Zemen Monastery (Земенски манастир)

Location: 3 km (2 mi) Southwest of Zemen  Map

Tel. (077) 413 131

Open: 9am- 5:30pm Mon- Wed, Fri- Sun

Established: 11th century

Zemen Monastery (Земенски манастир)


Description of Zemen Monastery

Zemen Monastery is a medieval Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox monastery lost in the Bulgarian wilderness. It is located 3 km (2 mi) South- West of a town of Zemen, hence the name. Zemen Monastery is a Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox religious complex dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist. It was found in the 11th century by a small groupf of monks who settled the North- East slopes of Konyavska mountain in the beginning of the Zemen Gorge. Zemen Monastery stands 1 km South- East of the town of Zemen near Pernik on the left bank of the Struma river.
Zemen Monastery is modest in size. Its complex consists of a main church, a bell tower and two building that served as living quarters for the monks. The main church of the Zemen Monastery is the most remarkable part of the complex and is declared as a cultural monument. It dates back to the 11th century. it measures 9.2 meters in length, 8.7 meters in width with a total height of 11.2 meters. Frescoes in the main church of Zemen Monastery date back to the 14th century. Unusual feature of the church is that besides saints and Biblical scenes it depicts portraits of medieval people who helped the Zemen Monastery financially or just by providing their manual labor on a site. Besides some of the stories that told in paintings reflect apocryphal or non- canonic interpretations of some of the events in the New Testament. It is currently a cultural museum in the possession of the government. No monks live in Zemen Monastery currently.


The monastery is located on one of the northeastern slopes of the Konyavska Mountain, at the beginning of the Zemen Gorge, on the left bank of the Struma River. It is located about 1 km southeast of the town of Zemen, Zemen municipality, Pernik district - one of the smallest towns in Bulgaria.

It consists of a church, a bell tower and two buildings. The monastery is not one of the largest and is currently not inhabited by monks.

The most remarkable is the oldest building of the monastery: the church, which is a cultural monument. In terms of architecture, it occupies a special place in the Balkans as a representative of cross-domed architecture.

The temple dates back to the founding of the monastery in the 11th century and is a simple cubic room with dimensions: length 9.18 m; width 8.71 m; height 7 meters (11.20 with dome). It is built with well-carved travertine blocks, connected with mortar solder.

The frescoes from the first layer of painting date back to the second half of the 11th century. The popularity of the monument is due not only to the interesting architectural solution, but also to the remarkable frescoes with biblical scenes from the 14th century. The altar is a stone monolith, and the floor is made of multicolored stone slabs and antique bricks. The dome is made of stone and rises on a high cylindrical drum.

In the southwest corner of the church are preserved six donor portraits, among them an unknown local feudal lord and his wife Doya - one of the earliest portraits of Bulgarian boyars and with the greatest artistic value after the images of Sevastocrator Kaloyan and Desislava from the Boyana Church.

It is remarkable that the monastery monastery collapsed and was rebuilt several times, and the church with the frescoes has survived for more than 9 centuries. Studies of the monastery archives show that the church was fortified in 1830 and 1860. In 1867, master Milenko Velev from the village of Blateshnitsa built the first monastery building, consecrated on May 20 (the day of St. John the Theologian) by Metropolitan Ignatius of Kyustendil. Since then, on this day every year is held the traditional spring festival to celebrate the saint. At the beginning of the 20th century, priest Yanaki Mitov built the new monastery building, two-storey and 40 meters long.

Restoration work was carried out in the 1970s.

On March 5, 1966, the Zemen Church was declared a monument of Bulgarian architecture and painting, and the Zemen Monastery - a national museum, which became a branch of the National History Museum in 2004.