Melnik - the smallest and most romantic town in Bulgaria! An architectural reserve - a blend of nature, rocks flocked around houses on hills, history, culture and wine.
Melnik is the smallest settlement classified as a town in the Republic of Bulgaria and is located in Blagoevgrad Province (sometimes referred to as Pirin Macedonia), in the southwestern Pirin Mountains, about 440 m above sea level. The town is an architectural reserve and 96 of its buildings are cultural monuments.
EVENTFUL AND TURBULENT HISTORY. Time has not consigned to oblivion the legends and facts about old Melnik. Archaeologists claim that the Thracians were the first to settle in these parts. Later, the Romans passed through it and left a unique trace: the ancient Roman bridge preserved to this day. It is the Slavs, however, who are supposed to have first given the town its present name - Melnik, after the sand pyramids (mel) which envelop the town on all sides. It became a part of the Bulgarian state under Khan Pressiyan (836-852) and within a few centuries flourished greatly. In the early 13th century Melnik was the capital city of the independent domain of Lord Alexi Slav, an important and impregnable fortress and a brisk centre of arts and crafts, of building and trade. It continued to prosper under Tzar Ivan Assen (1218-1241). His charter for duty-free trade with the Dubrovnik merchants brought in together with exquisite goods and artisan skills also a culture imbued with modern humanism.Melnik became a centre where icon-painters, masters of ceramics, goldsmiths producing filigree works, and masons who built churches and houses thrived.
The vicissitudes of history often changed the rulers of this outlying part of the Bulgarian state. Under Byzantine domination Melnik became the place where claimants to the Byzantine throne were exiled. They arrived with their families and riches, built houses and supported the development of arts and trade.
The Ottoman conquest ushered in a period of several centuries of oblivion and decline. Yet Melnik again became famous. The spark of the Bulgarian National Revival (18th - 19th century) burst earlier into flame here than in other parts of the country. The town regained its past splendour. It again became a major cultural and commercial centre. In the late 17th century it emerged as a centre of church decoration and openwork woodcarving and some time later, as a centre of the fine mural painting. Many churches and Bulgarian schools were opened. Remarkable works of architecture were built; theatrical performance, quadrilles and waltzes began to be played in the parlours of eminent merchants, after Western fashions. Heavy caravans spread the fame of Melnik wines in the distant corners od Europe. It matured in deep cellars for several dozen years. It acquired thickness and flavour which made it much sought after in Salonica, Athens, Vienna, France, Spain and even in Britain. Several months after the Russo-Turkish War (1877 - 1878) the Berlin Treaty gave Melnik back to Turkey and the town lived through the Kresna Uprising (1878). The town gradually lost its sparkle, and during the Balkan war (1912 - 1913) which ultimately freed it, it suffered devastation by fire.
Today Melnik is an architectural reserve, a historical town, a monument of culture. From the previously rich and prosperous town now remain what is left of the fortress wall of Lord Slav, houses an wine cellars, churches and monasteries. Amidst the exotic charm of the natural decor, they remind one of a romantic tale of olden icons and carved wood, of splendid frescoes and architectural gems.
THE NATURAL SCENERY of Melnik is truly amazing. Impressive and austerely splendid, the Melnik pyramids rank among the most remarkable natural phenomena in Bulgaria. On the area of 17 sq. km (near Melnik, Rozhen i Kurlanovo) millennia-long erosion has chiseled this unusual world. Depending on the strength of your imagination, you could see in them obelisks, ancient towers, giant mushrooms... etc. But the imagination of the Bulgarian master masons of the National Revival period inspired probably by the fascinating architectural style of the Melnik house.
Its characteristic features are related to the geographic factor. The sheer screes and the limited terrain compelled people here to fight for every square foot of land. That is why the Melnik houses seem perched one above the other, so close as though they are whispering something to each other. Again, to cope with the slope, people here built the basement of stone at several levels where the thick wine matured. Above is the storey, towering gracefully, projecting and supported by many cantilevers. The white facades are framed with dark boards and the windows are grouped several together in an elegant fashion. The interiors usually exhibit ceilings of carved wood, chimney-pieces, decorative cupboards of colour woods, murals and even stained glass. But apart from the generally typical features, every house here has an individuality of its own, its own history and life.
The unique architecture of the place and the nearby Rozhen Monastery (located 6 km southeast of Melnik) make it a popular tourist destination for Bulgarian and foreign visitors. The town is also associated with the impressive natural sand pyramids in various forms, resembling giant mushrooms, ancient towers and obelisks, spread in an area of 17 sq.km. near Melnik, Kurlanovo and Rozhen. The town has also been famous for its strong wine since as far as 1346. The local wine was reportedly a favourite of Winston Churchill.
Interesting architectural landmarks include the Byzantine House, one of the oldest civilian buildings in the Balkans (built probably in the 12th or 13th century as a Bulgarian fortress), the Kordopulov House (named after the merchant Manol Kordopulov to whom it once belonged), which also has one of the largest wine cellars in Melnik, the Pashov House (1815), which houses the Historical Museum of Melnik and the Pasha's House, built by Ibrahim Bey, one of the richest beys in the region, during Ottoman rule. Some of the old churches in the town worth visiting are St Nicholas (built in the 13th century), SS Peter and Paul (1840), St Nicholas the Thaumaturge (1756) and St Anthony.
Melnik Ridge and its summit Melnik Peak on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica are named for Melnik.