The most attractive destination to the south of
Plovdiv is Bachkovo Monastery, an easy day-trip from the city. The fortress-like
stone houses of BACHKOVO village, overgrown with flowers, give no indication
of the exuberance of the monastery, a kilometre or so further up the road. Founded
in 1038 by two Georgians in the service of the Byzantine Empire, this is Bulgarias
second largest monastery and, like Rila, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage
A great iron-studded door admits visitors to the cobblestoned courtyard, surrounded
by vine-wreathed wooden galleries and kept free of grass by sheep. Along one
wall of the courtyard, frescoes provide a pictorial narrative of the monasterys
history, showing Bachkovo roughly as it appears today, but watched over by Gods
eye and a celestial Madonna and Child. Beneath the vaulted porch of Bachkovos
principal church, Sveta Bogoroditsa, are frescoes depicting the horrors
in store for sinners, but the entrance itself is more cheerful, overseen by the
Holy Trinity. Floral motifs in a naive style decorate the beams of the interior,
where the iconostasis bears a fourteenth-century Georgian icon of the Virgin.
The church of St Nicholas, originally founded during the nineteenth
century and recently restored, features a fine Last Judgement covering
the porch exterior, which includes portraits of the artist, Zahari Zograf, and
of two of his colleagues in the upper left-hand corner. In the old refectory
you can see The Procession of the Miraculous Icon, executed by Zografs
pupils, which repeats the pilgrimage scene portrayed on the wall of the courtyard.
Finally, Sveta Troitsa, standing 300m from the main gate, contains a number
of early medieval frescoes and life-sized portraits of Tsar Ivan Aleksandar and
the royal family, who lavishly endowed the monastery in the fourteenth century.