Curtea de Argeş

Curtea de ArgesDecided to go to the monastery in Curtea de Argeş on Sunday afternoon. Since curtea means “court”, I am guessing that in older times, this place must have been the capital or seat of government for the region. While hypothetically the word could also have been used in the same sense that my hometown is in the “courtyard of the Ganges” or in the “backyard of the Himalayas”, I think the probability of that is low simply because the Argeş does not flow through the hamlet (Argeş is the name of both the river and the region).

Driving down there from Piteşti is interesting as the landscape gets increasingly magnificent. While it does not exactly become breathtaking by the time one reaches Curtea de Argeş, it does stoke one’s imagination, and seduces one to go on further. Alas, on this occasion that does not seem to be a possibility.

As I drive closer to the monastery, it surprises me that even in this little hamlet, the main road is one-way. Thankfully the monastery’s parking is large enough to hold a few cars.

The monastery itself is a remarkable piece of work. The living quarters are made of brick, with crawlers covering the walls in beautiful autumn colors. Inside the church, there are make-shift counters selling talismans, trinkets, and assorted material for various rituals.

All around me are murals of Romanian “saints”, ALL of whom are battle-armored and heavily armed. It is not too far-fetched a guess, I suppose, that they were all leaders of various factions in the crusades.

Interestingly, in the main chamber, two large frescoes dominate the ceiling: naştere (birth) on the left and cină (supper) on the right. It is especially noteworthy as immediately outside the building, there are two little structures for lighting candles: left one to pray for the alive and the right one for the dead.

Cină (the last supper) is curious in another way too. While 10 apostles are at a distance from Christ, just like in the DaVinci painting, two are physically not just close to Him, but almost embrace Him. More importantly, these two are almost certainly women.

I walk out, light the candles praying for the alive and for the dead, and proceed to the main cathedral, where some repair works seem to be underway.

En route to the cathedral, I am introduced to the legend behind it. It is said that the workers building the monastery were struggling with a peculiar problem: they’d build the walls by the day, and by night these would come down, and they’d start again the next day with the same result. Then one day the chief architect Meşterul Manole had a dream. He was instructed to follow the ancient custom of placing a living woman into the foundations. In fact, he was to bury the first woman to turn up at the site in the morning. As luck would have it, the first one to turn up that morning was his wife Ana. To this day one can see a sign stamped on the outside of the cathedral wall where Ana is supposedly buried. Some heartwarming tale this!

The architecture of the cathedral bears significant influence of Turish architecture. So much so, that it look more like an ornate mausoleum than a cathedral. This influence comes as no surprise considering that its consecration on 15 August 1517 (on the Assumption of the Virgin) was done in the presence of outstanding Orthodox luminaries, led by the Patriarch Theolipt of Constantinople.

The inside of the cathedral is elegant and foarte frumos. It’s a pity that the inside chamber is closed to visitors.

At the gate, a gent says, “Namaste”. He wants me to click a picture of him, his wife and toddler together at the gate. Though the girls are in a hurry, and even a bit annoyed, I oblige willingly. Couldn’t have said no to that request. Not after he said “Namaste” to me.

Not too far from the cathedral is a small spring of cool water called Manole’s fountin. I suspect (imagine?) that there is some legend behind it too, though I am not regaled with any such tales.

The monastery tour complete, it is time to grab a bite. The eatery is at some distance, a short-walk past charming houses sporting wooden columns and trees laden with little purple apples.

At the restaurant, a furry, cute kitten has drawn the fancy of the girls, who are doting over it. It walks over to me and I stroke its head gently.

The plump but agile landlady (or is she merely a waitress?) with a gentle face is merry and good-natured. She seems happy to see someone visiting from a different part of the world, and even happier that I am able to pronounce the menu items almost correctly.

She tells me that I can take away the cat as a gift, if I like. I think to myself, “I would like to, though not the one you refer to.”

The coated pressed cheese (caşcaval) and grilled mushrooms (ciupercă grătar?) are out of this world. Still apă (water) is called flat, while sparkling is referred to as mineral. Surprisingly, the beer is German, not Romanian.

On the way back, I drive as slowly as I dare to, wanting to make the day last a little longer. But of course, Piteşti appears much sooner than I was hoping.

I decide that my pit stop for the night is to be Hotel Metropole (derived from Metropolitanate, I guess). Inevitably, there is a wedding across the street, and the loud merry music fills the ears of the night.

Before retiring, I end up at a bar for a nightcap. I notice that it is an unusual bar, with the seating area divided into separate chambers each with its own television. I spend some time chatting with a technocrat and mathematics teacher, leaving him with a tech/maths riddle. Tomorrow I’ll be far away from this town.

Click here to check out my pictures from Curtea de Argeş of 23 Sept 2007.

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