Location: Cherna Gora Mountain Type: day trips around Sofia; monasteries; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
We chose one of the sunny weekends in the beginning of March to visit the Giginski monastery. Our idea was to go for a walk somewhere near Sofia, to enjoy the fresh air and grab something to eat – somewhere we have not yet been. We found rich information about the monastery online as a place with beautiful nature, interesting architecture and a delicious grill nearby, and the decision was made. If you find yourself in Sofia and have some time, give it a try and visit it, too.
The history of the monastery
The Tsurnogorski monastery “Saints Cozmas and Damian”, also known as Giginski monastery or Chernogorski, is located above the village of Gigintsi near Pernik, 60 km from Sofia. It is situated at the foot of Kitka peak (1118 m) in mount Cherna gora. There are almost no written records about its history, but archaeological excavations reveal that the first monastery buildings date back to 11-12 centuries. It has been destroyed twice during the Ottoman rule. At the beginning of the 19th century it was restored by monks from the Hilandar monastery, who founded a school on its territory. But then came the years of communism in Bulgaria that didn`t treat the Giginski monastery better than those of the Turkish slavery – then the whole archive and many other valuables disappeared. The monastery land and buildings were first used as a concentration camp, then as pioneer camps, and even rented for livestock farming.
The monks returned to the monastery in 1998, and had to pass through various misadventures until they were settled permanently. The reconstruction of the monastery buildings began in 2007, it was electrified and the road to it was repaired thanks to the efforts of the monk Nikanor – a very interesting person who used to be a financial broker in Sofia before he dedicated his life in service of God. In February 2019, some of the buildings of the monastery were declared as an architectural and cultural heritage from the Bulgarian Renaissance by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture .
How to get to the Giginski monastery
You have to rent a car and drive. To get to the monastery from Sofia, you have to head to the town of Pernik and then follow the signs to the town of Kyustendil but better trust a GPS. Once you enter the village of Gigintsi, signs will guide you on the way up the village and to the monastery. The distance from Gigintsi to the monastery is about 4-5 km and you could leave your car in the village and walk on foot. However, keep in mind that the slope is steep and it would take some time. It`s best to park the car in the parking in front of the monastery.
We arrived in the area just in time for lunch and the first landmark we visited was the small restaurant, right in front of the doors of the monastery. We managed to sit on a sunny table and tried out the grill specialties with meat from the monastery farm, for which we had already read praise online. And yes – they are definitely good, especially the buffalo pleskavitsa. The restaurant’s prices are also very attractive.
Around the monastery
Our next stop was the monastery itself. We went through its gates and found ourselves in a spacious and pleasant yard, amidst the beautifully restored 200-year-old buildings of the monastery. We lit a candle in the small, old church with exquisite frescoes from the 19th century and climbed the stairs of the bell tower (above, however, we noticed a curious decision – instead of frescoes on the walls they had put wallpapers in church style).
In the monastery yard is also the famous holy spring – the water, according to legends, helps with diseases of the eyes, the nervous system and even infertility. There are also many comfortable wooden benches, where one can enjoy the sunshineand the view of mountains around. Our little daughter also enjoyed her time here very much, running through the yard and playing with another child.
From the monastery shop one can buy honey, different kinds of jams, monastery rakia and wine. The monks also run a buffalo farm, as already mentioned. On the way back and forth from the monastery you can meet some of the farm animals, as had happened with us – they behaved quite nicely and quickly moved away from the road.
Overall, we are very pleased with our visit here and we will surely repeat it on a spring or a summer day when the mountains are green and the view would be even more enchanting.
Extra: the church in the village of Banishte
We wondered where else to go in the area and decided to head to the village of Banishte and visit another old church. The village is located 16 km away from Gigintsi. To get to its church, you have to reach the center of the village and then turn left and drive on a gravel street up in the mountain. Turn right when you reach the fork and shortly afterwards park your car on the meadow near the last houses of the village. Then you have a 2 minute walk to the St. John the Theologian church – the electric pillars on the path will guide you.
We didn`t manage to take a look at the church from the inside during our visit because it was closed. Perhaps you will be more successful. It seems to have been well maintained and it would be probably interesting to look inside. It was once a part of a monastery complex, but today only the church is left.
Other ideas for tourism in the area
You can combine your trip to the Giginski monastery with a visit of an another beautiful restored old monastery – the Zemen monastery, and also take a walk around the old church over Pchelina dam.