Bachkovo Monastery "Virgin Mary"
Orthodox Name:Virgin Mary
Location of the monastery:
Bachkovski Monastery is situated in the village Bachkovo, about 7 km south of Asengovrad in Chaya river valley (the valley of the Chepelare River) and 25 km south of Plovdiv in the foothills of the majestic Rhodope Mountain.
The monastery lies to the main road (E86) which connects Assenovgrad and Smolyan and the turn for the monastery is behind the village of Bachkovo (lies on the main road as well).
History of the monastery:
Bachkovski Monastery is the second largest Bulgarian monastery and one of the three Bulgarian Stavropegial monasteries (the other two are Rilski Monastery and Troyan Monastery) which draws thousands of visitors, Bulgarian and foreign tourists alike.
The monastery was established in 1083 by the Great Domestik of Western Byzantine Garrisons, the Georgian, Grigorii Bakuriani. In the very beginning, the monastery has been developed as a centre of Georgian monkhood and it has preserved its Georgian character until the end of 12th century. Due to its origin, the monastery combines three cultures – Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian.
In 1344, the monastery and the surrounding area came under the rule of the Bulgarian king Ivan Alexander. Bulgarian ruler renovated Bachkovski cloister, patronized it and generously made considerable donations to it. A portrait of Ivan Alexander can be still seen in the arcs of the bone-vault’s narthex owing to his renovation of the building.
Spared during the first wave of enslavement when Turnovo Kingdom fell from power in 1393, Bachovski cloister became the prison of the last Bulgarian Patriarch Euthymius who was exiled
there and whose relics was kept until the 19th century.
Backovski Monastery was renovated in the end of 16th and the early 17th century when the south wing of the building and the present monastery church “Virgin Mary” were built. Bulgarian brothers Cholakovi made also lavish donations to the monastery in the middle of 19th century and, as a result, a new expansion of the monastery was launched, as the buildings in the south inner yard and the church “St.Nikola”, which murals are masterpieces of the prominent Bulgarian artist Zahari Zograf.
A multitude of unique works of applied art were created in the 16th and 17th century in the holy religious cloister of Bachkovski Monastery.
During the 19th century Bachkovski monastery was the most important spiritual and cultural center in the region.
Architecture and present condition:
The present monastery’s main church of Bachovski Monastery, Virgin Mary was built in 1604 following Mount Athos churches sample. It was painted out in 1643. Narthex murals are preserved from the first period of its painting. The murals on western walls on both sides of the church entrance are the most remarkable. Frescoes in the lower part of the temple were refurbished in 1850 by Mosko Odrinchanin. Thus, older paintings, dated back to the middle of 17th, century were discovered. Interesting portraits of generous donators, such as the tradesman George and his son Konstantin, as well as Old Testament plots and stages of the religious calendar can be seen in the main church. One of the oldest wood-carved iconostases in Bulgarian lands is preserved in the church. Talented master made the carved decoration with ornamental patterns space interpretation skill.
The most treasured item of the monastery, which is also held in the monastery’s temple, is the miraculous Virgin Mary icon. It dates as far back as 1311, as it was a gift to the monastery from two Georgian travelers-Atanasii and Okrapir. You might be curious to know that a legend tells how the icon ‘was flying’ to Bachkovo from a Georgian monastery and it ‘lands’ in the area “Kluviata”.
From there monks have brought it in Bachkovski Monastery and put it in front of the temple, so as it can observe who comes with a good heart in the holy place.
Besides the main church, Bachovski Monastery boasts two smaller in size churches-“St.Archangels’’ dated back to the 12th-13th century and “St.Nikola”(1834-1837). They are extremely impressive with their well-preserved murals from 1841, painted by the distinguished master Zahari Zograf who also made a mural portrait of himself for the first time.
Saint Archangels Church is situated in front of the western entrance of Assumption Church narthex . Archaeological excavations proved the point that it was constructed in XIII century. It is raised on columns which form vaults where some of the most charming murals of Bulgarian National Revival Period are situated – Gospel Proverbs illustrations. The famous icons painter Zahari Zograf has given every day life and real human characteristics to the images, in which way he gave life to Proverbs characters.
The dining room of Bachkovski Monastery is situated in the southern wing of the monastery building. It was constructed in the beginning of XVII century together with monastery’s main church. An extraordinary marble table from 1601 where monks have eaten was preserved in the dining room. The spacious room was decorated with exceptionally valuable frescoes in 1643. They can be compared to the paintings of 1535 in the dining room of Saint Atanasii Great Monastery in Mount Athos in their respective artistic qualities. Jesey Tree – Christian saints genealogical tree composition is depicted on the vault. In addition, ancient Greek philosophers are painted in its basement. Bachkovski Monastery Wonder Worker Icon Procession composition was painted on dining room’s outside wall by the renowned painter Alexi Atanasov in the middle of 19th century.
The Ossuary, which is the only building preserved from the initial monastery building, is situated 300 m to the east of the central complex of Bachovski Monastery. This two-storey stone tomb dated back to 11-12 century. Frescoes in the Ossuary are made by the Georgian painter Yoan Iviropulos and they are among the most valuable artistic ensembles of XI-XII century Byzantine culture. It is the only tomb church in Orthodox religious world preserved from Byzantine Komnin Dynasty epoch and painted on both floors with frescoes. The Ossuary was renovated by Bulgarian King Ivan Alexander during 14th century and his portrait still can be seen in the narthex of the second floor.
Exceptional works of applied arts such as marvellous church plates, covers of manuscripts and many others, most of which are treasured in the monastery museum and the rest-in the National Museum of Church History and Archaeology in Sofia, are preserved in Bachkovski Monastery. 103 manuscripts and 252 old-printed books were discovered in the monastery during the past 30 years of 20th century.
There are many shops, bars and traditional restaurants which surround the walking alley near Bachkovski Monastery. You have the opportunity to have a look at the wide variety of handcrafts on sale here by the local vendors. Items range from needlework to locally-grown fruits and vegetables, honey, homemade jams from wild fruits, rare herbs, goat and buffalo yoghurt and cheese, woven baskets, icons and paintings.
Backovo Monastery is on the list of the 100 National Tourist Objects.
Phone number: 03327/277 (International telephone code for Bulgaria +359)
Accommodation in the monastery:
Bachovski Monastery has a capacity of 200 beds, but there is a wide choice of family run hotels and guest houses in the village Bachkovo. The region of the monastery is abounding with traditional restaurants.
Places of interest in the region:
Assenova Fortress is situated only 6km away from Bachkovski Monastery. If you go further to the east of the monastery along the valley of the Kluvia River, you will reach two breathtaking waterfalls, next you will find yourself in front of a chapel in the end of the valley and a big karst spring, better known as the holy spring “St.Archangel” will emerge in all its beauty.