Situated far to the south in the Pirin area, 6 km from Melnik, this
is the only monastery restored during the first centuries of Ottoman
rule which has survived to this day. The present-day appearance of this
old monastery (built by the Melnik ruler, despot Slav, during the 12th
or 13th century) dates back to the 16th century. According to one inscription,
the image of Christ Pantocrator together with the twelve apostles above
the entrance gate of the Holy Virgin main church, was painted in 1597.
Valuable monuments of 17th century painting included the external southern
wall (Doomsday, Jacob's Ladder), dated with an inscription from 1611,
as well as scenes from the life of John the Baptist painted in 1622
in the ossuary. The inside walls in the naos, the narthex and chapel
of the main church were painted in 1732, with a strong inclination for
narration, as a result of which more than 150 subject-matters were illustrated.
The abundance of figures of monks and hermits unknown anywhere else,
many of them, probably historic personages, contemporaries of the unknown
painter, is also typical.
Rozhen Monastery owes its fame above all to its carved iconostases and
lecterns. Some of them are extremely complicated compositions, both
in intent and in actual execution, in which Biblical themes have given
full scope to boundless imagination which reached the peaks of decorativeness.
Rozhen Monastery has left us with a treasure in yet another art - that
of calligraphy. A unique work of the calligraphic school, which existed
here as early as in the 14th century, is the manuscript "Interpretation
of Jonah", taken in 1674 from the Constantinople Patriarch Dositheusm,
and kept today in the Holy Grave Church in Jerusalem.
Popular Name: Rozhen Monastery Orthodox Name: St Nativity of Virgin Mary Region: Blagoevgrad
Location: The Rozhen monastery is situated about 5km away from the small town of Melnik up in the lower part of the Pirin mountain. It offers an amazing view to the peaks of the Pirin and Belasitsa mountains, and the famous ‘mels’ of Melnik – the latter being pyramid-like hills around the town, formed by the erosion of clay loam.
History and general info: The Rozhen monastery is the biggest sanctuary in the Pirin region and one of the few Bulgarian monasteries of the Middle Ages, which has survived relatively intact up to present days. According to annals kept in Atone, Greece, the monastery dates back at least to 890 AC – for comparison, the biggest monastery in Bulgaria, the Rila monastery, is believed to have started functioning in 917 AC. The church of the monastery, named St Birth of Virgin Mary, later gave its name to the nearby village of Rozhen (Rozhen coming from the root of the Bulgarian word for birth, ‘Rozhdenie’). During the rule of Despot Aleksii Slav, governor of the region at the time of Tzar Kaloyan (1197-1207) and Kaloyan’s nephew, the monastery’s complex was enriched with a number of buildings. The monastery was destroyed by fire in the early 17th century, but was rebuilt in the beginning of the 18th century with the financial support of wealthy Bulgarians from all over the country. The reconstruction started in 1715, with the church having been entirely renovated in 1732. The monastery saw its apogee in the 19th century when it served as a regional spiritual centre and had numerous real estate holdings in the surrounding area. The end of the monastery’s heyday was put by a famous local revolutionary, Yane Sandanski, who together with his relatives seized real estate properties of the monastery. Nowadays, the monastery is well maintained and open to visitors all around the year. The monastery’s holiday is on September 8, when people from all over the area gather to take part in the celebrations.
The monastery has an irregular 6-angle form, with residential buildings surrounding a beautiful yard with the church lying in the centre of it. All the monastery’s buildings were constructed in different periods, with the monks’ dining room, the bone-vault and several farm buildings being the oldest ones, dating back to the period before the fire in the 17th century. Besides well preserved wall paintings, the monastery is famous for its stained glass (the oldest of its type preserved till present days) and unique woodcarvings. As other monasteries, the Rozhen one also has its miraculous icon-protector, of Virgin Mary, which is kept in an ark in one of the chapels of the complex. According to the legend, the icon is one of the few copies of a sacred iron, owned by a widow of Nikea (Greece). During the times of the Byzantine’s emperor Theophilus, famous for his persecution of icon worship, the widow threw the icon in the waters in order to avoid its being destroyed by the emperor. The icon did not sink but sailed for years, until in 999 it reached the gates of the Iviron monastery in Greece.
Accommodation and food: The monastery offers neither food not accommodation. Nevertheless, just 500 meters down the road to the monastery there is a guesthouse with a restaurant while Melnik, which is about 5km away, is a popular tourist destination with a rich choice of accommodation and catering.
Transport: The road from Melnik is a good asphalt one and leads directly to the monastery’s gate. There are no regular buses from the town to the monastery, hence one needs to rely on individual transport arrangements.