Zemen Monastery, dedicated to St. John the Theologian, is situated just outside the town of Zemen, about 15 km off the main road from Sofia to the town of Kyustendil. It is located in a beautiful area in the skirts of Konyavska Mountain, not far away from Zemen Gorge in the valley of Struma River.
Even if it is one of the popular Bulgarian monasteries among tourists, St. John the Theologian is relatively small and presently is not run by monks or nuns – it is a filial of Sofia’s National History Museum.
The monastery constists of two connected dwelling buildings, a small belltower and a church in the middle of a spacious inner yard. No doubt, the church deserves the biggest attention among all buildings in the complex. It dates back to the 11th century AD and is one of the few examples of Bulgarian architecture, construction and wall paintings of the Middle Ages that has survived to date. The church, which is currently not functioning, represents a cubic building with a dome made of stone. Visitors are particularly taken by the altar, which represents a massive stone plaque from the Roman époque, and the floor, which resembles a mosaic of different-coloured pieces of marble and stone, presented to the church by local people. Yet the frescoes, which cover all inner walls of the church and represent a masterly merge of biblical images and scenes, leave the greatest impression. Most of the wall paintings date back to the 14th century while the image of St. Ana is the only one that has survived since the time of the church’s very establishment in 11th century. The more recent images of St. Ivan of Rila, St. Kliment of Ohrid, despot Deyan and his wife Doya are also well preserved.
The church is declared a national monument of culture while the images of the church donors, Deyan and Doya, are among the oldest and most valuable church-donor paintings in Bulgaria, second only to those of Kaloyan and Desislava seen on the walls of Boyana Church in the suburbs of Sofia.