About two and a half hours drive from
Sofia is the Rila monastery, dating back to
the 10th century and the most important
monastery in Bulgaria. Designated as a
UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery
takes its name from the mountain on which
it is situated, 1,200 metres above sea level.
The monastery, created by Ivan of Rila,
the Patron Saint of Bulgaria, originally had
300 monk cells, although the latest building
on the site, built in the 19th century, only
The monastery provided cultural,
educational, spiritual and political assistance,
providing refuge for freedom fighters during
the Turkish occupation. It is worth visiting
for the architecture itself, which has
influences from Bulgaria, Italy and the
East. The church, painted inside with
19th century holy frescoes, took eight
artists eight years to paint.
In the museum are exhibits dating back
to the 13th century, including a magnificent
wooden cross. Carved by a monk called
Raphael, it took him 12 years and depicts 104
scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
We stopped to eat fresh trout which had
been caught locally, and buy pots of home-made honey from vendors along the route.
On the outskirts of Sofia we visited the
Boyana church, another World Heritage
site which dates back to the 11th century.
The church, although quite small, is built
in three sections, with its original frescoes
restored, but still intact. Also worth seeing
is the portrait of St. Ephruimus, whose eyes
look at you from wherever you stand.
You can not come to Bulgaria without
visiting Plovdiv, the country's second largest
town. Built on three hills, the old city
dates back over 3,000 years, with the main
entrance gate and some of the walls of
a Roman fortress still in existence.
The streets are cobbled and, in parts,
quite steep, so sensible shoes are imperative.
The architecture is varied, and a delight,
with several of the buildings painted on
the outside. Here we stopped to admire
the work of a local potter, and was able
to buy some handmade pieces from him.
A Roman amphitheatre, built in
the first half of the 2nd century AD,
originally holding 3,500 spectators
and now 2,500, is still used during the
summer months of June to September
for concerts and the like.
In the shopping area, which is
pedestrianised, there are the remains
of a Roman stadium dating from the
2nd or 3rd century AD that at one time
held 30,000 spectators.
From Plovdiv we visited Rose Valley
which, as the name suggests, produces rose
oil, and is known as the liquid gold of
Bulgaria because of its superior quality.
Apart from a museum showing how the oil is
produced, unless you go there between mid-May and mid-June, when the oil-bearing
rose blooms, there is not much to see.
As it takes eight million buds to make
just one litre of the oil, the valley, which
measures approximately 120km by 10 to
15km depending on where you are must
be a wondrous sight during that period.
If you are interested in burial mounds,
this area has the most concentrated collection
in the country. In Kazanlak, the main city
of the Rose Valley, we visited another
World Heritage site, a Thracian tomb.
As the site, which is over 2,300 years old,
is so delicate, an exact replica has been built
alongside it. The tomb belongs to either
a king or some other powerful individual,
and has a chamber painted with symbolic
frescoes which gives you an idea of
Plovdiv's Roman amphitheatre|
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Web site created by Mark Griffin