joi, 4 august 2011

Day #6: No Gas in Greece, Lost in Bulgaria

After a very short night in Thessaloniki it was the time to come home... It was our third time in this city and every time we just transited, seen only the Holiday Inn's bed and the road. The feeling we missed something was very present, so we decided to take a fast city tour on our way out. It wasn't a very good idea, really. Is crowded, with cars and people, and dirty, because the subway is under construction. There are some interest points, but we didn't feel like looking for a parking place and walking back three kilometers to see the White Tour and two churches. Who can blame us, after all those unique and unusual places we saw in the last few days?
During the last night, on the highway, we noticed that were no gas stations. In the city we couldn't reach any station, because it was a second tray we needed to enter and we missed it, so we thought we'll just go out on the first exit and we'll find some gas. Well... it wasn't quite like that. We exit in the middle of nowhere, asked about a gas station in four villages, and finally, with our empty reservoir, completely lost, we found the gas station back on the highway. The same highway. Hungry.
So, we ate in the gas station, some spaghetti (me) and beans (Bogdan), had a last Greek coffee (did you know they named it Greek instead of Turkish after the Turkish invasion from Cyprus, in '74?) and we were back on the road.

Is about one year since Bogdan told me about some nice and special monastery, in the Southern Bulgaria, and he asked me to guide him when I'll see the monastery sign on the road. So, we entered Bulgaria, saw the signs 30 kilometers ahead, and turned right when it came the time. 

On our way to the monastery we found this beautifully restored village, Melnik. 

The town is an architectural reserve and 96 of its buildings are cultural monuments. With a population of 385 people, it is the smallest town in Bulgaria, retaining its city status today for historical reasons.

According to archaeological evidence, the first to settle in the area were the Thracian tribe Medi to which the famous rebel Spartacus belonged.

The town is also associated with the impressive natural sand pyramids in various forms, resembling giant mushrooms, ancient towers and obelisks, spread in an area of 17 km² near Melnik.

The town has also been famous for producing a strong wine since at least 1346. The local wine was reportedly a favorite of Winston Churchill's.

After a short walk on the city's streets we hurried to the monastery. It was already late and we wanted to come back home in the same day. Yesterday. 
When, surprise! Bogdan said the monastery doesn't seem to look like the one he found on his researches. Well... it seemed to me that even the name was different :). He wanted to go to Rila's monastery and we were in Rozhen's monastery. Amazing place, but different. 
It offers an amazing view to the peaks of the Pirin and Belasitsa mountains, and the famous ‘mels’ of Melnik – the latter being pyramid-like hills around the town, formed by the erosion of clay loam.

We found out that the Rozhen monastery is the biggest sanctuary in the Pirin region and one of the few Bulgarian monasteries of the Middle Ages, which has survived relatively intact up to present days. According to annals kept in Atone, Greece, the monastery dates back at least to 890 AC – for comparison, the biggest monastery in Bulgaria, the Rila monastery, is believed to have started functioning in 917 AC. 
So we were lost in the right place, isn't it?

The monastery's name, Rozhen, is coming from the root of the Bulgarian word for birth, ‘Rozhdenie’ - I found this information interesting, mainly because the church of the monastery is named St. Birth of Virgin Mary.

As other monasteries, the Rozhen one also has its miraculous icon-protector, of Virgin Mary, which is kept in an ark in one of the chapels of the complex. According to the legend, the icon is one of the few copies of a sacred iron, owned by a widow of Nikea (Greece). During the times of the Byzantine’s emperor Theophilus, famous for his persecution of icon worship, the widow threw the icon in the waters in order to avoid its being destroyed by the emperor. The icon did not sink but sailed for years, until in 999 it reached the gates of the Iviron monastery in Greece.

So, Rila Monastery will have to wait until our next visit to Bulgaria! Because we lost the road, as I told you,  we found those two treasures in Bulgaria, which we didn't know at all, we ate sushi in Sofia and we arrived at home very late in the night, tired, but really, really happy. And, I almost forgot to tell ya': we made love 4 consecutive nights in 4 different countries. 
Make love, not war!

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