The Belashtitsa monastery "Saint George Victorious"
The Belashtitsa monastery Saint George Victorious is a monument of culture. It is an orthodox women monastery. The monastery is situated near the village of Belashtitsa, in the Western Rhodope Mountains, at 12 km to the South of the city of Plovdiv.
The monastery was built in 1020 by the Byzantine Commander Nikephoros Xiphias - Governor (strategos) of Philippopolis of 1018. According to legend, Xiphias has suggested to the Emperor Basil II to bypass the Bulgarian positions and strike them from the rear. After Basil agreed, Xiphias led a picked infantry detachment over Mount Belasica, and on 29 July 1014, led his troops on a charge on the unsuspecting Bulgarians, who panicked and broke before the unexpected attack. Thus, he contributed to the defeat of Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria in the year 1014 at the battle of Belashtitsa mountain (Macedonia). Xiphias erected the monastery and dedicated it to Saint George the Victorious. The monastery was destroyed by the Ottomans during their invasion of the Balkan peninsula in 1364, and was rebuilt in the 18th century. It was burnt again in 1878 during the last battles of the Russo-Turkish war. After the Liberation the monastery was revived. Currently the preserved church is the closest to its original appearance.
In the courtyard of the monastery there is a healing spring, which is believed to date from the time the monastery was founded and to be miraculous.
Close to it is the area named Chinarite, with several plane trees and an Ottoman watchtower.
Asenovgrad – The Small Jerusalem
Asenovgrad is situated 15 km south of Plovdiv. It is the biggest of the towns in Bulgaria, which are not district centres.
The town is renown for its numerous churches and is named therefore the Small Jerusalem or the Bulgarian Jerusalem. There are 5 monasteries, 17 churches and 58 chapels in the vicinity of this town. Some of the most famous and beautiful Christian worshipping places are: the Saint Mother of God church, the Saint Archangels church, Saint Petka monastery, the Gorni Voden monastery Saint Kirik and Julita, the Saint Mother of God - Annunciation church –the Fish church, The Assumption church, Saint John of Rila church, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria church, Saint Nicholas of Myra church, Saint George church in the Ambelino quarter, Saint George church in the Metoha quarter, Saint Marina church, the chapels Saint Mother of God the Small, Saint Constantine and Helena, Saint Yanni, Saint Varvara and others. The town is a centre for the development of religious and cultural tourism. The tourist roads to the monasteries of Saint Petka, Saint Kirik and Yulita and Arapovo monastery are especially attractive. The Asen’s fortress is at 2 km from the town.
There are interesting museums in Asenovgrad i.e. Historical, Ethnographic, Palaeonthological, the Museum of Rock and the Museum of Wine.
The rupestrian phenomenon Belintash is situated at 30 kilometres from the town. Close to Asenovgrad is the Chervenata Stena reserve in the vicinity of the village of Bachkovo, the cave Topchika, the locality Usoykata in the vicinity of the village of Dobrostan and the locality Lale Bair in the vicinity of Asenovgrad.
Assen fortress above Asenovgrad - Petrich Fortress
The Asen fortress, or Petrich fortress, is a medieval fortress, situated in the Rhodope mountains and is 2 km away from Asenovgrad. It has existed during the Thracian times in the 9th c. and was reconstructed by Byzantium in order to guard the gate to the White Sea pass and to secure the Byzantine boundary in this region. The first written records about the fortress date from the 11th c. and come from the Statute of the, then founded, Bachkovo monastery, where it was referred to as the stronghold of Petrich. It is seen from these records that the Asen fortress used to own its own army and administration. Captured by the Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade, the fortress has existed until 1410 and was destroyed by the invading Ottoman troops.
The fortress was named after Tzar Ivan Asen II, who in 1231did a number of repairs with a view of strengthening it. An inscription carved in the rock testifies for this:
"In 6739/1231/, Indiction 4, Ivan Asen, by God's will Tsar of the Bulgarians, the Greeks and other peoples, installed Alexi Sevast here in power and erected this fortress".
This stronghold is listed as one of the 100 national tourist sites. It is a national monument of culture. Open all year-round for visit and holds a stamp.
The Bachkovo Monastery Mother of God Assumption is one of the largest and oldest Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Europe, the second largest after the Rila monastery. It celebrates its festive day on 15 August. It is located on the right bank of the Chepelare River, at 10 km south of Asenovgrad. The monastery is set in the picturesque Rhodopes and is one of the most visited due to its scope and history.
The monastery was founded by Prince Gregorios Pakourianos or Grigol Bakurianis, a prominent Georgian statesman, military commander in Byzantine service, in 1083. He set up a seminary for Georgian youth at the monastery. There are preserved copies in Greek and Georgian of the Statute of the monastery. As of this Statute the mundane and church authorities, including the Bishop of Philippopol (Plovdiv) cannot interfere in the monastery matters (chapter 3) and the access to the monastery is denied to Greek monks (chapter 24).
During the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Bachkovo Monastery was patronized by Tsar Ivan Alexander, which is evidenced by an image of him on the archs of the ossuary's narthex. Since the 11th century, a school was housed in the monastery.
It is believed that the founder of Tarnovo Literary School and last patriarch of the mediaeval Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Euthymius (1330–1404), was exiled by the Turks and died in the monastery in the early 15th century.
Although the monastery survived the first waves of Turkish invasion in Bulgarian lands, it was later looted and destroyed, but restored near the end of the 15th century. The refectory, whose mural paintings by an anonymous author bear a significant artistic value, was reconstructed in 1601 and the Church of Virgin Mary, still preserved today, was finished in 1604.
The Monastery is one of the 100 national tourist sites. Many shops and stands attract with the variety of goods – herbs, jams, milk, cheese, wool blankets etc.