bus to Monastery
We are not too sure how today is going to turn out. We want to go to the Rock Monastery that is about half way between Balchik and Varna. We don’t have any information on it, but Ju gave us a bus number to get out there. We will give it a try.
Catching the bus, we let them know where we wanted to go, and took basically the same road as we had taken the other day, just in reverse. We probably should have done it from Balchik, but today is the day.
The bus dropped us on the side of the road with a gesture up a side road. Apparently we will have to walk this. It was a pretty steep long walk. About 2km or so. There was a little traffic going either way, but not much. When we got to the entrance, we were surprised at how many cars were parked here. Most of these would have been here long before we started walking, so hopefully would be almost finished, and on their way out as we went in. There were also a lot of signs for walking paths. Some of these are multiple day hikes, and others are just around the park area.
After we had bought our tickets and headed in, we stopped at the small museum. This gave a few details about the complex. There are a couple of different sections. The main Monastery section, a crypt and a few other sections carved out of the rocks. A brief history on the place, and how it was discovered by two Czech archaeologists that went on to become the founders of Bulgarian Archaeology. The rest of the museum was taken up by Icons, wood cuts and other religious paraphernalia.
Aladzha Monastery was built when the Turks were pushing their way North as a refuge for Christians. It is in a pretty remote place hidden in the hills. The sections of the complex are scattered around the sides of the hill, so we went to start with the crypt. It sounded interesting.
Walking out there, the path is pretty indistinct, and as there are lots of other paths criss-crossing the entire area we were not sure that we were even heading in the right direction after 500m. Still we managed to find them. Here we got our first glimpses of how the hill is honeycombed with rooms, passages and chambers. The first thing you see is the remains of some old walls. They do not look like fortifications, but more probably to keep livestock in or out of an area. Then there is a section carved down into the ground with a stone staircase. This lead to the main crypt. Unfortunately it is inaccessible. There is a large iron grid welded and bolted into the rock to prevent you from entering. All that you can do is try and pear into the gloom. This shows a room with a tunnel leading off from the back. With a bit of scrambling you can get up to a few other holes carved into the rock above it, but they are not that interesting. they do link up to each other from the inside though. With age, and the condition of the rock, there have been many small rock falls, and these too are inaccessible now.
From there, we wandered back to the main section at the gates then on to the Monastery itself. As we walked, we passed a few shrubs that were almost covered with small bits of red and white string. At the moment we have no idea what they are for, but discovered a lot later that they are given to people on the first of March. You can take them off and tie them to a tree when you see the first signs of spring. Blossoms, or a Stork or something similar.
On approach to the main section, you cannot get that clear a view of the structure from all the trees, but as you get closer to the side of the cliff you can see it.
It starts about two stories up and has a couple of different levels. The original staircase to reach it is no longer there, and they have built a large metal and concrete staircase to reach the different sections. At the base is a large chest with a note saying that the complex is not consecrated, so please do not insert coins or notes into the rocks for blessings. Apparently this is a problem, and as the rock is so soft, the wind is already doing a lot of damage carving the stone apart over the years.
Going up, there is not that much to see. The very occasional sign of a fresco on a roof, or a small cell for sleeping or storage. A few other chambers. I do not know how much of the cliff has eroded, or if structures were built sticking out from the rock, but now they are all connected with only one or two small tunnels. The rest is just along the cliff face.
At the end is a small chapel that is again sealed off. I get that though as it has the best frescos preserved inside. People have been throwing small coins through the bars in the door, even though there is another plaque right beside it, asking you not to.
As we went back down, we took our time to admire the forms that the rock has been carved into by the wind over the years, and from the look it is deteriorating very rapidly.
We knew it was not the best example of a rock monastery in Bulgaria, and Bulgaria is not that well known for its rock monasteries anyway, but it was still worth a visit. If just to see how Bulgarians do things.
Back down on the main road we had to wait for a bus. There is no knowing how long this would take, so we would just have to wait. A taxi pulled up, and with our distrust of taxis, we wanted nothing to do with it. However he was persistent, and would only charge us the same as the bus, so why not. Jumping in, we went quickly back to town to be dropped off at the archaeological museum.
Going in, it looks like a pretty decent museum. Fairly well set out with a lot of information in English. They did overdo the Neolithic and stone age finds a lot, but had a good collection. That said, it was a bit monotonous seeing pot after pot after pot. However you can easily see the differences in styles from different potters and different ages. Funnily enough the Stone and Bronze aged pots looked better made and more intricately decorated than things from the 8th and 9th centuries! We were joined by throngs of screaming school kids, and ended up doing the museum in a disjointed manner, to try in vain to keep out of their way.
The gold work that we got to see from the Thracian (Greek) period was beautifully done. From small detailed seals that need a magnifying glass to see properly to tiny sculptures. It was just unfortunate that a lot of it was not on display. It was only one small room that had it. On the other side they did have a lot of burial artefacts though. Apparently the Thracians were not too worried while they were alive, and believed that things only got interesting after you died. So a lot of their finest work was taken with them to the grave. One of the most famous finds had been recreated with the artefacts still in place, which was a nice touch.
Still, for the best museum in Bulgaria, it was only just passable. A lot of dry interesting facts that were quickly forgotten (I just hope that some of it soaked accurately into our subconscious) and screaming out of control kids is what I will remember from here.