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A few days in Bulgaria

August 9, 2007 am31 6:07 am

An overnight train brought me from Thessaloniki to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the last few days of my trip. In three days I

  1. toured the center of the city
  2. headed south to the Rila Monastery
  3. took a ride west to Koprivshtitsa, the center of the (last unsuccessful) Bulgarian revolt against Ottoman rule

(a few highlights and photos beneath the fold —> )


Bulgaria’s capital felt like a provincial city that got big very fast. Have you ever seen an adolescent who got huge over the summer? But still looks/acts like a kid? Same idea. There’s a lot of building going on. Different spots are in different states of repair, and re-rerepair. In the center there is the left over monumental architecture, and some lovely pedestrian malls. One main street has become a lovely car-free tree-lined cafe spot. But the only real highlight for me was an indoor market, something like a mall, but more like the market on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

And the archaeology museum. This was genuinely first-rate. It was housed in a sixteenth century mosque. The ground floor, one large open space, was carefully arranged into an exquisite exhibition area, broken up into galleries without walls. Bravo. An octagonal balcony included more exhibits, and rooms off the balcony had more. And it wasn’t just the space. The prehistoric and neolithic rooms were carefully organized chronologically. Microliths were displayed, and a few representative samples were hafted. Now, this is important. Those little scraps of stone that archaeologists claim are tools? The curators had attached them to bone or stick so that we could really see how they were scrapers or awls. So much better than just looking at the splinters of rock. That’s what you get when the people running the museum know the content and know how to explain it. Sounds like good teaching, huh?

And then from the Thracian period, amazing buried treasure, hoards… Statues from the Greek period… Icons from the Middle Ages… No photography allowed, unfortunately.



Rila MonasteryThe second day I made my way to Rila Monastery, a few hours south of Sofia. Isolated in a saddle in the mountains, it was absolutely gorgeous. It is also the starting out point for amazing hiking (which I didn’t do). See:



This little town of 2000 was once far larger. It was the center of the 1875 revolt against Ottoman rule (crushed, but they gained independence shortly after anyhow). Turns out, it wasn’t the poor downtrodden peasants who rose. Rather, this town supported cottage industry. Every woman in every house (exaggerating) made lace, beautiful lace, or socks, and as little towns in Massachusetts were cornering the market on dress shoes or slippers or slave shoes, Kopravshtitsa was cornering the Ottoman market for socks. The revolutionaries actually were doing business with the Ottomans, including tax farming.

Large house in KoprivshtitsaTax farming? Yup. In the Ottoman Empire, taxes were due based on what religion you were. But instead of collecting Bulgarian Orthodox taxes, they sold the concession to native Bulgarians, including upstanding men of Kopravshtitsa, including those who revolted. Fascinating stuff. Five of the nicest houses in town were turned into museums. This is one of them:

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