ISSUE 12, January 2005

Kitchener of Khartoum: Mason extraordinary
Travel: Where east meets west
Veteran Honoured: Old soldier remembered
Royal Masonic Family: The Six Masonic Sons of George III, Part 1
Supreme Grand Chapter: Speech of the Pro First Grand Principal and, Report of the Committee of General Purposes
  Quarterly Communication: Address of the Pro Grand Master and, Report of the Board of General Purposes
Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London: London's first consecration
Soccer: Man in the Middle
Wales: Joseph Parry - flawed genius?
Library & Museum: Donations gather pace
Education: Dates for your diary and, Planning a 'white table' and, Looking to the future and, Time marches on
Grand Charity: General meeting and non-Masonic grant list
Masonic Charities: Reports from the four main charities
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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     About two and a half hours drive from Sofia is the Rila monastery, dating back to the 10th century and the most important monastery in Bulgaria. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery takes its name from the mountain on which it is situated, 1,200 metres above sea level.
     The monastery, created by Ivan of Rila, the Patron Saint of Bulgaria, originally had 300 monk cells, although the latest building on the site, built in the 19th century, only has five.
     The monastery provided cultural, educational, spiritual and political assistance, providing refuge for freedom fighters during the Turkish occupation. It is worth visiting for the architecture itself, which has influences from Bulgaria, Italy and the East. The church, painted inside with 19th century holy frescoes, took eight artists eight years to paint.
     In the museum are exhibits dating back to the 13th century, including a magnificent wooden cross. Carved by a monk called Raphael, it took him 12 years and depicts 104 scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
     We stopped to eat fresh trout which had been caught locally, and buy pots of home-made honey from vendors along the route.
     On the outskirts of Sofia we visited the Boyana church, another World Heritage site which dates back to the 11th century.
     The church, although quite small, is built in three sections, with its original frescoes restored, but still intact. Also worth seeing is the portrait of St. Ephruimus, whose eyes look at you from wherever you stand.
     You can not come to Bulgaria without visiting Plovdiv, the country's second largest town. Built on three hills, the old city dates back over 3,000 years, with the main entrance gate and some of the walls of a Roman fortress still in existence.
     The streets are cobbled and, in parts, quite steep, so sensible shoes are imperative.
     The architecture is varied, and a delight, with several of the buildings painted on the outside. Here we stopped to admire the work of a local potter, and was able to buy some handmade pieces from him.
     A Roman amphitheatre, built in the first half of the 2nd century AD, originally holding 3,500 spectators and now 2,500, is still used during the summer months of June to September for concerts and the like.
     In the shopping area, which is pedestrianised, there are the remains of a Roman stadium dating from the 2nd or 3rd century AD that at one time held 30,000 spectators.
     From Plovdiv we visited Rose Valley which, as the name suggests, produces rose oil, and is known as the liquid gold of Bulgaria because of its superior quality.
     Apart from a museum showing how the oil is produced, unless you go there between mid-May and mid-June, when the oil-bearing rose blooms, there is not much to see.
     As it takes eight million buds to make just one litre of the oil, the valley, which measures approximately 120km by 10 to 15km depending on where you are must be a wondrous sight during that period.
     If you are interested in burial mounds, this area has the most concentrated collection in the country. In Kazanlak, the main city of the Rose Valley, we visited another World Heritage site, a Thracian tomb.
     As the site, which is over 2,300 years old, is so delicate, an exact replica has been built alongside it. The tomb belongs to either a king or some other powerful individual, and has a chamber painted with symbolic frescoes which gives you an idea of their lifestyle.

    Plovdiv's Roman amphitheatre

© David Toase / Getty Images

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