Author: арх. Анна Енчева

The architectural heritage of Southern Dobrudzha Part 1: Terrytory, times and influences



Let us have a look at the map:
- The Black Sea coast lies to the East and South-East;
- The Danube river is to the North-West;
- The border between Bulgaria and Romania until 1940 had been along the Tutrakan- Balchik line;
- Since 1940, after the Treaty of Craiova, the border has been laid along the line Silistra – Vama Veche.
     These oulines include a part of Southern Dobrudzha.
     The first concept coming to mind is that Dobrudzha is the grainary of Bulgaria. Maybe you know plenty of other names and events spanning from ancient times until nowadays and related with this little piece of land.
     The distrcits of Dobrich and Silistra, with an area of about 7600 square kilometres and a total population of about 310 000 people, are currently situated in this territory.

Source: Google Earth

     If you were born in this area, if you did not tear out your roots and you have spent here all of your conscious life, if you have been searching for the source of the multifaceted, yet specific, nature of Dobrudzha people, if you have created anything solidly settled in the soil, you must have felt the strength which Dobrudzha induces within you. In this respect, on one hand, to be telling a tale about Dobrudzha might seem easy because you are actually telling your own tale. On the other hand, who dares to say that he has reached the summit of knowledge, even about his own self?
     I ventured to present the architectural heritage of this area with no illusion that I knew all that was to know about the matter. On the contrary, I saw a great opportunity to learn more, to share with others what I have learnt and also some of my thougts that came in this process.


- Dobrudzha, Bulgaria, Romania
- The Balkans, Europe, Asia

     Historical maps show that Greek colonies have been established along our Black Sea Coast as early as the VIIth century BC. During the IVth century BC the lands between the lower Ister (Danube) and the Euxinos Pontos (the Black Sea) fall under the reign of Alexander the Great. During the following IIIrd century BC these territories, populated by Scythians have been a part of the Odrysian Kingdom. From Ist till IIIrd century AD the lands have been a part of the frontier Moesia Inferior province of the Roman Empire and during IV-Vith century AD – of the frontier Scythia Minor province of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire).

     During the VIIth century AD, a border line appears between Tomy (Konstantza) and the Danube: the lands of the Bulgars, led by Asparuch, lie to the North and the Byzantine Empire spans to the South. Later this borderline disappears because the young Slavic-Bulgarian state expands southwards, as well as westwards and northwards. At the end of the Xth century AD Bulgaria includes the Carpathian mountains and, besides the Black Sea, also reaches the Aegian and the Adriatic Sea.
     During its time in the Byzantine Empire, Dobrudzha is a part of the Parystrion province (Danube lands). During the Second Bulgarian Empire the region around the town of Karvuna (today’s Balchik) was named Karvuna and the area between Pliska and Druster – the Hundred Hills. Vlachs were living to the North of the Danube, who in 1322 declares their independent principality. During the XIVth century AD Bulgaria splits into the Vidin Tsarstvo, Tarnovo Tsarstvo and Dobrudzha Polity. The Dobrudzha Polity spread from the Danube to the North to the Black Sea to the South and the boundary with the Tarnovo Tsarstvo lied along the Druster-Anhialo line. 
     “The Land of Dobrotich” were the last Bulgarian lands to fall under the Ottoman invaders. The resistance was violent, to the death. Remembered is the legend of Kaliakra and the forty maids who twined their hairs together and drowned in the Black Sea to evade being taken away by the Turks. 
     During the XVth century AD Dobrudzha became the frontier of the Ottoman empire. The Vlach lands, which used to be its feudatory since 1396, spread beyond the Danube. The sanjak of Silistra was formed on the territory of the former Dobrudzha Polity. The sanjak consisted of vilaets (nachias). Northern Dobrudzha included the nahia of Harsovo, Middle Dobrudzha included the nachia of Tefurgyol (Cherna voda), and Southern Dobrudzha included two vilaets – Silistra and Varna. During the XVIth century the nachias were additionally split into kazas (kaazas). Twelve kaazas, incuding Balchik and Hadzhioglu Pazardzhik, existed at the end of the XVII century and lasted through the middle XIXth century. In 1829 the Vlach Lands received authonomy and in 1861 Romania became an independent country. 
     After the 1878 treaty of San Stefano a line was drawn to the North of Mangalia between the Black Sea and the Danube. The territory above this line, Northern Dobrudzha, became part of Romania. After the Berlin Treaty the borderline was moved further to the South, starting to the South of Mangalia and reaching to Silistra.
     In 1913, after the Bucharest Peace Treaty, Southern Dobrudzha was also awarded to Romania down to the line Tutrakan – Kranevo and remained Romanian territory until 1916 when it was returned to Bulgaria.

     However, there had been little time for joy – after the Treaty of Neuilly from 1919 this long-suffering territory was again bartered and detached from the Fatherland.
With the signing of the Treaty of Craiova in 1940 the Southern Dobrudzha was returned within Bulgarian boundaries.


     This has been the course of events between the Danube and the Black Sea for the last 2500 years. Of course, there are other participants, which are not mentioned here. Experts in geopolitics should have their say on the causes, which have led to any particular change of the map of the region and on the specific roles of the other participants. I just would like to remind that, because of the many layers under the surface soil which we have, we should not be surprised by the eclectic mix of images and characters surrounding us today. By tracing when, what and how our ancestors have built their enviroment we might be able to comprehend the signs which they left on their silent creations.

- Prehistory
- Antiquity
- Middle Ages
- Renaissance
- Modern Times

     The remains of a village lie in the lake of Durankulak, which are considered to be dating back to the VIth milenium BC. These were the oldest known inhabitants of the plains to the South of the Danube.
     The Tracians arrived later on, followed by the Hellenes, the Romans and the Byzantines. All of them built ports, roads, fortresses and temples.
     The Slavs and the Bulgars came in the Vth-VIth century AD. Besides warriors, they were also farmers, stock breeders and fishermen. They lived in yurts and dugouts. They created settlements – aulas. In the VIIth century AD they created their first state and built their stone capital – Pliska. They adopted Christianity in the IXth century AD and created their alphabet.
     Byzantine reign marked the XIth and XIIth century AD, with ongoing raids of Pechenegs, Cumans and Uzes.
     The Second Bulgarian State flourished during the XIIIth and the XIVth century.
     The Ottoman invaders came at the end of the XIVth century. Last ground standing, Dobrudzha was finally annexed into the Ottoman Empire in 1417.
     My story about architecture covers Renaissance and Modern Times and this is not because the first three ages are not fascinating, just the opposite. The examples of the last two ages are not more significant than the previous ones but they are standing above ground in a comparatively good condition and can easily be studied and described. This will be my approach, with no entering any complicated analyses.
     I support the theory that Bulgarian Renaissance starts with a small book – “Slavonic-Bulgarian History” by Paisii Hilendarski. The seeds sown by it had been looking for a fertile soil for several decades and, after finding it, started their growth. The Renaissance led to the Liberation.
Modern Times span through the years after 1878 through the first half of the XXth century. Bulgaria was in a hurry to catch up with the other European countries. The paths of the Principality of Bulgaria and Northern Dobrudzha, however, parted. The later split of Southern Dobrudzha left a lasting mark on the land and people of our region.

- population and subsistence
- spirituality and traditions
- equipment and technology
- ideas and styles

     Turkish reign settled on Bulgarian lands during the XIVth century, bringing extermination, turkization, exile and enslaving to Bulgarian population. At the same time, Turkish population was brought in the lands, as well as Russians, Ukrainians, Cherkezes, Abkhazians, Tatars, Jews, Gypsies, Vlachs, Moldovans, Armenians, Cossacks, Gagauzes.
     Christian population, mostly Bulgarians and Greeks, dominated during the XVIIth century in the seaside areas. However, Turks and Tatars prevailed in the inland Dobrudzha. At the end of the century Janissaries were introduced to the region and new Muslim population came after. The raids of Crimean Tatars continued and Bulgarians were seeking refuge in the Vlach lands to the North or into the Balkan to the South. There were hardly any Bulgarians left in North-Eastern Bulgaria during the XVIIIth century.
    Accоrding to Turkish regulations, Bulgarian families were not allowed to have a permanent residence. They had been living in so called “kashlas” which were temporary dwellings by nature.
     “Spacious fields, grown in weeds and grass, wandering herds of sheep, white cattle and unruly horses, solitary shepherd kashlas, rare villages and not a single town – this was the image of Dobrudzha of that time. Nature had been generously providing for all the necessities of the simple and only subsistence of people …” (Yordan Yovkov).
     The kashlas never developed into settlements but still they had a garden and a cornfield: soil and pastures were both put to use. This was because, “Bulgarians are attached to the land, they love it, cherish it, because they consider it their own. Later on these kashla-people form the core of the town people of the Dobrudzha towns along the Danube and the Black Sea coast …” (St. Chilingirov, “Dobrudzha” collection of articles, published by the Union of Bulgarian scientists, writers and artisits, Sofia 1918, from a scientific expedition in Dobrudzha in 1917).
     A not always voluntary population process started at the end of the XVIIIth century. A saying goes that a landlord by the name of Hasan Pasha used to bring in Bulgarians to work his lands. He patronized them and gave them more rights. As a result, his lands became attractive not only to people returning from Besarabia but also for those coming from the interior of the Ottoman Empire. (St. Chilingirov)
Agriculture was the main subsistance of the population and grains were mostly grown. The vast pastures were favourable for breeding sheep, horses and cattle. Beekeeping and fishery were also practiced. Feudal social relations were the norm.
     Crafts were in the realm of town population. The list of crafts was a long one and nowadays we would need a dictionary for some of the craft names: dyulgers, butchers, well diggers, baker men, barbers, chochadzhias, papukchias, tsarvulars, bootmakers, shoemakers, kyurkchias, goldsmiths, mutafchias, coopers. Production of soap, rakia and mead was developed, salt was produced in Shabla and Balchik.
     The towns were mainly along the coastline. Trade in the Black Sea ports shrank in the XVth century and the ports dwindled but then came the trading activities in the Danube towns. The most active traders were the ship owners and skippers, the grain trade middlemen and the granary owners.
     Merchants and money-lenders were active in towns. New marketplaces appeared, some of them lately developing into new towns like Hadzhioglu Pazardzhik (Dobrich).
     Christianity and Islam coexisted, albeit not on an equal standing, ecompassing the majority of the population. Many churches were demolished and others were converted into mosques. All the newly built temples were mosques.
     It was amazing that after centuries under foreign reign Bulgarians survived and kept their religion and traditions. Even more, they created unique artefacts of material and spiritual culture.
     XIXth century was saturated by events, which shattered the integrity of the Ottoman Empire: the Russian-Turkish wars continued, drastic changes in the administrative structure of the Empire took place, economic and social relations were changing, the population of the occupied lands intensified its struggles for religious rights, cultural recognition and national independence. Feudalism was on the decline. Bulgarian Renaissance broke out, although much later compared to the other European nations but still with strong drive, inspiration and sacrificial strength. The freedom-bound spirit was seeking and finding every possible way of expression. Building of houses, churches and schools became the incarnation of the awakened self-consciousness and the original talent of its creators. Because of that, the Renaissance period was a ray of bright light in our history, an object of admiration, a source of self-esteem and a monument, which deserved its reverence.
     Bulgarian Renaissance culminated in the Liberation.
     During the last two decades of the XIXth century free and united Bulgaria expanded its connections with Europe. There had been effort in every direction ,starting with the initial emphasis on attracting highly-educated foreigners of recognised reputation. Those foreigners introduced and applied contemporary ideas, principles and forms, which started changing the appearance of the uncumbent settlements. The first cadastral plans were drawn and the first civic buildings were designed.
     Then the effort to catch up with Europe became two-directional: not only were foreigners invited but also Bulgarians were sent to European universities for obtaining direct exposure to advanced knowledge. In this way, both groups of knowledge ambassadors became proponents for the increased infusion of the latest trends from developed European countries into Bulgaria.
     The dynamics of social events intensified in the beginning of the XXth century. Independent Bulgaria strenghtened. Agriculture was restructured and diversified. Crafts developed but started quickly giving way to industrial production. Commerce flourished and marketplaces expanded. Capital accumulated and gave birth to commercial and financial companies. Society became stratified as a result, classes appeared and political parties were formed.
     Construction was a result and indication of economic development. Southern Dobrudzha, flourished as the “granary” of the prosperous Bulgaria. Foundations were laid for the development of the agricultural processing industry. It was accompanied by intensive trade and export. New construction was ongoing in every part of the private and public sectors.
Despite all the population changes of the past, the census of 1910 revealed that Southern Dobrudzha, with a territory of 7527 square kilometres, had a total population of 282 000 inhabitants, of which Bulgarian population of 139 000 people prevailed with 49% share from the total.
     After 1910 the events on the Balkans and in the world developed in a hectic pace and their consequences were disastrous for Bulgaria.
     Active Romanization of Southern Dobrudzha started in 1913, after the establishment of the Tutrakan – Ekrene (Kranevo) borderline. The demographics of the region gradually shifted in favour of Romanian population.
     In the secong stage of Romanian rule 1919-1940 intensive migration took place: Romanian population moved into Southern Dobrudzha, and Dobrudzha population (Bulgarians, Tatars, Jews, Gypsies) moved into Bulgaria. During 1925, Aromans from Aegean Macedonia were also brought in the area.
At the end, in 1940, exchange occured of big population groups: Romanians moved out of Southern Dobrudzha and Bulgarians moved in from Northern Dobrudzha.
Politics, economy, conscience and actions of people are integrally linked together. When storms pass, the milestones of the road remain, both visible and invisible ones.
     World of IDEAS is complex but attractive. Ideas bring actions and change reality. Distinct or blurred, they are hidden in every event and every artefact.
After the Middle Ages, when man was only considered a God’s creature and faith in afterlife had been promoted, the RENAISSANCE IDEA put the focus on man’s mortal life. Here this idea emanated from the frescoes of the Boyana Master of 1259, before its rise in Italy. The circumstances of the following five centuries, however, prevented that idea from spreading and finding its followers.
In architecture, the European Renaissance started in the XIVth century in Florence. It was expressed in increased interest towards antiquity and in reinterpretation and application of the coonstruction principles in the ancient Greece and Rome. We have missed this stage. The symbols of our Renaissance came to life at a significantly later moment. In public construction those were the bell tower and clock tower and in residential construction – the Renaissance residential house.

The Bell tower                          The Clock tower                           Renaissance residential house
Of the St.Dimiter church           In the town of Dobrich –               in Dobrich –restoration and 
In the village of Krushari           restoration after archives             аdaptation for etnographic museum

     Bulgarian Renaissance residential house exhibited direct and indirect influences from the Balkans, Europe and Russia. They were, however, interpreted in the local tradition and the resulting effect was unique.

     During the XVIIIth century rationalism in thinking was born in Europe. It became the foundation of the ideas of the MODERN TIMES, which developed during the XIXth century.
Classicism was prevailing in architecture, being defined as imitation of antique forms. Few examples were left here of that trend and they were done by foreigners who worked here after the Liberation.
Romanticism, inspired by the arts of the Mediterranean (gothic and romance) and of the Orient, was born and developed in Europe in parallel with the classicism. Here, as a rule, it came with a delay and later on (when times comes), I would support it by examples.
The names of Neorenaissance and Neobaroque hint what was to expect. Renaissance features – symmetry, harmony, serenity and monumentality were typical for many public buildings after the Liberation – municipalities, schools, train stations, hotels, etc. The “baroque” representative public and residential buildings were mainly in the capital city and bigger towns., where both necessity and funding for their construction were available. They were a remniscence of the “Austrian” baroque because Vienna was the city with strong ties to Bulgaria and which had a lot of examples for imitation and learning.

     Eclecticism ruled in Europe during the second part of the century. The trend was characterised by the mixture of elements of various ages and styles. It caused many negative reactions although not all of them were justified. The roots of eclecticism were not that much aesthetical but rather economic and technological: explosive industrialization, enormous amount of public construction with the introduction of new materials – cast iron, concrete and glass. Not in the last place, the function of the “universal architect” was split between the “architect” and the “engineer”, having fatal (with very little exceptions) consequences. Eclecticism came to Bulgaria from France and was mostly evident in residential architecture.
     The next stage was the Secession, which was born in Belgium but in every country it entered it received a different name (new art, modern art, youth stye, free style). This was a really new trend departing from rigid concepts and forms and expressing freedom in perfect harmony with its time. There were many definitions for that fenomenon but its essence was “reason and passion”, in my opinion. For the first time architecture in Bulgaria was not following lead but developing simultaneously with architecture in Europe.
     Before closing the pre-war period (1912) I would like to pay a special attenction to National Romaniticism in Bulgarian architecture. There were two approaches in Romanticism:
- application of established models from Western Europe and Russia, which was mainly practiced by foreign architects;
- interpretation of practices of the local construction tradition in accordance with contemporary requirements, technologies and materials; this was a merit of Bulgarian architects who had received their education abroad.
     The second approach exhibited a specific style that spread here in the first years after the Liberation but also had later occurences during the period between the two world wars. The main proponents of this style were arch. Anton Tornyov, arh. Naum Torbov, arch. Petko Momchilov, arch. Georgi Fringov, etc.

Train station in the village of Donchevo              Residential building in the town of Dobrich 
Dobrich municipality                                           (rationalism) repurposed for administrative use 

     The period between the two world wars undoubtedly fell to the Rationalism trend in architecture. Priority was given to function, to structural frame, to smooth and clean surfaces (ornamentation and decorations were not used), to plain colours – “truthful, honest and reasonable” architecture in reinforced concrete, steel and glass. There were countless variations between those two, seeming close to one another, extremes – Functionalism and Constructivism. Rationalism was the strong foundation, which gave birth to modern architecture.

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