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Arbanasi: Absolutely fantastic experience!

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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After work today I went on a trip to a little village called Arbanasi, near to Veliko Tarnovo. I'd been invited there for lunch by one of my colleagues and her partner. Arbanasi is famous for having lots of very old churches with beautiful frescoes. One of my students raved about it to me only a couple of days ago.

We had lunch at a really cosy restaurant; they plied me with food and who was I to refuse? First of all we had garlic flatbreads with balls of a more solid version of tzatziki; then everything else all arrived at once. In Bulgaria, like in Ecuador, they bring food out as soon as it's ready, not in any particular order. I had tarator (I have that as a starter at every restaurant I go to, if I see they have it); roasted red peppers coated in a very light batter and stuffed with vegetables and white cheese; chicken kavarma, which is chicken and vegetable stew cooked and served in a small-ish clay pot; and some sautéed potato chunks.

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After a bit of a break we moved outside to have a drink and some dessert, before walking round part of the village. We went into one of the most amazing and unusual churches I've ever seen; the Church of the Nativity of Christ. It is a very old church, at least five centuries old, a museum now rather than one used for worship. From the outside it almost doesn't look like a church at all, a deliberate ploy apparently because it was built when the Ottoman Turks ruled Bulgaria and only allowed the locals to practise their own religion if they were very discreet about it. From the outside it looks a lot like an old stone barn, with some modern concrete supports, but step inside and you are transported. The interior is one of the most fabulous things I've ever seen... and I say this knowing I have been lucky enough to have seen many amazing buildings around the world.

The building is split into five rooms (two of which we couldn't enter but could look into) with ceilings that are very low for a church. All of the walls, ceilings and wooden roof beams are completely covered in very colourful frescoes of religious imagery - religious scenes and Orthodox saints with gold leaf haloes. In some places there was painted some Middle Bulgarian text. Round the walls of two of the rooms there are what I think are choir stalls and in the main room a wooden bench runs round each side. In one of the rooms there is a magnificent handcarved iconostasis (a wall of icons and paintings). I took some photos of the church interior but they don't do it justice at all. The batteries died before I could try taking better ones and I didn't have any spare batteries on me.

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I loved the beauty of it all and the historic atmosphere, both of which I think were enhanced even further by obviously ancient, uneven, thick wooden doors and door frames. Outside the churchyard there were one or two streetsellers with stalls selling handpainted icons, some antiques and large pieces of handmade lace. Apparently Bulgaria is known for its lace.

There are many other historic churches with frescoes in Arbanasi, plus a beautiful house museum and at least three working historic monasteries. The village is at the top of one of the enscarpments you can see from VT, so there are some lovely views. It's so handily placed in regards to VT, I can tell I will go back many times before I leave Bulgaria next summer!

In the evening, back in VT, I went out for a snack and a drink or two with most of the other teachers. This has become a regular Saturday evening thing.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:53 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art museum bulgaria icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church bulgarian_cuisine arbanasi

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Comments

Beautiful Arbanasi! I loved it so much when we visited. Hope we can revisit at some point.

by Emma

Same here, Emma!

by 3Traveller

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