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Author: Delcho Todorov


Ethnography and Museology on Bulgarian Lands

The idea of investigating and conserving monuments from the past was aroused at the beginning of the Bulgarian Revival period (XVIII century). At that time, Paisiy Hilendarski wrote "Slavonic-Bulgarian History" (1762) at the Hilandar Monastery on Mt Athos. In the book he addressed all Bulgarian people with an appeal to study their language and history and to be proud that they were Bulgarian. Many teachers, priest, and patriots responded to this appeal.

The first group who began to study rich Bulgarian history were Slav scholars. In the beginning of the XIX century Yuriy Venelin (1802-1839) made the greatest contribution to studying Bulgarian language and history. His books "Ancient and Contemporary Bulgarian People" and "Rise of the New Bulgarian Culture" provoked the interest of Russian and the West Slav scholars. During his travels in the Bulgarian lands in 1830-31 he saw many the historic monuments. Yuriy Venelin launched the idea for a Bulgarian museum in 1832. In his letter to General I. N. Inzov, patron of the Bulgarians in Besarabia, he proposes a special committee to be established in Bolgrad. This committee was to look after Bulgarian historical monuments and to arrange them as scientific material. In the conclusion of his letter he addressed General Inzov: "Could you possibly begin the establishment of a National Bulgarian Museum that can become notable as time passes and throw a luminous light on history. The whole of European Turkey, populated with Bulgarians owes a duty to pay homage to it".

Yuriy Venelin was the first foreign scholar to arouse the idea for the establishment of a Bulgarian Museum. It was developed further by Vasil Aprilov and realized in practice by the first community and library centre (Chitalishte) in Svishtov.

Another Russian scientist who went on a research expedition to Bulgaria in 1844-45 was Viktor Grigorovic (1815-1876). The results were published in 1848 in his main work "Article for the Journey to European Turkey".

Among the prominent figures from the revival period investigating the Bulgarian relics is Vasil Aprilov (1789-1847), who wrote a scientific national history. He supported the idea that Bulgarian themselves should study and popularize their own history, not foreign scholars. For his patriotic work he was inspired by Yuriy Venelin's book Ancient and Contemporary Bulgarians". Vasil Aprilov was the first Bulgarian to publish the Vatican's copy of the Manasieva Chronicle one of the very few monuments to mediaeval Bulgarian literature. In his main work "Dennitzi ..." he included the first miniature of the Manasieva Chronicle. Later Professor Marin Drinov did academic research of this Bulgarian mediaeval source. The academician Mihail Arnaudov wrote about this as well: "Dennitzi of Apriiov, the first scientific book by a Bulgarian, was for a long time the only source for the Russians and the Bulgarians to get to know important questions of their history".

Aprilov published the historical work "Bulgarian Honour Diplomas" in 1845 in Odessa. He includes in it four documents and the Rilska honour diploma of Tsar Ivan Sisman, together with a translation and comments on the documents. He had prepared this work for many years. He was encouraged to search for medieval honour diplomas by Yuriy Venelin, who discovered 66 Walachian honour diplomas in 1830 in Bucharest. They were published in 1840. We could conclude that Vasil Aprilov was the first Bulgarian to write a national programme for the investigation, preservation and popularization of the Bulgarian historical heritage. His work is the basis for future museum work, which began in the 1850s. That's why we could say that he is the founder of museum work in Bulgaria.

The person who worked together with Vasil Aprilov was father Neofit Rilski (1793-1881). The correspondence between Vasil Aprilov and Neofit Rilski is a valuable source for historians of Bulgarian education.

Georgi Stojkov Rakovski (1821-1867) is one of the most prominent figures of the Bulgarian Revival. He devoted himself to the investigation and preservation of Bulgarian historical monuments. The most important work by Rakovski is "Pokazaletz ...", published in 1859 in Odessa. In this guide for gathering materials he insists on finding manuscripts, monuments from the ruins of the royal towns in the surroundings of Preslav, Tarnovo, Varna, Sredec, Ohrid etc. This book by Rakovski presents a wide programme for investigation, description and preservation of the Bulgarian heritage for future generations.

Petko Rachev Slaveykov (1827-1895) devoted his whole life to investigating, gathering and publishing historical Bulgarian folklore and ethnographical materials. He personally travelled a lot in the Bulgarian lands. He spent two weeks investigating the ruins of Preslav, travelled through the valley of the river Iskar to the Cherepishki monastery etc. As a result of his garnering work he wrote "Zemleopisanie ...", but this was unfortunately burned in Stara Zagora during the Russian-Turkish War in 1877, together with the library, manuscripts, correspondence and his small museum collection.

Lyuben Karavelov (1837-1879) is among the most active researchers of Bulgarian popular customs and culture. He is the first Bulgarian ethnographer, working with strict scientific criteria. In order to widen the garnering of work in Bulgaria, he published "Rukovodstvo ...". As a student at Moscow University he published the first part of his work in three volumes called "Monuments of Bulgarian Popular Customs in 1861".

One of the most prominent investigators of Bulgarian relics, manuscripts and coins is the tradesman Stephan Penev Ahtar (1806-1860). He will take his place in Bulgarian history with his great discovery of one most important mediaeval manuscript, "Synodic of King Boril". According to academician J. Trifonov, S. Ahtar was the first Bulgarian archeologist. Ahtar mainly investigates coins from the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. Living in its capital - Veliko Tarnovo, he was fully involved in the process of searching for coins from that period. Accordingly, Ahtar was encouraged to do this by Vasil Aprilov, because he started to search for Bulgarian coins in 1832. Stephan Penev Ahtar is among the first Bulgarians to have a private collection of historical monuments. He arranged it in his workshop in 1842 and thus presented it to his fellow-townsmen. Besides the rich collection of coins he also had a collection of manuscripts, chain mail, silver buckles with images of Tsarevec on them and many other unique objects.

There were also other private collections that appeared during the Revival period. One of the most famous is the collection of Hadjitoshevi of Vratza, one belonging to Stephan Zahariev from the village of Sestrimo, near Pazardjik, the collection of Atanas Dukiadi from Sliven, Georgi Bodlev from Ohrid, etc. Unfortunately their subsequent fate is not known. According to the "Danube" newspaper, a private anatomic museum with taxidermy animals was opened in Russe in 1876. In Plovdiv, the Italian D. Tekela had a collection of bronze coins from the whole Balkan Peninsula.

The hard work of garnering materials during the first half of XIX century finally had success. On 30 January 1856 the first Bulgarian museum was established at the community and library centre (Chitalishte) in Svishtov. Evidence of this is the documents preserved in the Chitalishte to the present day. The preparation for this important event started in 1855. After a subscription list for donations was passed through, a constituent assembly in the house of Dimitar Nakovich was called on the 30 January 1856. At this event Emanuil Vaskidovich, Georgi Vladikin, and Hristaki Filchov were also present. Led by high patriotic feelings, these four people inflamed by their patriotism, decided to donate something, everyone according to his means, in order to establish a Bulgarian Chitalishte, which was going to also be a library and a museum, then to invite other young people with patriotic feelings. Further in the document, representing the establishment of the Chitalishte, it is written that Emanuil Vaskidovich donates his collection of books of classical writers Hellenic, Greek, Slavonic, Serbian etc, approximately 800 volumes as well as the list of the 40 founders, who gave from 100 to 4000 grosha, altogether 37 409 grosha. In another book are mentioned 42 founders of the first Chitalishte and the sum is 37 359 grosha.

The establishment of the first Bulgarian museum was covered by the "Turkey" newspaper, number 49 of 1856. It states that mere were four founders: "The four of them together decided to show their love to the Fatherland, everybody to donate whatever he can for the education of the people ... they decided to establish a Chitalishte-museum, to collect books, old remains and manuscripts".

According to the memoirs of V. Manchov this collection was to be transferred to a nation-wide museum. Bulgarian monuments from the whole Balkan Peninsula, parchments, old manuscripts and Bulgarian coins had to be gathered in this museum. Thus were laid the foundations of the first Bulgarian Chitalishte-museum, which had to educate people as a basic goal. The first donations were received E. Vaskidovich donated an old manuscript book, V. Manchov a liturgy on parchment and several manuscripts, presents were sent from the newspaper "Tzarigradski Vestnik", the Serbian literary association and the Russian consulate in Ruse. In 1859 the museum had 30 books written on parchment, 50 manuscripts written on paper, several old Bulgarian coins, and some other relics.

Special merits for the development of the museum in Svishtov belong to Nikolay Pavlovich (1835-1894). His knowledge of museum work is due to the fact that he visited museums in Russia, Munich, Dresden, Prague, and Vienna. In cooperation with Rakovski he looked for old Bulgarian coins. He painted ten of these coins in his publication about Asenovtci, published in 1860. N. Pavlovich settled down in Svishtov and then made the first museum furniture in Bulgaria - a show case, in which is displayed the collection of coins from the museum in Svishtov. He was very ambitious to enlarge the process of gathering monuments, which is why he decided that it would be very useful if a periodical was published.

According to N. Pavlovich, it had to be published in Bulgarian and German in order for foreign people to be able to get acquainted with Bulgarian historical monuments. The programme of the future periodical was published in "Pravo" newspaper in 1871. It is a practical guide for gathering historical, archeological, ethnographical, and art monuments. The talented Bulgarian artist put his knowledge of history into his famous historical paintings - he depicted not only the rulers but also ordinary people. The subjects of pictures were often expressed by the means of the national costumes in which the people were dressed.

The first Bulgarian secular artists were also among the most active investigators of Bulgarian relics. Stanislav Dospevski (1827-1877) made a study of the Bachkovski Monastery, and offered Bulgarian coins to the Hermitage. During his study in St. Petersburg he got acquainted with the wealth of the Russian museums. When he returned to Bulgaria he devoted himself to investigating antique and mediaeval monuments. Another Bulgarian artist from the Revival period, who was especially interested in the customs of the people and their culture, was Georgi Danchov (1846-1908). He was a close friend of Vasil Levski (revolutionary - national hero) and collaborator of the Russian consul in Plovdiv - Nayden Gerov.

In 1867 in Moscow a big Bulgarian ethnographical exhibition was displayed. For this exhibition N. Gerov asked G. Danchov to paint 40 large subject pictures, in which beautiful Bulgarian folk costumes were depicted. Unfortunately, nowadays we do not have any of these originals from the exhibition. One of these paintings - "Horo" by G. Danchov - was kept in the National Ethnographical Museum until 1944, but it was burned during the bombings. At the opening of the Bulgarian ethnographical exhibition in Moscow there were notable Slav scholars - Professor F. I. Buslaev and S. M. Soloviov. Dr Ivan Bogorov came from Bulgaria and Rayko Jinjifov, who lived in Moscow at that time, made a speech. On behalf of the Russian archeological association, S. M. Soloviov gave a welcoming speech to the organizers.

The benefactor confraternity "Prosveshtenije" organized the first Bulgarian ethnographical exhibition with authentic material in Constantinople in 1873. From as far back as 1873 it was suggested that the community and library center (Chitalishte) in Constantinople should become an initiator for gathering Bulgarian relics and for establishing a nationwide Bulgarian museum. In 1867 T. Kusev in Prilep encouraged members of the community and library centers to establish a Bulgarian museum. For this purpose he sent them four old silver coins. Bulgarians from other parts of the country also began to send material to be preserved in the community and library centre in Constantinople. This material comprised folk costumes, woman's headgear, objects from daily life, tools, agricultural stock, etc. The collected materials as well as the needlework of Bulgarian women from over ten towns were kept in the basis of the Ethnographical exhibition, opened on 29 of April 1873. It had a wide response in periodicals at that time. The success of the exhibition strengthened the belief of many people that exhibitions like this would increase the national self-confidence of the Bulgarians and would provoke the establishment of a National museum.

The community and library centers in the whole country participated in the garnering and creation of museum collections even more enthusiastically. Immediately after Svishtov, Sava Dobroplodni created a collection of archeological monuments in Shumen in 1857. After the extrusion of bishop Veniamin, Dobri Voynikov bought up old ecclesiastical-Slavic books and church plate. With the cooperation of V. Drumev and P. Volov the citizens were asked to give documents for the guilds and the whole economic and cultural life in the town.

In 1856 the "Postojanstvo" community and library center was established in Lom. The most active figure there was Krastio Pishurka. Together with the teacher N. Parvanov he investigated for historical documents, wrote down national folklore and created a small collection of incunabular books and manuscripts. In 1871 in Panagiurishte was established the community and library center - Chitalishte "Videlina". The main activity mere was the gathering of relics. In 1871 the "Nadejda" community and library center was established in Veliko Tarnovo. According to its founders, one of its main tasks was gathering relics in order to establish a museum.

The richest of all museum collection in the community and library centres during the Revival period was one in Pazardjik. The local historian S. Zahariev gathered archeological monuments, coins, manuscripts and documents. All of them were arranged and described in 60 files. After his death all of the materials were given to the Bulgarian Exarchate in Constantinople. On the eve of the Liberation in Razgrad an archeological collection was established under the guidance of the local teacher, A. Yavashev. The establishment of the first Bulgarian museum stimulated the study of Bulgarian history and monuments, revealing the power of the Mediaeval Bulgarian country, prospering for centuries on end between Byzantium and the Franks Empire. Our predecessors needed this return to the glorious past of the Mediaeval Bulgarian Kingdom as a patriotic impulse to awaken the need for a national state during the foreign Ottoman rule of the Bulgarian lands.

During the XVIII and XIX centuries the Bulgarian people had no national state, but they succeeded in establishing unique Bulgarian cultural institutions Chitalishte, community and library centers. The first task of these centers was the conservation and popularization of books in Bulgarian (manuscript and printed). Secondly, the museum collections preserved historical evidence of the mediaeval state tradition.

The mediaeval literary and cultural traditions were continued during the Bulgarian Revival. The greatest evidence for this is the establishment of the Bulgarian Academy of Science in 1869. Because of the foreign rule in Bulgaria it was established in Romania, in Braila. Article 6 of its "Statutes ..." states that one of the main aims of the Bulgarian Academy of Science was to make gradually a collection of different Bulgarian and foreign books, manuscripts that would help make up an old cabinet, next to the library. The Czech Slav scholar doctor Konstantin Irechek (1854-1918) liked this idea very much. In his letter to the Annual Meeting of the Bulgarian Academy of Science in 1872 he wrote that a book depository and a museum had to be established, in which Bulgarian relics were to be gathered and preserved.

As a result of the successful Russian-Turkish War during 1878-79 the Principality of Bulgaria became an independent country. The remaining parts of the country had different status within the limits of the Ottoman Empire. The so-called Eastern Roumelia (Southern Bulgaria) was an autonomous district and the rest of the territories were under Ottoman rule. The achievements of the Bulgarian Revival in the sphere of preservation and exhibition of the rich cultural and historical heritage formed the basis on which was developed the idea for a Bulgarian museum in the period after the Liberation. Most of the Revival figures, who contributed a lot for the preservation of the historical remains, obtained state and administrative posts and they participated actively in the political and public life of Principality Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia. Thus they contributed to the establishment of new cultural institutions - National Libraries with museums in Sofia and Plovdiv. They also contributed to the elaboration of new legislation, protecting the relics and establishing preconditions for their preservation for future generations.

During the contemporary Russian Government the first steps were made toward the establishment of a state museum. On 8 November 1878 the Governor of Sofia V. V. Alabin with the support of Marin Drinov, head of the Department for National Education, initiated the establishment of Sofia Public Library. It was supposed that a museum would be established within its realm, in which newly found relics would be garnered and preserved. On 5 May 1879 the National Library and Museum was officially established. Its first Director was Georgi Kirkov, later Director of the State Printing House and of the Cartographic Institute. The next individuals who took the post of director until 1892 were Dr Konstantin Irechek, Petko Slaveykov and V. D. Stoyanov.

The first Bulgarian agricultural-industrial fair in Plovdiv played an important role in the separation of the National Museum as an independent cultural institute in 1892. The Minister of Education at that time, Georgi Jivkov, decided to separate the Museum from the Library. The exhibits from the Pavilion for Fine Arts at the fair were bought and thus was established the Art Department of the Museum. The collection of natural-history objects was given to Sofia University. Thus in the National Museum in 1893 there were three independent collections: ancient, ethnographical and numismatic.

The first Director of the National Museum was the Czech Vaclav Dobruski (1858-1916), who had this post until 1910. There were 343 monuments and art objects in the collections of the newly established National Museum, as well as 2357 coins. The published Collection of folklore, science and literature contributed to the enlargement of gathering work in the country from 1889. Mainly ethnographical and folklore materials were gathered in it. In the very first article of the Collection there was an appeal for the salvation of the relics and museum objects doomed to extinction. From the forth volume, reproductions of national costumes, village houses etc. were started, printed in black and white, and in color.

During the rule of the contemporary Russian Government in Plovdiv a library and a museum were established. With a circular letter from the Director of the Ministry of Education Y. Gruev at the Department of Ministry of Education, a Museum of relics was established. Circular letters to the Department of Ministry of Education from the beginning of 1880 till the end of 1883 unambiguously wrote about this Regional Museum, recommending that there should be different monuments - old and newly discovered. The official opening of the Regional Library and museum took place in September 1882. Initially the Museum had three departments - archeological, numismatic and manuscript. The next year the manuscript department with its rich collection of old manuscripts was transferred to the library.

There were two types of museums in Bulgaria during the 1890s: central-state (known as National Museums) and local-public (community and library centers, school collections that developed later into town museums). Archeological associations and archeological excavations contributed to the fast growth of the establishment of local museums at the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century, carried out in the country. A lot the expeditions of the Russian Archeological Institute in Constantinople contributed to the scientific research of the archeological monuments. In cooperation with the best Bulgarian specialist from that time very important historical discoveries were made. The expeditions of the Russian Archeological Institute carried forward the investigation of mediaeval Bulgarian history. The gathered rich archeological material was given to the National Museum and part of it to the local museums and museum collections.

The Bulgarian Archeological School had very few well-educated professionals, but with the support of many enthusiasts a lot of expeditions were carried out. The most important contributors for the further archeological excavations were Vasil Zlatarski and Czech scientists - the brothers Hermengild and Karel Shkorpil. Archeological associations and museum collections were established in many other towns as well. One of the associations with the best activities was that in the town of Varna at the seaside of the Black Sea. The main contribution for the beginning of the museum work in that town was made by the brothers Hermangild and Karel Shkorpil.

Ttraditions of the Bulgarian museum work from the Revival period were continued after the Liberation. That's why the newly established museums in Bulgaria in XIX were mainly at the library and community centers, with the support of the teachers. The same enthusiasts led the active work of Archeological Associations. Thus new cultural institutions were gradually established - the local museums. The greater part of them remained museum collections at the library and community centers, but some grew and even become independent city museums without the help of the state.

New legislation in the sphere of preservation of Bulgarian relics encouraged the further investigation of all movable and immovable monuments. That's why at the end of XIX century the first scientific programmes for investigation work were published. The work of the Bulgarian community after the liberation was devoted mainly to the preservation of monuments. The New Bulgarian State developed contemporary legislation, which was the basis for the establishment of institutions for the investigation and preservation of the historical and cultural monuments. The National Museum was the methodological centre that had to help all local museums in their practical work of investigation and preservation of monuments. There was no opportunity for the establishment of a large museum network, because the financial resources given by the State were not enough. Despite this, most towns and some of villages established museums and museum collections.

The interest in Bulgarian relics continued also in the period after the Liberation (1878). The idea for a Bulgarian museum developed very fast at the end of XIX century. At that time regular archaeological excavations started. The establishment of the first state museums was the mainstay of the museum work in the country. Many professionals and enthusiasts worked at these museums, sacrificing their free time in order to carry out research of the past. Thus museum work in Bulgaria at the end of XIX century had a nation-wide character and developed very fast.



Commentary: In the years after the end of the Crimean War and up until the Liberation of Bullgaria from Turkish dominion, ethnographic studies in this country advanced within a most fruitful climate and marking an independent stage of development for the period of the Enlightenment. It was a time, when due to collaborative efforts of a handful of eminent representatives it reached a national determination which helped the formation of a scientific subject in concord with other developed countries in the world.

This formation was maturing within boundaries of complex folk culture of the bulgarian people, that were still in process of ascertaining its national identity but were simultaneously in uniformity with ethnography as a research phenomenon. Investigative efforts were directed into the fields of national customs, beliefs, lifestyle, public dressing, house architecture, territorial bonding, etc. and these numerous studies had a collective name for the ethnographic science, per se. Verkovich, Rakovski, Karavelov and others created and perceived ethnography as a science, much time before the bulgarian ethnos realized its own identity, which culminated in the 1870s with national liberation.

As much in the same period, when most of the ethnographic research was done by lay people who were not officially engaged with the ruling Turkish empire but were most often part of some revolutionary activity or other kind of educative effort - viz., some people like university professors M. Drinov, S. Palauzov, etc. also engaged in research in the field. They developed from an outside perspective /i.e., while working in Russia respectively in Kharkov's and Odessa's Universities/, furthermore a historical approach for the ethnic determination of the bulgarian people, its national culture and folk traits.

The patriotic approach was baseline priority for this whole bunch of explorations, however there are two main methodological directions or inclinations in this studies. First, an earliest form is the romantic-mythological direction which marks a summit in the literature of Georgi Rakovski and subsequently leaves priority to the works of Lyuben Karavelov, Petko Slaveykov, etc. who delineated serious criteria for application of scientific methods in ethnographic analysis and comparative synthesis. These collaborative efforts reached a wider impulse and methodical clarification by publishing some manuals for technical work in the field - viz., called with bulgarian ethnonyms like "klyuch", "pokazaletz", "pamiatnik", etc. Second, a new official form of ethnographic popularization became the so called exhibitions of the bulgarian material culture - viz., taking place at international ethnographical trade fairs held in Moscow /1867/ and Tzarigrad /1873/. Coordinators and organizers from the bulgarian side at that expositions were representatives in the Russian consular offices abroad Nayden Gerov and Dr. Vasil Karakonovski, both bulgarians with russian citizenship.

Altogether at that time there were, also, an increased scientific, economical and political interest from the side of the great political powers in Europe and America towards Bulgaria and its domains in the Turkish Empire. This interest culminated in active ethnographical research with cartography, supplemented with numerous narratives from travelogues, memoirs and other personal trivia; further, these material substantiated on a considerable body of ethnographic evidence which was a priceless heritage from standpoint of national wealth. Some of those foreign scientists and travelers have personally helped create and institutionally demarcate this whole field of scientific lore, subsequently names like Konstantin Jirechek and Felix Kanitz remained in bulgarian history.


Figure 1 and 2: Those two figures from the catalogue of scientific exploration on the bulgarian lands are particularly important.

i./ Felix Kanitz contributed with his capital work in three volumes "Donau-Bulgarian und der Balkan. T. I-III, Leipzig, 1874-1876".


ii./ Konstantin Jirechek wrote and later translated his master piece "Geschichte der Bulgaren. Prague, 1876".



Copyright 2006 by the author.