SMOLYAN REGION
The field research in the municipality of Smolyan was carried out at the end of April 2018. The town of Smolyan and many villages and towns were visited in the area where the state of the Orthodox temples was shot and studied.
Smolyan Municipality proved to be the most interesting in terms of the variety of activities related to the preservation, maintenance and socialization of the temples. These activities can be grouped as follows: maintenance of old temples, restoration of temples destroyed over the years and construction of brand new ones.
On the territory of the municipality there are the three oldest churches in the region, built in the 1930s, these are the churches in the villages of Pavelsko, Shiroka Luka and Gela. Permission for their construction was given by the Sultan himself in Constantinople in a common document /ferman/ which is kept in the History Museum in Smolyan. We also visited the second of the three first churches in the Rhodope Mountains – the Church of the Holy Ascension in the village of Shiroka Luka. Like the church in the village of Pavelsko, and this church for the same reasons was built for 40 days, thanks to the labor and the enormous efforts of the local population. In a conversation with the priest Father Ivan, we learned that the church was built in 1834/35. As for the frescoes and icons he said: “The iconography itself is not so small and as you see it has been preserved since 1835 . The church was built in 1834. That same year they sent a Greek bishop because we did not have the Bulgarian Patriarchate yet. He sanctified the church in 1835. At that time everything was completed as a complex, not only the temple, but the bell tower was ready ... In some of the icons Zachary Zograph wrote the year 1835. From 20.07.1835 onwards it has already officially functioned as a temple. But this icon-painting is later. It's been around since 1839. They cannot prove who painted this icon-painting. This is the case of Zachary Zograph plus the crucifix at the top. But everything else cannot be proven.”
Shiroka Luka is located near the resort of Pamporovo and the village is declared an architectural reserve. For this reason, besides local worshipers, the church is visited by many tourists, especially during the summer period.
 Old churches, although newer than those in Pavelsko and Shiroka Luka, are visited in the villages of Momchilovtsi, Chokmanovo, Chepelare, Zlatograd and other smaller settlements in the area.
The churches in the town of Zlatograd Holy Ascension (1834) and Saint Martyr George the Victorious (1871) occupy a special place. The Church of the Holy Ascension is also known as the "old" church in the city. It is very interesting to study because Zahari Zograf worked in it and the church still keeps his icons. Also a cell school was opened in the yard in 1935, which is now restored and the visitors can feel the atmosphere of the Revival school. The museum has also restored the "candlestick" - showing how candles were cast, for which every god-loving Christian bought "wax" from the shops, and prepared the candles for the church services and watched the process. During our visit to the yard of the church, under the Colonade there was an exhibition of old icons.
The second, the "new" church in Zlatograd Saint Martyr George the Victorious is located in the ancient part of the town and compared to the "old" church it impresses with its size and rich decoration. Zlatogradans call the church St. Georgi the Victorious - the" new church ", since it was built 37 years after the old church in the city - Holy Ascension - a high bell tower was built at the church.
Like the other church, and in the courtyard of the temple St. Martyr George the Victorious there was a school, but not a cell school. It has been restored and now is the Museum of Enlightenment in the Mid-Rhodopes.
The careful attitude of the citizens of Zlatograd towards the Orthodox temples deserves special admiration. Despite the fact that a large part of the population professes another religion, everyone, regardless of faith and age, takes care of their Orthodox heritage. In conversations with Deputy Mayor Ms. Gurlieva, this was the main topic. Not far from the town, on hill Sveta Nedelya, the family Molivi and the rest of the citizens, together with the then priest Father Atanas Arolski, restored a large chapel Sveta Nedelya. It is located above the city, in the forest, as the citizens themselves have built their way. With the permission of the municipality of Zlatograd each family had the opportunity to build a "hut" around the chapel and spend their free time there. Many have taken advantage of the opportunity, and now little chapels are being built around the chapel (so called local). The chapel itself is very well maintained, the road to it, albeit steep, is in excellent condition. The whole area around the chapel is well-developed, recreation areas, children's games equipment have been built. There is water and electricity. It is important to emphasize that for the order, the cleanliness and the development of the area are taken care of the inhabitants of the town. The temple celebration attracts almost the whole town, no matter what religion everyone confesses and all celebrate together.
Similar initiatives to restore old temples have been found in many villages in the Smolyan region: Chokmanovo, Pavelsko, Chepelare, Shiroka Luka. We will especially note the activities in the village of Chokmanovo, which are significant for the attitude towards the Orthodox temples not only in the region but also throughout the country.
In the town of Smolyan we met and talked with the Deputy Mayor Marin Zahariev. He shared what the municipality did for the preservation and socialization of the Orthodox temples on the territory of the region. He personally knows the people who take care of the churches and has recommended that we meet with Mr. Anastas Ivanov, who personally, with his own strengths and funds, restored ruined chapels.
Mr. Anastas Ivanov we met in the village of Chokmanovo. He began his activity in restoring chapels fifteen years ago, after his father's death. He himself was born in Raikovo, but his grandmother was from Chokmanovo. To our question, "Why are you doing this?" He replied, "There are many factors. Years ago, when I was here, my father died, and that is why I left Varna, where he had begun to restore one of the oldest chapels St. Kozma and Damian – they are the holy healers. He knew he was sick of such an incurable disease but hoped secretly. Eventually, I had to finish it because he was gone, and so I started, I got skills, strength.”
We also found interesting religious monuments in the town of Chepelare. In the center of the town rises the largest of the three temples in the city, the temple “Holy Ascension”. Thanks to the fact that the city has developed tourism – winter and summer, the churches here are constantly interesting both to worshipers and to tourists. Here we recorded the most pronounced socialization of the Orthodox temples.
Many new churches are built in Smolyan - both small and large.
Close to Zlatograd is the village of Starsevo, where many newly-congregated Christians live. In the center of the village stands a brand new Saint Athanasius church, opened in 2009. Father Emil, the chaplain in the village with bitterness, shared that few worshipers visit the church but that he does not lose hope.
In the town of Smolyan, there’s a new temple St. Vissarion Smolenski. The scale of the project is impressive - it is one of the largest cathedral churches not only in the area but also in Bulgaria. It was built on the initiative of the big business – Todor Batkov, the main initiator and sponsor, but other businessmen are also: Stefan Sharlopov, Manjukovi, brothers Bobokov, At. Shterev, etc., as well as residents of the town and the district. The State, the Municipality of Smolyan and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church also participate in the construction of the temple. The church was consecrated on 2nd July 2006 by Metropolitan Arsenius of Plovdiv. It was built at an old church site – cemetery chapel of the nineteenth century dedicated to St. Todor.
The temple was built, a bell tower with unique bells was commissioned by the donators in Russia. There are many icons, but its frescoes are yet to be done. The church is active and besides worshipers, with its unusual architecture and monumentality it attracts many tourists.
In conclusion, it can be said that there is a well-functioning model for the preservation, socialization and popularization of Orthodox Christian temples on the territory of Smolyan Municipality. There is an extremely careful attitude towards the prayer homes by the representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the local authorities and, above all, the local population. The business has also contributed to this noble cause – the new church in Smolyan, the restored chapel St. Georgi in Chokmanovo, two new chapels were built in the village of Pavelsko, Sokolovtsi, Chepelare, etc. Also the development of tourism – rural, winter, summer, as well as the proximity to Greece, explains the interest of many Bulgarians and foreigners to the cultural heritage in the area, including the Orthodox temples.
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