Melnik

The town of Melnik is located close to the Greek border and Sandanski town, in the southwest foothills of the blossoming Pirin Mountain. Melnik is the city on pyramidal hills, formed by erosion of a clay soil. Surrounded by phenomenal sand pyramids, Melnik has retained the atmosphere of traditional Bulgarian life and culture – picturesque houses with tiled roofs, narrow stone streets, wineries and pubs. The unique atmosphere of the town is complemented by the Melnik River flowing through the main street. In 1968 Melnik was officially declared as an architectural reserve and 96 of its buildings are cultural monuments.

According to archaeological evidence, the first to settle in the area were the Thracian tribe Medi to which the famous rebel Spartacus belonged. Centuries later, the presence of the Romans left the town one of its landmarks — the Ancient Roman bridge, which is still preserved. The Slavs who later came in these parts named the settlement Melnik after the sand formations surrounding it on all sides (the Bulgarian word “mel” means “white clay, chalk”). Melnik became a part of the First Bulgarian Empire under the rule of Khan Presian I (836-852) and prospered greatly in the period. Melnik became the capital of an independent feudal principality ruled by Despot Alexius Slav, a descendant of the Asen dynasty, in 1209, and passed through an economic and cultural upsurge during his reign. The town continued to flourish under Tsar Ivan Asen II because of the duty-free trade with Venetian-ruled Dubrovnik. The town was a capital of the self-declared sovereign ruler, despot Alexius Slav, governor of the region during the reign of Tzar Kaloyan /1197-1207/ who donated the nearby Rozhen Monastery. During the middle ages, dignitaries fallen into disgrace were exiled to these parts by the Byzantine emperors, but yet it became one of the largest settlements in the Balkans. Hidden by a seemingly impenetrable mountain wall, the village of Melnik was able to withstand the effects of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. The town of Melnik has been popular as a wine-growing region since 1346. During the first half of the 13th century Melnik passed through a great political, economic and cultural upsurge, when despot Slav, a descendant of Assen dynasty ruler of the Rhodopes and Pirin mountain during 1209 turned the town into a capital of an independent feudal principality. Building developed to a great extent. Most of the house-building ruins are of that time. According to archaeological investigations data, residential quarters existed not only at the hill of St. Nicholas – the main center of the Medieval Melnik, but also at its foot in the north. The church of St Nicholas at Melnik is now almost completely stripped of frescoes. They were in place until 1939/1940, when they were removed from the walls and transferred to the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Much representative was the Boyars House whose ruins may be observed at Chatala height in the Eastern part of the town.

The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the 14th-15th century resulted in a long period of decline, but Melnik was once again a thriving city in the 17th and 18th century, the time of the Bulgarian National Revival, due to the tobacco and wine production, with wine being exported abroad, mainly to England and Austria. In that time Melnik was also a center of craftsmanship, particularly church decoration and woodcarving. Many Bulgarian schools and churches were built in Melnik in that period.

Melnik was liberated by the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, but was given back to the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Berlin. The town was the centre of a kaza in Serez sanjak of Selanik Province as Melnik until 1912. During the First Balkan War, Melnik was ultimately liberated and became once again part of Bulgaria. In the late 18th century, the town had 1300 houses, seventy churches and a population of some 20, 000 people, but a fire largely destroyed it. Since then it has been restored and rebuilt, and still, the current population of 400 is nowhere near the one from the beginning of the 20th century, when it primarily consisted of Greeks, but also of Bulgarians, Turks, Vlachs and Roma.

At the end of the the Second Balkan War in 1913, the Greeks left Melnik and moved to Greece by the express orders of the Greek government; the order being given when it was known that Melnik was to remain Bulgarian. Automobiles and carts were supplied to enable the Greeks to take all their goods with them to Demir Hisar (Sidirokastro). An order was given and executed at Nevrokop, where force had to be employed to make the Greek inhabitants depart. By order of the officers, all the contents of the big Bulgarian shops in Melnik belonging to Temelko Hadzhiyanev and Konstantin Poptachev, were seized. The little Bulgarian shops and private houses were left to be pillaged by the population. On their way, the Greeks burnt the Bulgarian villages they passed through, leaving intact only remote small hamlets in the mountains. The refugees went primarily to Sidirokastro and fewer settled in Serres and Thessaloniki.

The town of Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria, but it is so attractive and considered as the most beautiful Oriental town in the Balkans. Often the number of tourists and visitors per day exceeds the number of its 230 inhabitants. Fortress of Despot Slav, built in 13th century at the top of the holy hill rising over Melnik by Despot Alexius Slav – son of tsar Kaloyan’s sister. There you can see the remains of the monasteries St. Zona Monastery and St. Nicholas as well as remains of small chapels. The town of Melnik is famous for its ancient houses and rich architecture, legendary history, incredible nature, weird rock formations and thick flavor wines. Its cobbled backstreets, with their narrow courtyards and whitewashed stone houses on timber props, invite aimless wandering and guarantee some eye-catching sights. And yet once there, you find yourself in an attractive main square with taverns and timber propped whitewashed stone houses leading off to cobbled streets and courtyards where flowers and vines adorn the facades…. The town of Melnik declared itself the culture – historical landmark and a museum town. The climate in the town of Melnik is favorable for treatment of pulmonary, renal and rheumatic diseases. It is a host of international folklore festivals.

The famous Melnik vine had been brought here from Syria in ancient times what made Melnik an old wine center. Melnik wine was highly appreciated at the market of Thessaloniki. Winston Churchill, himself, ordered 500 liters per year from the renowned wine form Melnik.

Melnik Sights of interest : The city, itself, is a sight with its huddled next to each other ancient white houses, situated among unique sand formations, known as Melnishki pyramids. The most famous is the Kordopulovata house, the biggest one from the Renaissance /the National Revival/ period in the Balkans. Inside there is an exhibition of the Melnishki wine cellars, dug out in a shape of a tunnel in the rock, with enormous barrels for storing the Melnishko wine on display. The visitors are welcome to try delcious wine and food in numerous authentic restaurants /mehanas/ there. The Town Historical museum is in the Pashova House. The oldest preserved house in Bulgaria – the Bolyarska House /House of Boyars/ is situated in the town of Melnik. There are numerous hotels and boarding houses providing accommodation in Melnik, that successfully imitate the good old times. Only 6 kilometers away of Melnik is the Rozhenski Monastery located, the road to which passes through the Melnishki pyramids and it is incredibly beautiful.

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