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The Original Architecture and the Subsequent Metamorphoses

From the very beginning, Stephen the Great’s church at Putna was of a complex three-apsed design, with church porch, narthex, burial vault, nave and altar. The initial building had the same spaces as the present-day church, the one re-built by Vasile Lupu, Gheorghe Stefan and Eustratie Dabija between 1653 and 1662 and successively restored, with slight alterations by Iacov Pruteanul, in the latter half of the 18 century, by Romstorfer at the beginning of the 20th century, and by the Department for historic monuments in the more recent decades.

The walled porch, the burial vault and the chamber of the tombs are considered as elements which appear for the first time in the history of Moldavian architecture at Putna.

The Church of the Ascension at Neamt, Dobrovat, Probota, Bistrita, Slatina, Galata, Sucevita, Solca and other churches were built on the pattern offered by the old foundation at Putna, which became renowned both by its functionalism, the architectural solutions and proportions, and by its glory as the necropolis of the greatest Moldavian prince of all times.

The Treasury Tower, built in 1481, on the western side, at the same time with the outside walls, a fortification typical for Stephen the Great’s epoch, has been guarding the monastery for five centuries, as the constant witness to all the events that took place here during its imposing existence. The Treasury Tower, 18 metres high to the eaves, is built in Gothic style and consists of a square ground floor and three octagonal upper floors. The wall is more than two metres thick, being reinforced by four strong buttresses. Ingeniously conceived, strong and efficient for the epoch it was built in, the tower was destined to secure the monastery’s treasury in times of distress.

When they had the church re-built, Vasile Lupu (1653), Gheorghe Stefan (1653 - 1658) and Eustratie Dabija (1661 - 1662) brought some alterations to the vaulting system of the nave, whose cross arches are supported by a succession of pilasters, supported in their turn by corbels; the same pattern “can be found at Dragomirna, Solca and the church of the Three Hierarchs, which did not exist at the time of Stephen the Great”.

The number of windows was increased from one to three for each apse, while the shapes of the initial frames with intertwined beadings and braced arches are still kept as such.

Above the chamber of tombs are two arched domes, placed transversally, with a separating arch between them, from east to west, sculpted in stone with phytomorphous stylisations.

The access from the burial vault to the narthex is through a doorway in the wall that separates them and whose stone frame, cut in a special Gothic shape, bears some resemblance to the framings of the doors to the Treasury tower.

An element which is not found in the old church is to be found in the narthex: this is the so-called motif of the rope moulding, having a purely decorative function, vertically marking the corners of the four walls. The same motif can be found at the base of the vaulting system, made up of two unequal superposed semi-domes.

A principal door, rectangular in shape and with successively retreating, arched mouldings, pierces the western wall of the narthex, leading into the roofed porch, which is vaulted, with two transversal semi-domes, separated by a median rib from east to west.

Getting a lot of light, the porch has a window placed on each of the lateral walls and three windows on the western walls, all five of them being considerably larger than the ones in the other chambers. The upper side of the marginal windows of the western wall bear the mark of an aurochs’ head, stylised in stone, with a star between its horns.

The church can be entered through two Gothic principal doors in the southern and northern walls of the porch.

At the same time with the restoration of the wall ordered by the metropolitan bishop Iacov, was built the tower of the gate, a little to the east from the location of the old one from Stephen’s time, which had fallen in ruin after the earthquake of 1739. The new square tower, 8 metres long and 10 metres high, has a vaulted ground floor and upper floor.

In 1761, the former metropolitan bishop Iacov ordered the fountain which can be seen in the yard of the monastery even today.

In the same year, the abbot Sila commissioned the bell named The Little One, of 102 kilograms, which is now at Putna Monastery.

An oil painting by Knapp, dated around 1856, shows the church exactly as it looked after the restorations of the 17th and 18th centuries.

New alterations were made at Putna in 1882, when the temporary belfry on the eastern side was demolished and the present belfry in Romanic style was built; it is 19.30 metres high, square, with three floors, with two semi arched windows on each side of the first two floors and three similar windows on the upper floor, while the roof has the shape of a pyramid.

Following a plan made in the autumn of 1970, the old building of the abbey, on the western side, was demolished and the present-day building of the museum and the library was built. Inaugurated on 6 June 1976, it is an imposing edifice, elegant and sombre, having the best conditions to exhibit and preserve the priceless artistic and historic treasures which have been kept here with devotion and sacrifices throughout the centuries.

The building erected in 1856 was also demolished, and a new construction stands now in its place: it is destined to the abbey, the monks’ cells, the kitchen and the refectory, all inaugurated in 1978. Unlike the old building of the 19th century, which was foreign to traditional architecture as far as the interiors of Bukovina’s monasteries are concerned, the construction in the northern side is closer to the picturesque of Romanian architecture in monasteries: thus, it has two open porches whose roofs stand on wooden pillars, carved in the same style as the pillars at the porches of the peasants’ houses.

Within 1983 - 1987, The Princely House was re-built on the southern side, on the old foundations from the time of Stephen the Great. The princely house is now an imposing edifice, with an upper floor and an attic, with porches and ceramic decorations, of good old Moldavian tradition.

In the same period were entirely restored the outer walls, their roofs as well as the sentry road.

The memorial cross erected by the abbot Arcadie Ciupercovici in 1872, commemorating the Putna festivities, was meanwhile moved in front of the southern principal door of the porch, on the lawn between the altar apse and Eminescu’s bust.


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