Last week, I visited Snagov Monastery, about a 30-mile drive from Bucharest. During the time of medieval states in the feudal period, the monastery was “Wallachia’s most important spiritual centre”. I’ve long been fascinated with spiritual and mystical locations, and find monasteries captivating. Most Romanians are pious people. In a hectic world of political uncertainty, many of them find solace in their religion.
Snagov Monastery was once “an important hub of culture and monastic life,” even hosting a print shop and mint. Enhanced by its “calm water-locked isolation on an island in a lake outside Bucharest,” the Monastery was founded in the 14th century, during the reign of Neagoe Basarab.
The monastery has had its “share of bad luck,” including floods, earthquakes, and fires. It’s said to have been transformed into a prison during the 19th century. Although the original monastery included a defense wall and bridge, it was primarily a “peaceful place of worship hidden by oak forests and surrounded by Lake Snagov,” the largest natural lake in Romania.
The church has four towers and is one of the “few parts of the monastery that survived war and natural disasters”. Beautiful, original frescoes created in 1563 are preserved in the narthex. The rest of the paintings date from the 19th century.
Some authentic religious objects from the monastery are exhibited at the National Museum of Romanian Art in Bucharest. The Frescoes were created by Master Painter Dobromir the Young. They “constitute the greatest mural complex to be found in Romanian Orthodox churches”.
“The importance of the medieval frescoes, beyond their artistic value and richness of detail, is enhanced by the large gallery of local princes painted on the walls of the church. In fact, this ensemble is one of the most beautiful in Southern Romania.” Uncover Romania Diana Condrea
The area is known for its cricket grounds and health and beauty retreats. It’s a favorite destination for enjoying nature and viewing Byzantine and Romanian style architecture. During my visit, I saw the Romanian Olympic kayaking and canoeing team practicing on Snagov Lake.
Lake Snagov Bridge
Years ago, until the mid-1800s, people visited the monastery island by crossing Snagov Lake using an “oak bridge linking it to the mainland.” After the bridge burned down, fishermen took them across the lake by boat to “pray at the monastery and visit its beauty”. In 2010, a new pedestrian walkway was constructed, providing visitors with scenic views of the island and lake.
The tranquil monastery displays the ““largest medieval mural assembly kept by a church in Romania”.
As you enter the grounds, there’s a bell tower made of river rocks and bricks. The natural grounds are embellished by flowers, majestic trees, song birds, peacocks, ponies, and bunnies. Benches are placed along the lake bank, so you can sit and admire the peaceful surroundings.
I found the ponies especially interesting and have never seen any like that before! They’re part of an indigenous breed known as Hucul Horses.
Vlad Tepeș Tomb
The life of Vlad Tepeș Prince of Wallachia (aka Vlad the Impaler) has been “exploited,” and there are many stories about his burial. His heroic and brutal battles against the Turks are highly praised, but “little is actually known about the last hours of his legendary life”. There are many stories about his burial site. One is that, “prior to his death after a notoriously cruel lifetime,” he requested that his body be buried in Snagov church.
Archeologists and historians have tried to verify whether this “is fact or simple apocrypha, but none have been able to prove that the dictator was laid to rest on the island”. Excavations near the monastery burial stones revealed a “mix of horse and human bones,” but nothing confirms Dracula’s interment there.
Another story is that after Vlad was brutally killed by the Turks in 1476, his decapitated body was found in the forest by monks from Snagov Monastery. Vlad Țepeș and his father donated large amounts of money to the monastery, and the monks wanted to bury the ruler, so his soul could rest in peace. It’s said that nobody knew about this, except the monks. There are pictures of Vlad inside the monastery, next to the medieval murals.
Most historians now believe that Vlad was “buried in a monastery in the Comana area, but this has not stopped locals from spreading the spurious myth”. Visitors can view Vlad’s “supposed grave site”. However, “caretakers now charge a fee to visitors who want to take pictures”.
Snagov Monastery Legends and Superstitions
Peasants talk about the “hidden treasures” of Vlad the Impaler. It’s said that “sensing death, Vlad had them make cast-iron barrels in which he placed silver, gold, and precious jewels”. He ordered them to “build a dam to divert the course of a river (perhaps the Dambovita)”. After disposing of his riches, “Vlad gave free flow to the river again, and then IMPALED all the peasants”!
“Locals tell stories about a different church that existed on the island, which fell into the lake together with its steeple, during a storm. When the wind blows, they say you can hear a chime rising from the bottom of the lake.”
Superstitions and legends add to the peaceful, yet mysterious ambience of Snagov Monastery. Visiting it was time well spent. Romania is a fascinating place!