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Church-Monument “Nativity of Christ”, Shipka City

100 National Tourist Sites

When you travel from Kazanlak to Gabrovo, you will see the gilded domes of this temple, which even in cloudy weather seem to radiate light. The story of its construction is interesting and touching. As is known, thousands of Russian soldiers lost their lives in the fierce battles or from hunger, disease and cold during the harsh winter of 1877-1878.

The idea to build a temple-memorial to those who died for the tsar, the Christian faith and for the liberation of the fraternal Bulgarian people was born in Russia. The initiators are Olga Nikolaevna Skobeleva, mother of the famous military leader, the former Russian ambassador to Constantinople – Count Ignatiev, his wife and several other like-minded people. Their call was supported in 1879 by the Tsar Liberator, Emperor Alexander II, who donated an icon, vestry and 1000 rubles. He issued permission to establish a “Committee for the construction of an Orthodox church at the foot of the Balkans for the eternal remembrance of the soldiers who died in 1877-1878”. It was decided to build it where the Shipchen Pass begins, but since the terrain was in the so-called Eastern Rumelia, it was necessary to make a special decree from the Sultan. The name of the temple was unanimously approved – “Nativity”, because the last big battle took place precisely in the days surrounding this holiday.

More than 300,000 rubles and a large amount of donations were collected. Its construction lasted 6 years, it was completed in 1902, and the official consecration, which took place from September 15 to 19, turned into a lavish national celebration and coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Shipchen epic. Prince Ferdinand was present on the Bulgarian side, and the Russian delegation was headed by the personal representative of Emperor Nicholas II, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich Jr.

The temple was built in the style of Russian churches of the 17th century. The five gilded domes – four side ones with a height of 33 meters and the central one, which rises to 42 meters, have the traditional bulb shape. The total weight of the 17 ornate bells exceeds 20 tons, with the largest weighing 11,643 kilograms. On holidays, their sweet-voiced echo carries from the valley of Kazanlak all the way to the ridge of the mountain. The domes end with ten copper-plated metal crosses. The interior of the temple-monument is equally lavish. The gilded linden iconostasis makes a striking impression. The dozens of icons that decorate it, painted on dried cypress wood, were a gift from the monks of the Russian monastery “Saint Panteleimon” in Athos.

The frescoes began to be painted in 1902 by the Russian artist Prof. Myasoedov, author of the central composition “Christ the Pantocrator” and Prof. Anton Mitov. The work on them was continued by a team led by the icon painter Nikolai Rostovtsev, and completed only in 1957-1959.
When you visit this temple, you must also take a look at the crypt, which is located below the main level. It also has a remarkably beautiful iconostasis, and in the two side galleries 17 stone sarcophagi keep the bones of those who died in the battles of Shipka. In the temple and the side galleries, on stone tablets are inscribed with the names of the military units and the fallen heroes – a total of 18,491 people. The Bulgarian militiamen are not forgotten either – four tablets recall the sacrifice of 451 Bulgarian soldiers.

The temple-monument, part of the historical and architectural reserve “Shipka”, until 1934 was owned by the Russian state, which donated it to Bulgaria on July 23 of the same year. Since December 2004, it has been owned by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Work time:
April – October: 08.30 – 18.00
November – March: 08.30 – 16.30

Entrance fees: none
If visitors wish, the monks of the monastery can tell its history. The talk: no charge.

Tel: +359 4324 20 47

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