It started to rain in that afternoon of our first day of the trip. After the emotional encounter with my grand-parents house I told about in the previous episode we walked to the center of the city, to an area which I remembered so well. On a small hill stand the landmarks of Piatra Neamt, a clock tower and a church from the late 15th century marking the place were the city (mentioned already in the Russian Chronicles at the end of the 14th century) started.

Stefan the Great's Tower

The area was a part of a ‘Curte Domneasca’ which means a royal residential area built by king Stefan the Great – the most important voievod (king, prince) in the history of Moldavia – between 1468 and 1475. While only some underground cellars and defense walls remain from the original buildings, the church and the clock tower near-by built between 1497 and 1499 still dominate the landscape. The tower is 19 meter high.

St. John the Baptist Church

The Saint John the Baptist church has a devotional inscription that dates the building in the years 1497 and 1498.

Binecinstitorul şi de Hristos iubitorul Io Ştefan voievod, a început şi a zidit şi a săvârşit acest hram în numele Naşterii cinstitului şi slăvitului prooroc Ioan Botezătorul şi Înaintemergătorul, întru rugă sieşi şi doamnei sale Maria şi prea iubitului lor fiu Bogdan voievod, care a început a se zidi în anul 7005 (1497) iulie 15 şi s-a săvârşit în anul 7006 (1498) iar al domniei sale al 40 şi doilea curgător, luna noiembrie, 11 zile.

I. the honest and Christ lover Stefan the King, started and built and completed this donation in the name of the birth of the honest and beloved prophet Saint John the Baptist and the Predecessor, in prayer for himself and lady Maria and their beloved son prince Bogdan, that started the building in the year 7005 (1497) July 15 and completed it in the year 7006 (1498) and the 40th of his reign, eleven days in the month of November.

inside St. John the Baptist Church

The building style of the church is typical for the Moldavian churches, with wide roofs extending well beyond the walls. There is no exterior paintings here, but colored tiles in the wall give life to the rather sober enclosure. An unusual feature of this building is the arched entrance door in a Gothic shape – but we need to remember that Stefan was in the Romanian history what came closer to a prince of the Renaissance, entertaining political, commercial and artistic relations with the powers of Europe of his time.

St. John the Baptist icon

Walking inside the church the visitor immediately immerses in the warm atmosphere of the Romanian orthodox churches.  The churches built between the 14th and the 18th century were not high and imposing as in Western Europe. The relation between the church goer and God is much more familiar, distances between men and priests and icons and symbols are at hand touch.

icons inside the church

There is little natural light in many of these churches including the one in Piatra Neamt, and the light of the candles is all that illuminated the paintings and the altar for centuries. Most of the icons, religious objects and ornamentation in the church today dates from the late 18 and 19th century.

the History and Archeology Cucuteni Museum

It started to rain really heavily when we went out of the church, and we found refuge at the entrance of the beautiful building behind the tower. I was remembering it as a CEC (Saving Accounts Bank) building during my childhood, on the place of the local bank beautifully built in the first half of the 20th century in a style that accommodates well with the historical buildings. It dates from the years 1928-1930, the builder name was Carol Zani and the external ornamentation was made by a sculptor named Vincenzo Puschiasis. The biggest surprise we had was that it had become lately a museum, and not any museum, but a history and archeology museum dedicated to one of the first ancient cultures of Europe – the culture of Cucuteni.

inside the history and archeology museum

The civilization of Cucuteni gets its name from the place near Iasi where in 1884 were made the first significant archeological discoveries of the civilization that is considered the first great culture of Europe, precluding or contemporary with the cultures of Sumer and the early Egyptian civilizations. While the first archeological finds that were discovered date from 5000 BC, the peak of the civilization was reached around 3500BC and by that time it spread on a territory that covers a great part of Moldavia and Ukraine of today. Piatra Neamt is actually at the Southern extremity of the civilization, but many significant remains were discovered in the areas around.

vase from Izvoare

A few months before we had visited Malta and admired the remains of the megalithic civilizations which were conserved on that island (I wrote about them in my Maltese week cycle). What we were now seeing was a splendid museum dedicated to a culture which although did not leave imposing structures as in Malta (or maybe they did not survive) or in the British islands, rivals and exceedes these other civilizations with the extraordinary refinement of its art and crafts. Moreover – these are remains of a civilization which belongs to the continent itself – the first important one in the early history of Europe.

one legged cup from Dealul Ghindaru

We were the only visitors in the museum. As we entered we immediately got a proof of the hospitality which Moldavians extend to their visitors. A curator immediately showed up and she guided us through the two levels of the exhibition, with detailed, competent and informative explanations about the museum, the civilization of Cucuteni and its predecessors represented in the museum, about each object or group of objects that was worth talking about. And much was worth talking about. All was spoken in the sweet language with that accent my grandparents were talking with and which came back to me from memory in a fraction of a moment.

'benocular' vase from Trusesti

The museum was open in 2005 and is also known as the museum of ‘eneolitic art’. It is a branch of the history and archeology museum of Piatra Neamt and I should mention that a museum exists here since the 1930s, created by a local priest named Constantin Matasa who was a personality of the city in that period.

(video source VisitNeamt)

Here is a video on youTube that was filmed in the rooms of the museum.

crown vase from Dealul Ghindaru

In 2009 an exhibition was open at the New York University exposing for the first time the American public to the history and artifacts of the East European early civilizations. Objects from the museum crossed the Atlantic for that exhibition. Here is the New York Times note published at that time – http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01arch.html

the 'Hora' from Frumusica

The exhibits are remarkable. While a few of the most representatives objects of the pre-Cucuteni and Cucuteni civilizations are today exposed in other places and especially in the Museum of National History in Bucharest there is a wide range of objects here that present a very consistent and rich image of the development of the culture, its principal forms and evolution in styles.

anthropomorphic figurine

The explanations helped us to understand also the process of discovery and reconstruction of the pieces. Only if more than 85% of the object is found and authenticated the object is included in the collection. The range of styles varies from big ornate vases to objects of cult of special forms, anthropomorphic and animal representations. The sensation of refinement and artistic vibration is present everywhere.

animal-shaped lamp

This place is really unique in Romania and probably in Europe as well. It was for us a surprise and a revelation, one of the first discoveries in this journey. It is worth being known and visited by anybody who happens to be in the Neamt area, and even worth a special trip. In a Michelin guide I would give it without hesitation a 3 stars grade.