Preobrazhenski Monastery, or Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration of God to give it the full name, is situated 7km out of Veliko Tarnovo off the road to Russe. It’s the biggest in the Veliko Tarnovo area, fourth largest in Bulgaria and can be busy at the weekends with visitors from all over coming to admire its frescoed church and stunning landscape views.
Walking through the monastery’s archway, beyond the ramshackled first impressions of old relics abandoned in the neglected entrance, lies a beautifully decorated little church. Exploring the faded, fresco artwork around the outside reveals the usual religious icons you’d expect, but also menacing scenes between devils and sinners, reminding me of similar scenes at Rila Monastery. More famously is the colourful Wheel of Fortune which depicts the stages of human existence combined with allegorical representations of the four seasons.
The Monastery, and its ensemble of buildings, lies to the side of the church and below the crags that carve out the backdrop. Founded during the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1360, further south from its current position, it was later burned, pillaged and finally abandoned during the Ottoman rule. The current reconstruction began in the 1820’s with two of Bulgaria’s famous artisans from the Revival Period, Kolyo Ficheto (architect) and Zalhari Zograf (fresco painting), leading the inspired vision.
Since then, many of the original outer buildings have disappeared over time and the biggest threat seems to be the repeated falls of rock boulders from above, some of which you can see have landed in random places throughout the terrain. The Clock Tower still stands and you can take the steps to the top and enjoy the ancient view. Look out for the Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Sveta Troitsa), a convent which lies directly opposite the monastery in the Dervent Gorge.
If You Visit Preobrazhenski Monastery…
- If you haven’t got a car, a taxi from Tarnovo will cost you around 7lv.
- There are buses that run to the village of Samovodene which leaves every 20mins from the bus stop next to the Shtastlivestsa restaurant. It can drop you off at the turning on the main road below the monastery turning. You then have to take a 3km walk upwards along a potholed road into the forest.
- Alternatively, you can walk from the back of Varusha, about 7km
- Entrance is free but there is a 2lv charge to go into the church
- Open everyday, 9am – 6pm