Rozhen Monastery was only a five-hour, five-mile hike directly from Melnick. (“Only” is relative to the degree of difficulty.) Up through hot and sandy areas set amid sandstone pillars. Rozhen is the only monastery restored during Ottoman rule which has survived to this day. It was built during the 12th or 13th century, but the present appearance dates back to the 16th century. Rozhen was a regional center of Orthodox Christianity in the 19th century and owned quite a bit of land in this area.
The gorgeous murals were painted from 16th-18th centuries and unique wood-carved altars and hundreds of icons have also been preserved. Some of the most important 17th century paintings include the external southern wall with Doomsday, and Jacobs Ladder. The inside walls of the main church were painted in 1732 with more than 150 subjects matters, all beautifully illustrated. Monks, hermits, historic personages, complicated compositions and Biblical themes…a riot of color.
The interior courtyard was full of wooden trestles supporting ancient grape vines. Rozhen Monastery was our second-to-last one for this trip. Interestingly enough, even here there were few tourists besides us. And we never saw another tour group throughout the entire trip. It’s nice to have historic places to yourself without jockeying or crowding to catch a glance or take a photo.
Back down to Melnik with lots of time to explore the village, relax, sit in outside restaurant, and repack in preparation for moving on tomorrow into the Rila Mountains, our last Bulgarian mountain range.