St. George the Victorious
The monastery “St George The Victorious” is situated just outside the village of Belashtitsa, which in turn lies 12km to the south of the city of Plovdiv – there where the Rhodopi mountains start to rise from the ends of the Thracian valley. The monastery is not big but is very cozy, nesting within the marvelous forest above the village.
The monastery “St George The Victorious” was built by a Byzantine military commander, Nikifor Skifi, who in 1014 during a battle at the Belasitsa mountain (in present-day Macedonia) appeared with his men in the rear of the courageous Bulgarian Tsar Samuil and this way contributed to the victory of the Byzantine ruler Basilius II who left the field with plenty of spoils and prisoners of war. In 1018, the Byzantine emperor Basilius II, appointed his chief commander Nikofor Skifi as administrator of the then Philipopolis district with his seat being in the town of Philipopolis (present-day Plovdiv). The rich and fertile lands of the Plovdiv region required workers who were able to cultivate the land well, so that bigger crop is produced for everyone. The administrator, Nikifor Skifi, asked Emperor Basilius II to send him 15,000 of Tsar Samuil’s soldiers, taken captives during the Belasitsa mountain battle. The Emperor agreed and the soldiers established the village, which was first named Belasitsa, and later – Belashtitsa. Nikifor Skifi had a large palace-fortress (that existed until 1650) to the south of the village, which is now called Belashtitsa and remains of which can be seen next to a centuries’ old plane-tree. In 1020, about 1000 metres away from his palace, Nikifor Skifi built the monastery and consecrated it to St George The Victorious. Nikifor Skifi’s child name was Nikalay. He was an ethnic Bulgarian born in Stara Zagora and taken as slave to Tsarigrad (present-day Istanbul) when he was 11. There, Nikifor Skifi was trained for a Byzantine soldier. When he was 30, Nikifor Skifi took part in the Belasitsa mountain battle as a military commander and ordered that even his own brother be blinded so that he does not tell Nikifor’s origin. The mother of Nikifor, Ventsislava, was 76 when she saw the horror done to the Bulgarian soldiers and her elderly son Dragomir. She cursed Nikifor with the words: “Be cursed with short life, my son, for what you’ve done”. Nikifor Skifi learned about his mother’s words but did not repel. The revenge over Nikifor Skifi, nicknamed “The Bulgarians’ Assassin”, came on December 22, 1029, when the Byzantine army was defeated and he was killed at the Belasitsa mountain. In the 19th and 20th centuries, religious Bulgarians donated funds for further construction and improvement of the buildings, the yard and the church of the monastery. The monastery is declared a monument of culture and represents a complex consisting of a church, a chapel, residential and farm buildings. At present three nuns and 2 novices live permanently in it. Each year on the 6th of May, on the day of the patron of the monastery, plenty of temporary stalls emerge in front of the monastery and many pilgrims gather there, but it is peaceful and quiet during the rest of the year. A visit to the monastery can be combined with a picnic or a tourist hike in the mountain, as the cloister is surrounded by broad-lived forests with plenty of springs and meadows.
As the monastery is pretty close to Plovdiv, one can spend the night in the city. One can have food in the village, too.
The monastery is easy to reach by car or by bus that can be taken from the Rhodopi bus station in Plovdiv and it does not take much time to get there. It lies on the road to Tsar Kaloyan and Sitovo that passes through the village of Branipole.