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Author: Stefan Zahariev; edited by Ivan Batakliev


A pre-liberation intellectual and a contemporary to Georgi Rakovski and Lyuben Karavelov, Stefan Zahariev (1810-1871) was one of the most educated citizens of Pazardjik (central Bulgaria) in the 19th century. We have little information relating to him or his collecting activities as the main sources are a short biography written by his son Hristo and published in 1900 in "Uchilishten pregled" magazine. Information can also be found in the private letters of Zahariev to Stefan Verkovich (1821-1891), whose activities will be revealed separately and whose private archive is preserved in good condition at the Bulgarian Academy of Science and in Historical Archive of the National Library.

According to Hristo Zahariev (1900), Stefan Zahariev studied in Plovdiv since there was no Bulgarian school in his native Tatar Pazardjik. There he learned Greek (old and new) and Turkish. After he returned to Pazardjik his father started to prepare him for business, trading with foreign countries. Stefan was very young when he began travelling abroad and learned much about other countries and cultural traditions. Not being very good at business, he started working as the deputy to the Plovdiv bishop. He travelled from place to place and started collecting material for a book describing the statistical, geographical and historical features of his home region - Tatar Pazardjik. By 1856 he was an active participant in the revival process in Pazardjik and an editor and correspondent of some local newspapers and magazines. He started translating from Serbian, Russian, Polish and Czech sources and continued his self-education. As chief executive of all cultural events in the area including the opening of a school, he took an active part in the struggle against the Greek Church and its adherents.

In the introduction to his book one can find reference to his personal philosophy, that every man must know first the place where he was born and lives. During his research he had been impressed by the abundance of artifacts in Bulgarian lands and started collecting. Sadly the collection has been lost. According to his son it contained more than 60 volumes of incunabula and manuscripts, which were destroyed by Russian soldiers in the Russo-Turkish war (1877-1878). Twenty-two of them survived, but the Russian philologist Polichron Sirku from St. Petersburg University took them (under the pretext to study them) and they were never returned. They are now in the manuscript department of the St. Petersburg Library. The other part of the collection, containing coins and archaeological artifacts, has also been lost. A few objects, again taken by P. Sirku, are in the Hermitage according to Batakliev (1973). Apparently Zahariev's collection was very rich as he realized that if he wanted to work scientifically he needed to collect historical evidence. Information about Zahariev's collection can only be found by scrutinizing his book and private correspondence with Stefan Verkovich. However, it is still very difficult to generate a conclusion about the true nature of the collection.

Zahariev's book, a description of the area of Tatar Pazardjik, contains information not only about monasteries and churches but also detailed descriptions of ruins of castles and fortresses, local legends about caves and other places full of hidden treasures that only magic can reveal. For example, mention is made about the ruins of a castle near the village of Kozarsko where old armament could be found, together with silver coins from the time of Tzar Simeon (893-927). He also records that in the village of Cerovo a local man found a chariot, a golden pot and a few coins from the time of Tzar Assen I (1190-1196) when digging to make a basement for his house. Zahariev took one of these coins and a marble statuette, representing Philip of Macedonia on horse, he found in the ruined church of the same village. In the village of Bochulia he found copper coins with the image of Christ on one side and of St. Ivan Tarnovski on the other, without inscriptions. People from the village of Pchelena found two statuettes when digging for earth they needed for building purposes. Zahariev took these two statuettes, one of them representing Zeus, the other Philip of Macedonia. In the village of Batak there were castle ruins from where people dug out a golden globe, copper birds, armament and copper coins which Zahariev also obtained. In the village of Despotovo the author found a golden coin with the images of Christ, Ivan Despot (14th century) and his wife. The final piece of information in the book concerning artifacts in Zahariev's collection relates to copper Bulgarian and Byzantine coins found in the village of Barutin.

The other source of information about Stefan Zahariev's collection is the private archive of Stefan Verkovich. Verkovich (1821-1891), of Bosnian origin, was a person who worked actively for the development of the Bulgarian revival in Southwest Bulgarian lands. After completing the courses of the Franciscan catholic school, the Sutchinski monastery and the Episcopal lyceum in Zagreb, Verkovich went to Belgrade and became a member of a secret national propaganda organization for the liberation of the Southern Slavs from Ottoman oppression in 1849. The members of this organization had to travel in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia and in the Southwest Bulgarian lands and spread its ideas. Stefan Verkovich became the agent for Macedonia. However for this thesis most important is his incredible wish to study the culture and customs of the people inhabiting the Balkan peninsula.

His extensive trips, which lasted ten years, favored these activities. He published four ethnographical books, reflecting the customs of the Bulgarian population and with this he helped the revival process in Bulgaria. During his trips Verkovich also collected archaeological artifacts for different Serbian cultural institutions and paid several Bulgarians to collect materials for him. It is mentioned also that Verkovich possessed archaeological and ethnographic collections, which according to Verkovich's will passed to Dr. Y. Shafarik, Director of the Belgrade Museum.

His archive shows extensive correspondence with different representatives of the Bulgarian intelligentsia asking them to collect archaeological, ethnographic and paleographic materials for him. In the case of the present thesis this archive is the main source of information pertaining to Stefan Zahariev's collecting activities. The surviving personal correspondence between them started in 1863 with a letter from Zahariev to Verkovich, the former introducing himself to the latter. At that time Zahariev already had a collection, formed during his trips in the country while collecting material for his book. The letter not only informs Verkovich about what kind of old documents were held in the collection, such as twenty incunabula, for which he asked the Tzarigrad municipality to publish them together with all other such books and old documents which were in private hands and to keep them in one place and to form a museum. From this letter it is obvious that Verkovich tried to find educated Bulgarians to describe different parts of Bulgaria as Zahariev offered to try to find people who could do it. He also offered to buy antiques for him. This is the main subject of the remaining correspondence which lasted until Zahariev's death in 1871.

Most of the artifacts Zahariev obtained for Verkovich were coins. From the correspondence it is noticeable that at the time (mid 19th century) the trade in coins and other artifacts in Bulgaria was already uncontrolled and sparked mass treasure-hunting activities. Different consuls, travelers and collectors who came explicitly to Bulgaria to buy archaeological artifacts were apparently the main reason for the appearance of the first regulations in the Ottoman empire concerning preservation of artifacts and the Antiquities Regulation (March 1869). There was no definition of the term "antiquity" in this regulation. It concerned more the excavations and who could make an excavation, in what conditions, what the export terms were, etc. The export of artifacts was prohibited unless permission was obtained yet old coins, strangely, were exempt. However, selling artifacts within the borders of the empire was permitted.

Two positive points come from this document, the prohibition of excavation without special permission and the prohibition of export. However in practice it never actually stopped the illegal excavation and export of artifacts. Foreign counsels largely exploited the loopholes in the legislation. For example, in a letter dated from 10 February 1864, Zahariev mentions the German Consul, Mr. Berti, who came to Plovdiv for business purposes, and bought all the available coins and antiques for an unnamed museum abroad. In a letter dated from 25 September 1864, Zahariev also mentions that the Austrian Consul wanted to buy particular coins.

From the correspondence one thing is particularly noticeable, namely Zahariev's desire not only to collect artifacts but to create a Bulgarian museum and exhibit Bulgarian artifacts to be seen by the whole population. During the period Zahariev worked in the Pazardjik chitalishte he ensured the start of the museum activities by putting on display the artifacts he had personally collected. His wish was to donate his whole collection to such a museum, something well-documented in a letter Zahariev sent to the "Pravo" newspaper (9 August 1871). The correspondence also demonstrates that Zahariev received several offers from foreigners who wished to purchase his collection but he never agreed.

In a letter from Hristo Zahariev to Stefan Verkovich informing him about the death of his father Stefan, Hristo mentions that the offers from foreigners to buy the collection were particularly persistent. German engineers, who were in Bulgaria to build railways made several offers, but both Stefan and Hristo refused as these were people who cannot understand the real value of an antique. It would appear there was a real desire by pre-liberation collectors to work for the prosperity of Bulgaria by forming archaeological collections and museums.


Picture 1: Sample illustration on the text above.

(i). Title page from Zahariev's "Geographical, Historical and Statistical Survey of Tatar-Pazardjik Kaaza", published in Vienna, printers L. Sommer & Co (1870).



Copyright 2010 by the author.