Preobrazhenie monastery is one of the biggest monasteries in Bulgaria. The unusual architecture of Kolio Ficheto, the refined frescoes of Zahari Zograf, the beautiful view from the rock terrace, and the peaceful atmosphere at the complex all make the place a destination which is interesting to visit.
The foundation of the monastery is connected with the name ot tzar Ivan Aleksandar (1331 - 1371) and his second wife Teodora-Sarah. In Boril’s Synodicon it is said that she has restored many churches and erected different monasteries, and it is presumed that she has provided resources and money to build the Preobrazhenie monastery as well. This is why in her honour sometimes the monastery is also called Sarah’s monastery.
The original construction was robbed and severely damaged when the Ottomans conquered the Balkan peninsula. According to some statements the monastery had been subjected to the raids of the Kardzhalii robbers, and later on it had been completely destroyed.
The restoration of the monastery to the way it looks today started in 1825, when hieromonk Zosim (father Zotik) from Rila monastery received a sultan’s decree allowing him to build a church which can not exceed the size of the previous one from the destroyed monastery complex. The construction process began in 1834, and it was entrusted to the famous master Dimitar Sofialiyata. He however wasn’t able to finish it until the end, because shortly after he was hanged as a punishment for his participation in the revolutionary plot Velchovata zavera (1934-1935). The church, and later on the rest of the complex as well, were completed by his assistant Kolio Ficheto.
The main church is an elongated one-naved building with a wide apse and two side kliroses. Its dome is situated low and its base is an eight-sided cylinder, which distinguishes it from the normal round ones that were usually built. Above the Western wing Kolio Ficheto built a belfry. Against the clerical doctrine he made the vault pyramidal, and he added a clock mechanism - these were all innovations in the religious architecture.
The church is unusual and impresses not only with its construction, but also with its interior. The frescoes outside and inside the church are made by Zahari Zograf. Outside the church is covered by stylized flowers and ornaments in bright colours. A theory states that this way Zahari Zograf has wanted to remind of the the former churches in the tsar's court and on the Trapezitza hill. The most impressive detail of the frescoes is the Wheel of life which is situated on the southern side. It has been completed in the 40’s of the 19 century, and it reflects the transiency of all earthly things.
The interior of the church Zahari Zograf has painted for 3 years (1849-1951). On the eastern wall the day of the Apocalypse is represented. It reflects social patterns, problems and negative social characters, typical for the period of the Bulgarian Revival. On the rest of the walls other biblical scenes could be seen, as well as images of saints, eminent men and famous representatives of the clergy - Patriarch Euthymius of Tarnovo, St. John of Rila, St. Nikola the New of Sofia, the russian saints - Boris and gleb, St. Dimitar of Basarbovo , and a self portrait of the eminent painter. The iconostasis is made by Kolio Ficheto, and the icons - by Zahari Zograf, Stanislav Dospevski and Peter Minyov.
The residential buildings of the Preobrazhenie monastery are made in a typical revival style, with bow-windows and wide wooden balconies. They, as well as the main entrance, are also crafted by Kolio Ficheto and were built in the period between 1858 and 1863.
In 1843 Dimitar Sofialiyata built next to the church a chapel, which was almost dug into the ground, and named it after St. Andrew the First-called. Later Kolio Ficheto raised over it a church ‘The Annunciation of the Mother of the God’. Since the monastery is situated on an unstable rock foundation, these churches, along with the eastern wing were totally devastated by the landslide of 1970. In 1991 another landslide destroys some of the monk's cells. Both of the accidents haven’t caused human casualties.
In the Preobrazhenie monastery many valuable relics have been saved - Four gospels from 1629, Nedelnik of Sofronii Vratchanski, the chronicle of the monastery, started in 1825.
Preobrazhenie monastery is situated in the gorge Derventa, close by Veliko Tarnovo. It is located on the left bank of the river Yantra.
You can reach it by following the main road E85 from Veliko Tarnovo to Ruse. If you are travelling from Veliko Tarnovo you will find on your left a road sign pointing to the monastery 7 km after the city. The left turn there is allowed, but it is dangerous, so it is recommended that the turn is performed carefully and with a high level of attention. The road then continues around 1.5km through the forest and it reaches the central entrance of the complex. If you are coming from the North, the side road will be situated on the right around 3km after Samovodene.