When I entered Melnik, and started walking, I quickly realised that this is indeed the tiny town I imagined, judging from the map. Both sides of the small river are lined by attractive national revival architecture buildings, whitewashed walls and overhanging upper floors, supported by sturdy wooden beams. Melnik's architecture is officially protected. In the distance, I could see sandstone pyramids rising above the houses, framing the settlement in a dramatic natural frame. This indeed is the smallest town of Bulgaria, with some 350 inhabitants. In a normal summer, this number would explode with visitors, but in these Covid-19 times, the main street was all but empty. I walk up to the east, climb walls of ruins, see remains of churches and old buildings, and notice that many of the buildings are hotels, and offer wine tasting. In fact, Melnik is a famed wine region, and several houses have dug caves in the sandstone pyramids behind them, offering storage for their wines at a more or less constant temperature.
Even though Melnik has a long history, dating back to the Medi tribe of the Thracians (Spartacus is the best known member), much of its history has disappeared. After exploring the town, and enjoying the views over Melnik, I decide it is time to climb up the surrounding pyramids, also because I am not into wine (the main pastime in Melnik is to go wine-tasting in one of the many cellars). A steep path through the woods brings me to a trail that roughly follows the ridge of the pyramids south of Melnik. i start by walking east, and find the ruins of Saint Virgin Mary Spileotisa, a 13th century monastery perched on the edge of the pyramids. Not much is left of it, but the views all around, and of the eastern part of Melnik, are good. The only way is back: I walk towards the west now, under a cloudy sky, and enjoy the views of the pyramids before the trail disappears into the woods again.
After an easy walk, I reach the ruins of Saint Nicola church, according to the signboard the oldest church of Melnik, early 13th century. I rumble around the ruins, and take a trail to the end of the pyramids, which again gives me a good view of Melnik below. From here, it is a short walk to the far west side of the ridge, where I find the Despot Slavova fortress. It is easy to see that this is a strategic position: you can look west and north without restrictions. in fact, there are Byzantine and medieval phases recognised in the fortress. It is associated with despot Alexey Slav, hence the name. While i roam around the remains of the thick walls, the sun starts shining through openings in the clouds above, and the light becomes perfect, both on Melnik below, as well as on the sandstone pyramids around the tiny town. When I walk back to Saint Nicola church, I find it bathing in the late afternoon sunlight. I find the fence open, walk in, and see remains of the 13th century frescoes on the ruined walls. I walk to the ruins of another church, before heading down to Melnik again for a well deserved dinner.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Melnik (Bulgaria). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Melnik. Read more about this site.