Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nessebar, Bulgaria

32 kilometers northeast from Bourgas, a naturally sculptured rocky peninsula in the Black Sea attracted the ancient Thracians at the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Around the year 510 BC by way of the sea came the Dorians and established the Greek colony of Mesembria. Even nowadays archaeological research supplies plentiful material about the long history of modern Nessebar. Greeks used to cut coins out of silver, bronze and even gold. Later, the Romans left traces of their own garrison. From the 7th century Mesembria turned into a bishop centre and an important Byzantine seaside town with its own rule, and in the beginning of the 9th century it was taken by the Bulgarian Khan Krum. Its cross-road location turned it during the following centuries into a military conquest in the case of each Bulgarian-Byzantine conflict.
Today, a narrow isthmus of about 300 meters separates the new town of Nessebar from the unique atmosphere of the town-museum. There, side by side live the ruins of the fortress wall and the gate of the Old Town dating from the 3rd – 4th century. Many of the churches are preserved there – all in all 23, each with a different system of chronology. The Old Metropolis and Saint Virgin Mary Eleusa are basilicas from the 6th century, and Saint Joan the Baptist, Saint Stephen, Saint Ivan Neosveteni, Pantocrator, Saint Archangels Michael and Gavril, Saint Paraskeva, Saint Todor were built in the period of the 11th – 14th century. They are unique examples of Medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian architecture, fresco and plastic. Features of these chapels are the exquisite ceramic elements inbuilt for the sake of decorating their facades.
Originally the town was populated only along the peninsula, but nowadays Nessebar is growing to the North and to the South along the coast. The fine sand, the small bays, the unique sand dunes increased beyond recognition the hotel construction in the region. It is already hard to the recognize the line between the hotels of Nessebar and the ones of the famous resort Sunny Beach on the north. A pedestrian walkway alongside the old streets of the peninsula with the typical houses of Nessebar, dinner in a catering site on the rocky beach of the Black Sea or other Bulgarian specialties, concert under the dome of the old church are things that can be seen and felt only here. There is no doubt that since 1979 Nessebar has turned into one of the top ten Bulgarian monuments on the UNESCO list.
The typical house in Nessebar has established itself a special place within the history of Bulgarian architecture. It is usually two-floored, with the first floor built of stone – and the upper floor – constructed with wooden boards impregnated with the salty taste of the sea, with bow-windows overhanging the cobblestone streets. Even today one can see stretched fishermen nets and fish delicacies drying according to ancient methods. Many of these houses are restored; they are preserved as monuments of culture and are accessible to tourist to view. One of them is the Bogotova house dating back to the 60’s of the 19th century and is situated in the centre of the Old town.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Holy Mount of Sofia

During the 13th – 14th centuries Sofia (then known as Sredets) were gilded with a “necklace” of monasteries, referred to as the “minor Holy Mount” of Sofia, with deference to Holy Mount Athos. Today it is assumed that it originally consisted of fourteen hierarchically administered monasteries, among which the major one was that of St George in the village Bistritsa, while the others were subordinated to it. Today nothing remains of the original mediaeval Bistritsa monastery, except the name of the locality – “Obrochishte”, meaning “consecrated ground”. The parish church of the village of Bistritsa now stands there, having been built much later, at the end of the 19th century.
The others are thought to be: Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Holy Virgin of Vitosha Mountain; German Monastery of St John of Rila, founded in 10th century and to which a privilege was granted by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus; Osenovlag Monastery of the Seven Altars; Lozen Monastery of The Lord Our Savior; Kokalyane Monastery of St Archangel Michael, which was closely connected to the mediaeval Bulgarian fortress town of Urvich; Kremikovtsi Monastery of St George; Seslavtsi Monastery of St Nicholas of Myra; Kourilo Monastery of St John the Precursor; Eleshnitsa Monastery of the Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin; Alino Monastery of the Lord Our Savior; Ilientsi Monastery of St Prophet Elijah; Bilintsi Monastery of St John of Rila in the town of Sredets, which was mentioned in 1108 by Theophilactus, Archbishop of Ohrid. According to some researchers the eminent Boyana Church is the only surviving part of a mediaeval monastery that once belonged to the congregation of the Holy Mount of Sofia. All of these monasteries maintained active relationships with Holy Mount Athos, and German Monastery was already a convent of the Zograph Monastery there in the early middle ages.
The heyday of the Minor Holy Mount came at the end of 16th and the early 17th century thanks to the dedication of Pimen of Zograf, a highly educated and devoted monk and painter who came from Mount Athos. Following tradition, he built and decorated with sacred murals nearly forty cloisters in the region, and trained a group of local people to form the so called “Sofia literally and artistic school”, consisting of his adherents and assistants. Pimen of Zograf, who was later canonized by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, was among the most distinguished religious on the Balkans in the early 17th century, and throughout the history of Orthodox art. The jewel of his heritage is the Church of St Nicholas of Myra of the Seslavtsi Monastery.
The number of cloisters and hermitages that originated in the vicinity of Sofia during the 10th – 13th centuries grew to nearly 140 by the middle of the 19th century. Many of them are no longer in existence, and the only clue that anything holy ever existed in a particular locality is its name, such as “Manastirishte” (meaning monastic ground) and “Tsarkvishte” (church ground), or the scant remains of a building. But several surviving monasteries still safeguard the spiritual glory of the Holy Mount Sofia.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Smederevo is located on the south coast of the Panonian see and on the north-east slopes of Sumadija hills. It is surrounded by the Danube in the north and by the Velika Morava in the east. This area is under the influence of mild continental climate, the average annual temperature is 11-12 C. Dominant wind is Kosava. The town consists of 27 rural and 11 urban communities. The total area is 480 km2 and it has 110.000 inhabitants of which about 65.000 live in the central town area.
Diversified town traffic net enables good connectivity of Smederevo with its road, railway and water lines. Smederevo is 45 km away from Belgrade. The town is connected to Belgrade and to the north of the country by its railway, and to the south parts of the country through Mala Krsna. There is a highway that runs through Smederevo, it is 30 km long.
Smederevo is one of the oldest settlements in the Serbian District Podunavlje. The settlement which was located on the current position of Smederevo was mentioned for the first time in 1019 in the charter of Byzantine Emperor, Vasilije II, and the present name of Smederevo is mentioned in 1381 in the charter of Monastery Ravanica. In the 15th century Despot Djuradj Brankovic chose this very place on the Danube to be capital of the Serbian state. In the period between 1428 and 1430 “mali grad” was built as a ruler’s castle at the lower end of the river Jezava into the Danube, and then looking up to the Fortress of Carigrad the construction of “Veliki grad” on an area of 10,5 ha was continued in the period between 1430 and 1439. During the time of Despot’s reign Smederevo was the centre of political, economical and cultural life of Medieval Serbia. In the beginning of the 20th Smederevo’s opulent agricultural area with significant production of fruits and wines with the famous “Smederevo’s vineyard”, its excellent geographic position on the Danube and growing trade made the basis of its further development.
Many events take place in Smederevo during the whole year and certainly the most important of them is “Smederevo’s autumn”. This touristic and business manifestation take place every year at the end of September, it is devoted to fruits of autumn (fruits, grapes and vine) with carnival of medieval knights and a rich cultural and artistic program. One cannot talk about Smederevo without mentioning “Smederevka”, one of leading autochthonous types of grapes from Smederevo’s vineyard. Presence of vines on Smederevo’s area date from ancient history. Illyrian, Thracians and Celtic tribes were raising grapes in these areas before the arrival of Roman conquerors who forbid raising grapes in provinces on Balkan during the emperor Domitian. Marcus Aurelius Probe abolished this prohibition and started, with soldiers from his legions to plant vines again on these areas. After the prohibition, numerous conquers and wars, viticulture and growing of Smederevka still keep the Smederevo’s tradition. Many people wrote about their grapes and wines but the name Smederevka as the name of the brand can be found in written sources from the 19th century. From 1879 merchants from European countries are buying wine from Smederevo and selling it in Switzerland, France and other countries. In 1882 on World Fair in Bordeaux, wines from Smederevo received significant recognition. Winegrowers from Smederevo still keep the tradition of growing Smederevka and still produce quality wines that can be tasted in their cellars.
If you are visiting Smederevo, don’t miss the following tourist’s destinations and historical and cultural monuments:
Smederevo’s Fortress (Serbian capital from 15th century, the biggest plain fortress in Europe)
Museum in Smederevo (learn about Smederevo’s history from ancient times until today)
The main city square (in this area are many cultural and historical monuments)
Orthodox temple of St George (the third biggest temple in Serbia, built as a Monastery Manasija)
Community Court building
Former Community House building
Assumption of Holy Mother of God Church (built in 15th century, is on Smederevo’s old cemetery, and it is believed that it was the family tomb and the church of Despot Djuradj Brankovic.