The Aladzha Monastery

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Type: | Historic Period:

For the first time, the name of the monastery was noted in the book “Letters from Bulgaria” of the Russian writer and traveller Viktor Teplyakov, who visited Varna during the Russian-Turkish War of 1828–1829. In the third letter he narrated ancient legends about Aladzha monastery, heard from a monk in the St.St.Constantine and Helena monastery.
The Czech historian Konstantin Jirecek, who visited the monastery in 1884, also wrote down a couple of lines about it in his book “Trips around Bulgaria”.
The beginning of any systematic archaeological research of the rock monastery was set by the pioneers of the Bulgarian archaeology, the brothers Karel and Hermin Shkorpil. Born in the town of Vysoke Myto, in the Czech Republic, the two brothers arrived in Bulgaria at the invitation of their cousin Konstantin Jirecek, who was the Minister of Enlightenment of the Principality of Bulgaria at that time.
Twice, in 1887 and later in 1894, Karel Shkorpil was appointed, at his request, for a teacher in Varna. In 1904 the other brother, Herminegild, settled here too. For the Shkorpil brothers the choice of Varna was not accidental. "Varna has had the most glorious history among all contemporary cities... It used to be the most important point on the Western Black Sea Coast from the mouth of the Danube to the Bosphorus...”, wrote K. Shkorpil in a letter.
Yet during his first visit to Varna in 1887, Karel Shkorpil showed lively interest in Aladzha monastery. In 1892, the first scientific publication about the monastery, signed by the two brothers, was printed in the Collection of folklore, science and literature.
„Nowhere nature and human labour have gathered so much beauty and values in such a small space. There is not a more wonderful place for glorifying the God and his wonderful creation!”, wrote K. Shkorpil in one of his letters.
On December 12th 1901, as suggested by the two brothers and with the blessing of Simeon, the Bishop of Varna and Veliki Preslav, a group of public figures and intellectuals founded the first archaeological society in Bulgaria. Yet with its foundation the society has undertaken the care of Aladzha monastery, and its members have made efforts to clean and remove the consequences of the local population’s vandalism to the monument.
Thanks to K. and H. Shkorpil, the chapel with the relatively well-preserved medieval frescos, inaccessible until then, was entered into as well for the first time. All findings discovered during clearing up (such as coins, pottery, parts of an icon-lamp, fragments of frescos, etc.) were described and published by the brothers Shkorpil in the Notices and the Annual reports of the Varna Archaeological Society /VAS/.
A large number of draft notes of K.Shkorpil, related to the research on Aladzha Monastery, are kept in the archives of BAS (Bulgarian Academy of Science) and the Archaeological museum in Varna. There are two eye-sketches among them, which give an idea of the church painting of the monastery that existed at the time of K.Shkorpil. The latter has also left an architectural plan of the monastery church and the cells, drawn up very precisely. In many of K.Shkorpil’s notes, in the annual reports and in some of the Notices many beliefs and legends about the monastery are included, where the most common one is about the monastery’s mythical patron “Rim Papa" or “Imri Pop”. The BAS archives keep also a draft note of K.Shkorpil saying that there was a legend, according to which the name of the monastery was St.Spas (from Christ the Savouir).
In 1912, as proposed by VAS and by a decision of the Committee on Antiques to the Ministry of Enlightenment, Aladzha Monastery was declared a “national antique”.
The merits of the Shkorpil brothers are significant for laying the foundations of cultural tourism in Bulgaria. In the Notices of VAS issued on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the society, K. Shkorpil wrote: “… historical monuments can be not only a source of knowledge and pride but by turning them into tourist sites real opportunities can be created for their research and preservation, for the development of the national economy”.
Yet then the two brothers assessed the extreme potential of Aladzha Monastery as a tourist destination of major economic significance. As suggested by them, in 1915 the Parliament of the Kingdom of Bulgaria took the decision to remise several thousand decares around Aladzha monastery, including also some of the coastal strip, to the Varna municipality for building a national park and a resort, the income of which to be used for research and preservation of any antiques existing in them, and for building a museum in Varna. The decision was approved by a Decree of Tsar Ferdinand of April 27th, 1915.
In 1930 on K. Shkorpil’s initiative, a “Board for preservation of the national antique Aladzha Monastery” was set up to VAS. The Board undertook massive actions for converting the state-owned forest into a National park. In the same year famous artists from Varna made paintings devoted to the monastery. The most valuable of them is the painting of Milen Sakazov presenting the wall painting of the chapel’s narthex not preserved until nowadays.
In the following years K.Shkorpil got more and more involved in scientific and research activity taking a significant part of his time. For this reason in 1933 he resigned as Chairman of VAS, which put an end to his years-long activities related to the research of the medieval rock monastery by Varna.
In 1945, the care of the monument was undertaken by the Archaeological museum in Varna. The archaeologist Dimitar Dimitrov, Senior research fellow, explored the rock monastery and its vicinity in the 80’s of the previous century.
Overall research and mapping of the monument, containing new information, was done in 1989 by Dr. Georgi Atanasov, Archaeologist, Ass. Prof., and Dimo Cheshmedzhiev, Art expert. The results were published in the Notices of the National museum in Varna, v.26 ( 41 ), V. 1990.