Byzantine government

The local population, left without protection by the Byzantine government, organized its defence on its own. The Bulgarian feudal lord Momchil rejected the suzerainty of the Byzantine Emperor and established his rule over the entire Rhodope region and part of the Aegean coast. Momchifs several big victories over the Ottomans won him great popularity and his fame rivalled that of Ivailo before him. His army consisted not only of men from the regions directly afflicted by Turkish incursions but also of discontented peasants from all over Bulgaria. Constantinople became even more afraid of Momchil’s men than of the Turks. A Byzantine-Turkish alliance against the rebellious boyar was hastily concluded and the small state of Momchil, who had risen to the position of a genuine popular leader, was wiped away.

Two feudal lords from Macedonia

After Momchil, two feudal lords from Macedonia – Vukashin and Ouglesh – decided to cross swords with the Ottomans but they were utterly defeated in a battle near Chernomen, not far from Adrianople, and fell in that bat-tle, after which Murad I advanced to the north and northeast, entering the territory of Bulgaria. Here, however, the conquerors came up against unexpectedly strong resistance put up not so much by the troops of the Tsar as by local commanders of strongholds and by the population itself. The Ottomans needed moie than ten years to traverse the route between Plovdiv and. Sofia. The cities of Yambol, Karnobat, Sofia, Bitola, the strongholds in the Rhodope Mountains of Tsepena and Rakovitsa and many others put up particularly strong resistance. Sofia fell in 1382, only after the Turks had managed by deceit to take prisoner Ban Yanuka, the extremely capable Leader of its defence. With the hope of preventing the further penetration of the Turks into Bulgaria, Tsar Ivan Shishman became vassal to Murad I.

When the Asian conquerors reached the centre of the Balkans, the rulers of Serbia and Bosnia were frightened and concluded an alliance for joint action against Murad. The united Serbian and Bosnian troops dealt a crushing blow to the Turks in the big battle near the town of Plochnik in 1387. The Bulgarian Tsar joined the Serbo-Bosnian alliance which provoked an immediate wrathful reaction on the part of the Sultan. In 1388 a numerous Turkish army crossed the Balkan Range and conquered almost the whole of Northeastern Bulgaria without the city of Varna. Tsar Shishman was forced to reaffirm his vassal dependence from the Sultan and the terrible Ottoman hordes again set out for Serbia. In a battle which broke out at Kossovo Pole Murad I found his death but the Serbian troops, which had been joined by several Bulgarian feudal lords, were routed. Serbia also fell under vassal dependence from Turkey.

 

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The Bogomils Predecessors of the Reformation

The numerous wars waged by Simeon, however, and his ambitious building programme had drained the resources of the country and proved a burden which the people were unable to support. At the same time, the development of feudal relations had turned the majority of the Bulgarian peasants from independent landowners into was seething among them. At the time when the Bulgarians were converted to Christianity, the Christian Church already had a biography which was five centuries old, which had led it away from the humane and democratic principles of Early Christianity and had turned it lastingly into a powerful ideological and political institution whose entire activity was aimed at preserving and consolidating the existing feudal social order. What is more, the Church itself was a big feudal landowner with definite administrative and juridical functions, and the supreme clergy was a component of the ruling feudal class. In such conditions and in view of the predominant religious world outlook among the people, the popular discontent inevitably acquired a religious form.

Thanks to the epoch-making work of Cyril and Methodius, there was a popular rural intelligentsia in Bulgaria of a scope inconceivable for the ‘new’ west- European states, where literary language and vernacular were divorced. The literate people, who had read religious books, were not slow in perceiving the gap separating the social order sanctioned by the church and the principles embodied in the Bible, so that many of them became ideologists of the people’s discontent. Thus, in the 920s the Bogomil movement came into being, which was also known as ‘the Bulgarian heresy’ – one of the most powerful heretic movements of the early Middle Ages. It was religious in form and profoundly social in content: it was the movement of the dependent peasantry and urban poor against the feudal social system.

Priest Bogomil

The Bogomil movement got its name from its initiator- Priest Bogomil. Like other mediaeval Christian heresies, such as those of the Paulicians and Massalians which had existed before the Bogomil movement, it was based on the dual principle of good and evil which were in constant opposition. The Bogomils preached that the world man lives in was the creation of the evil forces, and for that reason the rulers on earth – tsars, boyars, superior clergy, etc. — were servants of the devil and to fight them meant to fight Satan and to serve God. The ideal of the Bogomils was the early Christian community, such as it was described in the New Testament and they built their communes after its pattern.

Like all peasant heresies of the time, the Bogomil ideology too contained certain retrograde and utopian elements. To revive the early Christian commune was an unrealistic task, for social development had gone far ahead. This and other negative features of the movement, however, were compensated by the critical, militant charge contained in the Bogomil teaching.

 

Cradle of Medieval Slav Culture

At the time when the alarming events described above were taking place in Great Moravia, Bulgaria was the biggest and most powerful Slav state. Moreover, because of the reasons we have already mentioned, she was in great need of an alphabet and of a Christian clergy to preach in the Slav language. The persecuted disciples of Methodius were fully aware of the needs and possibilities of the Bulgarian state, and after their teacher’s death they set out for Bulgaria, which at that time had common frontiers with Great Moravia. The local district rulers in Bulgaria gave them a hearty welcome and sent them to the capital, where Prince Boris was eagerly awaiting them. Methodius’s best known disciples who came to Bulgaria were Clement, Nahum and Angelarius. Clement was dis-patched to the south-western parts of the country as Bishop of Ohrid, while the other two remained in the capital. In only a few years, hundreds of young people, thirsty for knowledge, were taught to read and write in the Slav-Bulgarian language and were then sent as priests and administrators to all parts of the country. Scores of religious books were translated from the Greek and ousted completely the Greek language from the church services.

Grand Council of Boris

In 893 Prince Boris organized a Grand Council in the capital of Preslav, which adopted important decisions. Boris’s younger son Simeon ascended to the throne instead of Vladimir, the opponent to Christianity. The capital was transferred from heathen Pliska to Preslav. The Slav (old Bulgarian) language was proclaimed as official state and church language instead of Greek, while the numerous Greek clergy was replaced everywhere by Bulgarian priests. The sound foundations for the rapid development of an original Slav-Bulgarian culture were laid and the most important channels of Byzantine influence were cut off. The catalysts which were to speed up the process of merger between Slavs and Bulgarians, a process which had been going on for more than two centuries had been found.

The reign of Simeon, the greatest ruler of mediaeval Bulgaria, was marked with brilliant military victories which put the very existence of the Byzantine Empire to trial and turned Bulgaria into an empire. In a number of decisive battles, the biggest one at Acheloe (not far from present-day Nessebur), Simeon succeeded in crushing the military might of the Byzantines. He then led his armies in two victorious marches to the walls of Constantinople (in 921 and 923-924) which placed the Byzantine Empire on the brink of annihilation. The Bulgarian state extended from the Carpathian mountains in the north to the Aegean Sea and Central Greece in the south, from the Adriatic coast and present-day Croatia in the west to the Black Sea in the east, in other words, it occupied almost the entire Balkan Peninsula and present-day Hungary.

Land of Civilizations

Bulgaria is not a big country on land. But definitely it is a big country on culture history and culture.

Bulgaria occupies a territory of 111,000 square kilometres, has a population of 9 million and is situated in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a country of roses, staunch revolutionaries, famous singers and dancers. Its people are famous for their industriousness and hospitality.

A land of Ancient Civilizations

The Bulgarian state was founded in the year 681. Bulgaria is not only one of the oldest European states, but also a land in which man has appeared very early – some 150,000 years ago. Not far from the city of Stara Zagora (beginning of the rose valley only 35 km away from Kazanlak with the rose festival), Central Bulgaria, the world’s oldest and biggest copper mines have been discovered. They were exploited in the late 5th and early 4th millennium B. C. Metal tools ensured a labor productivity which was 30 times higher than that of stone tools, and their appearance brought about a veritable revolution in the development of human society. Besides, favorable climatic conditions made possible the comparatively early appearance of animal husbandry and plant-growing, which enriched the diet and made surer the existence of primitive man. Wheat was grown in the Balkans as early as the end of the 7th millennium B. C. and it was from here that it was spread to the rest of Europe.

The good climatic and material conditions determined the appearance on the territory of present-day Bulgaria of some of the earliest civilizations in history. Recently a gold trove was unearthed near the city of Varna, dating from the end of the 5th and early 4th millennium B. C. It is a proof not only of a high level of development of the crafts but also of an advanced stage of social stratification. The clay tablets with written signs on them found near the town of Vratsa, North-western Bulgaria, date back to approximately the same period.

The Thracians

The Thracians were the first population inhabiting the territory of present-day Bulgaria, known to science. In the works of the ancient Greek authors they are described as a numerous people, and Thrace – as a land of abundance and merriment. Thrace was the native land of the mythical musician Orpheus and of Spartacus, the leader of the slaves’ uprising which shook the Roman Empire early in our era. During the past few decades Bulgarian archaeologists have unearthed imposing tombs with magnificent frescoes, impregnable strongholds, workshops and exquisite gold jewels and vessels.

After the 7th century B. C. a considerable number of colonies of the Greek poleis (city-states) were founded along the Thracian Black Sea coast. They started an animated trade and cultural exchange with the hinterland, thus creating a second cultural layer on the present-day Bulgarian territory – of another brilliant ancient civilization – that of the Greeks.

Cultural Development in Arbanassi

Naturally, not all of the people of Arbanassi were involved in trade, but with prosperity came the demand for goods and services, and many craftsmen and women made their way to the town to provide the required foodstuffs, clothing, shoes, ceramic products, gold and silver smithing, jewelry making, decorative and other forms of art. Due to the comparative wealth of its citizens, most of the surviving artifacts from the time indicate an emphasis on quality, and this would have only enhanced the reputation of the town within the region.

Most importantly, people require places to live in, and so architects and builders were in high demand in Arbanassi, and this is the most visible legacy that remains today of this unique town.

In 1640, Catholic Bishop Peter Bogdanov writes in a letter that – ” There, up in the mountains from which you can see Turnovo, there are at least 1,000 fine houses of good construction”.

In the tradition of the times the houses were massively built with stone, with high stone walls around the perimeter, which then formed the narrow labyrinth of streets around the town. The town itself has no defined centre, or village square within its layout, but notable public areas are the public fountains and springs, laid in stone, which in a society where the horse was highly valued, would have provided an area for casual meetings and discussion while watering the horses. Two of these places well preserved are the “Konska Chishma” and the “Parzarska Chishma”

The architectural look of the houses in Arbanassi is a practical mixture of Balkan building traditions to suit the climate, the everyday requirements of the times for food storage and animal stabling, and the blending of the many cultural aesthetic influences particular to the region.

The main house is sited within the walled perimeter, with other structures.

It is facing a large courtyard. Entry to the courtyard was through heavy wooden gates in two parts, the smaller for pedestrian use, the larger for horses, carts and livestock. Just inside the gates were small niches for guards and watchmen.

To one side of the courtyard would be the agricultural buildings and stables, the other the main residential structure. The house was usually of a two story design, with the ground floor massively constructed of stone, providing the cellar, pantry and storage areas, and hidden or secret rooms for hiding goods and even people in times of danger. The second floor is a large spacious area functional for family living, reached by two types of staircase, one more formal the other for services. The rooms were divided into again formal and service types, with bedroom and guest rooms set apart from the rest of the house. (Some houses having both summer guest rooms and winter guest rooms.) Heating was provided by large built in fireplaces contained within the walls. Decoration was varied, with carved wood popular, or rendered walls providing the backdrop for wool, fabric and ceramic ornaments.

The best surviving examples

From the period, the best surviving examples are – Konstantcalievata, Hadgilievata, the homes of Kandilarovi, Nuku Kultuki, Na Baba Kali  Hadji Pop Paniot  and of these Konstantcaleivata is the most original. Built in the 17th century, with some slight alterations in later times, the huge ground floor contains guard and hiding rooms, cellars, stables, main and secondary staircases. The main door is a massive metal and wood framed structure, with special locks against intruders. The second floor contains formal rooms – salon, dining room and sitting room, all of which are interconnected, the large dining room itself being connected with the kitchen, pantry and bakery, bathrooms. The bedrooms are placed around a central corridor, and at the farthest part of the house is a purpose built maternity room. The interior walls are rendered in a soft white plaster framed by wood carvings, providing space for numerous handmade weaving, the floor coverings also being colorful handmade wool weavings.

It is a great example of how life in the 17th century could have obviously been very comfortable in a house such as this.