Secret Church of the Nativity
Arbanasi, Bulgaria
Ottoman Empire rule was often tolerant, but I doubt whether
this 17th century building could be anything besides a secret,
underground Orthodox church.  The beauty inside is hidden
by such a plain exterior.  A rival view is that the Church of
the Nativity was fully authorized by Ottoman authorities.    
Icons, such as this one of Jesus, are hallmarks of the Orthodox
Church, religion of the Byzantine Empire, eastern portion of
the Roman Empire.  The Nativity Church contains several
chambers filled with exquisite icons and fresco paintings.  
An icon of Mary and Jesus in classical, Orthodox style.  The
Orthodox Church survived Ottoman Empire conquest of
Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire in 1453.  The
Ottoman Empire occupied most of the Balkans in the centuries
that followed, leaving behind many converts to Islam in Bosnia
and Albania, as the Ottomans were gradually forced back into
Turkey.  Bulgaria fought for and won its freedom from
Ottoman rule with essential help from Russia in 1878.      
A forest of fresco paintings, some 2,000 scenes, occupy most
chambers in the Church of the Nativity.  A fresco is painted
upon wet plaster, and thus becomes part of a building's
surface.  Icons, in contrast, are more likely to be painted
upon wood, allowing them to be moved.  The Orthodox
Church, often referred to as Eastern Orthodox, is highly
decentralized, having broken with the Pope and the Roman
Catholic Church a thousand years ago.
If you have a high speed internet connection, watch the
Intrepid Berkeley Explorer's free video of this trip, "Draculas
Neighborhood", by clicking on:
http://www.adventurepics.com/IBE/video1.aspx?
VF=Dracula.wmv