Tourist information center of Veliko Tarnovo

Tourist information center of Veliko Tarnovo

Plakovo Monastery of St Elijah

As the legend has it, the Plakovo Monastery of St Elijah was founded with the assistance of Tsar Ivan II Assen. Initially, it was situated in the Baluklii locality of the Elena Mountains, south of the present-day cloister. During the early decades of this century there still existed an old time small church. The monastery was shifted to its present-day site in the latter half of the 13 th century.

Destroyed during the Ottoman invasion in the Turnovo region in 1393, the Plakovo Cloister was reconstructed again towards 1450. After that it was more than once assaulted and set on fire: in 1595, 1706, 1784, 1835, 1842.

The original church underwent repairs and reconstruction on several occasions. One of the last considerable renovations was carried out in 1643. As the legends say, this was a small one-nave church of humble architectural qualities. For that reason, in about 1845, at the time of Hieromonk Sophronius, construction works of great significance for those days were completed whereupon the old church was pulled down and a solid cathedral temple was raised upon its site.

The name of the builder is not known, yet it must have been the work of Nikola Fichev who shortly afterwards erected the Plakovo Monastery's residential wing with the belfry. As available data suggest, the whole of the large-scale church construction in the region around the middle decades of the century was executed mainly by Nikola Fichev. The architectural analysis of the Plakovo cathedral church corroborates this proposition. The cornice, along with the two-step Lombard arcature beneath, are an exact copy of the same elements at the Kilifarevo Monastery's temple which master-builder Nikola Fichev built three years earlier. The solution applied to the capitals of the columns encircling the open narthex lent them their specific looks. Shaped like a system of vertical undulating folds, they have their replica in the capitals of the Preobrazhenie Monastery's main entrance which, as is well-known, was also the work of Nikola Fichev. A reflection of the master's creative outlook, characteristic of the age, is also the form of the dome, although its silhouette was modified at a later re-covering. This justifies the assertion that the Plakovo Monastery's cathedral church and the rest of the larger buildings were executed by master-builder Nikola Fichev.

This is a monastery type of a church with three altar niches. A cult edifice of a similar plan was for the first time built in the Preobrazhenie Monastery in 1834. Its construction is attributed to Dimiter Sofialiyata but after his death the work its completion was undertaken by Nikola Fichev. Influenced by this temple, he produced a few more, among which the one at the Plakovo Cloister. Similar to the Preobrazhenie Monastery, he raised here, too, three conches as high as the remaining parts of the body, banding them together with the common cornice line into a uniform system. Perhaps, he had succumbed to the influence of the Batoshevo Monastery's cathedral church. Subsequently, the idea evolved in a multitude of versions developed not only by him but also by other builders from Northern Bulgaria.

In 1850 the masters Krustyu, Apostol and Hristo raised a big stone fountain opposite the open narthex of the church. It is quite possible that these builders erected that same year the older, northern residential wing burnt down by the fire of 1947 which caused great damages to the monastery. It was a two-storeyed building facing the courtyard, with a stone arcade gallery on the ground floor and a light wooden veranda on the upper level. The second residential wing of a later date, the ground floor of which contained a living room with a big fireplace for the monastery's guests, was constructed in 1856 by Nikola Fiche, and further arranged in 1866 when Hajji Sophronia's was abbot. A magnificent belfry, as high as 25.90 m, was annexed to it from the outside. Despite the harsh stone structure of the main body, the gentle lines of the superstructure and the airy Fiche's covering impart picturesque national looks to the outline as a whole.

Adjoining this residential wing to the south was a one-store catering block incorporating a refectory, a kitchen, a storeroom for foodstuffs and a cell for the monastery cook. It is dated back to 1.851.

The Playoff Monastery holds a place of particular importance in the history of the Bulgarian revolutionary struggles against the Ottoman oppressor, and for church independence. It was here that in 1794 the enlightener Neophit Bozveli thought out, together with the monks, how to train and send out across the breadth of the country schoolmasters and priests to do service in Bulgarian. This place was also the center of the plot against the Ottoman Empire in 1835. Velcho Atanassov, the abbot Archimandrite Hadji Sergius, Georgi Mamarchev, Hadji Yordan Bradata, schoolmaster Andon Nikopit, Hadji Penko Touleshkov and several journeymen of the great master-builder and revolutionary Dimiter Sofialiyata worked out the plan and the structure of the uprising. For that reason, upon its suppression, the monastery was ravaged.

Despite these sad events, the revolutionary fervour of the monks did not fade away. The abbot of the Preobrazhenie Monastery Zotik set up a workshop for rifles and gunpowder for the needs of the Bulgarian revolutionaries.

In 1845 a secret way-out was dug leading from the church to the woods. Later on, such a subterranean passage was off the monastery kitchen as well. The whole life of the Plakovo Monastery's monastic clergy was dedicated to the national cause. There is hardly any other Bulgarian cloister to have defended the Bulgarian spirit so selflessly with word and arms. The church of the Plakovo Monastery is extremely modest in its pictorial decoration. The only wall-painted work in this temple, executed by Zahari Zograph, is the patronal scene of St Elijah in a Chariot, and a model of the church. There is however a splendid non-polychrome iconostasis with deep woodcuts of creeping stylized floral patterns. Its fretwork, along with that of the altar gates, is remarkable for its exquisite Baroque forms and harmonious proportions. In its structure and stylistic characteristics it bears a resemblance to the ornate iconostasis in the church of the Preobrazhenie Monastery which was finished off by Nikola Fichev. The icon-paintings arranged in the iconostasis such as St Arthemius, St John of Rila and St John the Theologian, the Holy Virgin Showing the Ways, Christ the Almighty, John the Baptist, St Elijah and a few smaller icons, were the work of the notable Samokov artist Zahari Zograph. Attesting to his authorship is the inscription on the icon of Christ the Great Bishop with the Apostles, reading thus: "And painted was this by the hand of Zahari Zograph, a native of Samokov,'in the year 1845." Signed by the painter is also the refined small icon of the Holy Virgin with St Mitrophan of Constantinople and St John of Rila.

Several 18th century icons in the church such as Sts Peter and Paul, Three Saints, etc., executed by Tryavna masters, attest that the roots of the cultural tradition at the Plakovo Monastery should be traced back to even before the 19th century. By attracting the best master-builders, painters and wood-carvers, the Plakovo Monastery contributed to enhancing the high standards of the Bulgarian art.