Sacred places and photographers problems

Sacred places and photographers problems

Rhodopean Explorer, Sunday, May 26, 2019

Last month I started telling you about my latest Bulgarian adventure, during which I took you, among others, to Dyavolski Most. Today we’ll continue the journey, with some hiking to waterfalls and sacred places.

A morning hike to some waterfalls

Today we won’t make long car rides, but stay a little closer to home. We start the day with a lovely breakfast at Evo’s place before getting ready for the day’s first hike.


Not a hike like last year’s Rila Seven Lakes tour. Just a short one. Over some fields and along a river that cascades further upstream down some lovely small waterfalls. Evo assured me that I could do it in my sport shoes. While there is no need for hiking boots, his wife makes sure we take one of the dogs along. Rusko supposedly should chase bears away, should we meet them, though chances are he wants to play with them instead. Well, we’ll see if we become animal food today then. Still, having Rusko, or the escape artist as I call him, with us is fun. Though I sometimes wonder when he will run me over, so I take a bath in the river.


As these past two days, there is never an awkward silence between Evo and me. He also is never far away when I need a hand to get where I want to go. However, I also find myself climbing in areas – don’t get me wrong, this is not a cliff climbing tour with harnesses and whatnots – that I would have struggled with last year.

And there it is, our first encounter with a bear. Well, at least if you have a little bit fantasy, you will find a polar bear in the water 😉

Photographers problems

One thing turns out puzzling. Why do I get a miscoloration in almost all my photos taken with the big stopper? It should not be from the filter itself. Unfortunately, I won’t figure it out while being in Bulgaria, so there is no way to fix it right now. Only when I returned home after this tour, I found that it was a light leak, where light passed through the viewfinder onto the sensor, that caused this error.

Well, if nothing else, this can serve as another good reason to return for yet another tour at a later point in time. Not that I would need more reasons for that, though.

A little further upstream, there is another waterfall, so we continue our hiking tour. Evo helps me to find the best spots for photographs. He also tries his best to get Rusko out of the images. Though, I think Rusko decided to play the photo model today.

You cannot go on a hiking photo tour without having a little picnic, can you? Well, at least Evo and I cannot. This time, ours consists of some nuts, cranberries, sugar, and a sip or two from our water bottles. We might have a more advanced picnic at another time. It is still a welcome break and a lot of fun.

Too soon, it is time to start hiking back. Then we can have a real lunch and another photoshoot in the evening. However, it looks like I am going to use the phrase “too soon” very often during this trip. Not that that would be something new.

Lunch surprises

After a short stopover at Evo’s place for tick-checks and showers, we head out again. This time for lunch in the city. Evo points out to me that there is no need to take the camera with me. Yea, only along the way, he decides to take lunch instead at a restaurant near Bachkovo Monastery.

should have taken my camera after all. I think this was a mean trick of teaching me always to carry my camera. Lesson of the day: never trust a fellow photographer when they tell you there is no need for a camera. 😀 Now, some of you might want to point out that mobile phones have cameras as well. These are not that bad anymore either. However, they are useless if you don’t carry your phone with you…

Bachkovo Monastery

Temple of St. Nicola

This is my second visit to the Monastery, as you might recall from the Off the beaten track adventure. Despite the lack of a camera, I am enjoying it. Last time rain cut down on the time that I spent in the Monastery, so I still have some more areas to explore. Our first stop is a smaller church, the Temple of St. Nicola, build in early 1836, used for baptisms. We listen to the explanations given by a German group’s guide. So suddenly the roles of Evo and I change, and I translate for him instead.

There is quite a bit of backstory to the paintings on the walls of this chapel. The artwork along the roof depicts the biblical stories from Adam & Eve (Moses III) in paradise until Kain murders his brother Abel (Moses IV). However, in these images, Kain does not slay his brother with a rock. Instead, he uses a crooked dagger for his murder. This temple dates back to the middle of the 19s century when Bulgaria was still under Ottoman rule. Therefore, the painter, Zahari Zograf (*1810, †1853), of these frescoes altered the story slightly to hint back to the Turkish rulers.

When donators go to hell in sacred places

On the wall facing the entrance, is another fresco, depicting hell and saints and sinners in a traditional way. However, Zahari Zograf depicted the wealthy, who donated their money to build this church, in hell. Considering that the usual deal with churches and wealthy people is that they donate money for some good cause to avoid hell, this does not make much sense. There is however a reasonable explanation for this when we travel back in time.

Bachkovo Monastery was founded in the 13s century as an independent monastery and had at the time, 50 monks and one abbot. Only two other monasteries in Byzantium were larger at the time. The by-laws from the 13s century state that no disciples of Greek origin are allowed at Bachkovo. However, in 1363 the monastery loses its independence, and, with the Ottoman reign starting in 1393, it becomes less influential. First, in the 17s century it is restored to life. Now the Monastery falls under the rule of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Patriarch appoints mostly Greek disciples and priests to it.

The end of the Greek rule

From the 18s century the Bulgarians started fighting against the Greek rule of Bachkovo, which succeeded in the 19s century. So from 1894 century Bachkovo is back under the authority of the Bulgarian Orthodox church.

However, during the time when the frescoes were painted, patrons of the monastery decided to hire a teacher. A Bulgarian monk, who previously belonged to the Rila Monastery, applied for it. The wealthy donators, in charge to select the teacher, deny him the position and select a Greek monk.

The Bulgarian monk befriended Zahari Zograf, the painter of the frescos, who in turn depicted the wealthy donators in hell. Was this the crucial part? I don’t know. However, the rich had a change of mind and employed the Bulgarian monk as a teacher.

Now I only have to come back some day and take some photos of all these frescos.

Bachkovo Museum

While the German group continues their guided tour, we head to the Monastery’s museum. Since the 1930s, this small museum on the Monastery’s southern side collects well-preserved Icons, wooden crosses, a Venetian monstrance, and other artifacts of the clerical life in Bachkovo. The monks and priests do no longer use these artifacts during worship and messes.

Despite its size, the museum is interesting, and I admire the craftsmanship behind all these things.

Wooden bell

On the second floor we find mostly clothing, but also a wooden church bell. With the permission of the lady down at the entrance, we give the bell a try. I don’t know what I expected, but it sounds like beating a wooden spoon against a barrel. It’s not a sound that would wake you up further down the road.

Considering that Bulgaria was under the Ottoman rule until 1878, it would have made sense to me, if this bell were from those days. However, it is not. It is actually from the 1930s.

There is no explanation available as to why it is a wooden and not a brass bell. Thinking about it, I can only come up with two possible reasons.
Either the brass one was still melted to use for cannons and ammunition from one of the previous wars. Or maybe, the world economic crisis starting in 1929 had an impact on it.

After a brief visit to the main church of the Monastery, we return home to get ready for our evening adventure. This time I will not leave my camera behind!

Thracian Sanctuary

For our evening adventure, Evo takes me to the Thracian Sanctuary, another sacred place, though of a different time. Once more, there is a little bit of hiking involved, and at the end, some rock climbing. But once we reach the top, we have a splendid view to enjoy the sunset.

The Sanctuary is considered to be a cult temple for the god Sabazios. At its base, archeologists found graves from the Neolithic area. The small water holes on top of the Sanctuary are human-made. There are two theories for what the Bessi tribe used these holes. One theory states that they might have been used for blood sacrifices, the other one says that they were used to send gifts along for the afterlife with a deceased one at his burial. Since the Thracians had no writing, we will never know for sure.

It is time to call it a day and make it back home before it gets entirely dark here. As much as I like this place, and yes, I enjoy the hike’s climbing parts as well, but trying this without lights at night would be a bad idea.



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