Arbanassi

It is history, architecture and art, with more questions than answers. The talent of those who created it, remains undisputed though.

Arbanassi is a tangle of unravelled mysteries, of stories about an untypical and unusual world which has left 144 architectural monuments.

The village was so scenic that Greek bishops from Mount Athos and from as far as Jerusalem went to spend the Stone-paved streets with walls all along as high as 4 meters and large houses with elegant white chimneys and sturdy gates as if to make the houses castles.

The mansions, which predominate, have been stripped of the shops on the ground floor; trade was outside and in bulk. The houses of Kostantsaliev, Hadjiiliev and Kandilorov seem to reflect best what Arbanassi was like and the extravagance and the pursuit of beauty.

The houses really resemble small-size fortresses of which the hid- ing places where there was everything for a long siege, are the most interesting premises. And there was a good reason to be besieged.

Arbanassi was a Bulgarian Hong Kong or Macao. The local people owned large profitable estates inWallachia from where they brought thousands of gold pieces which their wives and daugh- ters wore in multiple chains round their necks and as shoulder straps as long as the knee.

The Arbanassi churches likewise looked like fortresses but for the lavish interior decoration. There is no explanation why twelve Greek sages of who Plato and Socrates are two, were painted in the women’s section in the Church of the Nativity of Christ (Rozhdestvo Hristovo).

This church is of particular interest. Although not exactly dated, it is known that it was enlarged and painted anew in 1637-49. Dug into the ground, with an austere appearance, hid- den cupolas and lacking a belfry, it is a genuine gallery of art. Its inside walls are covered with no less than 3,500 figures painted by masters from different periods.

The Biblical scenes are amazingly realistic. The Wheel of Life was depicted here for the first time in Bulgaria: man’s birth, his maturity, ageing and death.

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