Warlord's monastery

The sanctuary in Belashtitsa is proud of its nearly 10 centuries of history

Photo: Adelina Lozanova The monastery in Belashtitsa is located at the northern foot of the Rhodopes, 12km away from Plovdiv.

The Belashtitsa monastery of St. George the Victorious is located at the northern foot of the Rhodope Mountains, near the village of the same name and just 12km to the south of Plovdiv. Although not very big, cuddled in a scenic forest above the village, the monastery is especially beautiful and cosy.

It is considered that the founder of the monastery was Nicephorus Xiphias, who after 1018 was governor of Philippopolis (now Plovdiv). He was appointed to this post as an award for his key role in the victory over Tsar Samuel in 1014 in the Battle of Kleidion, near the nowadays village of Klyuch at the foot of Belasitsa Mountain, and the following conquest of Bulgaria by Byzantium.

Xiphias built a spacious fortified palace at the foot of the Rhodopes, the remnants of which existed until the middle of the 17th century, and in 1020 he set up a monastery nearby and personally dedicated it to St. George the Victorious. The sanctuary thrived during the next three centuries under Byzantine and Bulgarian rule, but after the invasion of the Ottoman Turks in the 14th century, it was ravaged and in 1364 was almost razed to the ground.

The monastery was rebuilt only in the 18th century but it was burnt down again during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. It was restored immediately after the liberation of Bulgaria and until 1906 remained under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul, and then passed into Bulgarian hands.

Today, it is a nunnery comprising a church, lodgings, household buildings and a chapel. The complex is declared a monument of culture. The monastery's church was built in 1838. It is a one-nave, one-apsis building with outer open narthex, but with no dome.

Under the open narthex there is an ayazmo (healing spring), which is believed to be preserved since the foundation of the monastery. There is also a beautiful drinking fountain made of stone and dated to 1831, with a memorial plaque on it. According to one legend, half-blinded warriors of Samuel, who were brought to till the rich and fertile Plovdiv lands, partially restored their sight because they washed their faces in the health-bringing spring. It was them who founded the village which they named Belasitsa (later Belashtitsa) after the name of the mountain near which they were taken prisoners.

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