Bachkovo monastery is not only the second monastery in national significance for Bulgaria (after the one in Rila) but also a place where you can enjoy an beautiful monastery with great architecture with 2 great churches that house some amazing murals and paintings.
It was founded in 1083 by the Grigorii Bakuriani and has been developed as a centre of Georgian monkhood. Due to its origin the monastery combines 3 cultures:byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian, it had its great period during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). In 1344 the area came under the rule of Bulgarian king Ivan Alexander that renovated Bachkovski monastery (there’s still a portrait of him at the arcs of the bone-vault’s narthex). In 1393 when Turnovo Kingdom fell from power the monastery became the prison of the last Bulgarian Patriacrh Euthymius who was exiled.
Then it was ransacked by the ottoman turks and felt in decadence. After almost 3 centuries (end of 16th century) the reconstruction began and the present monastery church of Virgin Mary was built. In the middle of 19th century donations from Cholakovi brothers were used for new expansion and the St Nikola church was built with some great paintings by Bulgarian artist Zahari Zograf.
In our days (it is still a working monastery) we can also enjoyed its architecture and its rich collection of paintings.
There was no fee to get inside but as it is still a working monastery no photos are allowed inside although I took 2-3 just for VT after asking a guard.
We walked a bit at the main yard and then visited the church where the morning mass was taking place (it was early in the morning), a touching moment with locals standing silent listening to the priest, it must be impressive for those that are not familiar with the orthodox church but we also enjoyed it.
The museum of the monastery (formerly the kitchen) houses a rich exhibition of religious oriented items (mainly icons and books but also some other things like a church plate, coins etc).
The church of Virgin Mary Eleusa (that was built in 1604 following the Mount Athos churches sample) has some remarkable paintings (especially on western walls on both sides of the church entrance). The wood-carved iconostase is very interesting too but for the locals the most valuable item is the miraculous icon of Virgin Mary Eleusa that dates from 1310, a gift to the monastery by two Georgian travelers Atanasii and Okrapir. The icon was brought from Georgian monastery (the legend says that it flew to Bachkovo and “landed” in the area Kluviata. The locals come to see it, especially in Easter when the monks of the monastery transferred it to another church a bit away from the monastery (at Kluviata area) like they did during the ottoman period when they wanted to hide it from them.
At the southern wing of the monastery you can visit the dining room that was built in early 17th century and houses an extraordinary marble table from 1601 and also has some interesting murals from 1643.
The Ossuary (300m east of the monastery) is the only original building, a two-storey stone tomb from 11th century with frescoes by the Georgian painter Yoan Iviropulos.
There is also a small store selling paintings (religious themes of course) and some other stuff.
People that visit the Bachkovo monastery light candles and pray and probably they have lunch at the one of the restaurants in the village. I guess most of the visitors do the same so don’t expect to spend more than 1-2 hours if you come only for the monastery.
Of course you can walk a bit in the village or in the paths around, don’t forget that the monastery is surrounded by some picturesque hills but during our visit (in late February) there was so much snow that it was impossible to do something else than walk from the main road to the monastery.
Most of the locals we met were the people selling their products at the path that leads to the monastery, they were smiling but they seemed to suffer from the cold that morning like we did :)
Monastery complex and the region have become well developed tourist site with many small shops, stalls and restaurants, park walkway to the monastery. It is exposed for sale everything that grows or is produced in the Rhodopes - rare herbs, home sweet wild fruits, yoghurt and cheese, Rhodope woolen blankets etc.
The second largest Bulgarian monastery, Bachkovo Monastery, is located in the valley of Chepelarska River (also known as River Chaya), about 10 kilometers south from Asenovgrad. The monastery is surrounded by picturesque hills of the Rhodope Mountains, which together with its impressive size and antiquity make it one of the most visited in Bulgaria.
The monastery was founded in 1083. Unfortunately, only two-storey house which is located about 300 meters from the present monastery complex, has maintained from the foundation to our days. The house is a unique historical site which is worth visited for its ancient mural paintings that are among the most valuable works of Orthodox art from 11-12th century. The monastery is protected by King Ivan Alexander during the Second Bulgarian State. Like many other monasteries in Bulgaria in Bachkovo Monastery also could be found a monastery school. Curious fact is that after the fall of Bulgaria under the Ottoman yoke at the end of the 14th century Patriarch Evtimii was sent in Bachkovo monastery in exile. Being here, however, he does not discourages himself, so together with his students he developes an active religious and literary activity behind the walls of the monastery.
Although Bachkovo Monastery survived the initial invasion of the Turkish Army, later followed the fate of many other Orthodox churches in our land and was robbed and destroyed. It is resumed at the end of the 15th century, it was made a reconstruction in the dining room in 1601. Frescoes in the dining room, painted by unknown hand, were made in 1605. Church, for its part, also boasts of beautiful frescoes, but what most attracts visitors is Bogodoritsa icon, which is considered to be miraculous.