Tourists who want to get acquainted not only with the beauty of Bulgaria, but who would also like to feel the spirit of the Christian culture in its pure form, must visit its monasteries.
The first monasteries in our lands were set up even before the establishment of the Bulgarian state on the Balkans. In the second half of the 4th century the monks’ life got organized and it was at that time that the first cloisters appeared. The oldest of them were cut in the rocks: like the Aladja monastery, the Albutinski monastery near Vidin, the Razboishte monastery near Godech, the Ivanovo monasteries under the protection of UNESCO. Even today these monasteries stand amid inaccessible rocks as witnesses of the heroism and the strong faith of the ancient Christians.
The rule of Emperor Constantine the Great was a crucial moment in the history of Christianity, because this religious doctrine from persecuted became the ruling religion in the Roman empire. Many churches and monasteries were constructed at that time and the largest part of the Bulgarian monasteries was built at that period (the 4 – 5th c.). During the rule of the Bulgarian King st. Boris – Michail there was a boom in their construction because the Christian religion became the official religion of the Bulgarian state in the 9th century and the King himself was baptized by the east-orthodox church of the Byzantine Empire.
The monastery complexes are impressive and rich in architectural decorations and wall paintings. They were centres of education and medieval culture. With the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule most of these masterpieces of cult construction were ruined and burnt down. In spite of these vicissitudes, the Bulgarian monasteries became centres of the national self-awareness and mainstays of faith. Far from the main roads and the town centres of the Ottoman empire, they developed not only religious and educational activities but turned into centres of the preparation of the struggle for national liberation. During the Bulgarian Renaissance – at the end of the 18th and especially in the 19th century – there was a new revival in the reconstruction of the monasteries and in the construction of new ones. Most of them are preserved till present in their original form – remarkable monuments of architecture, construction, wood-carving and icon-painting.
There are Holy springs in many of the monasteries, where many people were healed and the healing power of the wonder-working icons is the reason why many believers look for help there for their incurable sufferings. The Bulgarian monasteries are located in some of the most beautiful places, far from the stress and the vanity of everyday life, where, though for a while, one can look inside his own self and search for the unity with the Holy.
Why monasteries in Bulgaria are so interesting and one has to devote some of his or her time to visiting them? Probably one of the major reasons is that, due to the historical development of the country, they are among the few ,,live” historical monuments preserved to the present day. Some of them are still acting and in the yards one can meet real monks like 500 or more years ago.
Monastic scriptoria and libraries set the beginning of Bulgarian culture and preserved Bulgarian nationality, especially during the five dark ages of Ottoman rule. Books were written in the monasteries in the Bulgarian language, the same language sounded every day during holy mass, children, young people and clergymen were educated in them. Painting, music, crafts like woodcarving and goldsmithery were practiced there. The silent buildings of the monasteries keep traditions and legends of oldest times, facts about holidays and everyday life, and knowledge of the world. The monasteries were very active in an economic aspect as well. They managed arable lands, sheep flocks and land property. They treated the sick, produced beverages and food following old technologies, established contacts with monks from neighbouring and far away countries, collected donations and engaged in building. During the traditional fairs in honour of the patron saint thousands of people gathered every year round the monasteries, organized commercial exhibitions and thus created a good climate for communication.
For the visitor today the charm and coziness of Bulgarian monasteries are in harmony with the beautiful environment for, as the saying goes, there is no monastery built in an unpleasant surrounding.
It is good to sit on the wooden bench on some of the balconies enclosed in greenery – why not the Rozhen monastery, for example – and dive into the silence for a short while, merge with the past that has flown away like the water from the marble water-fountain of the monastery, with the people who had lived long time ago. It may also happen that…
In this site we want to acquaint the reader with a selection of the most famous Bulgarian monasteries without being exhaustive. Our goal is to provoke you to visit the monasteries and come to know them well. The photos that everyone will make, the personal impressions will be much more exciting than our exposition.