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Photo: Travel: Bulgaria: Monasteries: Bachkovo

Bachkovo Monastery

This is the second-largest monastery in Bulgaria (after Rila) and is located only a few kilometers from Asenovgrad (the city with more churches per capita in the country). There are several other monasteries in the area. Well worth a visit, best avoided on weekends. Prepare for some aggravation.

The interior of the church is very dark and although the iconostasis is lit, almost none of the frescoes are visible (mostly covered in soot and not illuminated in any case). There are gorgeous murals on the building walls in the courtyard, and in the smaller second church adjoining the main one. Although that church was closed, one can peek at the frescoes on the first floor logia through the wrought-iron grills of the gates barring the entrance. There is not much else to do aside from that because most of the grounds are off limits.

Photography is strictly forbidden anywhere on the monastery grounds. That's right, not just the interior of the church (the usual practice in Bulgaria), but even outside. There are notices everywhere (and even an excerpt from the constitution that says one cannot photograph anyone without persmission) and there are numerous wardens who mill about and keep a watchful eye on the visitors. I managed to take a few but the guerilla-style photography means the angles are odd, and the quality not so great. I had no chance to take photos inside the church on account of dozens of people praying.

There are many things to see although your ability to actually see them really depends on various factors like the mood of the wardens, the number of visitors, and your willingness to pay. We visited on a Sunday, which turned out to be a very bad idea. There were many people, most having come to pray at the miraculous icon in the main church (with a long line) and some having come to get a priest to bless their cars (!). We paid the 3 leva per person extra to see the wonderful refectory, totally worth the price of admission (and the lazy warden stayed outside for a few minutes so I got a few photos of the murals). The northern courtyard church with the paintings by Zahari Zograf is only open for baptisms, so we could not see it. The musem was closed because the guide was nowehere to be found. The ossuary is never open to visitors (fragile frescoes inside), and we could not visit the third church outside because the warden refused to open it for us (too long to walk there and too many visitors on the grounds). There is a decent English guidebook with nice photographs (which show that the closures and the bans are of revent vintage).

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