Entries tagged with “Piatra Neamt”.


As we were approaching the end of the first day of our trip we headed to the hotel that we had booked for the next two nights. The location was near the city of Targu Neamt, about 30 kilometers away of Piatra Neamt. Targu Neamt may be the smaller brother of Piatra, but it is more famous to some extent, as it is the place of birth made of the Romanian classic writer Ioan Creanga, has the ruins of a well preserved fortified castle also made famous in a classic piece of historic poetry, and is located in the heart of the Neamt (read Nae-Amtz)  monasteries land – the target of the next day of our trip which I will detail in the upcoming episodes.

a sign in the dark

Finding the place was not easy, although we had some directions and a GPS in our car. This may be one of the problems that the owners of the place will want to improve, as there are no signs from the center of the city, neither a clear explanation on the otherwise nicely designed Web site – http://www.pensiunea-carol.ro/index.php. The rain had stopped and the skies cleared by the time we reached the area, but also the night was falling. Luckily, the sign of the hotel was clearly visible and we eventually made it.

king Carol

We soon discovered that the name of the small hotel (‘pensiune’ designates in Romanian a small family hotel, sometimes not bigger than a B&B, this one is actually larger and growing) was honoring the first of the four crowned kings in the history of Romania. I do not know if the owners are really royalists, but they certainly seem to hold in high esteem king Carol the 1st, who is actually a well respected character in the modern history of the country, having reigned over the progress of Romania in the last third of the 19th century and first years of the 20th century in a period of building of the institutions of the modern state, getting full independence and what can be considered as the first integration of Romania in Europe.

the Carol at daylight

Next day in the morning we could see the hotel and the landscape around. ‘Pensiunea Carol’ is an example of the new style of tourism industry that I hope will be successful in this region and in other parts of Romania. Its owners used some of the European Community help for small businesses and built a small chalet at standards that compare without hesitation with the over the average similar places all over Europe. They had seven rooms by the time we stayed with them, but a few more were already built in a second building and with the extended capacity they were hoping to attract the attention not only of the occasional tourists but also of small groups and businesses looking for a quiet retreat place to meet, and combine work with some tourism and entertainment in a relaxed atmosphere.

Neamt landscape from the balcony

The environment is really charming with the swift slopes of the green hills in the Neamt area.

in the courtyard

The courtyard has enough parking place for the full extended occupancy, and some artifacts of the traditional agriculture and crafts give it a special color.

art on the walls

The interior of the buildings are clean, warm and accommodating. Paintings in a neo-classical style on the walls fit well in the atmosphere …

portrait of a Jew

… including this portrait of an old Jew from a past century.

dining room

The hotel has a good restaurant with a capacity that exceeds the number of guests in the hotel, sign that they plan to attract customers from the city. Actually there were a few also during our stay. Traditional Romanian food dominates the menu, as it does in the majority of the other places we had eaten during the trip. As tourists in Romania we did not ask for anything else but the food we are missing abroad, and Liliana had her first try of ‘mamaligutza cu branza‘ (cheese polenta).

where they full?

The owners took us on a tour of the facilities and the newly built extensions which include a wine cellar and a separate dining place with traditional grill and oven. Overall Pensiunea Carol is a wonderful base for the circuit of the monasteries around, it is well run by enthusiastic folks with entrepreneurial spirit and a touch for the local specificity. I recommend it and I hope that the place will succeed.

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.

As we were drawing near to our first and maybe most important stop for me in this trip the weather started to become gray and rainy. We felt the change in landscape as soon as we entered the judetz (county) of Neamtz. Hills took the place of the dusty landscape that we crossed for about 300 kilometers. Unfortunately the sun chose to hide and clouds were quite low. When we entered the city of Piatra Neamtz, the place were the Romascanu family lived for more than one hundred years, since the mid of the 19th century, the three hills surrounding the city were hidden by clouds.

on the slope of the hill

Frankly speaking I was not sure at all that we will find the place I was looking for. We were looking for the house of my grandparents, the house where my father and my aunt lived as children, the place where I spent every summer vacation until the age of 14, after which my grandparents left the city and moved to Bucharest, to live close to my father. As we where getting closer I was thinking that the chances to find the house still standing were low, as all the area was full of new condos buildings and villas. And then the GPS told us ‘you have reached your destination’ and the house was there! Everything around was new on that side of the street, all but my grandparents house!

grandparents David and Deborah at their wedding - 1920

I had not seen the place for more than 30 years. I had returned to Piatra Neamtz only once since my grandpa and grandma left the city, and this must have been around 1980. Many people describe their experience when getting back to places that were very familiar when they where children in a change of dimensions, a disappointing dwarfing in many cases. That was not at all my impression. The house is imposing, it was renovated and it is well maintained by the people who own it today. It was a well built structure, raised in the 1920s when my grandfather was a wealthy merchant. He owned all the land up to the slopes at the mid of the Cozia hill, where he was growing grapes, apples and prunes. The Communists confiscated all the property excepting the house at the street, and even that house he was obliged to share with another three families. My grandfather worked as an accountant at a local paper factory in order to sustain the house.

35, Petru Rares street

The address was 35, the Petru Rares street. Actually during the Communist rule the name of street was changed to Lenin street (Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia), but I knew the old name of the street and guessed correctly that at the dawn after the Communist night the street gained back the name of the voievod (king) Petru Rares of Moldavia. The windows on the right were of the room which was left to my grandparents, my bed was under these windows during the summer vacations.

the courtyard of my summer holidays

Three more families shared the house. Mr. and Mrs. Moscovici had no connection with Liliana, although sharing the same family name, quite common among the Romanian Jews. Mr. Mihailovici was a pharmacist and was very seldom at home, I think that he worked in another city. Mr. Sherban was an economist and the manager of the local CEC (savings deposit bank). I was sneaking in his room while he was at work to read from the books in his room, as he had what looked to me then an impressive library.

the new (great) synagogue

If the house kept the impressive dimensions that I remembered the streets seemed to have compressed. What I remembered as a long walk to the center of the city was a five minutes walk and the synagogue where my grandfather prayed for more than 40 years was even a shorter walk from the house. The building is impressive, and so is the history of the Jewish community in Piatra Neamtz which extends for more than half of a thousand of years. It’s a relatively new building built in 1839 and reconstructed after a fire in 1904. It is said however that successive synagogues on this place existed since the time of king Stefan the Great – as the St. John church built by him in the second half of the 15th century (one of the landmarks of the city that I will describe in the next episode) is situated less than the 150 stânjeni (about 300 m) distance that were to separate a synagogue from a church according to Moldavian law – so the explanation was that a synagogue was already there by the time the church was built.

the old wooden synagogue

What is certain and attested by documents is that many Jews came to Piatra Neamtz in the 17th century from Poland and Ukraine after the uprising and pogroms of Chmielniki. In the 18th century Jews were not allowed to build synagogues from stone, and this is how the Baal Shem Tov wooden synagogue was built in 1766. This synagogue unique in its style and method of contruction was recently renovated and said to hold wonderful wooden carvings executed in 1835 by Saraga Yitzhak Ben Moshe. Unfortunately despite the fact that the day was not a Shabat or holiday and the time was a reasonable 2 or 3PM the two synagogues were closed and locked, and no sign indicated how and when they can be visited. All that I could do was to take pictures from the street. Luckily Ruth Ellen Gruber – author of a wonderful book of Jewish Heritage Travel also has a Web site where she put some photos of the interior of the wooden synagogue – http://jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com/2009/12/romania-piatra-neamt-wooden-synagogue.html