Troyan Monastery

The Troyan Monastery is the third largest Stavropigial monastery in Bulgaria, dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Holy Virgin. The Troyan Monastery is situated on the northern slopes of the Balkan Mountain range /Stara Planina Mt/, in the Valley of the Beli Osam River, some 5 km to the south of the town of Troyan in Central Bulgaria, some 160 away from Sofia capital.

The area of the present day Troyan Monastery was settled by Thracians in the antiquity. Later on through history it came into the rule of the Romans and Byzantines and the Ottomans, to become part of the newly established Bulgarian Tsardom in 1878. According to the chronicles, two hermits coming from Mount Athos founded the monastery around 1600. Later on passing on his way to Wallachia – Vlashko (Romania) settled another monk from Mount Athos, carrying the miraculous icon of “the Three-handed Holy Virgin”. Each time the monk decided to continue his way, somehow the icon came back to the monastery. Thus the holy relics remained in the Troyan monastery forever. A number of monks were attracted by the site later and the Troyan Monastery developed rapidly.

Typical for Troyan Monastery are the three courtyards – for the faithful, for the monastery workshops and for the monks. This creates an interesting space gradation and first impression upon entering the monastic complex. Through the large gate built in a low stone wall one enters in a peaceful picturesque monastic courtyard: in front is the three-storey façade of the monastery wings, to the right is the four-storey wing with the wooden verandas, sunk in deep shade, while to the left – two low buildings, above which lines out the picturesque panorama of the surrounding hills. A picturesque Troyan Monastery church with a bell-tower and the wooden verandas of the wings form the outline of that courtyard.

For the decorations of the church “The Holy Virgin Assumption” the monks invited in 1847 one of the most outstanding painters form the period of the Bulgarian Revival – Zahari Zograph from Samokov. His wall paintings cover all inner walls of the Troyan Monastery church and the outside western and northern galleries. On one of the facades in the Troyan monastery courtyard the master depicted the images of a lion and elephant, symbol of the mightness and calmness of the Bulgarian people. The wood carved iconostasis whose main effect is the natural noble color of the wood was created by skillful woodcarvers from the nearby town of Tryavna. Besides the works of religious art, the Troyan monastery keeps various objects of art and handicrafts. The Troyan monastery was also famous during the period of the Bulgarian Revival as a spiritual and cultural center. Thus, throughout the centuries the Troyan monastery became home-place of the Bulgarian creative art.

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. It is a fine example of the impact of the popular concepts 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. In addition, he painted a completely secular group portrait of the monastic brotherhood in the refectory – something extremely unusual for the time. Although chronicle dates back to the foundation of the Troyan monastery in the year 1600, regrettably 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 and 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 and headed by the Father Superior Macarius. Four years later, the Troyan monastery became a citadel of the 1876 April Uprising. Fortunately, most of the great works of old and National Revival art have survived. The iconostasis of the main church is a masterpiece of woodcarving. Amazing in its originality, is the carving of the holy altar gates in the St. Nicholas Chapel. The icons introduce us once again to the best-known National Revival artists: the Samolkovians Dimiter Zograph and Nikola Obrazopissov, Tryavna’s Simeon Tsonyuv, Dossyu Koyuv, Koyu Tsenyuv, Theodossius Koyuv Vitanov.