Location: 15 km South-west of Gabrobo, Gabrovo Oblast Map
Sokolski Monastery is a Bulgarian Orthodox religious complex situated 15 km South- West of a Bulgarian city of Gabrovo just few miles past ethnographic village museum of Etar. It stands on top of a cliff in the Balkan Mountains in the Bulgarka Nature Park.
Sokolski Monastery is Bulgarian Orthodox Monastery found in 1833 and
named after its founder Archimandrite Joseph (Yosif) Sokolski who
arrived here with a monk Agapi. Monastery complex stands on top of a
rocky outcrop overlooking a valley of Yantra river below. At the
time of its construction this area was largely uninhabited and
covered by virgin forest. A small wooden church near Sokolovo Cave
was completed for a small male community of monks. Its architect
Konstantin from Peshtera designed the main church and many of the
first buildings within a complex. The interior of the main church
were coverd by frescoes and icons that were finished in 1834. Hristo
Tskov, a Gabrovo- born artist, donated an icon of the Virgin Mary
and Christ that was widely believed to be miraculous. The same year
the abbey was inaugurated on August 15, 1834 by Tarnovo Patriarchal
Bishop Ilarion of Crete.
Sokolski Monastery as it happened with many monasteries in the Balkans became the centre of Christian educational center as well as a center of national resistance to Islamic Turkish rule in the region. In 1836 Joseph Sokolski found the convent school for the local peasant kids. One of its first teachers was Neophyte Bozveli, a Bulgarian cleric and one of the most famous leaders of national educational and religious movement of the Bulgarian Renaissance. Additionally Sokolski Monastery became a center of book production.
In addition to purely education center Sokolski Monastery became prominent as a center of Bulgarian national resistence against the Ottomans. The abbey protected such important Bulgarian revolutionaries as Captain Dyado Nikola in 1856 and Vasil Levsky, probably the most famous freedom fighter. In 1876 Sokoloski Monastery became the rally point for volunteer gathering under leadership of Tsanko Dyustabanov. It didn't work out too well and after April Uprising of 1876 he was wounded, caught and hastily executed in Veliko Tarnovo nearby. Many of the monks and freedom fighters were hanged in a small cave in the Lower Monastery and their bodies were thrown off the cliff below. Even today you can enter this cave and see hooks on top of the cave ceiling.
Lower Church of the Sokolski Monastery is flanked by two caves. The cave that is closest to the cliff side contains hooks that are drilled into a cave roof. It was used by the Turkish troops to hang monks and Bulgarian volunteers who tried to oppose Ottoman Empire. During Russo- Turkish War of 1877-78 that liberated Bulgaria from the Turkish rule it served as a hospital.
Sokolski Monastery is one of the most popular and visited Orthodox Monasteries in the coutnry. Like many other religious sites it is also clounded with numerous stories, legends and supestitions. One of these legends that are still circulating in the region is that a hidden cave system exists that can take you out of the Sokolski Monastery. Whether it is true or not is not so important. It is more famous for its frescoes and icons that represent some of the best works of art of Bulgarian National Revival.
Originally a male Sokolski Monastery it was given to several nuns in 1959. It can be divided into two regions, the Upper and Lower Sokolski Monastery. The Upper Monastery is the one that you see as soon as you enter Sokolski Monastery. Inner courtyard is surrounded by the monks cells with Sokolska fountain in the middle. It was desgined by a grand master Nicolas Fichev.
The Sokolski Monastery was founded in 1833 by Archimandrite Joseph, later known in the struggle for church autonomy as the Uniate Archbishop Joseph Sokolski. He arrives in his homeland from the Troyan Monastery accompanied by Hieromonk Agapius.
The church and the first residential building were built by the famous foreman Konstantin from Peshtera, who would later also build the cathedral churches of the Troyan and Batoshevski monasteries. In the yard with the residential buildings is the famous Sokolski fountain, which is pointed out as the work of the first master Nikola Fichev.
The newly founded monastery was inaugurated on August 15, 1834 by Metropolitan Ilarion Tarnovski. In 1836, Josif Sokolski opened a school in the monastery, where Neofit Bozveli was a teacher for a short time. In the monastery Yosif Sokolski also opened a literary center. Deacon Hilarion was sent to Tarnovo to study the psalter, to seek and prepare teachers.
On July 31, 1856, the detachment of Captain Grandfather Nicholas (1856) was established here, with the intention of making it the center of the uprising he was preparing. The detachment's flag is also lit here. Vasil Levski also found shelter here.
For years, the church of the Sokol Monastery stood without decoration. It was without frescoes, without a nice iconostasis, with poor flooring. The Russian vice-consul from Plovdiv Naiden Gerov, who visited the monastery on his temple holiday (August 15) 1858, noted with indignation that the church was left in a neglected state, devoid of any decorations, and did not even have a temple icon "Assumption".
In 1862, priest Pavel Zograf and his son Nikola from the village of Shipka, Kazanlak region, decorated the nave of the church and its narthex with frescoes. In the same year the iconostasis with royal and festive icons was made by the famous representatives of the Tryavna school Ioaniki papa Vitanov, Simeon Tsonyuv and others. 2,500 groschen were spent on its construction. 6 large royal icons and 15 small festive icons were placed on it. Jesus Christ is depicted in the dome. The temple icon was painted by the Gabrovo painter Hristo Tsokev and is his donation. It is signed: "Painting Hr. Tsokev, Gabrovo, August 8 1880. " In 1868 Usta Kolyo Ficheto built a stone fountain, today a valuable architectural monument.
On May 1, 1876, the rebels of Duke Tsanko Dustabanov gathered and from here the Gabrovo detachment began its battle journey. During the April Uprising of 1876, Dustabanov's detachment was sheltered here. From the monastery, blessed by the monks, they set out and fought in the villages of Kravenik and Novo Selo. The Turks defeated the detachment, and eight of the rebels hung on the gallows on the rocks near the monastery, and their bodies were thrown into the abyss. Dustabanov was hanged on the gallows in Tarnovo.
During the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) the monastery was turned into a military hospital.
From its foundation until 1959 Sokolski monastery was male and more than 100 monks served in it. The monastic fraternity was headed by 15 abbots. In 1839, Archimandrite Yosif Sokolski founded the Holy Annunciation convent in Gabrovo, which was blown up in 1959 by the communist authorities in Bulgaria and the nuns were transferred to the Sokol Monastery. In the northern part of the monastery in 1968 the nuns arranged the chapel of the Holy Annunciation and exhibited the preserved iconostasis and the icons of Jesus Christ and the Holy Mother of God with the Infant, painted by Zahari Zograf.
A museum has been built next to the monastery, where an exposition with relics from the struggle for liberation is exhibited.
The Sokolski Monastery was declared a historical site by order №357 / 11.03.1973 of the KOPS. It was re-categorized in a protected area of the same name by order № RD 1322 of 27.12.2002 of the MoEW. It covers an area of 75.5 hectares of monastery forests and lands from the forest fund.