The Monasteries in Bulgaria - Bulgarian Orthodox Monastery Guide!


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Bachkovski Monastery

Bachkovski Monastery is located 29 km south of Plovdiv, 11 km south of Asenovgrad in Chaya river valley, in the foothills of the scenic Rhodope mountains.

The area around Asenovgrad is noted for the very large number of churches, chapels and monasteries in its immediate vicinity.

People sometimes refer to this monastery in error as "Bachkovo Monastery", but any serious student of the rules of Bulgarian grammar appreciates that -ski is a suffix showing belonging, and is used to form names from village/town names, professions, etc.

Bachkovski Monastery was founded in 1083 A.D. by brothers Grigorii and Abbassi Bakouriani, Georgians by nationality. It was destroyed by the Turks in the 15th century. The monastery was restored at the beginning of the 17th century

Altogether, this is one of the most special parts of Bulgaria's more recent history. You should read the page on Asenova Krepost and "The Church
at Batak" for more detail of this incredible portion of Bulgaria's colorful history.

The Church of the Archangels was built in the 12th century. The church of the Assumption of Our Lady was built in 1604 at the same time as the former refectory. The Cemetery Chapel (see photo below) is the only remaining building from the 11th century.

The paintings in the Church of St. Nicholai are by Zahari Zograph (1840). Other paintings by Zahari Zograph are those under the Church of the Archangels.

The Bachkovski Monastery library preserves many valuable manuscripts and church artifacts.

Bachkovski Monastery is Bulgaria's second most popular after Rila, drawing thousands of visitors, natives and tourists alike on almost any day. The busiest days are on weekends, especially Sunday.

You should park at the bottom near the large restaurants and stroll up the cobblestone street. You will have the opportunity to give close inspection to the huge variety of handcrafts on sale here by the local vendors. Items range from needlework to locally-grown fruits and vegetables, honey, preserved foods in jars, herbs and spices, handmade earthenware bowls, plates and baking dishes (gyuvetch), woven baskets, icons and paintings. Imported items are also seen; some cheap common trinkets and gadgets that often catch the children's eyes.

We strongly suggest that you do not miss the opportunity to enjoy some of the great coffee, kebapche, boiled corn in season and skara at the stands you will find here. The wonderful aroma of barbeque fills the fresh Rhodope mountain air and seems to whet the appetite. There are two large restaurants here; both offer an excellent menu of freshly-prepared food (including excellent fresh fish) and are staffed with the capability of hosting large dinners and receptions. A lunch or dinner at 'the waterfall' restaurant is a memorable experience.

The entrance to the monastery grounds is through this gate. Just inside on the left is the large metal-image history of the monastery which is shown near the top of this page. Fresh spring-water flows at the fountains at the entrance. Similar fountains will also be found inside the monastery walls. Be sure you bring an extra empty container to fill with water here and enjoy later.

Limited parking space is available at the monastery gate, but you miss the experience of the pazar on the street below.

The 160 Orthodox monasteries situated throughout Bulgaria in attractive, natural environments are of interest for the development of religious tourism. Twenty of these monasteries offer possibilities for tourist stays.

Hourly buses from Plovdiv to Bachkovo monastery leave from platform one at the Rodopi bus station, just behind the train station. A night in the monastery costs Lv10 (ВЈ3.30). Bathrooms are shared and there is no hot water. There is no need to book.

The Rila monastery, 119 km south of Sofia, is the most famous, being both a World Cultural Heritage object and a National tourist object.

Bachkovski Monastery ranks second only after the Rila Monastery both with regard to size, and to architectural, artistic and literary significance. During the Turkish occupancy, the monasteries were the strongholds in which the Bulgarian spirit was kept alive. In the words of Ivan Vasov, Bulgarian poet (1850-1921), "They are the lively and moving history of an epoch, so glorious and so dismal."

At Bachkovski, you will find a 16,000 volume library including 134 manuscripts from 15th to 19th century, exclusive mural paintings, wood carvings and icons, gold weave materials and embroidery, and a multitude of gold and silver church plates, collections of coins, weapons and jewelry.

This "Cemetery Chapel" is the only original building remaining at Bachkovski Monastery. It was built in the 11th century, 1083 year.

The chapel sits on a hill above the monastery, about 300 meters east from the Church of St. Nickolai.

Location: The second largest Bulgarian monastery, the Bachkovo cloister, lies in the valley of the Chepelare river (also known by the locals as Chaya), about 10km to the south of the town of Assenovgrad. On all sides, the monastery is surrounded by the hills of the Rhodopi mountain, which together with its size and ancient spirit make is one of the most visited monasteries in Bulgaria. The complex and its neighbourhood have grown into a developed tourist sight where dozens of small shops, stalls, and restaurants stand on both sides of the walkway to the gates and appeal with their variety to visitors. One can find here everything that grows or is being manufactured in the Rhodopi mountain – rare herbs, home-made jams of wild fruit, yogurt and white cheese made of sheep or buffalo’s milk, woolen carpets, etc.

History and general info: The monastery was founded in 1083 by the Byzantine military commander of Georgian origin, Grigorii Bakuriani and his brother Abazii. Yet only the two-storey bone-vault, which lies about 300m to the east of the present-day complex, is still kept from that time. The bone-vault is a must-see building there, for its unique wall-paintings, which rank among the most valuable works of Orthodox art of the 11th –12th c.
During the times of the Second Bulgarian State, the monastery was patronised by Tsar Ivan Alexander, a portrait of whom can be still seen in the arcs of the bone-vault’s narthex due to his renovation of this building. At the end of the 11th century, the monastery opens a religious school. A curious fact is that after the subjection of Bulgarian lands to the Ottoman empire at the end of the 14th century, the Bulgarian Patriarch, Evtimii, was sent on exile here in the monastery. Nevertheless, the exile did not dishearten the Patriarch and he, together with his scholars, developed active religious and cultural activity behind the walls of the monastery.

Even if the Bachkovo monastery survived the first coup of the Ottoman invasion, it was not spared later one and similarly to other cloister, was raided and ruined down. It was restored towards the end of the 15th century with the dining hall having been reconstructed in 1601, and the present-day church, Virgin Mary, – in 1604. The wall-paintings of the dining hall, finished in 1603 by an unknown master, are particularly impressive for their artistic value. The church, on the other hand, also boasts with beautiful frescoes, but what draws mostly on visitors is its icon of Virgin Mary, believed to be wonder-working. A long queue of pilgrims wishing to say their prayers to the miraculous image of the God’s Mother, often starts far outside the entrance of the church. Besides the main church, the complex also has two smaller shrines: one called St Archangels (13th - 14th c.) and standing in the northern part of the inner yard (next to the main church) and another one, named after St Nikola (1834-1837). The St Nikola church rises in the southern part of the yard and is worth visiting for the well-kept paintings of the famous artist Zahari Zograf (including a portrait of the very artist himself), finished in 1841. The monastery also has its own museum which holds rare religious items of different times.

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