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.

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