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Melnik and The Rozhen Monastery

Melnik is the smallest and one of the most fascinating towns-museums in Bulgaria. Nestled amongst the lowest south-western fold of Pirin, it combines in it the memory of a prosperous past with the pastoral cosiness and the unique in its kind countryside. It dates back to Thracian times. The Romans after them and later on the Slavs finally developed the town and made it an important religious, cultural and administrative centre. It was at the end of the 6th century that the Slavs gave the town its todays melodious name.

The town was entered into the boundaries of Bulgaria after the 7th century. From the year of 1215 it was the capital of the independent despot Alexii Slav - boyar of the Melnik feudal principality and a son of Tsar Kaloyans sister. After Bulgaria succumbed to Ottoman Rule, the town went into a decline but it reached its peak once again during the years of the Revival Period. Key occupation of the people in the region was the production of wines of high quality, which matured in the sand wine cellars around and under the town itself. Its citizens enjoyed wealth and prosperity. They started to build big, rich and beautiful houses and to set aside funds for education. They maintained their national spirit vigilant. The prominent enlightener and patriot Emanuil Vaskidovich was born here and the Revival Period functionaries Neofit Rilski (Neofit of Rila) and Hristaki Pavlovich worked here.

After the Liberation Melnik remained under Ottoman Rule and was on decline. The new boundaries discontinued its traditional links of the Aegean Sea region and Vardar Macedonia. The phylloxera, which destroyed the renowned Melnik vineyards at the beginning of the 20th century, played a big part in the decline, too. Moreover, the town was almost completely destroyed by fire during the Balkan War. Yane Sandanski with his detachment of armed volunteers liberated the town in 1912 г. But no more than 1000 people were left from the old-time 12 000 inhabitants.

Nowadays the town has about 500 inhabitants but possesses great potential for the development of tourism. The remains of the old-time splendour are sufficient for one to be engulfed into the atmosphere of long past centuries. The old Melnik houses are impressive with their architecture in conformity with the laws of nature, with their wealth, with their wine-cellars, with Bulgarian sense of practicality and beauty.

The more popular of them are as follows: Kordpоulovs House - the biggest residential building on the Balkan Peninsula from the Revival Period, housing extraordinary mural paintings and an enormous wine-cellar; The Bolyar House (the Byzantine one) - a valuable architectural monument of Medieval Times, the oldest preserved residential building in our country; Pashovs house - turned nowadays into a town museum of history; Velevs and many others. The ruins of St. Nikola Monastery of the 12th century, the Slavovs Fortress of the 13th - 14th centuries, the Roman Bridge, the ancient Turkish bath are of interest, too as well as the ruins of the several churches, which in the old times added to 75 in number.

Melnik is situated among whimsical sand pyramids - some of the most fascinating natural phenomena not solely in Bulgaria, but on the Balkans as well. The Melnik and the Rozhen Rivers along with their tributaries deeply cut into the sandstones. Rains and weathering did the rest, sculpting peculiar and bizarre shapes - Gothic temples, towers, columns, mushrooms, fish fins and what not else. A real paradise for human imagination and fantasy!

Melnik is situated at a distance of 20 km from the town of Sandanski and is linked through an asphalt road  (12 km) to Sofia-Athens international road. There are regular bus connections with Petrich, Sandanski, Blagoevgrad and Sofia. The nearest railway station, Damyanitsa, on the Sofia - Koulata (Athens) railway line is at a distance of 12 km and there is a regular bus line to it.

There are different accommodation and food related capacities. The big Melnik Hotel-Restaurant in the centre of the town offers the greatest number of conveniences. The most preferred, however, are the family hotels in the old houses, which offer home cosiness and Bulgarian hospitality. Some of them are the Lumparovs House, the Uzunovs House, the Miloushevs House, Rodina. Each of them offers original Bulgarian cuisine. The cheapest accommodation is in the tourist hostel, located in the ancient Paskalevs house. There are about 20 private lodgings on offer, too.

The historical Rozhen Monastery Birth of the Holy Virgin is situated at the distance of 6 km north-east of Melnik. It was founded in 1217 and was repeatedly destroyed by fire and plundered. Todays church dates back to the year 1600, renovated in 1732, from which time period are most of its mural paintings. The Monastery Church has preserved mural paintings from 1597, 1611 and 1715, too. The mural painting of the Rozhen Monastery as well as some iconostasis icons are exceptionally valuable monuments of our pictorial arts. The church of the Monastery endows its visitors with its startlingly picturesque woodcarving of the altar iconostasis and the lectern. Unknown wood-carvers left their hearts in this extraordinary piece of art far before the commencement of the Revival Period - genuine evidence about the mastership of the Debur and Samokov Schools of Painting! There was a calligraphic school with Monastery, too whose representatives - monks created the whimsical work of art  Interpretation of Jov, ornamented with 117 open-worked miniatures. Unfortunately it was taken to Jerusalem in 1647. The great Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski found shelter here during the last years of his life, too. His grave is nearby - beside the St. Cyril and Methodius Church, erected at his initiative.

There is regular bus line coming from Sandanski to the village of Rozhen (in the immediate proximity of the Monastery). Despite along the road, one can also reach Melnik in а 1 to 1.30-hours walk along a marked footpath through the Melnik Pyramids themselves - an incredible experience!

A marked tourist route sets out from the village of Rozhen to the Pirin Chalet (6 to 7 hours walk). One can get accommodation in the Monastery and there are several taverns in the village, offering traditional local cuisine and homemade Melnik wine.

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