The establishment of Christianity as the state religion in 864 AD contributed to the development of the Bulgarian nationality and created conditions for the flourishing of Bulgarian literature and culture.
The beauty of the 160 monastery ensembles, with their numerous colonades, arches, vaults, nooks and graceful curves, superbly linked with the surrounding scenery, are the work of talented master builders. Their architectural silhouettes stand magnificently against the background of lovely nature. The imaginative wood-cuts, exquisite murals, skilful ornamentation and warm colouring testify to the unsurpassed imagination of the Bulgarian national genius.
The iconostases are absolute masterpieces - a perfect mixture of woodcarving and engraving, and the icon collections, which contain pieces as old as 1 400 years, are with exceptional beauty.
Monasterial museums are rich of exhibits, but the monasteries themselves are not museums - they still continue their functioning. Today a large part of the Bulgarian monasteries are attractive tourist targets.
Some places worth visiting:
Situated right in the heart of the Rila Mountain, 119 km south of Sofia, an inaccessible fortress from the outside, it reveals a totally different world behind its heavy gates - exquisite architecture with arches and columns, 1 200 outdoor murals, sunlit verandahs and old fountains.
The monastery museum contains over 41,000 exhibits altogether. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The second largest in Bulgaria, lies in the beautiful Chaya River Valley in the Rhodope Mountains, 29 km south of Plovdiv.
It boasts a rich museum collection and a library containing valuable incunabula and manuscripts.
The murals, old icons from different periods, as well as the many objects linked with church crafts, turned the monastery into one of the richest galleries of old Bulgarian art.
The third largest in Bulgaria, situated in Central North part of the country, 10 km away from the town of Troyan. Fortunately, most of the great works of old and National Revival art have survived.
The iconostasis of the main church is a masterpiece of woodcarving. Particularly valuable are the so-called Troyan Homilies of the 17th century.
The Monastery's "printery" in which fine graphic works, including many landscapes were made, was widely known.
Situated in the South-West Bulgaria, rising high above sandstone pyramids, 6 km from the museum-town of Melnik. The present-day appearance dates back to 16th century.
Rozhen Monastery owes its fame above all to its carved iconostases and lecterns. The monastery church has stained glass windows, murals and some fine icons. Rozhen Monastery has left us with a treasure in yet another art - that of calligraphy. A unique work of the calligraphic school is the manuscript "Interpretation of Jonah", kept today in the Holy Grave Church in Jerusalem.
Masterpriece of another age, of other principles in architecture and art, the monastery was erected 7 km away from Veliko Turnovo - the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, in one of the pictureque gorges of the Yantra River.
Burnt to ground, the monastery started its second existence in 1825. One of the supreme examples of Bulgarian Baroque.
Situated in the Balkan Range, in the Dryanovo river gorge, 4 km away from the town of Dryanovo. In existence since the Second Bulgarian Kingdom it was subsequently destroyed and rebuilt in its present location in 1845.
Relics of the April epopee are preserved in the monastery museum today, along with some valuable icons.
Ivanovo Rock Monasteries
Situated 21 km south of the town of Rousse. Small churches, chapels and cells are hewn into the rocks, 32 m above the waters of the picturesque canyon of the Roussenski Lom River.
The murals abound in antique motives - nude caryatids, columns atop lions, masks. They are an example of the revived attention towards antiquity and its culture, which in the 14th century renewed the whole of Eastern Christian art. The rock churches are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Aladja Rock Monastery
Situated 14 km away from the city of Varna, close to the Black Sea. One of the few preserved and accessible rock monasteries in Bulgaria, dating from the early Middle Ages and confirming to the hesychastic idea of silence, asceticism and moral perfection.
Monastic cells and a small church have been dug into the sheer rock. Differently coloured frescoes are still discernible on its walls.
Other monasteries also from an inseparable part of Bulgaria's fate and history are: Arbanassi Monasteries, Kapinovo Monastery, Kilifarevo Monastery, Shipka Monastery and more...