St John the Precursor
The St John the Precursor monastery is located in the Veselchane quarter of the town of Kurzhali. The monastery, of which the church is the only building that has been restored to date, represents an impressive medieval monument of culture, found by chance during construction works last century.
In the 60es of the 20th century, a bulldozer came across medieval walls during construction works in the vicinity of the river bed of Arda. The archeologists that were summoned as a result found there a large medieval church and the foundations of different buildings close to it. During the 80es of last century, a team led by a famous Bulgarian archeologist, professor Nikolay Ovcharov, started in-depth exploration of the remains, while in 2000 the church, named after St John the Precursor, was finally restored and opened to visitors. At present, remains of only three of the four monastery walls can still be seen – the southern one is preserved in full, while the eastern and the western ones have survived only partially. The northern wall was destroyed during relocation of Arda’s river bed. It is believed that the four-sided shape of the monastery wall was borrowed from the Athos cloisters of the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The first church of the monastery emerged in the second half of the 9th century. It represented a one-nave, one-apse church typical of the early Christianity. Today, one can see insignificant remains of the apse and the central part of that church. A brick-laid tomb oriented towards north-south, grouted with white plaster from the inside and having the shape of a human body that narrows towards the head, has been discovered inside the church. Later on, in the early 11th century, a monumental church with three apses, the architecture of which reminded of the Athos-based St Atanasii church, was erected in the place of the old church. The new building had a rare transitional design, characterized by the gradual transition from basilisk architecture towards the classical cross-domed Byzantine church. The walls were built of layers of stones and bricks and were generously decorated. A small tomb chapel, where a large brick-laid tomb that most probably belonged to a notable Christian missionary was found, was built later on as a part of the complex. The church was painted while different representative and auxiliary buildings were gradually constructed within the monastery complex in the 12th-14th c. The dining room was designed after those in aristocratic castles. Monks went to the dining room together, while religious texts were read during meals. The monks’ rooms were to be found on the second floor. A bakery for bread and ceramics, different galleries, a bathroom and other premises have been identified among the ruins. At first, the monastery was supplied with water via a special covered water pipe, built of stone slates. In addition, a four-shaped well can still be seen in the yard of monastery. The rich monastery complex that served as a centre of the Ahrides episcopate maintained active trade with the rest of the world, but also appealed to plunderers. At the beginning of the 13th century, it was plundered and destroyed most likely by the Fourth Crusade. The monks restored it, but then in the 40es of the 14th century it was again set on fire and this time – abandoned.
The monastery is easy to reach as it is located in the very town of Kurdzhali, in the Veselchane quarter.