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Troyan Monastery


The Troyan Monastery, is known above all for the creative work of Zahari Zograph who painted both the exterior and the interior (a rare practice for the time) of the main church built in 1835, 7 km from the town of Troyan. It is a fine example of the impact of the popular conception of the world and the influence of housing architecture on religious construction.
Here, Zahari Zograph repeated the social and moral "experiments" in religious painting (the compositions Doomsday and the Wheel of Life), left his second self-portrait signed with amazing self confidence in spite of the Ottoman bondage, and painted the figures of Bulgarian and Russian saints. Besides, he painted a completely secular group portrait of the monastic brotherhood in the refectory - something highly unusual for the time. A chronicle dates back the foundation of the monastery in the year 1600; nothing but the throne stone of the church remains from the time.
The Troyan Monastery belongs completely to the Bulgarian National Revival period. Eminent men of letters worked here during the mid-18th century, and a School was also founded. The patriotic mission turned into a tradition. In 1872, Vassil Levski set up here a secret revolutionary committee, which was joined by all the monks headed by the Father Superior Macarius. Four years later, the monastery became a citadel of the 1876 April Uprising.
Fortunately, mast of the great works of old and National Revival art have survived. The iconostasis of the main church made in 1839 is a masterpiece of woodcarving. Amazing in its originality, is the much earlier (1794) carving of the holy altar gates in the St. Nikola Chapel. The icons introduce us once again to the best known National Revival artists: the Samoltovians Dimiter Zograph and Nikola Obrazopissov. Tryavna's Simeon Tsonyuv, Dossyu Koyuv, Koyu Tsenyuv, Theodossius Koyuv Vitanov. Particularly valuable among the multitude of manuscripts and incunabula 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.


Popular Name: Troyan Monastery
Orthodox Name: Assumption of Virgin Mary
Region: Lovech

Location: The stauropegial Troyan monastery, “Assumption of Virgin Mary”, lies 10 km to the southeast of the old Balkan town of Troyan, in the skirts of the Balkan mountain range. Built at about 400 meters above sea level, the biggest monastery in the Balkan mountains is surrounded by beautiful forests and the Cherni Osam river, which gives a particular charm to the place. The monastery’s complex is quite developed as a tourist site with plenty of shopping outlets, restaurants and entertainment facilities in the neighbourhood.

History and general info: The first traces of religious life in the area date back to the end of the 16th century, or according to some – to an even earlier time around the end of the second Bulgarian state (turn of the 14th century), when the very town of Troyan was founded. According to the monastery’s chronicles, kept by an unknown monk, the monastery was founded by a hermit who came to the place and built himself a simple cottage some years after the fall of the second Bulgarian state. The monk quickly won the respect of the local people who started visiting him for prayer and advice. Later on, he built a church consecrated to the Holy Virgin.

Between the time of its establishment and 1830, the monastery lived through difficult times, when it was often raided and destroyed, while its monks – killed. The monastery’s dependence on the Greek bishops of the Lovech eparchy, who used its lands and forests for their own enrichment, added to the monastery’s troubles. The solution to the latter problem came in 1830, when a delegation of monks visited the Patriarchy in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) to present a request for religious, administrative and economic independence of the Troyan monastery. With the help of a supportive letter by the metropolitan bishop of Troyan, Ilarion, the monks achieved what they went to Constantinople for. A special Charter, dated December 4, 1830 and signed by the ecumenical Patriarch Constandios, gave the monastery the desired autonomy, by declaring it “stauropegial” – meaning that it was exempted from the jurisdiction of the local bishop of Lovech and was directly subjected to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. From that point onward, the monastery has expanded and developed into a cultural and religious centre.

The monastery is built in the style of the Bulgarian Renaissance. The chapel of St Nikolay the Miracle-Worker is the oldest but best preserved religious building in the area, though it lies outside the present-day monastery complex, at about half an hour walk south of it. The monastery’s church, “Assumption of Virgin Mary”, was built in 1835 by a master from the village of Peshtera, named Konstantin. The church was built of porous limestone and large bricks in alternating layters, and impressed foreign visitors with its architecture. One such traveller, the Hungarian Felix Kanitz, expressed his admiration at the church in his book “Danubian Bulgaria and the Balkans” in 1871.

Though its parts were built by various masters at different times, the monastery is remarkable for its harmony. The monastery’s dwellings are 3 and 4-storeyed, with long open verandas looking to the inner yard and columns and parapets in the style of old Bulgarian cell-schools. The frescoes of the monastery and the church were painted in 1847-1849 by the famous Bulgarian artist, Zahari Zograf from the Samokov school of art and iconography. The icons of the church represent in their majority works by other masters of the Samokov school, including Zahari’s brother, Dimitar Zograf. Bearing in mind that Zahari and his schoolmates painted a large number of the frescoes at still-preserved monasteries, those at the Troyan monastery remind of many other places, including the popular Rila monastery. Nevertheless, the ornamentation of the Troyan monastery is more lavish with more Baroque branches with leaves and blossoms.

Similarly to the other monasteries at which he was employed (e.g. Bachkovo monastery), here again Zahari painted his own portrait side by side with the portrait of the abbot. Another noteworthy portrait is the group one at the altar, depicting all the 27 monks that lived in the monastery at that time. An interesting painting, which in fact does not fit in the cannons of monastery frescoes, is the one on an outer wall of the living buildings. Zahari Zograf depicted a lion and an elephant, which were to symbolise Bulgarian strength and patience, respectively, during the long Ottoman rule. The woodcarved iconostasis of the church, made entirely of walnut by masters from the Tryavna school of Art, is also impressive.

Similarly to other Bulgarian monasteries, this one also has its miraculous icon, which arrived at the monastery at the time of its establishment, namely the icon of the Three-handed Holy Virgin. According to the story, the icon was donated by a monk who on his way from Mt Athos to present-day Romania learnt about the hermit who lived close to Troyan and dropped by to spend some time with him.

Besides its religious role, the monastery great Bulgarian writers, teachers and translators, including historians such as the monk Spirodon, author of the second book on the Bulgarian history (1792).It was also linked to the Bulgarians’ struggle against the Ottoman rule. Similarly to other monasteries, the Troyan one also hosted frequently the famous Bulgarian Apostle of Freedom, Vassil Levski. The latter formed revolutionary committees not only in the town of Troyan, but also at the monastery itself. The monastery’s secret committee numbered about 80 monks and was headed by archimandrite Makari. During that time (mid-19th century), the production of books at the monastery declined, but this was only at the expense of the monks’ preoccupation with the procurement of arms. During the Liberation Russian-Turkish war, Makari transformed the monastery into a field hospital for Russian soldiers and provided the Russians with all possible assistance.

Accommodation and food: The monastery’s buildings have a vast hotel part with modernly equipped rooms while there are a few pubs and snack stalls all over the place. One can taste here the famous plum brandy made according to ancient recipes at the monastery itself.

Transport: The monastery is easy to reach down a signed asphalt road from the town of Troyan, on the way to the Oreshaka holiday city.









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