The Preobrazhene monastery (“The Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord” -“Sveto Preobrazhenie Gospodne”) is about 6 km off the town of Veliko Turnovo, the old capital of the Bulgarian State. It is situated on rocky hills of the Dervent (Dragon’s) canyon of the river Yantra.
It is believed that it was founded by King Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) who has remained in history with numerous monasteries built or renovated by him. But it is also connected with his second wife Sara who also built churches and monastic places and supported them. For that reason it is also called “Sara’s monastery”. The mediaeval monastery was situated at about 500 m from the present one and ruins have remained from it. Most probably it was destroyed at the invasion of the Ottoman armies. Written documents indicate that in the 16th and 17th c it was acting and had busy relations with Russian monasteries.
The reconstruction of the monastery in its present form was achieved with the help of Father Superior Zotik. In 1832 he managed to receive a firman from the Sultan for the construction of a new big church. Two years later Master Dimiter of Sofia started the construction. But he took part in a conspiracy against the Turks and was hanged. The church was finished by the famous builder Kolyo Ficheto. It has one nave, a broad apse, a low dome on an octahedral drum. The interior is divided into a naos and a narthex and in 1849 a second external narthex was added to the west.
The mural paintings were made in 1849-1851 by the famous Zachary Zograph who has left his own portrait as well. They bear the style and colours of the Revival and the mark of the painter. Particularly interesting is the composition “Doomsday” situated on the entire eastern wall of the narthex. It looks impressive and expresses the moral pathos of the Revival. The author denounces the vices of his contemporaries – superstition, avarice, lechery, and callousness. With their tridents the devils prod the sinful souls towards the river of fire and they, with contorted faces and gestures, express their horror before the terrible God’s punishment. On the walls are depicted many Bulgarian saints and cultural figures – Teodosiy Turnovski, Ivan Rilski, Nikola Novi Sofiyski, Gavrail Lesnovski and others, as well as the Russian saints Dmitriy Besarabovski, Boris and Gleb on horseback.
Most impressive is the external decoration of the walls of the church. Columns, arches and stylised flowers are painted in bright colours. On the southern wall is the remarkable “Wheel of Life” (painted by the same painter also in the Troyan monastery). Visitors standing in front of it can reflect on the idea that nothing is eternal and everything in our life is transitional.
The beautiful carved iconostasis with gilded forms attracts particular attention. It is believed that it was made by Kolyo Ficheto and the icons were painted by Zachary Zograph and other masters of the Samokov and Tryavna schools.
The living quarters and farm building, in their original form, surrounded the monastery yard on all sides and were constructed after the fashion of the monastery fortresses. The lower stories are made of stone and the upper ones broken-up, with spacious balconies viewing the interior space. The major entrance of the monastery, the high bell tower and part of the buildings were built by Kolyo Ficheto in 1858-1863, and the rest – after the Liberation. Since the buildings are situated on a vertical slope, many of the foundations are also supporting walls. The general view of the monastery is magnificent. It opens to a beautiful view in the bluish haze and just across is the patriarchal monastery “Holy Trinity”. In the same time the secluded gravel yards with quiet nooks and vines hanging over the trees fill it with special charm.
Unfortunately in the last decades landslides and landslips of rock have destroyed parts of the monastery building despite all efforts for its fortification.