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Banichan – a village of churches, storks and… onions

Photo: bg.wikipedia.org

Banichan village in Southwestern Bulgaria has a population of less than 600 yet they have a lot to be proud of in terms of religion, history and culture. Banichan is the place with the greatest per capita number of places of worship.

“Four churches and 3 chapels have been built on the territory of the village. There are others as well, which were once churches and monasteries though they have not been restored,” says Diana Peltekova from the church board in the village. “Construction of the Paisius of Hilendar chapel has been going on for two years, it is yet to be furnished and have icons painted. The oldest church was built in 1864 – the St. Archangel Michael.”

There is a very interesting connection between this church and the restoration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary monastery that existed here centuries ago. The family of the man who built the church – Ivan Gazyanov – raised an orphan called Tsvyata Serafimova who found an icon on a hill in Banichan.

During excavations the foundations of an old church were discovered, over which the monastery was revived. The faith has always been strong in the village. In 2009 the church board set up a school of religion for the children from the 1st to the 8th grade.

Banichan is also known for its beautiful woolen socks, for its donkey sanctuary, but it is also dubbed stork village. It is the place with the greatest per capita stork nests in the entire region. The first IP camera in Bulgaria was installed on one nest here, showing, in real time, what is happening inside the nest. The camera is switched on on 1 March, and works until 30 August.

“We have 12 nests and they have been growing in number,” says Rumyana Jibova, secretary of the chitalishte (culture community club). “Last year they were all adopted by people from all corners of the planet – England, Germany, Japan… The birds are getting more and more attention, children come to watch them which helps them understand that we must protect nature if we want to exist ourselves.”

But that is not all. There is one other thing people in Banichan are proud of – the sweet onions grown locally. A procedure is currently underway for their certification under the geographical indications for food quality scheme.

“These onions are so sweet they can be eaten like an apple.  They are also healthy eating, and we all know the market is glutted with pretty-looking but unhealthy food. We want to protect this typically Bulgarian flavor because on the European market it is going to bring financial benefits to the local population.”

Photos: Izgrev Cultural Center of Banichan

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