Travel planner: Curtea de Arges church, a place full of Romanian history and the tale of Master Manole

In the Arges County in the Southern region of Romania, not too far from the capital Bucharest, there is an old city that reminds me of the wonderful years of school when my favorite subjects were literature and history. This town, Curtea de Arges (which means the Court upon Arges) is a landmark from our Middle Ages history and, at the same time, is linked to one of the most famous Romanian legends called the Master Manole. Curtea de Arges is 38 kilometers North-West of the city of Pitesti – the present capital of the Arges County and 163 kilometres away from the city of Bucharest. It is on the side of the Arges River at the foot of the Fagaras Mountains.

The name of the city refers to its former status as the capital of the historical region of Wallachia. Wallachian written chronicles refer to Curtea de Arges as a fortified city since 1330, but, at around 1290, the Prince Radu Negru crossed the Carpathians Mountains in his journey from Transylvania to Wallachia and he visited two cities : Curtea de Arges and the city of Campulung which in those years was the capital of Wallachia, as set by the Prince Basarab I. Curtea de Arges became the second capital of Wallachia after the city of Campulung and before the city of Targoviste. After 1340, the new royal court was built at Arges containing a church and a palace and, in 1359, the Metropolitan Orthodox Church of Wallachia was founded there. Curtea de Arges was an important trade point between Transylvania and Wallachia.

For any tourist interested in Romania’s history, Curtea de Arges has one amazing monument which should definitely be visited. The church which was built between 1512 – 1517 by the Prince Neagoe Basarab (1512-1521) on the ancient settlement of the Metropolitan Orthodox Church of Wallachia built on 1359. The story of the building is one of the most fascinating from the Romanian history, first because of the builder Prince Negoe Basarab and then because of the legend surrounding its construction, called Mesterul Manole/Master Manole. The church is also the Romanian Royal family’s sanctuary.

First, the Prince. Negoae Basarab was one of the most complex and interesting characters in the Romanian history. He was educated in arts and languages, with a very good knowledge of Latin, Greek and Slavonic. In his youth, having various political tasks, he traveled a lot, especially in Central Europe and in the Ottoman Empire, building a large network which later, in his position as a prince of Wallachia were used cleverly in diplomatic, commercial and arts relations. As Prince he tried to set up diplomatic ties with Rome and Venice, and to maintain good relations with Hungary. Neagoe Basarab had a special connection with the Serbs, as his wife, Lady Despina came from the royal Serbian Brancovici family.

In his diplomatic activity, Neagoe Basarab tried to mediate the conflict between the Christian Orthodox and Christian Catholic Church, he was a strong supporter of an Eastern countries Coalition against the Ottoman Empire, sending, similarly to the Moldavian Prince at the time, an ambassador to the Vatican. His love for the Orthodox belief was demonstrated too by his great donations to all Balkan countries for churches and, above all, the renovation of many churches and the building of the Curtea de Arges monastery. Beyond his buildings and his diplomatic activity, the Prince Neagoe Basarab remained, not only in the Wallachia history, but, in Romanian literature. Neagoe Basarab is the author of the oldest masterpiece of the Romanian middle age literature, written between 1513 – 1521 in Slavonic (translated in Romanian in 1654) called The lessons of Neagoe Basarab to his son, Teodosie, it includes political principles, moral and educational principles and with much sensitivity, the principles of governing the Soul. In conclusion, Prince Neagoe Basarab was an example of an early Renaissance man in Eastern Europe.

The Curtea de Arges church is also a Romanian Royal family sanctuary, with several kings and queens buried here: King Charles I and his wife Queen Elisabeth, King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Mary, as well as King Charles II.

arges fountainThe second wonderful story related to the Curtea de Arges monastery is the legend of its construction. Briefly, this legend, arguably the second most well-known in Romania after the famous ballad Miorita, goes as follows:

The Prince wanted to build the most beautiful monastery in the country, so he hired the best mason of those times, the Master Manole with his team of nine men. But what they were building during the day, would break down during the night, so the construction never advanced. Seeing what was happening, the prince threatened Manole and his assistants with death. One night, the Master Manole had a dream in which he was told that, in order to build the most beautiful monastery, he had to wall in someone he loved dearly, or beloved of his masons. He told the dream to his masons and they agreed that the first wife who came there on the following morning should be chosen. The first person who came there the following day was the Master Manole’s pregnant wife Ana.

Desperate, but knowing he had promised the masons that he would respect the rule, Manole told his wife that he wanted to play a little game with her, building walls around her body. She easily accepted, but very soon she understood that it wasn’t a simple and harmless game. So, she asked Manole to let her go, but he didn’t and instead he kept his promise to his masons. This way, they built the monastery, but Manole and his masons, didn’t stop there and they told the prince that they could always build an even greater building. Hearing this, the prince had them stranded on the roof so that they could not build anything to match it. They fashioned wooden wings and tried to fly off the roof, but, one by one, they all fell to the ground. A spring of clear water, named after Master Manole, is said to mark the spot where Manole fell. This is the legend. To this day, visitors can see the Master Manole’s fountain in front of the church.

By Mariana Ganea, Guest Writer

(photos by Corina Chirileasa/