Crossing the industrial sprawl between the stations and the city centre, it’s difficult to imagine SUCEAVA, 150km northwest of Iaşi, as an old princely capital. The city’s heyday more or less coincided with the reign of Stephen the Great (1457–1504), who warred ceaselessly against Moldavia’s invaders – principally the Turks – and won all but two of the 36 battles he fought. This record prompted Pope Sixtus IV to dub him the “Athlete of Christ” – a rare accolade for a non-Catholic, which wasn’t extended to Stephen’s cousin Vlad the Impaler, even though he massacred 45,000 Turks during one year alone.
While Stephen’s successors, Bogdan the One-Eyed and Petru Rareş, maintained the tradition of building a new church or monastery after every victory, they proved less successful against the Turks and Tatars, who ravaged Suceava several times. Eclipsed when Iaşi became the Moldavian capital in 1565, Suceava missed its last chance of glory in 1600, when Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) completed his campaign to unite Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania by marching unopposed into Suceava’s Princely Citadel. In terms of national pride, Suceava’s nadir was the long period from 1775 to 1918, when the Habsburgs ruled northern Moldavia from Czernowitz (Cernăuţi), although Suceava was able to prosper as a trading centre between the highland and lowland areas. Under communism, this role was deemed backward and remedied by hasty industrialization – the consequences of which long blighted the town.
Save for the lovely ethnographic museum and a clutch of churches, there are few real sights in town itself; instead, Suceava’s principal attractions are a good twenty minutes’ walk from the centre, namely the superb Village Museum to the east, and the Zamca monastery to the west. For visitors though, Suceava is primarily a base for excursions to the painted monasteries.