Posts Tagged ‘Bulgaria’

Chiprovski Monastery

Monday, June 30th, 2008

“St. Ivan Rilsky”

In the western Stara Planina, on the banks of the Chiprovska Ogosta River, sits the Chiprovski monastery. Founded during the First Bulgarian Kingdom (10th century), it was one of the bases from which Christianity and Slavonic writing spread throughout ancient Bulgaria. Ever since, this compound has been a center for literary, educational and revolutionary activity.

Destroyed in 1837, the current form was created by hieromonks Dionysius and Gerasim from Berkovitsa. The tower-ossuary was built at this time, and holds the remains of Bulgarian revolutionaries who perished in the Chiprovsti rebellion.

The church is a one-nave three-concha building, with an octathedral cupola and places for singers. It houses many valuable items, one of which is a throne Gospel with silver repousse cover – a gift from the Russian emperor Paul I.

Some Bulgarians believe that the cloister has mysterious healing powers.

Images: Taken 26 June 2008 (click to enlarge)

Lopushanski Monastery

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

“St. John the Precursor”

Lopushanski Monastery is located in Chiprovtsi, in Bulgaria’s Stara Planina Mountains, 17 km from the town of Montana. Erected on the site of an earlier structure, from the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, the four-year reconstruction began in 1850. In 1989, the Holy place was reconstructed and two wood-carved verandas were added. Both projects were financed by the Vidin Holy Bishopric.

The monastery is dedicated to St. John the Precursor. A monumental five-dome building, it has a circular arcade narthex and a pair of side chapels – “Saints Kosmas and Damian” and “Saint John the Baptist.” The facade and the gates are adorned with stone reliefs. The central iconostasis was created in 1863 by Stoycho Fandakov, from the Samokov wood-carving school. The focal icons – of Jesus and the Holy Virgin – were painted by Stanislav Dospevski in 1863, during the Bulgarian national revival. Stanislav’s brother, Nicola, created the rest.

Ivan Vazov, Bulgaria’s national poet, frequented Lopushanski.

Image: Taken 26 June 2008 (click to enlarge)

Tomorrow for Everyone

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Utre za Vseki is a Bulgarian organization dedicated to research into breast cancer and, more importantly, providing breast cancer survivors medical care during their recovery. This video is a song recorded by various Bulgarian entertainers in support of the cause:

Utre’s current campaign is aimed at raising funds for an Ayurveda center for cancer survivors. Avon, and other corporate donors, have contributed large sums to the project, but it’s still underfunded. To make up the difference, there have been a number of PSAs airing on Bulgarian TV, encouraging private citizens to contribute. This video is the main one:

This evening, I attended a production at the cultural palace in Sofia, the proceeds of which will go to support the rehab center. I’m not sure who the dancers were – though I think many were part of the Bulgarian Olympic rhythmic gymnastics team – but I know that the show was choreographed by Neshka Robeva.

The show was amazing. It started with an old woman who lies down by a stream and dreams about the history of her people. From there, the motions cascade through Bulgarian history: young women washing clothes by the Danube, Spartacus’s rebellion against Rome and the subsequent crucifixion of the rebels, an incredible sequence with ‘crows’ foreshadowing war with Byzantium, a recounting of the fall of Tsar Samuil, and an homage to those who suffered for 500 years under the yoke of Turkish rule.

I only wish I could get my hands on the soundtrack. Stunning.

Baba Vanga

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

When you turn off the highway to head toward Melnik, there is an ancient volcanic crater. It is the one-time home of Baba Vanga, a Bulgarian clairvoyant who convinced many that she possessed paranormal abilities. It’s an interesting place, housing an entire compound of buildings and volcanic hot springs. Vanga’s house is preserved there, and an Orthodox shrine stands guard over her grave.

Even the most jaded Bulgarian will state with firm conviction that Vanga was no hoax – that her powers were real, at least to some degree. To this day, there are posters of her on the walls of homes in Blagoevgrad, and other Macedonian villages. I don’t know whether the invisible creatures, whom she said gave her information about people and events, were figments of her imagination or spirits. It doesn’t matter; people came to her to prophesy about their newborn, or unborn, children.

Vanga is the epitome of the Bulgarian mindset. Part Orthodox traditionalism, part pagan mysticism – she bridges the gap between the ancient Thracian traditions which still hold sway in the Balkans, and the newer (if you call a few hundred years) traditions of the Orthodox faith. Vanga always gave glory to God for her powers, powers that are admittedly at odds with the tenants of most Christian faiths. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

Vanga’s disciples believe she knew the precise date of her own death. They claim that she prophesied the arrival of her successor before she passed, a 10-year-old blind girl living in France who was to inherit her gift.


Monday, May 5th, 2008

In a small valley, in the Pirin Mountains, lies the village of Lubovishte. It’s a small place, with run-down homes and (oddly enough) a new school house. An unremarkable place, save for two facts:

(1) The only (comfortable) way into this valley is through a tunnel that was blasted out of the sandstone by German engineers during World War II. Without this tunnel, goat tracks are your highways – if that’s what you want to call them.

(2) During the War, the Germans stole all sorts of treasures from Bulgaria – pillaging wealthy homes, art museums and the national archives for anything of value. Some of these items have been recovered from various places throughout Europe, but many have been lost. The story is that the Germans hid their booty somewhere in the Pirins, housing the accounting records and inventory documents in the town of Lubovishte. No-one has ever been able to find these treasures.

Is the story a hoax? Who knows. It’s an interesting tale, though – and the trail to Lubovishte is a lovely one.

Ilindentci Art Center

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

I’m not an artist. I really not a sculptor. But I do like experiencing new things…

So, when I passed by a sign that said ‘Ilindentci Art Center’, en route back from Melnik, I had to stop and see what the deal was. Ilindentci is a mountainside literally covered in marble sculptures. It’s an interesting place, when (so I’m told) students come for classes and artists stay while waiting for inspiration.


I don’t know about all that, but I do know that the view was awesome!

BTW, I know the paste job I did on the above image stinks. My PhotoShop-fu is weak. Bah!

Tsar Samuil (997 – 1014)

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

In the SW corner of Bulgaria, excavations are underway at the sight of an ancient fortress from the Byzantium era. Known as “Samuil’s Fortress,” it is the site where the king of Bulgaria, Tsar Samuil, stationed his forces in defiance of the Byzantine army in 1014 AD…

In 986 AD, Emperor Basil II fled Bulgaria after the battle at Troyanovi Vrata, leaving behind his treasure hoard and a supply train. Under Samuil, Bulgaria entered a period of expansion and cultural revival, even commanding the attention of the Holy See.

But, in 1001, Basil II raised another army and started a new campaign against Bulgaria. Samuil was not able to stand against his old enemy, and after a series of defeats, disunity began to plague his state.

In the summer of 1014, Basil soundly defeated the Bulgarian army near the village of Klyuch, in Macedonia. Angered at the death of a close friend, the Emperor ordered that his prisoners, some 14,000 in number, be blinded. One man in every hundred was left with one eye in order to lead his comrades home.

Legend states that Samuil was so grieved at the sight of his blinded soldiers that he suffered a heart attack and died.


Sunday, April 13th, 2008

We decided to go on a little vacation this weekend, and chose to hole up at Хотел Катарино, a spa resort in the foothills of the Rila Mountains. The hotel is nice, ostensibly rated four stars. The restaurant is nice, as well. My favorite this here, other than the free wireless internet, is the pool.

I haven’t been swimming in… years. For someone who competed at the Junior Olympics, and could at one time swim miles without stopping, my current ability is embarrassing. But my girls don’t know that. We spent the whole day pruning up in the water, teaching my little babooshkas how to doggy paddle, and that going underwater isn’t really all that scary.

My eldest was a monster – jumping into the deep end with no regard for her safety. If she keeps this up, she’ll either be a natural competitor, or drown before she turns six!

Pillaging Bulgaria

Friday, March 14th, 2008

If you’ve got connections, you can make money. That’s always been true – “It’s not what you know, but who you know…” That is the rule of thumb here, in Bulgaria. The sad truth, though, is that the application of that principle has led to a spat of unlawful, or quasi-lawful, real estate deals. “Pillaging” is the only word that rightfully describes what is going on here. Take these two examples:

In order to make a governing coalition, the majority party has allied with the so-called “Turkish” party, netting the latter control of the Forestry Department, among others. It seems that, if you have a Turkish name, you can rape an pillage the forests here. This is how it works… You buy forest in the interior, far away from anything useful. You consolidate the lots and “trade” them with the government for a contiguous forest somewhere else in the country. This is normal. The law states that you should get comparable forest – 40 year old for 40 year old, etc. The problem is that these people with connections are trading up, getting forests in high-value areas, such as near resorts or on the coast. The mayor of Razlog, a town in the Pirins, woke up a couple months ago to find that the entire back side of his town was traded to an investor – prime real estate.

Here’s another… The Bulgarian military is divesting itself of some properties. One such lot is a base in Blagoevgrad (think state capital). The base is on the highway, with a walled boundary. It’s a perfect industrial location. But it’s the main base in SW Bulgaria. Someone with connections bought it for six million euros. Well, more like 10+ million, but the bribe doesn’t show up in the papers…

Mountain Majesty

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I live in Smochevo on the weekends. I’ve tried getting a good picture of the mountains that surround us, but my camera sucks. This weekend, though, I trekked ten minutes up the hill and snapped the image below.