Melnik is said to be Bulgaria’s smallest town yet has quite a few historic buildings, several from the medieval period. With a history dating back to ancient times, Melnik has been inhabited by a number of peoples, from the Bulgarians to the Byzantines and the Ottomans.
Melnik is the smallest city in Bulgaria by a wide margin – in fact, it’s only able to maintain its status as an incorporated city in somewhat honorary fashion, due to the city’s storied history. In fact, nearly 100 of its barely-more-than-that buildings are designated historic landmarks.
Founded more than 1,000 years ago in the 9th century, Melnik has changed hands numerous times as war swept Europe over the centuries, at different times belonging to the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Russia, and then Bulgaria once more.
Visitors are quick to note the quaintness of the town, with its small cafes and old-world atmosphere instantly transporting tourists to something of a land that time forgot.
Melnik has developed a celebrated winemaking tradition. Sir Winston Churchill reportedly ordered 500 liters of Bulgaria’s Melnik wine every year leading up to and through World War Two.
Melnik is also famous for the medieval Rozhen Monastery. The monastery is a ten-minute drive from Melnik. There are well-preserved frescoes, stained glass windows, unique carvings, and buildings from the many different historical periods in the life of the monastery. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the many monasteries it founded are still revered, if now little used by either monks or worshippers. Throughout Bulgaria, the monasteries played a crucial role in preserving and spreading Bulgarian literacy, culture and identity during five centuries of Ottoman rule.
The town is an architectural park and all newly built houses must comply with the Bulgarian Revival architecture. The most visited house is the Kordopulov House, a private museum. Beneath it the ruins of the family church St. Barbara are also a point of interest.
Of all once over 70 churches in town, only 3 are still functioning. One of the most important ones is the church St. Antony, the only one dedicated to this saint in Bulgaria. Unlike most Bulgarian orthodox churches, the walls in this one are covered not in biblical scenes, but in more tranquil paintings of flowers and plants.
Today, Melnik’s history and architecture is a draw for tourists, who come to see sites such as the ruins of the 13th century St Nicholas Church and the Byzantine House from around the same period. Another interesting aspect of Melnik are its Melnishki pyramids, essentially large sand mounds which naturally occur in the area.
Getting to Melnik
Melnik is about a 2.5 hour drive south of Sofia. There is a regular afternoon bus from Sofia to Melnik passing through Sandanski. It leaves from the Sofia bus station and takes about four hours.