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A trip to Hateg Land is like a journey on the mysterious paths of history, on the traces of the Romanian people’s ancestors. On the field situated between Decebalus’ Sarmizegetusa and the Roman Sarmizegetusa, the pilgrim is taken by the overwhelming feeling of going back in time, filled with historical evidence and testimonies aged by time. In Hateg Land, between Orastie Mountains, Poiana Ruscai, Retezat Mountains and the Iron Gates of Transylvania, the ruins of the citadels embellished by the flowers of the field will reveal themselves to you, along withthe medieval castles where noble families lived and the stone churches that have resisted the hardships of the centuries, some of them serving their purpose even nowadays.

Hateg Land

After almost two millennia of existence, the churches in Hateg Land have remained the symbols of spirituality on the Dacian territory, proof of the ethnogeny and of the founding of the state. Erected on the place of some Roman or Dacian temples and rebuild by the Transylvanian princes, these simple monuments, but dignified and harmonious, constitute an old repository of the values of the Romanian people that have lasted throughout time. Many of the churches still have at their foundation the very stones brought from Sarmizegetusa or materials from a nearby rustic villa, as the people of Hateg know that only rock resists all jeopardies. Inside the places of worship one canobserve paintings executed in different styles, either by experienced masters or by peasant doing; icons that illuminate the walls darkened by time and carelessness, portraits of the proud voivodes and images that depict saints in traditional costumes, they all constitute a testimony of folk art and of the priceless bond with divinity.

Overcoming the hardships of time, the repeated invasions and the successive cult changes, the stone churches in Hateg Land have remained standing in order to carry on the history and the spirituality of the Romanians. Dominating the hills with their portly towers, they have been ceaselessly telling their story of 2,000 years of existence.

Prislop Monastery

Colt Church in Suseni, Rau de Mori

Rau de Mori was a settlement of Romanian princes, descended from Candesti, a socially and politically important family in Transylvania in the 14th century. Around the year 1310, the nobles built a church and a very strong citadel here. At present, the fortification which inspired Jules Verne to write the novel “The Carpathian Castle” is in ruin, but the church has been rebuilt in order to restore its prior status.

At Colt, monastic life began with the construction of the edifice, as the sanctuary functioned as a community of monks until the 17th century, when they were banished by the Calvinists. Only a fortified tower, having a defense role in case of danger, remained from the old construction. In the communist period, the church reached a worrying state of degradation and was turned into in a stable for animals. After the revolution, the walls and the roof were rebuilt, while the interior was enriched with objects of cult. In the altar, fragments of the original painting have been preserved, executed by painter Stefan, who adorned the walls with ethnographic elements specific to Hateg area.

Legends say that prince Candea had been buried at Colt and that his body was found untouched by time on the left side of the altar, in the place where the founders used to sit. The locals say that the nobleman wasn’t a monastic figure, but he did many good deeds, a reason for which they believe that the legend is true.

Colt Church

Colt Church

The Church in Ostrov

The church in Ostrov is one of the constructions in Hateg Land with a brighter destiny. Glowing at the center of the village bathed by the Raul Mare and Apa Borii, with rebuilt walls and roof, the halidom conveys a part of the history it knew. From the time it was founded in 1284, the church didn’t escape the religious transformations that took place in the area. Throughout time, the edifice bore the mark of Catholicism, Calvinism and Orthodoxism. Inside, the original frescoes have been preserved, genuine artistic and religious documents from the medieval period.

Following some research, five tombs have been found here, two of them belonging to the founders of the sanctuary- princes Stanciu and Berovoi. They contained bracelets, ornaments, rings, pendants, objects that at present are in the Museum in Deva. Moreover, a genuine exhibition of 208 carved Roman rocksgathered from the surroundings can be seen around the church. In front of the place of worship, they remained to carry on the history of the Dacians and the Romans. The medieval charm is still present at Ostrov, reminding of the well-known noble Transylvanian families.

Ostrov Church

Densus Church

At the heart of the ancient Dacian kingdom, on the road that leads to Poiana Ruscai Mountains there stands one of the oldest Romanian churches that holds religious services - Densus. Peculiar in shape, but proud and elegant, it depicts itself as a symbol of the power of faith.

The historians didn’t agree on an exact dating, so they say the sanctuary had initially been a temple dedicated to the god Mars, then it became the tomb of one of the Roman generals during Trajan’s time, Cneius Pompeius Loginus. After the first Dacian-Roman war, he commanded the Roman garrisons that remained in Dacia. In 105 he was captured by Decebalus, who asked for war compensations and the retreat of the troops in return of the general’s release. It is said that Trajan didn’t give in to the Dacian King’s demands and Loginus took his own life. The horn in the middle of the church used for evacuating smoke during sacrifices and a Latin inscription which mentions the Roman general are testimonies that back up this point of view.

Built from massive blocks of stone and marble, columns and statues brought from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, Densus shows its age. Austere, full of Latin inscriptions and with a low entrance, the church invites you to a gesture of  humbleness as soon as you arrive. Here, time stood still; the chronicle of ancient times is still written in stone, speaking of emperors, legions, generals, noblemen and invasions, of courage and faith. The medieval mural painting has been partially conserved, as a proof of its durability. The church in Densus didn’t budge, bearing even now the prints of the ancestors. Cross its threshold and you will find not only history preserved with holiness, but also the closeness to God, the emotion of a place that gives you peace and opportunity for introspection.



In Pesteana, do not miss the Museum of the Hategan Village. A local man passionate about  history and traditions has gathered objects from the village world in an old wood and stone house.  In his collection you will see unique things: a boot-shaped stove, a loom, iron objects, ceramics and fabrics. In the yard, the villager keeps millstones, agricultural tools and a Roman sarcophagus. You will find out interesting stories and you may even learn how the people of  Hateg make objects that they use in their household. 

Hategan Village Museum

The Church in Santamarie Orlea

In Santamarie Orlea there is another building founded by the Candea family, dating from the end of the 13th century; initially Orthodox, it became Catholic and then Reformed as a result of the Magyarization process. Located at the confluence of the Raul Mare with the Strei, in the immediate vicinity of the Kendeffy Castle, the church dominated the valley with its elegant silhouette and haughty tower that seems to pierce the clouds. The place of worship harmoniously combines elements of the Romanic and Gothic styles, preserving numerous architectonic pieces from Sarmizegetusa in the interior. The mural painting comprises consecrating crosses and icons painted by different local artists.

For 700 years, bells have rung at Santamarie Orlea from the tower of this stone church. Throughout sometimes dangerous times, it has continued its mission, gathering believers to look after it. People have learnt the holy practice, the virtue of patience and the courage to overcome trouble, cherishing the bond with divinity even more.

Santamarie Orlea

Prislop Monastery, Silvasu de Sus

More than other halidoms, Prislop Monastery has preserved the genuine Christian spirit between its walls. Discreetly located in a gorgeous glade, surrounded by deciduous and coniferous forests, at the foot of Poiana Ruscai Mountains, the monastery made time stand still sometime around the end of the 14th century. In the middle of the forest, free from the constraints of transformation, tourism and commerce, Prislop will greet you in a modest, simple and quiet manner, inviting you to introspection.

Built by Saint Nicodim, the reorganizer and counselor of Romanian monachism, in the meadow crossed by a playful water course, the monastery had Lady Zamfira as its second founder, daughter of the Wallachian ruler Moise Basarab Voivode. She had been cured with the help of the healing water and so decided to restore the church and the paintings, giving the monastery a miracle making icon of the Mother of Christ. In the 18th century, the Austro-Hungarians stroke the places of worship in order to destroy one of the nation’s sources of power. As a result, Prislop was torched, and the monks were banished. The paintings were almost completely destroyed back then, and only some fragments are visible at present.

The biggest treasure of the monastery is without any doubt the tomb of Father Arsenie Boca, in the cemetery on the hill. The path on which many squirrels run lively shortly reveals a green place, surrounded by fir trees, pines and magnolias. In any period, the pilgrims come here in very large numbers to pray at the tomb of the one who dedicated a great part of his life to looking after the monastery and teaching the word of God to the believers. We recommend you a visit to the Prislop Monastery in order to find your inner peace once moreand to forget about the dissatisfactions and troubles of everyday life. Surrender yourselves to the peace of the place in order to rediscover the meaning of spiritual joy.

Prislop Monastery

Prislop Monastery

The church in Strei

Seen from the valley, the church in Strei seems to be rising from its hill towards the sky; beyond it, you can only see the field meeting with the blue of the horizon.  Founded between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century by the boyar Ambrozie, the church is a monument of the Transylvanian architecture, a symbol of the local art. The unique style was obtained at the confluence of the Roman-Gothic and traditional influences, thus resulting in an ensemble that had been unseen before on the Romanian land.

Fragments of the Roman ruins were incorporated in the walls of the church; they say that even the marble altar at the entrance comes from a Roman temple. From a Latin inscription we find out that this altar was dedicated to Silvanus, the Roman god of the forests, by a clerk from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa. An old medieval painting ensemble, executed during mid-14th century by joining Byzantine influences with influences from Northern Italy, is being kept inside the church. The icons distinguish themselves through their ornamental and color quality, but also through the eyeless figures of the saints. Some locals say that the Turks desecrated the icons in their desire to avenge Soliman the Magnificent, humiliated by the Christians in a battle. Others believe that the saints had fallen in the hands of the Calvinists, blinded by their unableness to alienate the Orthodox from their belief. Now, the faces from the icons are caressed by the rays that pierce the windows of the altar.

Despite the conquests, the church in Strei has remained on its feet, standing for 700 years beside other places of worship in Hateg Land. The valuable Transylvanian art and architecture monument reveals the importance that the people of Hateg assign to holy teachings.

Strei church

Hateg Land is an impressive historic and ethnographic region, where the foundations of the Romanian people were laid 2000 years ago. Well-known for its numerous citadels and medieval castles, for the stone churches and the Dacian-Roman archaeological sites, but also for the amazing landscapes revealed by the Retezat Mountains, Hateg represents a lesson of tradition and culture. A bridge across ages, the stone churches have been the legacy of numerous generations throughout time, confessing even in the present the history they went through. With solid stone foundations, they are a symbol of durability and of the deep roots in the Romanian land, sharing holy teachings and mysteries.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]