Image credit: Elena Chochkova
A small town southwest of the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, is a town nestled in the province of Pernik called Zemen. Zemen is an urban Legoland-like village that resonates a Van Gogh-esque setting with blooming flowers, emerald-green fields and towering pine oak trees that fills the vision like a vibrant painting.
Passing by the Vitosha Mountains that can be seen in the distance with the River Struma as a welcome, the medieval town of Zemen is at the skirts of the Konyavska mountain. The town will immerse you into nature and farm-fresh dishes.
Despite being a small town, Zemen has a multitude of charms from plunging valleys and precipitous gorges to scenic waterfalls. Once called Belovo till 1925, the town is now the residence of 3,500 people, mostly Bulgarian Orthodox who survive on farming, cattle breeding and dairy production.
The town offers a striking 360-view of the Pernik Valley and the Struma gorge. Lush foliage carpets the valley’s depths and warm pastels covers the scattered rooftops. Just ahead, the Struma Canyon, where the River Struma is located, forms unique shapes and forms, making it a unique picturesque overview.
Image credit: Nedko Ivanov
Named after the mythical king Strymon who is said to have drowned there, the Struma River flows all the way through Bulgaria to Greece and Macedonia. The river is popular amongst locals and visitors who enjoy quiet contemplative walks and/or fishing along its quiet southern banks.
About a mile away from Zemen to the foothills of the Risha Mountain lies the town’s architectural gem—the Zemen Monastery. The 11th century shrine is overflowing with Biblical frescoes and mosaics, and is considered as one of the most valuable monuments of medieval Europe.
Image credit: Todor Bozhinov
The beautiful monastery is now restored and has since been converted into a museum. The monastery is in the middle of an expansive courtyard filled with lush greens and is beside a crystal spring. The church is one of the oldest buildings in the country that serves the perfect example of Bulgarian Middle Age architecture.
The cubic building rests on four huge pillars with its dome being made out of stone. What makes the church so striking is its frescoes. The unique artworks cling to the iconography and ecclesiastical norms of illustrating a Christian Church. One such painting in the church is the illustration of two figures of Christ, one serving wine with the other serving bread. These unique features of the church made into a National Cultural Monument under UNESCO.
Image credit: Bollweevil
The spiritual significance of the Zemen Monastery has become an important Bulgarian national symbol. On May 20th every year, thousands gather around the monastery to pray, sing and dance to celebrate the monument.
End your tour of Zemen by having a meal of local dishes such as Banista and Shopska Salata at local farm houses that overlook the Vitosha mountains. Savour the food and the view with the true taste of Bulgaria.