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Princely religious foundations in Wallachia and Moldavia

Date of Submission: 15/04/2024
Criteria: (i)(ii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture - National Institute of Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Argeș and Iași counties
Ref.: 6763

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The Cathedral Church “The Assumption of Virgin Mary” at Curtea de Argeş:
N45°09'24.53" N24° 40'31.65"

The Church of the “Three Holy Hierarchs” at Iassy (Iaşi):
N47°09'35.24" E27° 35'04.14"

Princely religious foundations in Wallachia and Moldavia is a serial nomination of two component parts: The Cathedral Church “The Assumption of Virgin Mary” at Curtea de Argeş, Argeş County and The Church of the “Three Holy Hierarchs” at Iassy (Iaşi), Iassy County. Both churches are princely foundations of two ambitious rulers who laid claim as protectors of Eastern European Orthodoxy: Neagoe Basarab (1512-21) in Wallachia and Vasile Lupu (1634-53) in Moldavia. From the beginning these churches became references, their exotic and sophisticated architecture capturing the popular imagination. At the end of the 19th century the two churches were chosen to be restored in order to reflect the aspiration of the young Romanian monarchy, an early validation of their original value that was considered the climax of the architectural achievements of the Middle Ages in their respective historical regions. Moreover, their stylistic restoration, tributary to Viollet-le-Duc’s philosophy, marked the beginning of the modern practices concerning architectural heritage, catalysing legal and institutional organization of the protection and conservation of historical monuments.

The Cathedral Church “The Assumption of Virgin Mary”at Curtea de Argeş

The construction of the church of the former monastery at Curtea de Argeş (early capital of the historical province of Wallachia), began on an unknown date (probably the first year of Neagoe Basarab’s reign, 1512). It was completed and consecrated by the Constantinopolitan patriarch Teolipt, on August 15th, 1517. The works were completed only in 1526 when the interior frescoes were finished. The church became a Bishopric Cathedral in 1793, part of a large monastic ensemble demolished towards the end of the 19th century. The church represented one of the main references of Romanian religious architecture: in 1878 it was called, “the main title of glory of the Romanian arts of the past”.

No certain mention has been preserved of the architect or craftsmen involved in the design and construction of the church, despite a rich popular oral tradition of a legendary Manole whose sacrifice would have ensured the survival of his creation. However, written records, resuming in various forms medieval traditions, attributed the concept of the building to the Prince Neagoe Basarab himself. The Prince would have become familiar to such architecture during his youth in alleged stays, south of the Danube, in the Ottoman Empire. Detailed examination of the Curtea de Argeş monument during restoration works at the end of the 19th century revealed traces that offered possible arguments to explain the obvious affinities with Ottoman architecture from the beginning of the classical period. It was reported that the discovery of some bricks in the main dome of the church had imprinted, in Arabic, the word Allah. Moreover, the discovery of some Arabic inscriptions under old layers of plaster were considered by Lecomte du Noüy (the architect who led the restoration) to be “skilfully drawn”.

The church was built of limestone from a local quarry, an exception in Wallachian architecture, on a triconch plan. This was influenced by local precedents, with an enlarged narthex in order to include on the sides the funerary galleries for the founder and his family. The small pavilion for the semantron in front of the access, on the western side (rebuilt on the site of the original) occupies the place of the indispensable fountain of Muslim ablutions. The compositional crescendo, marked by the vertical accents of the four domes raised on drums (three above the narthex and one above the nave), represents an innovation in Wallachian religious architecture and explicitly refers to the architecture of Ottoman mosques. The spatial organization of the narthex was not only for utilitarian purposes, but also for theological reasons. Similar organizations appeared earlier in Armenian architecture (10th - 14th centuries). Often this space (originally called gavit) was designed both as a narthex, community assemblies being held in its central square, as well as a necropolis with tombs located on the sides in corresponding galleries. However, the similarities between solving the western compartment of The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş and the Caucasian models – from which it is separated for several centuries – do not exclude the filtering of influences through Athonite or Balkan experiments. The separation of the narthex from the side funerary galleries was made by 12 columns (with the bases decorated with the lily pattern in positive-negative succession and ended at the top with the same Ottoman muquarnas that one can see, in another form, at the church cornice) and by the disposition of the furniture and icons painted on both sides. Perpetuating the model of the church of Dealu monastery in Târgovişte, the facades were divided into two registers by a median twisted moulding, therefore solved in a more complicated and decorated manner than its source. The same muqarnas borrowed from the Ottoman repertoire adorn the façades under the cornice. Considering the overwhelming variety of solutions adopted for these kinds of ornaments in Islamic architecture, the similarities between the complicated geometries of the decorative elements of the cornice of Beyazıt Camii (1500-05) in Istanbul and those in Curtea de Argeş, make a simple coincidence unlikely.

The quality of ktetor (gr.) of Neagoe Basarab and the symbolic load that flowed from here, and also the large appreciation of the architectural and artistic qualities of the church determined, from an early stage, the investment of the masterpiece with model value for a series of subsequent princely religious foundations: St. Constantine and Elena, Radu-Vodă, Cotroceni, and Văcăreşti monastery churches from Bucharest and the church of the Hurezi monastery in Vâlcea county (UNESCO World Heritage List, ref. 597), foundations of those rulers who, through their gesture, legitimized their power by reaffirming the filial ties with the founder of The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş.

The repair works undertaken on the Cathedral Church, Curtea de Argeş, have been numerous over time, some of them being recorded by the stone inscriptions on the facades of the monument. Moisture penetration and dislocations caused by earthquakes led to a first important repair campaign supported by Şerban Cantacuzino in 1682. In 1781, after the end of the Russo-Turkish War (1769-74), the replacement of the church’s lead roof was completed. The damage caused during the earthquake of 1802 required new interventions. In the middle of the 19th century, repair works were undertaken again, this time aiming at the degradations caused by the earthquake of 1838. A series of fires destroyed a large part of the buildings that made up the monastic precinct: in 1866 the theological seminary on the southern side of the enclosure burned down, and in 1867 the monks’ cells, the bell tower and the chapel (parakklesion). The interior of the Cathedral Church was destroyed in the December fire of the same year.

The Church of the “Three Holy Hierarchs” at Iassy (Iaşi)

The church of the former monastery dedicated to the Three Holy Hierarchs (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom) was founded by Vasile Lupu between 1637(?)-42. From 1641 the Church housed the important relics of St. Parascheva (today in the Metropolitan Cathedral). These holy relics decisively changed the importance of the church, which became one of the main places of pilgrimage and necropolis of the princely family. Later, the ruler and influential intellectual Dimitrie Cantemir, as well as Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the first ruler of the United Romanian Principalities, were also buried here. Regarding the interior painting completed in 1642, Vasile Lupu appealed to the tsar Mihail Feodorovici who sent in 1641 two painters – Sidor Pospeev, notorious muscovite artist, and Iakov Gavrilov, later joined by another two Russian painters, Deiko Yakovliev and Pronka Nikitin. The church is located in the historic core of the city of Iaşi (former capital of the historical province of Moldavia), on the old main street – “Uliţa Mare” (The Large Lane). Given the unusual, surprising and unique stone-carved exterior decoration, the Church was often likened to the foundation of Neagoe Basarab in Curtea de Argeş, even though the construction of the two monuments was separated by over a century. As in Curtea de Argeş, the church was part of a monastery complex, protected by a strong defensive wall which was demolished along with other buildings towards the end of the 19th century. On the eastern side, above the access, was the clock tower (rebuilt in a baroque form after the earthquake of 1802) which captivated the imagination of the inhabitants and the attention of foreign travellers.

No definite source has been preserved about the craftsmen who built the Church. The Austrian diplomat Johann Christian von Struve, who visited Iaşi three times between 1791 and 1793, recorded the tradition (of muscovite inspiration) according to which the church architect had been assassinated after the construction site was completed. Later sources, from the end of the 19th century, pointed out the existence of an inscription carved in stone, “in old Slavonic”, located on the southern wall of the church. This mentions an “architect named Maftei or Matkias”, of foreign origin and who would have had to work with foreign craftsmen, especially stonemasons, very rare in Moldavia at the time. Finally, the erudite biographer of Iaşi, N. A. Bogdan, referring to the decoration meticulously carved in stone, recalls the stories attributed to some Nordics (Swedes) who were wandering in Moldavia after their army had been scattered following a conflict with the Russians.

The church was built of stone (combination of limestone and sandstone) on a triconch plan with two drummed domes, illustrating on the one hand features of the “Moldavian style” (a concept consecrated and recognized as such in architectural historiography) and, on the other hand, assimilated influences from Wallachian religious architectures. The spatial and functional model on which it is based is the one of the Galata monastery church, also built in Iași a few decades earlier, the first example which mixed Moldavian and Wallachian features. The interior is lined with the usual sequence of spaces: outer narthex, narthex, nave and altar, among the rooms specific to the Moldavian monastery churches lacking the funerary room (gropniţa) usually placed between the narthex and the nave. Its lack was compensated by the location of the princely tombs in the narthex in the side niches. What captivates attention is the stone-carved decoration that completely covers the exterior of the church. The ornaments that seems to have been originally gilded (preserved traces were discovered recently, during the last restoration works) and which, by a treatment in 27 horizontal bands, each of them repeating a unique pattern from the base to cornice, gained an obvious autonomy in relation to the church architecture. The homogeneity of this lacy décor is broken by the median twisted moulding, probably inspired by that of the Dragomirna monastery church (c. 1609). No information was preserved in the documents regarding the authors of the carved ornaments - the most astonishing and original feature. Although the Romanian historiography generally accepts their paternity to Caucasian stonemasons - who supposedly came here from Constantinople - the testimony of the monument restorer at the end of the 19th century, Lecomte du Noüy, largely attributed sculpture (based on the lapidary signs recovered during the restoration works) to some craftsmen from west of the Carpathians, probably from Transylvania.

With the approval of Vasile Lupu, the monastery was dedicated to the Holy Places on Mount Athos in 1646, the degradation that the buildings suffered over time largely due to the lack of interest of Greek monks sent in Iaşi to administrate it. The Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs and the monastery buildings went through a series of fires: in 1650 it was burned by the Tartars, in 1686 it was set on fire by the Poles along with the rest of the monastery buildings, in 1808 it was affected by a fire that broke out in the neighbourhood, and finally, in 1827, it burned during the fire that engulfed the city. Two years later, in 1829, the church was damaged by an earthquake. This series of events brought the church into an advanced state of degradation, despite repeated repairs in 1741-42, after the earthquakes of 1802 and 1837 and those of 1851 that focused mainly on the interior frescoes.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş represents a unique, paradoxical and coherent synthesis of Orthodox Christian architecture, rooted in South-Danubian and Caucasian artistic traditions, whose architectural composition and ornamental details are obviously related to Ottoman examples. The opulent stone carved decoration was executed in an impeccable manner by a team of experienced and well-coordinated craftsmen, most likely from abroad. Built in the second decade of the 16th century, at the beginnings a monastic church, the Cathedral at Curtea de Argeş remained to be considered the culmination of the architectural achievements of medieval Wallachia, reflecting the extraordinary ambition of a ruler who aspired to become the protector of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Similarly, the Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs at Iaşi, perpetuating local traditions in architectural and spatial disposals, attracted attention through the uniqueness and exceptionality of the stone ornamental filigree which, rallying to the baroque tastes so frequented at the time, fully covers the exterior of the church by melding multiples of oriental motives: Caucasian, Arab, Persian, Ottoman, to which are added some discrete interferences with Western plastic in the background pietra serena of the median twisted moulding. Given the exceptional qualities, the two architectural masterpieces represented some of the most important landmarks of the Romanian medieval architecture, with significant consequences in the subsequent evolutions.

The notoriety of the two churches determined the first king of united Romania, Carol I, to pay special attention to them, interest justified on the one hand by the special intrinsic artistic value and, on the other hand, by the significant symbolic associations. The direct involvement of the royal house in supporting the costly restorations led by the French architect Lecomte du Noüy (at Curtea de Argeş between 1875-86 and at the Three Holy Hierarchs in Iaşi between 1882-1904) catalyzed the start of modern practices of evidence, conservation and restoration of historical monuments, practices which were beginning to mature by synchronizing with the Western traditions to which early modern Romanian culture aspired. Although in both cases the influence of Viollet-le-Duc’s thinking was obvious, by contrast, at the same time, the first historical restorations began to take shape, based on careful research and focused on saving the original substance of the monuments.

Criterion (i): Through their sophisticated, unusual, even exotic architecture, capturing the popular imagination The Cathedral Church „The Assumption of Virgin Mary” at Curtea de Argeş, and The Church of the “Three Holy Hierarchs” at Iaşi, are both reference masterpieces of medieval architecture of Wallachia and Moldavia. Despite the rich popular tradition that surrounds the origins of these two churches, the craftsmen who designed and built them are unknown. Although in both cases the involvement of the rulers could have been substantial, their originality and architectural coherence allow us to assume the involvement of craftsmen who, besides mastering the construction techniques, had the ability to naturally integrate influences from various and different cultural areas. Assimilating previous local experiences, The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş is subject to a pattern influenced by the spatiality of Armenian churches, to the presumably Armenian stonemasons being attributed the compositional solution and decorative Islamic import. Even if The Church of the “Three Holy Hierarchs” at Iassy is spatially and compositionally related to the local precedent of Galata, the decorative solution both inside and outside, as well as the materials and execution techniques frame the monument in the same small group of unique and perennial impact in Romanian architecture.

Criterion (ii):
Extensive and expensive restoration works of the two churches commenced in the late 19th century, given the exceptional and unusual architectural features and spectacularly stone carved ornamental exoticism, unique in old Romanian architecture, the meanings associated in the collective conscience, and also the advanced state of degradation. Initially the project and the works were entrusted by the government to the already famous French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, an older acquaintance of the young Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (prince 1866-81, king 1881-1914). Viollet-le-Duc sent to Curtea de Argeș his collaborator Anatole de Baudot, former vice-president of Commission des Monuments Historiques in France. Returning to France, after a thorough examination of the monument, de Baudot and Viollet-le-Duc prepared a detailed report on the building condition and the necessary restoration interventions, submitted to the authorities in Bucharest at the end of 1874. Considering that none of them was able to become directly involved, Viollet-le-Duc recommended his “student and friend”, architect Emile-André Lecomte.

Born in Paris on 7 September 1844, Emile-André Lecomte (from 1884 Lecomte du Noüy) had access to artistic education since childhood; however, the available information is not sufficient to retrace his early formative years. Former student of Joseph Auguste Émile Vaudremer, Anatole de Baudot and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Lecomte du Noüy was involved in a number of projects on which little is known. According to some sources, Lecomte du Noüy had collaborated as inspector with the Commission des Monuments Historiques in France. Lecomte du Noüy arrived in Romania in 1875, planning to stay here for only two years, until the completion of restoration works at Curtea de Argeş. However, the important projects assigned to him as well as the lack of a comfortable family life made him spend most of his life here. Lecomte du Noüy died in 1914 and, at Queen Elisabeth’s initiative, approved by King Ferdinand I, he was buried in the cemetery of Flămânzeşti Church (the hospital chapel of the former Argeş monastery).

On The Cathedral church at Curtea de Argeş, before Lecomte du Noüy’s arrival, restoration works were insignificant. The condition of advanced decay of Neagoeʼs church as well as the repeated hesitations and the lack of experience of those involved in restoration projects (starting with 1863) would have certainly resulted in irreversible losses, or perhaps even the complete ruin of the monument. The construction site was reopened in 1875, and the first reports indicated that Lecomte du Noüyʼs intervention plans were diverging from the path outlined by his masters, Anatole de Baudot and Viollet-le-Duc. Although the deadline for completing the restoration was two years, the work was completed more than a decade later, in 1886. Despite some brutal gestures (such as the complete demolition of the monastic buildings or the reconstruction in a new shape of the small pavilion in front of the church entrance, meant to keep the semantron), during the course of the works the central administration representatives were mostly concerned with quantitative aspects (the necessary funding and the committed deadlines) rather than with qualitative ones. Although the building founded by Neagoe Basarab was preserved to a large extent, it was also subject to some substantial alterations and additions, all of them attempting to establish an idealised stylistic unity of the monument. The dome above the nave, damaged during the earthquakes in 1802 and 1838, had to be rebuilt. Although the drum was still strong, interventions were made upon the discharge structure, with the squinches above the nave being rebuilt in a slightly different shape. The central dome above the narthex was also only partly preserved, with two sides of the drum rebuilt, by replacing only the damaged stone pieces. The eroded sculptures were also “refreshed by chiselling”. The small twisted domes in the corners of the narthex were also rebuilt, as the fine original structure, affected by earthquakes, did not allow for superficial repairs. Although Viollet-le-Duc had recommended a lead roof gutter, Lecomte du Noüy modified the upper cornice by adding a draining system carved in stone, richly decorated, provided with gargoyles which discharged water above a second cornice, again made of stone, replacing the old lead cover. The original lead cover, fixed upon a thick layer of compact soil, had been displaced by earthquakes. Lecomte du Noüy completely replaced the old roof structure and cover and, for the new one added the metal ornaments, the presence of which, not confirmed by documents or other evidence, had been approved, as per his notes, by members of the Romanian Academy. The lily flower motive was reused in the reconstruction of the stone fence around the platform on which the church stood. Traces of the original fence foundation had been found during the excavation works around the church, as well as about 50 sculpted flowers from the initial parapet, so their recomposing was based on certain evidence. Inside the church the French architect decided to remove what was left from the old frescoes, affected by the recent fire in the winter of 1867, replacing them with an oil decoration, a creation of French artists Emile-Frédéric Nicolle, Charles Paul Renouardt, Luc-Olivier Merson and the architect’s brother, Jean-Jules Antoine Lecomte du Noüy. In addition to removing the old frescoes, the interior pavement was also replaced during the last stage of the works. Although the original pavement was made of white marble with an inconspicuous decoration, Lecomte du Noüy imagined an opulent project, completed only in part because of the expensive costs. In the absence of the original furniture destroyed by the fire, the architect had full freedom to imagine a new concept. Despite all its shortcomings, the intervention led by Lecomte du Noüy may be considered without any hesitation, the first restoration – in the modern sense of the concept – of a Romanian monument.

The restoration works carried out at The Church of  the Three Holy Hierarchs at Iaşi, are often considered as a second example of successful restoration, together with those of The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş. The Church was considered by the French architect Lecomte du Noüy worth of “being classified among the most curious historical monuments, not only of Romania but also of Eastern Europe”. In the summer of 1882, following the thorough examination of the building, Lecomte du Noüy drew a report presenting the condition of damages and alterations suffered by the building during the years: replacement of the roof, changes at the upper parts of the buttresses, substantial alteration of the domes bases etc. The building was cracked from the base to the cornice as a result of earthquakes, while fires had affected the stone masonry and the sculpted decoration. During the following years research continued bringing out difficulties and surprises which wholly changed the initial estimation of the works, worsening the problems which required a solution. Surprisingly, although aware of the importance of preserving the old building’s authenticity, at the beginning of 1885 Lecomte du Noüy described the radical decisions he had been and would be forced to make. He also mentioned the possibility to return to the assumed polychromy of the outer decoration, sustained by tradition although lacking clear evidence. Although the idea of gilding and colouring the façades was abandoned, the accurate restoration of the complicated sculpted ornaments is surprising. The interior rearrangement and decoration works continued after 1900 and the church was consecrated again in the presence of the royal family in October 1904.

Whereas in the case of The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş we can speak about a restoration with additions and modifications brought about by the subjective approach of Lecomte du Noüy, at The Church of Three Holy Hierarchs at Iaşi the project ended in a substantial idealised alteration of Vasile Lupu’s monument, yet impeccably executed. The main transformations consisted of heightening the domes above the narthex and the nave, reconstructing the outer narthex vaults at a lower level, modifying the nave vaulting and adding new decorative elements, reducing the height of corner buttresses and raising those neighbouring the side apses of the nave (thus interrupting the median twisted moulding) or the different solution for the socle. Given the advanced degradation of the building, it is difficult to appreciate today to what extent the old church building could have been preserved.

The interventions led by Lecomte du Noüy, praised and criticized at the same time, were the ones that triggered the mobilization of Romanian architects, their reactions being measured in the first historical restorations. At the same time, the two restorations, remarkably put in place and surprisingly well preserved for more than a century, represent in themselves key stages of the history of the two representative monuments for the Romanian medieval architecture from the two historical provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Preserving to a large extent the original substance of The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş, the French architect Émile-André Lecomte du Noüy, agreeing with the definition given by his master Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc to the term “restoration”, allowed himself interventions of reconstruction and additions solved in the spirit of the existing ones, to give the monument the alleged initial unity of style. In fact, under the influence of the same restoration philosophy, speaking about the interventions that were to be started at Curtea de Argeş, the Romanian architects from the commission appointed in 1874 for planning the works stated: “Whenever it is a question of restoring an ancient artistic monument, the question arises as to whether the restoration must be a simple repair, meaning a solid reinstatement of the parts that are weakened or damaged in it, at the time of the restoration, or whether it is a restitution of the monument, meaning a purge of all the bastard elements that clung to him over time and a revival of the true primitive monument, constituting somewhat a new and full efflorescence of the style that characterized the building.” The works led by Lecomte du Noüy between 1875 and 1886 marked the beginning of modern restoration practices in Romania, connected to the European context, saving and restoring the fame of the monument that threatened to collapse given the repeated degradation caused by fires and earthquakes. The advanced techniques he put into practice saved, through impeccably made extractions, a relevant part of the original fresco painting attributed to Dobromir and his team of painters (completed in 1526) allowing their preservation in the National Museum of Art of Romania. The interior was repainted by the French artists Emile-Frédéric Nicolle, Charles Paul Renouardt, Luc-Olivier Merson, and the architect’s brother, the notorious artist Jean-Jules Antoine Lecomte du Noüy.

Even if over time, but especially in the 19th century, The Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs has the subject of significant repairs and transformations that have altered both the overall composition and the architectural details, the building still conserves the essential features, those that consecrated it as a masterpiece of medieval architecture of the 17th century. According to Lecomte du Noüy, degraded by fires and earthquakes, the church had undergone a series of transformations that had changed its original appearance. Concerned with the preservation of the authenticity of the religious edifice and, no doubt, seeking to restore its architectural coherence, at the request of King Carol I, Lecomte du Noüy operated interventions that on the one hand saved it from ruin and on the other gave it a complete aspect which, according to the definition given to the restoration by his master Viollet-le-Duc, may never have existed. Recent research has shown that the degraded carved stone pieces were kept in position, turned and carved on the opposite side. Even though Lecomte du Noüy allowed subjective corrections, the monument was saved from destruction and has been preserved in very good condition. The example of the restoration of Lecomte du Noüy was followed by Romanian restorers who, under the influence of his methods and techniques, dealt with Moldavian religious constructions in similar ways and with similar results, thus managing to save important achievements from ruin (for instance, some of the churches built in the 15th century by Stephen the Great for his courts in the northern part of Moldavia). The interior frescoes of the church could not be saved, the interventions at the end of the 19th century introducing oil painting which, despite the alien technique and representation, is obviously claimed as new interventions, giving unity to the interior. Synthesizing local and foreign elements in the late Middle Ages and an early example of modern restoration practices, The Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs remains one of the most important monuments in Moldavia and a masterpiece of the reign of Vasile Lupu.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş represents a unique and exceptional synthesis of Orthodox Christian religious architecture that combines a type of plan with a wide spread in the Eastern Christian world in general and in the Romanian space in particular (the triconch plan) with spatial and plastic solutions which adapts Caucasian models (narthex and the way of solving the nave vaulting, decorative details etc.), with decorative and compositional patterns borrowed from the Ottoman religious architecture (the composition, the main access organised in successive plans, or decorative vocabulary elements - lily flower, muquarnas etc.). Unprecedented and with consequences that are inspired only in terms of the functional organization of the interior – taking over the funerary galleries on the sides of the narthex – and multiplying the drummed domes for the churches founded by Wallachian rulers who sought to emphasize the affiliation to the Basarab-Craiovescu dynasty founded by Neagoe - the architecture of The Cathedral Church at Curtea de Argeş blended various influences. From a spatial point of view, the organization of the enlarged narthex is similar to the space called gavit (arm. Գավիթ) or zhamatun (arm. Ժամատուն) in Armenian architecture (especially from 10th to 14th centuries), often this space being designed both as a narthex where the community assemblies were held in the central square, as well as with the function of necropolis, in the side spaces being located the tombs. What the master builder from Argeş added was the separation of the spaces through furniture and the double-sided painted icons at the upper side, between the columns. An early example illustrating the solution adopted in Wallachia is that of the church of the Khoranashat monastery in Armenia (dated to the beginning of the 13th century). Another characteristic, this time structural, related to the Caucasian monuments (for example at the church of the Dorbantivank monastery in Armenia), is the scheme adopted for the main dome, above the nave, with a polygonal shaped drum both outside and inside, the efforts unloading being done by squinches (extremely rare structural component in the medieval Romanian architecture) towards the inner side piles of the nave adopted at the end of the 14th century from Morava Valley models. To the same Armenian sources belong most of the ornamental motifs carved in stone that decorate the window frames, the variety of caved discs in the upper register (inspired by the motifs of the solar symbol / “the shield of Christ” as it appeared represented at the base of the Armenian stone crosses – khachkar (arm. խաչքար), part of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List). Similarities with architectural solutions of the Ottoman religious architecture were mentioned early on. From the ascending silhouette of the ensemble which is preceded by the small pavilion that occupies the place of the Islamic ablution fountain, to the main access similar to that of the Bayezid II Mosque, Istanbul (Beyazıt Camii, 1500-1505) and to the ornamental details - lily flower and those muquarnas which appear both at the cornice and the capitals of the interior columns of the church narthex. The twisted shape of the drum windows above the funerary galleries was also attributed by art historians to the Ottoman influences, the presumed model being the spiral stonework of the Burmah Minare of Üç Şerefeli Camii at Edirne (1438-1447).

The Church of Three Holy Hierarchs at Iaşi in its turn represents an original synthesis, which argues its exceptional status, as in the case of The Church at Curtea de Argeş. From the point of view of spatial and functional solution, it continues the series of innovations opened at Galata church monastery, a first synthesis of typical Moldavian features (the supple and elongated volume, specific vaulting structures, buttresses and bay frames inspired by the Gothic precedents in Transylvania) and imports from Wallachian religious architecture (the succession of visually unified ritual spaces by suppressing the separation between the narthex and the nave, balancing the silhouette through the two drummed domes, one above the narthex and one above the nave or the uniform lighting of the interior space). However, the sources are not limited to this example, the suite can continue with the katholicon of the Dragomirna monastery, from where the surrounding median twisted moulding (three ribs symbol of the Holy Trinity) delicately covered with Iznik scales of Ottoman origin, was probably borrowed. At Three Holy Hierarchs this purely ornamental element was placed on the backdrop of that pietra serena with thin baroque bas-relief motifs imported from Polish north. Similar to Dragomirna, the twisted ribs appear inside, emphasizing the structural lines of the building. According to the popular tradition, originally, the carved stone decoration uniformly covering the entire volume was polished with gold, it’s autonomy in relation to the architectural design, betraying the Baroque sophisticated tastes of the ambitious Moldavian prince. Borrowed from various and different decorative repertoires – Ottoman, Persian, Caucasian etc., the abundant ornamentation of the Three Holy Hierarchs has no equivalent either in Moldavia or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. However, in the architecture historiography, multiple hypotheses have been launched trying to explain the genealogy of this surprising treatment by searching for the origins to the north, in the Russian space, at the Cathedral of St. Dmitry in Vladimir. Despite a somewhat similar approach – covering large areas with ornamental lace – the two churches differ fundamentally, being separated by almost four and a half centuries. Distance in time and space does not exclude affinities, but they could not be explained in any way by scientific research but only established on the basis of general formal similarities. The Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs at Iaşi therefore remains an exceptional landmark in post-Byzantine architectural developments in general and in the series of experiments of the 17th century in Moldavia.