Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Nativity Monastery, Shipka

The Golden Domes

Again, with Tree

Continuing the Betsy doing something silly somewhere beautiful series...

Stalls below the Monastery

Crossing into Shipka on the road to Veliko Tarnovo, the first things any driver with an eye for detail will notice are three distinct gleams of gold embedded in a forested mountain across the valley. Upon closer inspection, those golden gleams turn out to be the domes of a building preserved from another time. Visitors arrive to the Nativity Monastery, sweating slightly after a climb of perhaps one hundred twenty stairs, and find a deserted plaza encircling an almost bizarrely perfect church. Brett and I walked inside alone, as chant music played through invisible speakers and skinny slightly tilted candles joined light from stained glass windows to illuminate ornate altars, a tomb raised above the ground, thousands of Bulgarian words inscribed in gold upon the walls, and a mural of a sympathetic Jesus looking down from inside the highest dome. 

When we walked back outside, we discovered a smattering of business on the fringes of this unexpected and secret world. It wasn't completely deserted. A small cafe in one corner invited visitors to enjoy the view of the monastery over a bag of crisps. Signs led to a spotless bathroom in the middle of the woods, managed by a lady who charged fifty cents per visitor to enjoy its fastidiously kept up splendor. A stairway at the edge of the plaza led to a row of stands offering everything from postcards to painted icons. But these bits of the world did not encroach on the peace of the monastery, in part because they were clearly offset from it, keeping a respectful distance. They added a bit of modern personality - for who couldn't use a bag of crisps after that steep walk or a postcard to share this beauty with someone at home? 

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