Soon after leaving Veliko Tarnovo, we take a left turn, and with a few switchbacks, make our way up the flanks of the Dervent Gorge through which the Yantra river flows. We park next to another car, walk through the main gate, and enter the monastery grounds. No beautiful cobble-stone courtyard here: we walk the grass to the small church inside the compound. Before entering, we make sure to walk around the orthodox temple, admiring its murals which are painted by the famous Bulgarian painter Zahari Zograf. Indeed, the same who also painted the frescoes of both Rila and Bachkovo Monasteries in the mid-19th century. Probably a cloister of the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos in the 11th century, the Transfiguraton Monastery achieved autonomy during the peak of power in nearby Veliko Tarnovo in the 14th century.
It was inevitably attacked, plundered and burned by the Turks, on several occasions, who ended up destroying it. It was revived in 1825, by father Zoticus of the famous Rila Monastery - a few hundred metres from the original location. Master Dimitur of Sofia started the construction, but after he was hung by the Turks for participating in a plot against them, his work was completed by Kolyo Ficheto. The monastery became a centre for the struggle for cultural identity. During the Russian-Turkish war in the 1870s, the monastery acted as a hospital. The Russian soldiers later donated the bells, liturgy books and chandeliers to the monastery. Its proximity to the vertical cliffs is not without risk, as could be see in 1991 when a boulder from above destroyed some parts of the monk's quarters.
The most notable mural might be the Wheel of Life, which is not common in other Orthodox churches. The murals are all around the building, and in some, devils are depicted, torturing sinners, as a warning to the monks in the monastery. Wooden stairs allow access to the top of the bell-tower, where you get great views over the Dervent Gorge below. Once inside the monastery, the monk who has been on his phone until the time we entered, did not seem to care if we took pictures of the interior. Unfortunately, scaffolding obscured some of the frescoes. The one that were visible were impressively well executed. When we are outside again, we stroll the grounds of the monastery, see a red tractor and several wooden carts behind it. I suddenly wonder what life here looks like. The monks we have seen before, are gone when we turn around. The only living soul we see when we walk out the gate, is the black-and-white cat that was there when we arrived. The other cars are also gone.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Transfiguration monastery (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 Transfiguration monastery. Read more about this site.