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Moldova: Pestera Hermitage

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Pestera Hermitage | Moldova | Europe

[Visited: October 2010]

Only afterwards, I would find out there was a direct maxitaxi from Chisinau to Butuceni, so it cost me more effort than necessary to reach Orheiul Vechi. I was on a bus to the north when, as I had asked, the driver stopped at the Ivancea turnoff and I got off the bus without even having to pay. I knew that Orheiul Vechi was still more than 10K ahead of me, and put on my baggage and started walking away from the highway. I immediately found myself on a quiet road, walking with locals towards the east. Soon, I stumbled upon a driver willing to take me to my destination. The guy was very enthusiastic and did not stop talking to me in Russian, and while I did understand words, much of what he tried to convey got lost on me. What I did get, though, was that we drove through the ruins of an old citadel at one point, where on the right, I could see a church on a ledge. Much earlier than expected, I reached the entrance of the Orheiul Vechi area on a beautiful Friday afternoon in late October.

Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Stone cross in the landscape of Orheiul Vechi

Walking through the area, I could not miss the big stone cross right at the edge of the cliffs so typical of this particular spot in the area. Contrasting with the rolling hills that are the norm in Moldova, I found steep cliffs in a rocky surface rising from the waters of the Raut river that was innocently flowing down the two bends that define the area or Orheiul Vechi. I walked down from the cross, hoping to find a way to reach the Birth of the Holy Virgin church that I knew was right below it, but I could not find a way. When I had reached the banks of the Raut river, and looked back, to my surprise, I saw a monk higher up on a ledge, waving at me, and wondered how he could have reached the ledge. I then also discovered a row of windows carved out in the rocky cliffs. I continued walking, but would come back the next day.

Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Cliffs and cross: Pestera Hermitage

Once again, I found myself at the 18th century stone cross that is so visible from a distance, and that draws many people to this place. Both sides are finely decorated, and it is said that it can heal the soul, and touching the cross and walking around it (meaning, walking close to the edge of the cliffs), can lead to fulfillment of spiritual wishes. After again soaking in the views from this prime spot, I walked down to the belfry and entered the tunnel that was constructed in 1820 after the part of the stairs on the side of the cliffs was destroyed. It was pitch dark inside, but when I entered the Birth of the Holy Virgin church, deep in the rocky mountain, an intimate world of icons placed against the stony wall, with yellow candle light, several tables, and an old monk with grey hair and beard. When he learned that it was my birthday, he congratulated me - and invited me to see some of the more secluded spots of the monastery. The stark and simple dormitory where the monks slept, also in winter made an impression, especially considering how cold it had already been that morning in October! The monks who established this monastery here in the late Middle Ages must have passed very long, dark and cold nights here. Then, of course, I had to see the outside, and stepping through the door gave me direct access to the balcony where I had seen the monk the day before. The balcony is pretty wide, and offers a splendid view over the river Raut and the surrounding area. I knew that above me, there still was the stone cross, but I could not see it. I went back in again, and spent some more time with the friendly monk and his beautiful, cosy church before a horde of people entered and I knew it was time to go.

Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Windows of Pestera Hermitage seen from across the Raut river
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Interior view of the Birth of the Holy Virgin church
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): View of the balcony of the Birth of the Holy Virgin church
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Belfry and rocky cliffs of Pestera Hermitage seen from across the Raut river
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): View from the balcony of the Birth of the Holy Virgin church with Raut river
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Candlelight and daylight in the rocky Birth of the Holy Virgin church
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Sleeping cells for the monks of the Pestera Hermitage
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Cliffs with stone cross and Raut river below
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Stone cross high above the Raut river
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Stone cross on the edge of the cliffs in which Pestera Hermitage is located
Picture of Pestera Hermitage (Moldova): Pestera Hermitage and cross seen from below

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