The small UNESCO heritage church in Sofia's southern mountainous outskirts of Boyana is often cited as the lonely predecessor to Western Renaissance.
THE FRESCOES AT BOYANA CHURCH
The Boyana Church made the UNESCO herritage list because of its 13th century frescoes. Art historians consider them to be of a prodigious quality. Figures are depicted in elaborate poses, yet appear natural and flawless. Faces show a psychological depth, uncharacteristic for the times.
It is believed that the artists commissioned to paint the interior of the Boyana church came from the flourishing Turnovo Art School. However, as medieval tradition did not allow for the artists to sign their work, the Boyana painters will most probably remain anonymous.
It is likely that the Boyana painters were part of a larger wave of artistic revival that swept through the Orthodox world during the rule of the Paleologos, a Byzantine dynasty that sponsored art and culture in the 11-14th century.
The new artistic trend moved away from the deliberate anti-realism of earlier times and introduced naturalistic elements and attention to detail.
Art of similar quality would appear in Italy, with the beginning of the Renaissance, some one hundred years later. Many believe that this style was brought to Italy by émigrés from the collapsing Byzantine world. If true, it is somewhat ironic that it is the deliberate anti-realism that will forever remain associated with Orthodox art.
THE HISTORY OF BOYANA CHURCH
The Boyana Church was initially built in the 11th century. It was later enlarged to serve as a private temple to the 13th century feudal ruler (sebastokrator), Kaloyan, who had his summer villa in the area.
As was the custom at the time, the church was dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of Kaloyan.
The donor portrait of the ruler and his wife symbolically offering the church as a present to St Nicholas (on the left wall in the second section of the church) is one of the most famous examples of medieval Bulgarian art.
The church miraculously survived the many attempts of the locals to destroy it and clear the space for a larger temple. The last of these attempts occurred as late as the 1920s.
Today, the church sits in a posh suburb some 10 km from the city center, surrounded by sequoia trees, brought from North America specifically for the purpose.
BOYANA CHURCH: GOOD TO KNOW
No more than 8 people are allowed inside the Boyana Church at a time.
Visits are limited to 10 minutes.
The temperature in church is kept at a constant 18 C to preserve the art.
While in Boyana, also visit the National History Museum.