Monasteries of the Veliko Tarnovo region

According to this website, there are around 160 monasteries in Bulgaria, and some are even listed as UNESCO sites.

Throughout my year working with ‘Trapezitsa 1902’ association of Veliko Tarnovo – primarily with their hiking club – we developed two tours of the local monasteries, and I would like to share with you about some of the monasteries we visited.  Here is a map, showing where the different monasteries I visited are located in Bulgaria.

*This is the website of ‘Trapezitsa 1902’, the association I work with.  You can also find their hiking calendar on the website:

 Many of the monasteries in Bulgaria were established after Christianity was officially adopted in Bulgaria in 865 A.C.  They were places that focused on Slavic writing.  They were orthodox religious centers, and also cultural centers, and  major learning centers. At one point in history..books were written there, and other crafts were taught about music and painting; and woodcarving and gold-smithery was practiced there as well.  Many of Bulgaria's literature and paintings were created in monasteries.  Many of Bulgaria's traditions remain, because of the work within their monasteries.  During the Ottaman rule, the monasteries preserved the religions, customs and culture of Bulgaria.  They also played an important role in aiding Bulgarians during the revolutionary movement against the Ottomans, and most likely because of this the monasteries were destroyed and plundered multiple times; but the local people kept rebuilding them.  

One website refers to monasteries as one of the few “live historical monuments preserved to the present day”, and the active monasteries still have monks and nuns who answered our questions.  The monasteries are usually found in beautiful settings  in nature (as you can see in the pictures below) – The oldest monasteries were cut out of rocks..such as the ones in the Shumensko Plateau and in the Aladzha Monastery in Varna..many of these rock monasteries are not easily accessible, and reachable only with a rope or climbing equipment. 

The names may not mean a lot to you if you are not familiar with Bulgaria, or the Veliko Tarnovo region, but you can see the pictures, and brief information about each one below.

This is a map of Part 1 of our tour of monasteries in November 2011 – and indeed it was a long 2-day hike.  We passed through 4 cities (Veliko Tarnovo, Gorna Oryahovitsa, Arbanassi, and Lyaskovets) visiting 6 monasteries:
Due to the large distances we needed to cover between monasteries, Part 2 of our tour was by bus.  We visited an additional 7 monasteries in the Veliko Tarnovo region, the village of Kapinovo, and the ethnographic complex Etar.

 If you are interested in a specific monastery, you can find information in English in the links below, or to see pictures of all the monasteries scroll down.

Here are pictures and some information on the monasteries we visited.

Transfiguration monastery - Veliko Tarnovo (Преображенски манастир)

The original monastery was was located about 500 m from the present one some of its ruins still remain. Most probably it was destroyed at the invasion of the Ottoman armies. Written documents indicate that in the 16th and 17th century it was active and had busy relations with Russian monasteries.

Its current location was rebuilt in 1825, when the abbot was appointed by the Rila Monastery monk Father Zotik (or Zosim), and in 1832 the sultan granted permission for a new church to be built in the monastery.  The construction of the new church started in 1834 by Dimitar Sofiyanliyata.  But, because of his participation during a rebellion in 1835, he was hanged by the Turks, and the church was not finished until 1837, with the help of Nikola Fichev, or better known as the Master Kolyo Ficheto.
The paintings in the monastery were by the famous artist Zachary Zograf in 1849-1851. He was a famous painter during the Bulgarian National Revival because his paintings introduced everyday life elements in them.
One of his well-know pieces is the Wheel (or cycle) of Life..the inner ring, represents the 4 seasons (Spring, Summer, fall, and winter).  The outer ring starts with the word Life and ends with Death, and the pictures around a child at 4 yrs, at 14 yrs, as a youth at 21 yrs, and a young man at 30 yrs, 48yrs, 56.

The bell was donated from the Russian Emperor Alexander II as a symbol thanking the Bulgarians for their help during the Russo-Turkish war.

This was on the way from Preobrajeski monastery to St. Troitsa..It was made in remembrance of a previous monastery

The Holy Trinity monastery - Veliko Tarnovo  (Патриаршески манастир "Св. Троица")

Аt the time of it’s original founding, the monastery was in a cave.  It is a cave with a cross..where it was only accessible with a rope (for climbing).  During Patriarch Evtimi’s time the monastery was also one of the major hubs of the Tarnovo Literary school; teaching a considerable number of monks.  They also translated and rewrote many of the Slavonic books of the church.  Artists of various fields also worked there - painters, goldsmiths, binders of books, scribes and so on.

After 1948 the monastery became a convent.

St. Iliya monastery - Gorna Oryahovitsa (Св. Проп. Илия)

It was dark by the time we arrived here in the fall, so I grabbed this photo of the monastery from online at
This monastery is named after the prophet St. Elijah

Arbanassi monastery – The Assumption (Св. Богоридица) 

This monastery was built before the Turkish invasion, during the 2nd Bulgarian empire.  During the first few years of the Ottoman empire, only this monastery and a few houses were all that remained in the village of Arbanassi after the invasion; but eventually, even this monastery was plundered and abandoned.  But in 1680, the townspeople raised money to have the church rebuilt as it is today.
The icon of the Virgin Mary in this monastery is thought to be miraculous, and prayed to by the nuns and the locals.  It was originally without its silver covering, but a local trader donated the funds for it when his child was cured after praying to the it.

St. Nikolai Chudotvorets monastery - in Arbanassi  (Cв. Николай-чудотворец)

Currently the monastery is a convent.  I was very impressed by the beautiful garden and church inside, and helpfulness of the nuns.  They have so much information on their website, listed above.

St’s Peter and Paul monastery - Lyaskovets (Св. Св. Петър и Павел) 

In 1874 the first Orthodox theological school in Bulgaria was founded here, and operated until 1885.
This monastery was active during the Bulgarians struggles for freedom from the Ottoman rule..partly due to its location - it was not easily accessible, and it was close to the capital - Veliko Tarnovo at the time.  Many rebels and educationists were give refuge here during these times..including one of Bulgaria’s favorite revolutionaries, Vasil Levski,.  

Prisovski monastery – St. Pantaleimon (Св. Пантелеймон)

This monastery was established in 1870 as a family monastery by the couple Mincho and Draja Raychevi.  The church was built in 1881. 
It is currently an active convent.

Merdanski monastery – St. 40 Martyrs (Св. Четиридесет мъченици)

according to legends this is the place where the Veliko Tarnovo Patriarch officially welcomed King Ivan Assen II after his victory at Klokotnitsa, becoming a celebration day for 40 martyrs.

About 1.5 miles away from the present-day monastery is the remains of the original monastery

Kapinovo monastery – St. Nikolai (Св. Николай)

Kapinovo monastery played an active role in preparing for the April Uprising.

There was a nearby battle during the Russian-Turkish war

Plakovski monastery – St. Prophet Iliya (Св. прор. Илия)

In 1835 the monastery aided the Velchevo conspiracy by making guns and gunpowder to aid the revolutionaries

the only reminder from the original monastery is a large marble slab that can be found by the monastery bell.

The old church was demolished and the current church was built..with secret exits from the church into the day these exits would be used by the revolutionary Vasil Levski. 

Kilifarevski monastery - The Virgin Mary (Рождество на Пресвета Богородица)

This monastery was an important literary and spiritual center in Bulgaria during the Middle Ages.  Books were written and translated here.  It later was a literary school in 1360 with more than 460 students .

When the Ottoman invasion reached Veliko Tarnovo,  the monastery fortified its walls and towers..however, with the fall of Veliko Tarnovo, the monastery was also destroyed.

 After being rebuilt in 1442, it was destroyed again in 1596 when found to be hiding rebels during the second Turnovo uprising.  Because of this, the monastery was burnt, and the fortress walls were completely destroyed.

The new monastery was built in 1718.  In 1950 the monastery was changed to a convent

Dryanovo monastery - St. Archangel Michael (Св. Архангел Михаил)

the monastery became a religious and cultural center, and one of the largest and best-maintained monasteries in the Veliko Tarnovo region.

The Holy Shrine on the list of Bulgaria's 100 National Tourist sites to visit. 

Sokolski monastery - The Virgin Mary Assumption (Успение на Пресвета Богородица)

In 1836 the monastery church school was opened, and the monastery became an educational center.

In May 1876 the monastery served as the starting point for the Gabrovo participants of the April Uprising.

During the Russo-Turkish war, the monastery was turned into a military hospital

These are pictures of other monasteries I have visited as well:

Aladja monastery in Varna:

Cliff monasteries in the Shumen Plateau area:
Monasteries near the village Osmar:

Kostadinov monastery

Direkliata monastery

:  this monastery was inaccessible to us, since we did not have the rope or climbing equipment needed to reach it.

monasteries in the Byala Russe region:

Bacarabovski monastery

Ivanovski monastery

 Monasteries in the Rhodope's

Assenovgrad monastery

 Bachkovski monastery

 Monasteries in Southwestern Bulgaria:

Rila monastery

 This is the room I stayed in at Rila

Zemen monastery

Rupite monastery

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