Set amid apple and plum orchards, sweet chestnut trees and wild lilac, 16km east of Polovragi on the main road to Râmnicu Vâlcea, is the small town of HOREZU – so-called after the numerous owls (huhurezi) that reside here (the town is also shown as Hurez on some maps). Although wooden furniture and wrought-iron objects are also produced here, Horezu is best known for its pottery, especially its plates, which by tradition are given as keepsakes during funeral wakes. The Cocoşul de Horezu pottery fair, held on the first Sunday of June, is one of the year’s biggest events in the area – though if you miss it, you can still see many wares displayed in dozens of roadside huts just east of the centre. There’s also an exhibition of local pottery in a large hut by the car park leading up to Horezu monastery, where you can view and buy items.
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Built between 1691 and 1697, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mânăstirea Hurezi (Horezu monastery) is the largest and finest of Wallachia’s Brâncoveanu complexes, and is the site of the school which established the Brâncovenesc style. The complex is centred around the Great Church, built in 1693 and entered via a marvellous ten-pillared porchway, its capitals adorned with stone-carved acanthus leaves and its doors of carved pearwood framed by a beautiful marble portal; to the right of the entrance, and largely protected from the elements, is a still vibrantly colourful Last Judgement fresco. Inside, the late seventeenth-century frescoes, once tarnished by the smoke from fires lit by Turkish slaves who camped here, have been restored, and you can now make out portraits of Constantin Brâncoveanu and his family, Cantacuzino, Basarab, and the monastery’s first abbot, Ioan, as well as scenes from Mount Athos and the Orthodox calendar. To the right of the church as you enter is a vacant tomb, which was Brâncoveanu’s intended resting place – as it is, he is buried in St George’s Church in Bucharest.
The monastery actually held a community of monks until 1872, at which point it became a nunnery. Opposite the church is the nuns’ domed refectory, which contains some more but poorly preserved frescoes and, to the left, another Brâncoveanu porch, featuring a splendid stone balustrade carved with animal motifs. In one of the upper cloisters, there’s a collection of sacral art, mainly seventeenth-century icons.