UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria
ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF IVANOVO
The rock churches in the region of Rusenski Lom River date back to the 12th-14th century A.D. Located 18 km south to Ruse, they were part of a mediaeval monastery of St. Archangel Michael. High in the rocks, 40-50 m above the ground, natural caves were transformed into churches in the 12th century. The first hermits who lived here shared the ideas of isichasm – an orthodox doctrine, according to which the monks lived, keeping total silence. They found silence to be the best way to communicate with God. The best preserved murals are in the Church of the Holy Mother. All murals on the ceiling are very realistic, perfectly well preserved and clearly visible. There are 25 scenes from the New Testament, showing Jesus Christ’s last days of life. The original frescoes were made by artists from the Tarnovo School of painting and impress with the elegant figures and original colours, proof of exceptional artistic skills.
ANCIENT CITY OF NESEBAR
Nesebar is located on a small rocky peninsula, connected with mainland with a narrow isthmus. This museum village attracts visitors with the quaint atmosphere, picturesque situation, unique collection of mediaeval churches and beautiful 19-century coastal architecture.
The ancient city was founded in the 6 c. BC as a Greek colony. It grew rich from trade, even minted its own bronze and silver coins. Its name was Mesembria. In the 5th and 6th centuries AD the city flourished again as a strategic, commercial and religious centre of the Byzantine Empire. Mesembria was a stop-off point for ships travelling between Constantinople and the Danube. In 12-14 c AD, by the number of its churches Nesebar came second after Veliko Tarnovo in Mediaeval Bulgaria. There were more than 40 of them on this tiny peninsula of which only 7 are comparatively well preserved and there are remains of another 8.
Rila monastery is located some 120 km to the south of Sofia, in the heart of the Rila Mountain. Founded in the 10th century, it has been the biggest spiritual and cultural centre in Bulgaria for hundreds of years. On a number of occasions it was destroyed and burnt down, only to rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. The visitor’s first sight of Rila monastery huge towering walls gives the impression of a fortress. However, a step through the archway produces a wonderful surprise. The Rila monastery is the largest in the Balkans and included in the List of World Cultural Heritage. The history of the monastery reflects the entire history of the Bulgarian state and people. The Rila monastery was burned and plundered several times. The construction of the present-day monastery buildings started at the end of the 18th century, with means collected from the entire people. Numerous self-taught masters joined their skills to create this holy place. Tour of the monastery includes a visit to the Monastery Church, which is of particular artistic value, for it was adorned by the foremost 19-century masters of the Samokov, Bansko and Debar schools of painting and woodcarving. Other place of interest in the neighborhood is the cave where John of Rila lived and died. It takes 40 min to walk to the Hermitage. A narrow crevice leads to the site over the cave and it is believed that only righteous men and women can squeeze through.
THRACIAN TOMB OF KAZANLAK
The Thracians are the earliest people known to history who inhabited Bulgaria’s land during the Bronze and Iron Ages. By the end of the 1st millennium BC they had occupied most parts of the Balkan Peninsula and began to play an active part in its history. The earliest records of their social organization, culture and relations with the Antique World date from the 8th-7th c. BC and can be found in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote in the 5th c. BC that the Thracians were the most numerous people in Europe and came second in the world after the Indians. This was, obviously, the world Herodotus knew. Regrettably, during their 2000-year-long history the Thracians did not create an alphabet of their own, so the information about their past has been made possible by the information available in the literary tradition of Hellenes and Romans, on the other hand – by the efforts and years long research work carried out by archaeologists.
What were the Thracians famous for? They were excellent vine-growers and wine-makers, famous brave warriors, whose horses were “faster than the wind”. The Thracians Kings possessed a lot of gold; they owned the ancient gold mines in the Rhodope Mountains. Gold for them was a symbol of supreme power and proof of their divine origin. The numerous Thracian gold treasures, unearthed in Bulgaria, show an exquisite creativity. The Panagyurishte gold treasure impresses with its striking beauty.
The mural paintings in Kazanlak Thracian tomb made this modest-sized monument world-famous. It dates back to the 4th-3rd c. BC. The paintings are among the best preserved ancient frescoes of the Early Hellenistic period, therefore unique in the world history of art. In order to preserve original paintings, the original tomb was closed and an exact replica, open to the public, was built next to it.
This modest-sized mediaeval monument is a jewel, especially for visitors, interested in European culture, mediaeval art and history. Located just 10 km from downtown Sofia, at the foot of Vitosha Mountain, Boyana church is a glittering art gallery. At present Boyana Church consists of three connected buildings – from the 11th, 13th and 19th centuries. Only the first two churches, built in the middle Ages, possess significant artistic and architectural value.
The frescoes, dated to 13th c AD (1239) are among the finest achievements of European Mediaeval Art. Some scholars compare the frescoes in Boyana church to the works of Giotto, who is known to be the first of the great Italian masters of the 13th c, predecessor of the Italian Renaissance. Boyana Church was inscribed in UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage in 1979.
Located some 10 km east of the town of Shumen, this is the cult centre of the pagan Bulgarian state. There is a range of cliffs that shows signs of human presence dating back to the 3rd century BC. The greatest interest here is the rock-hewn horseman, a monument unique of its kind. The bas-relief was carved into the face of a rock 120 m high at a height of 23 m from the ground. The relief depicts a moving to the right horseman, riding a stallion, accompanied by a hound and a bird. One of his hands holds the reins, the other one looks as if it has just thrown a spear at the lion lying in front of the horse’s legs. The figures are slightly larger than life size. There are 3 inscriptions in Greek. The inscription above is from 706-707. It relates how Khan Tervel helped the Byzantine emperor Justinian II to regain his throne. We find the name “Bulgarians: in it for the first time. The left inscription below dates back to 739-756 – the reign of Khan Kormisosh. The right inscription is from the time of Khan Omourtag (814-831). Both of the latter inscriptions testify to the Bulgarian-Byzantine relations at that time.
THRACIAN TOMB OF SVESHTARI
The 3rd-century BC Thracian tomb of Sveshtari is located in north-east Bulgaria, close to the town of Isperih. It was discovered in 1982 and is one of the finest Thracian tombs in Bulgaria. It belongs to Sboryanovo history and archaeology reserve. The tomb is the burial site of a royal couple from the Thracian tribe of the Getae and is on the UNESCO world cultural heritage list since 1985. The combination of architecture, sculpture and paintings make this site unique, not to be found in any other Thracian tombs. The basic structural principles of Thracian cult buildings architecture are found here. The resting place of the ruler of the Getae and his wife, the burial chamber, is decorated with ten female figures carved in high relief on the walls of the central chamber. The female figures, together with the decoration of the lunette in the vault are the only examples of this type found so far in the Thracian lands. Archaeologists claim that this is a remarkable example of ancient cultural co-existence and interaction, between the Getae, a Thracian people who were in contact with Hellenistic and Hyperborean worlds.