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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

Elenska Basilica

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

Bulgaria never ceases to amaze me!

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

He constantly shows me how imbued with an incredibly rich history and at the same time how beautiful it is!

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

And every season!

My dear friends, I invite you to another charming and educational walk through the so picturesque Zlatitsa-Pirdop region every season.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

Today we will visit the Elenski Monastery of St. Elijah and the early Christian Basilica of St. John.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

The history of the basilica is extremely interesting!

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

Elenski monastery of St. Elijah is the ruins of a fortified monastery complex destroyed by the Turks with an impressive early Christian basilica and fortress.

It consists of the temple itself, monastery buildings and the surrounding fortress walls, flanked by four-walled towers in the corners.

The monastery was an active and very important center of literature during the Second Bulgarian State and operated until the end of the XVII century, when it was unfortunately destroyed by the Turkish enslavers.

Then Yahya Pasha ordered the army to destroy with cannons, burn and destroy the one thousand three hundred year old monastery.

But such were the times then - cruel, sad and extremely difficult!

How do you get to here?

The monastery and the basilica are located very close to the town of Pirdop and the Sub-Balkan Road. If you are traveling in the direction of Sofia - Bourgas, follow the turnoff to the left. There is also a huge sign to follow.

After the turnoff you will continue on a good asphalt road for about a kilometer and a half, and suddenly you will find yourself in a fabulous grove of beautiful young birches.

You are already at the foot of the southern slopes of the Zlatitsa-Teteven part of Stara Planina, in the area of Ѐlensko, on the border of the municipalities of Pirdop and Anton, where the field ends and Stara Planina begins.

Next to it flows the small but full-flowing, mountainous Ѐlenska river with the Ѐlensko low waterfall and the Ѐlenska grove, which gave the name of the basilica.

The remains of the majestic ruins are located on the right bank of the river.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

The area of Ѐlensko, where the temple is located, in ancient times was a sanctuary for the Thracian tribe Veliko-Koylaleti, who by VI - V century BC become part of the state of the Bessi.

Near the ruins of the monastery there are traces of a large ancient settlement, which are believed to be from the Thracian city of Burdapara (Burdapa, Burdana), mentioned by the Byzantine chronicler Procopius.

Information about this settlement is given by the stone slab with the image of a gladiator found a few years ago.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

Only 500 meters from today's city there was another large settlement from the III century AD, the existence of which is evidenced by much evidence.

The old Roman road from Serdika (Sofia) to Augusta Trayana (Stara Zagora) passed through the land of Pirdop, traces of which can be found in Sredna Gora above the picturesque village of Dushantsi.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

In the early Middle Ages, there were several settlements at the foot of the Balkan near the protection of the fortresses built by Emperor Justinian I, and the Byzantine chronographer Procopius mentions them. From this period is the town around the Basque Basilica, apparently the heir of the ancient Thracian village, located one kilometer south of the church. During the field research a coin was found here by Emperor Heraclius (610 - 641), which proves that the settlement existed at least until the middle of the VII century.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

Elenska Basilica is officially dated to the 4th century, similar to the Sofia Basilica of St. Sofia, the rotunda of St. Georgi and the monastery with a large basilica from the IV century in the capital's Lozenets district.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

At the end of the 4th century, the Goths began invasions in the south of the Balkan Peninsula and reached as far as Constantinople. At the Battle of Edirne, they defeated the Roman legions and killed even Emperor Valens himself.

For several decades, the Goths wreaked havoc in the Balkans.

After these wars at the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century, the building of the basilica was probably restored or, according to some opinions, rebuilt.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

Later, after the next barbaric invasions of Huns, Germans and Avars, it was renovated and rebuilt. This happened in the middle of the VI century under Emperor Justinian the Great. Then, initially, the typical basilica, which is a domeless building, was upgraded with a dome - a rare architectural solution in history. This reconstruction also confirms that the building was not built in the early sixth century, but earlier.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

The picturesque region was annexed to the Bulgarian state by Khan Tervel in 705, when the Sredna Gora-Zagorje region was given to him by the Byzantine emperor together with the title of Caesar in gratitude for his help.

A unique rarity with which the basilica is remarkable is its very good, like the Golden Church in Preslav, its own fortress - with massive fortress walls and defensive towers and like Pliska - with a brick archway.

It is interesting that there is no typical Byzantine brick construction, and the fortress is almost entirely filled with typical Bulgarian stone construction, similar to the masonry of the fortress of the Golden Church in Preslav, Ohrid Fortress and other Bulgarian fortresses.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

During the Second Bulgarian State, the Bulgarian monastery of St. Elijah, which is a significant literary center. The basilica itself was used as a monastery temple.

A famous monument from this era is the Apostle of Pirdop - a Middle Bulgarian monument from the end of the XII - beginning of the XIII century, found in 1874, hidden in a niche in the ruined church. A file in it testifies to the fierce battles that Prince Momchil, voivode of Tsar Shishman, fought for years along with the Turks in the 14th century in defense of the area, which is why it was later called "Pirdop".

The monastery is one of the few survivors after the Ottoman invasion, managed to survive almost until the end of the XV century, when it was almost destroyed by the hordes of Yahya Pasha (son-in-law of Sultan Bayezid II), who with his looted valuables in 1498 built the notorious mosque in Skopje, NM.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

However, the monastery continued to operate until about 1700, when it was finally ravaged for the third time, after Muslims living in the nearby village of Ladjene, envious of the wealth and influence of the spiritual center, slandered its monks for disobeying and mocking the inhabitants of the village. Then the monastery with the basilica of St. Elijah were finally destroyed during a campaign of Ottoman troops in the area, and by order of their leader Yahya Pasha, they were fired upon with cannons, looted, burned and finally destroyed.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

Although the monastery no longer existed, Bulgarians continue to honor the place where it was built.

Among the remains of the altar apse in place of the throne is an old stone votive cross blackened by candlelight with the inscription "1806 Temple of the Holy Prophet Elijah", which is still a place of reverence for the local population, as you can see from the photos.

Between the fortress wall and the hut of the hunting party, about fifteen meters away, the water of the spring flows into a new stone fountain.

According to legends, the name of the town of Pirdop comes from the ancient oak tree growing near the church, which, as was customary for Thracians, Goths and Slavs, was revered as sacred and sacrifices were organized there. People began to settle around - "Pri dob" (Pri daba), which gradually became "Pirdop", as recorded in a monument to the Glozhene monastery from 1727.

The settlement was first mentioned in writing as Protopopintsi in the Ottoman register from 1430.

Another legend says that the settlement arose around the fortified monastery or tower (pyrga), from where Prince Momchil led the defense against the Turks. That is why it was proudly called Pirgopol - the city around the tower, which gradually passed into Pirdop.

There is also a third version of the origin of the name. According to her, the area of ​​Ѐlensko used to be overgrown with beautiful forests full of game, through which countless streams flowed, making them suitable for feasting and hunting. Here, during a certain time, many nobles gathered for hunting and feasts, which at one time were called the feast-era, from which the name Pirdop came.

Today, the Basilica of Silesia is a cultural monument of European importance and is on the UNESCO list of protected cultural sites.

The ruins of Elenska basilica near Pirdop, Bulgaria

Near the ruins, as a memorial to the destroyed Bulgarian monastery, in 2010 the chapel of St. Elijah.

In autumn the area is rich in rich natural gifts - rose hips, hawthorn, blackberries.

I wish you an exceptional and impressive walk!

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