc style in art was in full swing.

The northern entrance of Ramnicu Valcea is guarded by the former skete Cetatuia (The little citadel), where it is said that ruler Radu de la Afumati was killed, while the southern entrance by the Troianu Monastery, built between 1840-1842 by Hrisant, the abbot of the Hurez Monastery. It was here that the troops of General Magheru sought refuge during the 1848 Revolution, the new church guarding the Troianu Hill being a replica of the Cozia Monastery.

On the road that leads to Olanesti, pilgrims can stop at the Saracinesti Monastery, a place of worship that lies on the confluence of the Cheia and Olanesti rivers. Founded in 1688 on the lands of the Saracinesti boyars, the monastery opens the road to the holy land of the monasteries that lie on the river Cheia at the base of the Capatanii Mountains (Head Mountains) — Iezer, Pahomie, Bradu and Patrunsa.

The Iezer Monastery is a princely monastery attested during the times of ruler Radu the Great and Neagoe Basarab, and restored first by ruler Mircea Ciobanu and Lady Chiajna in 1559, and later by Saint Antonie of Iezer, whose stone-carved cell is often sought out by pilgrims.

Iezer Skete
Photo credit: (c) Alex MICSIK / AGERPRES PHOTO

The Pahomie skete was raised by monk Pahomie, who, according to the writings of that time, was former Ban (Governor) Barbu Craiovescu, the founder of the Bistrita Monastery, the skete being restored in 1864 by hieromonk Pahomie (Iordache Pascoveanu) and ‘haiduc’ (outlaw) Sava.

In Olanesti, in the hamlet of Gurguiata, in a secluded place, hieromonk Sava founded the Bradu skete in 1784, the skete being host today to a nun community.

Further up from the Pahomie skete, in the midst of the Buila-Vanturarita National Park, lies Patrunsa skete, built in 1740 by Bishop Climent of Ramnic, reminding of his place of birth where his mother had taken refuge to escape a Turkish invasion. In the 1950’s and 60’s the skete was host to many anticommunist partisans who had found in it a place of refuge and prayer.

A place of particular charm is the Jgheaburi Skete, hidden in the beech forests of Stoenesti, and reachable from Cheia. Jgheaburi is a monastic center ever since the 14th century, cared for, among others, by ruler Matei Basarab in 1640.

Towards the Baile Govora is one of the oldest monasteries in Wallachia, the Govora Monastery, considered by some historians to predate the Basarab dynasty, among its founders or caregivers we may find rulers Mircea the Elder, Dan II, Vlad II Dracul (father of Vlad the Impaler) and Radu the Elder, the latter ordering a full reconstruction of the monastery in 1496. It is here that Matei Basarab brings a printing press and the first literary work written in Romanian, the Pravila of Govora, is printed here in 1640.

Another legendary monastery on the territory of Valcea county is the Dintr-un Lemn Monastery (One-piece-of-wood Monastery). It dates back to the mid-16th century, when it was built, according to tradition, from the wood of a single oak tree. Probably one of the secular oaks that surround the monastery to this day. The stone church of the monastery was built by Preda Brancoveanu, a high boyar during the rule of Matei Basarab.

One-piece-of-wood Monastery 
Photo credit: (c) Alex TUDOR / AGERPRES PHOTO

One-piece-of-wood Monastery 
Photo credit: (c) Alex TUDOR / AGERPRES PHOTO

Further on from this place of worship, also in the Francesti Commune, is another famous monastery, the Surpatele Monastery, an older foundation of the Buzesti boyars, restored by Maria Brancoveanu, wife of ruler Constantin Brancoveanu, and a popular destination for the pilgrimages of several wives of Wallachian rulers.

On the road to Horezu, pilgrims can stop in Costesti commune, host to two important monastic centers, Bistrita and Arnota, as well as the former sketes of Papusa, Peri, Gramesti and 44 de izvoare (44 founts).

Bistrita, build in 1494, was built by the Craiovesti boyars, It was here that Governor Barbu Craiovescu brought, in 1497, from Constantinople, the relics of Saint Gregory the Decapolite. Bistrita Monastery was since its inception also a powerful Romanian cultural and spiritual center and a renowned printing center, as early as the beginning of the 16th century. It was here that ruler Neagoe Basarab received his education and also where he met Milita Despina Brancovici, a descendant of the Brankovic family that ruled over the Serbian Despotate of those times that later became his wife. Above the monastery, in the Cave of Saint Gregory the Decapolite, two rupestral churches, one well hidden deep in the cave, as old as the monastery which used it as a vault for its precious items in case of invasions, and another built in 1635 30 meters high in the Bistrita Gorges, in a spacious chamber in which one may descend via a stone-carved stairway.

Up high on the mountain is the princely necropolis of Arnota, where ruler Matei Basarab wished to be buried. The monastery that serves as a necropolis was raised between 1633-1637. The earthly remains of Matei Basarab ultimately reached Arnota, as his will dictated, however not until four years after his death.

Arnota Monastery
Photo credit: (c) Alex MICSIK / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The depression at the base of the Capatanii Mountains ends with the crown pearl, Horezu Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site and princely necropolis, where the empty grave of its founder, ruler Constantin Brancoveanu, still awaits his earthly remains. Among the historical monuments that adorn Romania, Horezu Monastery and its sketes are considered to be the masterpieces of the Brancovenesc style.

As such, the monastic map of Valcea County looks highly alike to the map of Athos. Great rulers and great boyars wanted to show through their foundations that this land was truly blessed.AGERPRES

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