High walls and heavily buttressed defensive towers surround the great monastic complex of Suceviţa, giving it the appearance of a fortress. It was founded in 1581 by Gheorghe Movilă, Bishop of Rădăuţi. His brother Ieremia, ruling prince of Moldavia, added defenses and two porches with oriental pointed arches on either side of the church. An elegant steeple resting on a star-shaped base tops the church. Massive eaves protect the outside frescoes, painted by local artists Sofronie and Ion probably in 1601.
The iconography essentially repeats established models. Here, however, the visitor entering through the fortified gateway in the north wall is first confronted with an unusual and magnificent depiction of the Ladder to Paradise. Red-winged angels in orderly rows attend the righteous on a slanting ladder to the heavens, each rung inscribed with one of the monastic virtues. Sinners fall through the rungs and are driven by grinning dark devils to the chaos of hell. The scene is surmounted by the story of creation in a series of scenes with a light background.
The three apses that form a trefoil at the eastern end show the usual procession of saints on a predominantly green and blue background. The figures are arranged in rows according to their significance: angels and seraphim appear at the top, archangels and prophets beneath them, then holy men (including hermits dressed only in their own hair, which has grown all over them like a shaggy fleece), martyrs, and finally military saints and ancient philosophers. On the south side, foliage entwines the rows of figures in the Tree of Jesse. Following it is the Hymn to the Virgin. The western wall is not painted. Tradition says that work stopped after the painter fell from the scaffolding and died. The rich interior decorations include, in the enclosed porch, the Last Judgement, with its river of fire and enigmatic apocalyptic figures.
Suceviţa was a princely residence as well as a fortified monastery. The thick walls today shelter a museum that presents an outstanding collection of historical and art objects. The tomb covers of Ieremia and Simion Movilă – rich portraits embroidered in silver thread – together with ecclesiastical silverware, books and illuminated manuscripts, offer eloquent testimony to Suceviţa's importance first as a manuscript workshop, then as a printing center.