Day Two: Zemen Monastery and St. Ioan Letni Church

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Phil’s shot. Zemen monastery with Martenitsa decorations hanging from the tree in the foreground.

Today was the day for churches beginning first with Zemen monastery and its cute, little stone church dating from the 11th century. While the outside of the church lacks much in the way of ornamentation, the inside is rich with frescoes. In fact, the portraits inside the church rank among the oldest and artistically most valuable in all the Balkans, resulting in the monastery being declared an archeological and cultural landmark.


 

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Karin’s shot. Front view of St Ioan Letni chapel at sunset.

However, it is our sunset shoot of the incredible St Ioan Letni Church on Pchelina dam that is the highlight of the day. It is a rugged, pot-holed road that leads us to the cliff upon which this abandoned church is perched. Abandoned, almost forgotten and in a state of disrepair, the church itself, is cute, but not particularly remarkable. However, its location is extraordinary.

Pechelina Chapel
Barb’s shot. St. Ioan Letni chapel at sunset.

The construction of Pchelina dam resulted in the flooding of the nearby, lower-lying villages, thus St. Ioan Letni church remains eerily isolated, perched upon a high cliff jutting out into the still waters of the reservoir, which surround it on three sides. Only the cacophony of nesting birds on the lakeshores disturb the silence of this deserted place.

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Karin’s shot. St Ioan Letni chapel with Marin enjoying the sun set.

Dating from the 15th and 16th centuries the white washed walls and stone roof tiles contrast pleasingly against the blue of the waters below creating a peaceful, even spiritual aura. Apparently the inside walls were once entirely covered in frescoes, but these are now in poor condition and the inside of the church is not accessible.

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Phil’s shot. St Ioan Letni chapel with sunset setting the water on fire.

But as the setting sun drops below the horizon, the entire sky is painted in a blaze of colours, which drip into the lake and create a mesmerising scene. We cannot stop clicking pictures until finally we must resort to lighting the chapel artificially with our headlamps to take advantage of the last dying embers of the sun’s rays as they slowly leak away into darkness. It is late, but we are elated by the drama of it all and sit around a picnic dinner chattering away in excitement. Fortunately we have a highly skilled driver to negotiate the way back through the crater-like potholes and whisk us off to our hotel.


 

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