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Excursion to Troyan

Quest Bulgaria member, Allan Sutherland, describes his tour round the historical town of Troyan and beautiful Monastery. Village life in Bulgaria is full of surprises... one recent discovery is the village excursion, organised and prepared by the locals themselves.

A while back, word went round that there would be an excursion to a local town or beauty spot. This evoked images of charabanc trips to the seaside, with crates of beer, sandwiches and a sing-song on the way, and although I never actually went on such a trip they are so much a part of British folklore that it almost feels like I did!

Therefore, the prospect of a trip to Troyan promised much; the chance to visit the town and monastery and also an opportunity to participate in the Bulgarian version of a community daytrip.

The day started at the challengingly early hour of 7am, when a coach arrived in the village centre. Around 30 day-trippers gathered and paid our 10 leva to the organiser. Mostly women and senior citizens had taken advantage of the excursion, which was therefore an accurate reflection of the village population.

There was a feeling of muted anticipation as we pulled out of the village and it was interesting to see that many of the older village women had even dressed up for the outing. We drove through Sevlievo, which is one of the most prosperous looking towns I’ve seen in Bulgaria so far. It’s apparent that the employment provided by Ideal Standard, the bathroom chain, is generating both individual and municipal income. In comparison to other Bulgarian towns, which can still appear blighted by the closure of their communist factories, there are lively cafes, shops and a general air of prosperity.

Within another hour or so, we arrived at a car park near Oreshak. We weren’t certain what was happening next but it transpired that the monastery was only a short walk away. The monastery itself is the third largest in Bulgaria and is a truly spectacular place. The grounds are in beautiful condition and were full of colourful flowers and shrubs when we visited in early October. It is also possible to stay the night in one of the rooms, which certainly looked very appealing.

There was a tangible feeling of peacefulness about the place, as we wandered through an arched doorway into the church. Inside, one of the monks described the architecture and history of the church.

Unfortunately, I didn’t understand very much of what he was saying and there didn’t seem to be an English guidebook available. From what I could gather, the monastery itself was founded in the 15th Century, while the church was built approximately 400 years later. Troyan Monastery Gardens and Rooms - Noteworthy items in the church included the iconostasis intricately carved from walnut and the icon of the ‘three-handed Virgin’ who is depicted as holding the baby Jesus in three silver hands. Many of our neighbours crossed themselves in front of this icon, as it is believed to cure illnesses and grant wishes.

The interior frescoes are badly faded and in need of restoration, but those in the outside porch are in much better condition.

They were all painted by Zahari Zograf, about whom we discovered more in the excellent Troyan Museum. He was the son of Hristo Dimitrov, the founder of the Samokov School of Icon-Painting and was trained in icon-painting by his father. He introduced elements of people’s everyday lives and lay scenes into his religious mural paintings. Between 1847 and 1849 he painted the murals of the monastery. Apparently, he was so captivated by the beautiful mountain flowers that he depicted them in all their great variety on the vaults of the monastery’s church. Those ‘bunches of flowers of Zahari’ can be seen on earthenware, fabrics and painted carts.Leaving the church, we visited the fascinating museum.

One of our neighbours is a wonderful mimic and he mimed how Vasil Levski hid in one of the monastery cupboards when Turkish agents came looking for him. The cupboard is on display, as are tables and food bowls which Levski used during his time there. We spent a few hours looking around the monastery, followed by lunch at the nearby Mehana, which has a terrace overlooking the river. For many of our neighbours, lunch was clearly an important part of the day and they consumed large quantities of soup, kebabchi, chips and salad with great enthusiasm. A few of the male members attacked the beer and rakia with equal enthusiasm, which meant they had reasonably peaceful afternoons.

By the time we walked back to the coach, a roadside ceramic shop was open and souvenirs of the distinctive ‘Troyan droplet’ style of pottery were being bought. The technique for achieving this style is to allow layers of colour to drip down the side of the vessel prior to it being glazed.

Following this diversion, it was back on the coach to Troyan, where we were dropped in the centre and told we had an hour and a half to look around. We headed for the Museum of Folk Crafts and Applied Arts, about which we had heard excellent reports. Its reputation is deserved, it is well organised and comprehensive, with clearly labelled displays in English. There are displays of ceramics, carvings, instruments and costumes as well as scale models and reconstructions of workshops. The museum building itself is a converted school and the roof is adorned with some exquisite carvings.

After this, we were back on the coach and heading for home. When we encountered a long queue of traffic, undaunted, our driver executed a three point turn in the middle of the road and took us back via Sevlievo. He put some traditional music on the stereo and some of our neighbours joined in the singing. One woman tried to start some dancing but everyone was too tired, so we made our way home without any further entertainment. As we approached the village, a neighbour appeared to invite us round for drinks. We were really quite tired, but didn’t want to reject her kind invitation. However, it turned out that she was suggesting we all alighted together to save walking from the centre! This was an excellent idea and we made our way back to our respective houses, all agreeing that we’d had a wonderful day out.