Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 15

Copyrighted Material

Copyrighted Material


East of Malko Tarnovo, in the easternmost reaches of Bulgaria, a bridge spans the Rezovska River. Once it had three high, beautifully crafted stone arches, but now only one remains that on the Turkish bank. The thick Strandzha forest surrounding it is quiet, inhabited only by deer, wild boar and hornets. You can only find the dirt road leading to the bridge with a local guide, preferably driving a 4WD. The story of how that bridge was built and demolished is a telling example of the difficulties you will encounter when trying to work out what part of Bulgaria's cultural heritage is Ottoman by concept, execution, influence or funding. No written account for the early building history of the bridge exists but legends abound. Until the 1800s that stretch of the Rezovska was uncrossable. The people of nearby Malko Tarnovo had to make a long detour to reach Kk, or Little, Samokov, now the modern Turkish town of Demirky. About that time a man decided to build a bridge over the river. Valchan Voyvoda was a Bulgarian haydutin, or brigand, who had won fame as a daring robber of Ottoman convoys carrying taxes to Stamboul. Valchan Voyvoda hired a local Bulgarian master builder. Somebody the myths are quiet about just who secured the approval of the local Ottoman authorities. They were more than happy to see an important infrastructure project materialise without their having to spend a penny of the state's money. Work started, and no one knew that one of the builders hewing stones on the site was Valchan Voyvoda himself.

The bridge was completed, a marvellous structure 15 metres long, six metres high and two metres wide, enough for both people and carts to cross. The locals gathered to celebrate the blessing of the bridge, Bulgarians and Ottomans together. When the ceremony was over and all the food and drink had disappeared, one of the builders stood on the river bank. He let out a shout and then jumped over the river. "Maallah, maallah!," the Ottomans cried in delight at this demonstration of skill and bravery. The man evaporated into the forest, and no one realised that this was "blood-thirsty" Valchan Voyvoda. The bridge soon became a busy point on the road through the Strandzha, and elderly folk still remember how their grandfathers and great-grandfathers crossed it on horseback and even on camels. The story of how the bridge was demolished is as bizarre and fascinating as the story of how it was built in the first place. The border between the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire was demarcated along parts of the Rezovska River as late as 1913. The bridge was fully operational until 1944 when the Soviets invaded Bulgaria and assisted the local Communists in establishing a Stalinist state. The border with Turkey was sealed off. Bulgaria of the Warsaw Pact quickly came to view NATO's Turkey as an archenemy. The bridge was no longer used. In those days Bulgaria was East and Turkey was West. Little verifiable information exists about how exactly the Valchanov Bridge was destroyed. According to one urban legend, the Germans, Bulgaria's Second World War allies, mined the bridge to prevent a possible Turkish intrusion. One stormy night lightning struck the

Copyrighted Material
Valchanov Bridge still (dis)connects Bulgaria and Turkey

bridge and set off the German mines on the Bulgarian side only. According to another, Bulgarian Communists blew up the bridge to prevent foreign "saboteurs" from infiltrating the territory of the People's Republic. The most plausible one is the least complicated. Local apparatchiks and the military stationed in the Strandzha, at that time a ferociously militarised "border zone," blew up the Bulgarian portion of the bridge to cut off an obvious escape route for refugees. The bridge was making crossing the river too easy. The half-destroyed Valchanov Bridge on the Rezovska River today is a sorry sight. The bridge that was built by Bulgarian builders in Ottoman times, sponsored by a Bulgarian brigand using stolen Ottoman money, epitomises fairly well the state of attitudes towards the common heritage of Bulgaria and Turkey: disused on one side and actively destroyed on the other. For many and varied reasons, popular sentiment in modernday Bulgaria overwhelmingly downplays this country's Ottoman cultural heritage. State education usually confines to just a few pages the five centuries of Ottoman domination, and then focuses on uprisings and revolts and their extremely bloody subjugation. The Orthodox Church preoccupies itself with Islam's thrust to "exterminate" Christendom, as well as with the "forcible" Islamisation of Bulgarians. Little if anything is mentioned about architecture, the arts and sciences and social development under the Ottomans, nor is there be any balanced explanation of the Ottoman influence in many areas of life in present-day Bulgaria, from cuisine to legislation, and from religion to family matters. Under Communism, the Republic of Turkey, an important member of NATO, was viewed with outright hostility. The policy of

the Communist regime to "Bulgarianise" the country's large ethnic Turkish minority (in some regions a majority) was accompanied by a huge propaganda effort. School textbooks, novels, poems, songs, films and plays were commissioned and paid for by the state to represent Bulgaria's Turks as a Fifth Column against both Bulgarianness and Socialism. By extension, the Ottoman Empire was represented as a blood-thirsty monster who had constantly stifled the elite of the Bulgarian nation in those rare times that it was not massacring and torturing it. Bulgaria's 500 years of Ottoman domination was nothing but a series of beheadings, impalings and rivers of blood. One of the results of this propaganda was the increasing neglect and sometimes active destruction of Ottoman monuments, from mosques and bath houses to bridges and secular buildings. Another was the curious de-Turkification of the Ottoman legacy. Two striking examples come to mind. Travel in the Rhodope mountains and you will hear the region's beautiful bridges referred to as "Roman," despite the historical fact that they were constructed centuries after the Romans had disappeared. Likewise, Plovdiv's famous ifte Banya's "official" name now is "Ancient Bath House," to avoid any indication that it was once Turkish. This kind of Bulgarianisation is long-lasting and omnipresent. It ranges from the fine examples of Balkan architecture known in Bulgaria as "Bulgarian National Revival" to everyday food, drink and dining on mezes. Propaganda worked exceptionally well under Communism and its legacy is still very much present in the Bulgaria of NATO and the European Union.

Copyrighted Material


Copyrighted Material

ttomAn hERitAgE in BulgARiA

Silistra Vidin Ruse Belogradchik Svishtov Sboryanovo Razgrad Shumen Targovishte Ryahovtsite Dryanovo Suvorovo Provadia Balchik Dobrich Obrochishte Shabla Kavarna


Vratsa Botevgrad



Kyustendil Nevestino Dupnitsa

Etropole Novi Han Karlovo Samokov Ihtiman Kalofer Nova Zagora Stara Zagora Plovdiv Usundzhovo Haskovo Teketo Kardzhali Mogilitsa Devil's Bridge Podkova Yambol Valchanov Bridge Karnobat Nesebar

Blagoevgrad Razlog Banya

Harmanli Svilengrad

Gotse Delchev

Copyrighted Material

ottomAn BAthS
ClEAnSing Both Body And Soul

The elderly woman points in the direction of the Turkish bath in the village of Banya, in the Razlog region, and continues on her way. Having made a few steps, however, she has second thoughts and returns. She catches up with us just as we reach the small square where the bath is. The stripes of red brick and white stone that make up the walls of the Ottoman bath are half-hidden under a nylon cover that is supposed to protect the roof and the rest of the building from rain. The door is closed by a heavy metal grating. A hot mineral water spring on which the bath was built long before spurts from a small aperture in the foundations. The steam, visible in the cold air, wafts above the houses built during Communist times, and twists around an abandoned lorry and the multicoloured rubbish bins. There is a strong smell of sulphur. "We used to come here," the woman says, "I came here to have a bath before I got married." The village of Banya received its name because of the abundance of mineral springs. Two old Ottoman baths have survived, referred to by the locals as the Turkish bath and the Roman bath. In the village of Banya, the unsophisticated names given to the baths are sufficiently eloquent. Some 2,000 years ago the Romans turned bathing into an art form. The thermae, or public baths, had their own special architecture, with many separate rooms for undressing, sweating, bathing and so on. One could spend the entire day inside and it was an important social ritual, in which bathing and physical
Old Ottoman hamam in Kalofer


Copyrighted Material


Copyrighted Material

BuSy FAiR goES SilEnt
Imagine the cries of merchants offering splendid Persian carpets and flamboyant fabrics from India amid exotic aromas wafting from sacks of tea and coffee. The pungent smells mingling from the kitchens of inns, from human crowds and livestock for sale. The rays of the autumn sun glinting on the expensive furs from Russia and the exquisite glass vases from Italy. Standing in the centre of the village of Uzundzhovo today you would be hard pressed to conjure up the exciting sights, sounds and scents of the old Uzundzhovo market. Today the village is quiet. The international fair, which used to take place here each September over a period of 40 days and attract as many as 50,000 people, has long been a thing of the past. It is hard to say how one of the largest markets in the Ottoman Empire started, as historical data is scarce. According to the most popular theory, Koca Sinan Pasha (1506-1596) arrived in the village of Uzuncaova around the end of the 16th Century. During his turbulent career this politician, military leader and statesman was granted the position of grand vizier five times and was five times dismissed from it by two different sultans, Murad III (1574-1595) and Mehmed III (1595-1603). Sinan Pasha decided that Uzuncaova would be a good site for an international market, as the village stood at the crossroads between Constantinople, Belgrade, the Aegean Sea and the Danube. He knew that such a fair and the people it would attract would need infrastructure, and he went on to build a large complex
Only a single arch has survived from the kervansaray that once could accommodate hundreds of travellers


Copyrighted Material


Copyrighted Material

tuliP PERiod BloSSomS in City with PREttiESt ottomAn Building
The Tombul Mosque in Shumen needs restoration the way a painting by an old Dutch master needs cleaning to enable its beauty to shine through. Visitors cannot but feel sorry or disappointed when they arrive in the city to see Bulgaria's most beautiful mosque and find that this is impossible. The harmonious composition of domes, to which the Tombul Mosque owes most of its charm, is hidden behind restoration scaffolding. Inside the mosque scaffolding hides both the walls and the dome, but by looking up, one can just make out the exquisite Baroque decorations that restorers are slowly bringing back to life. The Tombul Mosque was built in 1744/1745. Its central dome is 25 metres high and its tall minaret is 40. This mosque is the largest Ottoman building in Bulgaria and the only example in the country of a structure with the coquettish, decorative, Baroque-influenced architecture of the Tulip period of 1718-1730. This was a time of tentative attempts at modernisation in the Ottoman Empire, which did not last long, and was not particularly successful except for the emergence of a specific artistic and architectural style. The construction of the Tombul Mosque in this period and at this place can be considered a small miracle. The large and expensive building was most probably designed by architects from the capital, but appeared in a regional city at a time when Ottoman art in this part of the empire was generally becoming more modest and more provincial. The explanation for the appearance of the Tombul Mosque lies in the personality of the man who commissioned it. erif Halil Pasha was born in umla, as the Ottomans called Shumen, but rose to the position of vizier in Constantinople. The Tombul Mosque and the splendid charity complex around it were Halil Pasha's gift to his fellow citizens. The mosque is a part of a kliye, a larger compound of religious and educational buildings. The eight spouts of an exquisite water fountain used to babble in an inner court, where the rooms on the first floor were used to accommodate the young people being educated at the madrasah, founded and supported by erif Halil Pasha. Surviving documents show that the teaching staff included an expert in calligraphy, and over the years some of the most skilled calligraphers in this part of the empire were educated here. The second floor of the building housed a rich library, said to have contained more than 5,000 volumes in Arabic and Persian, on subjects going beyond the bounds of theology, including treatises on geography, mathematics and medicine. A Muslim elementary school stood on the other side of the mosque. Like many other exceptional buildings, the Tombul Mosque has become the subject of legends. Many stories are told about it, ranging from the popular one about the architect killed by his client so that he would never again be able to build anything rivalling the beauty he had created to several newer stories.
The bedesten was built in 1529 by a small colony of Dubrovnik merchants in umla and is one of the oldest Ottoman buildings in Bulgaria. After 1878, the building was used as a munitions depot. During Communism it was a restaurant and a hard-currency shop and after the fall of the regime became a nightclub. Today the building is privately owned. The disco sign can still be seen on the faade. In the second half of the 18th Century a hamam was built against one of the short walls of the bedesten. Today Sontur Banya is in ruins


Copyrighted Material


Copyrighted Material

KAdin BRidgE
lEgEndS, miRAClES ExPlAin ConStRuCtion woRKS

The building inscription is explicit. The 100-metre-long fivearched stone bridge over the River Struma is the work of Ishak Pasha, Grand Vizier of Sultan Mehmed II (1451-1481). Ishak Pasha built the bridge in 1469/1470 to facilitate travel from Constantinople to Skopje and the Western Balkans. Despite this, local stories about the construction of the bridge passed down over the ages contain no reminders of the name of the man who accomplished this noble deed. The elegant structure in the village of Nevestino, in the Kyustendil region, is known by two names. One is Kadin Bridge, the other Nevestin Bridge. Although the root of the former is a Turkish word and the latter a Bulgarian, both words mean the same: a married woman. The explanation is in a popular legend told about so many Ottoman bridges in the Balkans. Three local brothers started to build a bridge over the Struma, but the work did not go smoothly. Each night an unknown force kept pulling down everything they had built during the day, and every morning they had to start all over again. Finally, the builders realised that what the future bridge needed was a human sacrifice, so the three agreed to build into the foundations of the bridge the first person that passed by the following morning. The elder brothers told their wives about the agreement but the youngest decided to play fair. He kept silent and on the next morning his young wife came to the bridge to bring him food.

Neither the builder nor his wife protested against their fate, and kept to the tradition. He "built" her into the bridge, and she asked him to leave one of her breasts uncovered so she could breastfeed their child. The bridge was soon completed. Although it appears in other areas as well, this legend has had an enormous influence on the people of this region. The nearby village was named Nevestino, and in the 1880s Konstantin Jireek learned that breastfeeding women from the vicinity would break off small pieces from a certain stone in the central arch of the bridge, boil them in milk and drink the liquid in the belief this would boost their own milk. Jireek also heard another, much more amazing legend about the building of the bridge, which claimed that it was self-built. A heavy iron rod, moving under its own force, broke pieces of stone from the surrounding mountains. The rocks travelled to the construction site on their own, and took their places. When the bridge was complete, the stones that had not yet reached the river froze in their places. Local people said that the iron rod could still be seen on one of the hills outside the nearby town of Kyustendil. Yet another myth about the bridge avoids miracles altogether. Sultan Murad it is unclear which of the five rulers with this name is referred to was passing through the surrounding area on his way to some war. A Bulgarian wedding party stood in his way. The law required that the wedding guests turn aside from the road to make way for the Padishah and his people. These wedding


Copyrighted Material
guests, however, did not move and the bride approached the sultan and bowed low before him. Enchanted by her boldness, the Padishah offered her a gift. The young woman asked that a bridge be built at this spot and her wish was granted. A shadow of the past is indeed built into Kadin Bridge the shadow of an epoch long before the time of Ishak Pasha. When Jireek examined the bridge he found a stone from an ancient building had been incorporated into it. The inscription on the surface was almost completely erased but Jireek still managed to decipher the word "Pautalian." The stone had been brought from ancient Pautalia, the once-rich Roman town that existed on the site of what is today the city of Kyustendil.

Kadin Bridge's biggest arch is 21.6 metres wide


Copyrighted Material

town whERE tRAVEl wRitER EVliyA ElEBi lEFt hiS mARK
Many travellers, especially those who braved the often dangerous roads long before organised tourism came into being, yielded sooner or later to the temptation to inscribe their name on some famous landmark. Lord Byron, for example, could not resist the impulse to put his signature on the temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion in Greece, Goethe and Schiller did it in Weimer and now hundreds of tourists are enchanted to discover the signatures of their predecessors. The tireless Ottoman traveller Evliya elebi felt the same desire. So far, scholars have discovered three autographs left by him. One was on the Alaca Mosque in Foa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was destroyed by the Serbs during the war of 1992-1995. The other two were on the Imaret Mosque in Akehir, Turkey and the Ahmed Bey Mosque, in Kyustendil, Bulgaria. Evliya elebi did not simply leave on Ahmed Bey Mosque his signature on the marble frame of one of the windows. He wrote a short prayer for his soul, and added the date of his visit (1660/1661) and the poetical phrase "Oh, to serve the Magnificent." Kyustendil is located at the foot of Mount Osogovo, in a fertile valley, and has several important advantages that have attracted people here for millennia. The main road from Constantinople to Skopje and on to the Adriatic passes through here, countless
The Mehmed Fatih Mosque was the largest in Kyustendil. The year of its construction is unknown but an inscription on its walls and Ottoman archives show that it was renovated in 1531 and 1556. Today it is falling to pieces


Copyrighted Material