Another Should-be World Heritage Site
About an hour north of Chisinau is one of Moldova’s most famous and important tourist sites. Unbelievably, it is not yet on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, but it is on the list of tentatives. I fervently hope it will soon be included on the list. Orheiul is an area, in the Raut River valley, lined with limestone shell cliffs, that has been inhabited for thousands of years.
Even though it is close to some old-world forest (the Codrii), it has very few trees right there, but along the river is evidence of inhabitation. There are some baths made of brick, and also the caves that are built into the cliffs. People are warned against going in many of them since they are deemed unsafe.
In Orheiul, we visited the 600 year old Pestere Monastaire. To enter the modern day chapel, you go through a nondescript door at the bottom of the bell tower located a short distance from the renovated church. We tentatively made our way down the dark steps that opened into at least three spacious rooms. The room on the farthest left was where the monks used to sleep and you can clearly see the cells cut out of the cave walls.
There are plenty of earthquakes in the area, and there was an earthquake crack, about four inches wide, that went through the room. It had been repaired, but still not deemed safe, so they don’t sleep there anymore. The other two rooms were where the monks worked. One was a chapel area, and the other a sort of foyer. There was also a “balkon” where you could step out and be on the side of the cliff looking around at the other caves and down on the river.
After the cave monastery, we hiked up to the top of the cliff and entered the grounds of the modern church. Interestingly, during the Soviet time, it had been used as a museum of Atheism. I asked the caretaker what that meant, and what you would put in that kind of museum, but he didn’t have an answer for me. Next, we walked down a long staircase to the village of Butuceni. It was rather small, but the government is encouraging the village people to refurbish their homes as they were prior to the Soviet involvement.
One of the oldest houses has been turned into a museum to show how people lived 100 years ago. It is painted a powder blue and had a thatched roof. Other houses in town are renovating and painting to rekindle the look they had before the Soviet era. I was surprised at the colors, but since I did go in winter and the landscape seemed so dismal and gray, I understand how they would have liked to have as much color as possible.
A little further, we stopped at this gorgeous house. Parts were still under reconstruction and as it turns out it was a working Agritourisme Pension, of which they are continuing to add more rooms. We were shown one of the rooms that they were working on and the old heating system was pretty ingenious. They build fires in the wall and then there is a pipe that winds around the perimeter of the room with another opening/door at the end. The pipe is enclosed to look like a bank where they put pillows and cushions for people to sit and be nice and cozy.
This particular pension will offer sleigh rides in the winter as well. We were scheduled to eat lunch here. It was a delicious meal of pork tocana (stew) served with yogurt) and brynza (a type of cheese) next to some polenta. (This is pictured in our last post.)
We ate and rested then walked through the rest of the town, before boarding our van to go to the next stop. Down the hill from Orhei is the site of the old baths. Nik kept calling them the bathrooms, but reiterated several times how important bathrooms were in ancient times, because men would meet to do business. The baths are in ruins, but very visible. For some reason, someone decided to whitewash them, which I think is unfortunate. It doesn’t give them much of an “ancient” air.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.