Bulgaria is a fantastically beautiful country that somehow tourists seem to have forgotten. From forests to mountains to beautiful beaches it is a perfect vacation destination for those looking to get away to a place both friendly and exciting. Its capital, Sofia, holds many ancient and amazing wonders. Among the most interesting is the Boyana Church. Constructed in three stages, the first portion of the church was built beginning in the late 900s. Its early heritage mingles with two later builds in the 13th century and the final construction in the 1800s. These three buildings are home to some of the most well preserved and inspiringly lovely medieval frescos and paintings. Just walking onto the holy grounds of the Bulgarian Orthodox church at the foot of Mt. Vitosha gives you the same awestruck feeling that must have been experienced by the royalty and upper class who worshiped here for nearly a thousand years.
By far Boyana Church’s biggest draw is its many magnificent frescos. Added in 1979 to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, it is considered to be among the most pristinely preserved and complete examples of Eastern European medieval art. The greatest concentration of these works is in the second central building. Known as the Boyana Masters (as they were unable to sign their works), the names of these wonderful artists has been lost to time and culture. Church leaders felt their hands were being guided by God and therefore the paintings were not truly creations of their own (though one crafty artist, Vasiliy, managed to hide his name under a layer of plaster). Each face captured in time is expertly executed in minute detail. What remains a mystery is how the painters figured out how to create three dimensional effects in these 13th century works as the techniques to do this are considered to have originated in the 16th century. One of the favorite frescos is that depicting the life of St. Nicholas. In eighteen realistically portrayed scenes, you see the triumphs and struggles he experienced clearly reflected in his emotive face. There are also a few 11th century paintings viewable through cracked plaster that are quite simply stunning.
Surrounded by a fragrant garden of well tended wildflowers, forests, and majestic mountains your entrance to Boyana Church feels like a walk back in time. And as this beautiful country is relatively untouched by tourists, you can generally expect your guided tour to be customized to your group’s interests. The interior visit is limited due to the delicate nature of the frescos (although new high-tech methods are being utilized to preserve them) but even 15 minutes will leave an indelible mark on your psyche. Entry is extremely reasonable at around $1.00 (USD) per person. The museum is another $7.00 (USD). Considering the ancient medieval glory held within these walls it is worth so much more. An insider’s secret, Bulgaria holds many treasures, with Boyana Church being among (but lot the least of) the most spectacular. Any visit to Eastern Europe requires a tour of this little known gem of the republic.