This weekend, my new producer and I went out to visit some really cool places throughout Southwestern Bulgaria. It was a trip back in time to the 1700s when our first stop brought us to the Rozhen orthodox monastery in Blagoevgrad Province. This place was packed into the history books with the Spanish Inquisition.
The Rozhen monastery is the biggest in the Southwest of Bulgaria, and is known formally as the Monastery of the Nativity if the Mother of God. This orthodox encampment is one of the few in the region, and is well preserved. You can reach it by car, as my gracious hosts have offered to me, or by footpath from the town through the sand pyramids – a highly recommended jaunt that should only take an hour or so. This is the trail that the original monastics used, so it’s something of a pilgrimage that can be made in the same footsteps as used in the time of its inception.
Everything from the art on the walls to the listless grape vines splayed along the second story buttresses, drinking up the sun. From before even stepping foot into the grounds of the compound, the centuries-old, riveted, iron-plate door swallowed all sense of recency and equipped the eyes to take in something from long ago.
The paintings alone, finished in 1732 by local monks, are enough to lock you into a gaze of intentional curiosity. Like the paintings of the period, it’s not the masterful work that absorbs you. It’s the context of the themes themselves. They show depictions of the most important moments in the orthodoxy’s history. And they’re displayed right atop benches and walkways that people inconveniently rub away without any regard to preservation of the artwork. Perhaps this is more the fault of the keepers than the visitors for not protecting with more attention.
Nevertheless, it was a very cool experience to have been a part of. And what’s more, I was also given the rare privilege of shooting inside the monastery itself, with other opportunities to film around the grounds.
Here are a few of the images I took while I was there.
After walking the grounds, we also visited the grave of Yane Sandanski, the revolutionary after whom the neighboring town of Sandanski was named. Yane (or Jane) Ivanov Sandanski was an interesting chap. He is widely recognized as the revolutionary leader who lead an anti-Ottoman uprising and assisted in estoppel of the Turkish campaign of forced Islamic conversion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
His grave site lies behind this stoic edifice, and is certainly presaged by locals to be the tomb of a hero.
After leaving the Rozhen temple, I headed into Melnic, the least populated city in Bulgaria. More about that next time…