Bachkovo Monastery

The Bachkovo Monastery dedicated to Assumption of the Holy Virgin is the second largest Orthodox Monastery in Bulgaria, connected through its history with the Byzantine, Georgian and the Bulgarian cultures, directly subordinated to the  Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Bachkovo Monastery was also known and named in its past as the Petritsoni Monastery or Monastery of the Mother of God Petritzonitissa. Bachkovo Monastery sits in the western part of the gorgeous Rhodope Mountains, 10 km away from Asenovgrad, 29 km south of Plovdiv, on the right bank of Chepelare River.

Grigoriy Bukuriani – prominent Georgian military commander who was in the service of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I established in 1083 the Bachkovo Monastery. After the Ottomans conquered Bulgaria at the end of the 14th century /1393/, led by Sultan Murad I, the heroic last Patriarch of the Medieval Bulgarian Church, Euthymius Tarnovski was send into exile to the Bachkovo monastery, were he remained until the end of the life to find his final resting place there. Although the Bachkovo Monastery survived the first waves of the Turkish conquest of Bulgaria, Ottomans looted and destroyed it in the second half of the 15th or the early 16th century, after what Bachkovo was left deserted for nearly a century. In 1614 the larger church has been built by the Bulgarian nobleman Georgi and his son Constantine. Life-size donor portraits of the new founders appear on the eastern wall of the narthex of the 17th-century church. The wall paintings in the Bachkovo Monastery refectory date back from 1643 and are the outstanding work of an anonymous painter.

The Bachkovo ossuary, built as a tomb for Gregory and his brother Apasios between 1074 and 1083 is the only structure of Backovo Monastery dating back to the Byzantine times. The Bachkovo ossuary is located a short distance to the east of the present Bachkovo Monastery complex, on a steep mountain side. There are fourteen tombs in the stone floor of the first story (the crypt). The upper story served as a chapel and contains two wall tombs. There are donor portraits of Gregory and Apasios Pakourianos, who are depicted holding a model of the original  domed church with two side chapels. A 14th century donor’s mural portraits of the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander, the king of Bulgaria in the time, depictions of St. Konstantin and St.Elena, and of Joan the Evangelist are located in the second floor of the narthex of the ossuary. The king is drawn in full height; there is an inscription above his head: ‘In the glory of Christ, pious king and autocrat of Bulgarians and Greeks’.

The Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Bachkovo Monastery dating from 1604 houses a valuable Virgin Mary Eleusa icon painted in 1310 and brought from Georgia. This is according to the legend the wonder-working icon and attracts many pilgrims. The Virgin Mary Church of Bachkovo lies on the foundations of the former church destroyed by the Turks. The building has survived to this day in its original structure of a three- aisles, cruciform domed basilica with three pentagonal apses. The silver-gilded cross rising from the dome bears the inscription “Always win!” in Georgian. The Archangels Church dating probably from the 12th century has the vaulted open narthex. The murals in the spacious narthex painted in 1643 depict the life-size portraits of Georgi and his son Constantine, who were high-ranking notables in Istanbul and donors to the church. The master Joan Mosch /master Mosko/ painted the frescoes which decorate the nave in 1850. The composition of the large and impressive iconostasis is an eloquent picture of the development of iconostasis composition during the 17th century. It consists of five horizontal rows of icons divided into fifteen vertical fields. The two central icons in the iconostasis depicting the Holy Virgin and Jesus Christ date from 1793. The woodwork — iconostasis, bishop’s throne and the like, date from the 18th century. 103 manuscripts and 252 old printed books found in the Bachkovo Monastery in the early 20th century make “a real literature depository“. Bachkovo Monastery is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1984.