Rozhen Monastery (Manastirea Rozhen)

Bulgaria is the home of no less than 120 monasteries which have survived the passage of time and which stand today before whomever decides to take the time and admire them as symbols of the cultural, architectural and historical past of the Bulgarian population.

Rozhen Monastery is one of the oldest and biggest monasteries in this state. The actual date when the edifice was constructed is shrouded in the unknown, but there are official documents which attest the existence of the monastery in the 13th century. Whether or not the construction date is further into the past, we cannot tell, but even so, Rozhen Monastery can be traced back to this century and this alone is a statement of the monastery’s ‘age.’

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This sanctuary is located at the foot of the Pirin Mountains, at a 1 km distance from Rozhen. The site where the edifice was erected is breathtaking, as the monastery is encompassed by marble cliffs and dense forests.

Construction

The document in which the monastery was first mentioned was a Greek manuscript written at a time when the region was ruled by the Despot Slav. This led historians to believe that it was in fact this ruler who constructed the edifice somewhere in the 12th or the 13th century. Another manuscript, in the 1551, makes reference to the monastery, this time the author was one of the abbots of the sanctuary, abbot Cosma.

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Even though it has been mentioned that the edifice was preserved in time, it does not mean that the monastery we can gaze upon today is the original one built in the 13th century. In fact, Rozhen Monastery had suffered considerable damages due to a fire that took hold of the monastic complex, but also due to the pillages it was subjected to. The present-day monastery is actually the result of the restoration work conducted in the 16th century. The main church, the dining room and some of the dwelling rooms are preserved from that time.

Another restoration work took place in the first decades of the 18th century, but the main church was not restored until 1732. Probably the most relevant period in the history of the monastery was the 19th century because, by this time, Rozhen had become a true spiritual center, not to mention that it was quite well off, as many of the surrounding lands were the property of the monastery.

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Structure

The monastery has an irregular form consisting of 6 angles. The complex is formed of residential buildings (towards the exterior), the main church (right in the middle), the dining room, and a beautiful garden.

The interior decoration, mainly the paintings in the nave, narthex and chapel, was done in 1732. The method used in the representations is quite obvious – that of narration, through the impressive number of paintings which adorn the walls of the church (more than 150).

The monastery is well-renowned due to its beautiful frescoes, iconostases and murals (most of which date from the 18th century). But the church has also seen some impressive fresco works in the 16th century, when the narthex was adorned with illustrations representing  various scenes from the life of Christ after the Resurrection.  The 17th century also witnessed valuable paintings. The southern wall was painted to the exterior in this period (1611), as well as the catacomb of John the Baptist, where scenes from its lifetime are depicted.

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Tourists can admire the beautiful woodcarving of the iconostasis found in the altar, mural paintings and the impressive icons which adorn the church, all bearing important artistic value.

To the north-west of the church, one can find the St. Cosma and Damian Chapel, heavy on decorative elements, among which the paintings on the walls stand out.

At present, Rozhen Monastery is opened for visitation all year round. While one cannot find accommodation within the monastic complex, this is available a half kilometer down the road.