Author: Лена Кирилова

The white stone eyes of the plain

The spring water fountains of Dobrogea

An ancient tradition when you want to do something good and leave a mark is to build a water fountain. The spring water fountain is "the greatest good and the greatest gift", "spring made by man, a divine grace that makes people happy." So read the inscriptions carved on the stone - an expression of gratitude, praise and worship to the one who created this sacred gift. It is assumed that the Bulgarian word "cheshma" / water fountain/ comes from the Persian word meaning "eye". It is an indisputable fact that for arid Dobrogea water has always been a primordial value, and its white stone spring water fountains, called the "eyes" of the plane are an essential element of the life and folklore of Dobrogean people. Built centuries ago in the endless expanse of the plain, the white stone water fountains, along with the white swallow, have become symbols of Dobrogea. In the traditional worldview water is not only a daily domestic need, but a source of healing and magical power, symbol of new beginning and of infinity, symbol of life and the transition, the connection to the outer world. According to ancient cosmogonic legends, water is the first and eternal element in the creation of the world. Water and stone remain in time and the fountain brings a sense of eternity. So for those who have chosen the plane for their home, regardless of their culture or religion, the building of a water fountain becomes a sacred social benefaction, called "sebap", a kind, selfless act that anyone could do if they want to leave something meaningful after themselves.

For arid Dobrogea the construction of various water sources is among the most common traditional construction practices, and the desire to commit a good deed, a kindness, to make a gesture of charity, to perpetuate one's name by creating such a gift, becomes a characteristic element of the worldview and the traditional culture of the Dobrogean. The construction of monumental roadside water fountains by individuals as a sebap was a practice adopted in the region of Dobrogea as part of the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the XVI century. The majority of the water fountains, some of which preserved until the present day, were built during XVII – XIX centuries. Characteristic of Dobrogea are the drinking fountains with many tubs, called caravan, which were constructed near settlements, roads and fields, whose function was to provide water for the livestock, for drinking and washing. They are characteristic with their grandeur, long stone walls, architectural and artistic design, precise decorative shapes and an extraordinary wealth of characters, symbols and images in plastic decorations – vegetative motifs, geometric shapes, animal and human images, solar symbols, rosettes, palmettes and others. Typical for the architectural landscape of the towns and villages in the area are the street drinking fountains, meeting the needs of the people in a particular neighborhood or of the whole village.

There was no traveller at that time who passed through Dobrogea and was not impressed by the plain's white stone eyes. From Evliya Chelebi who visited Hadzhioglu Pazardzhik – today’s Dobrich, in the middle of the ХVII century, we learn that the town was "famous for its aridity and its inhabitants drank bitter well water." Perhaps that is when the first 9 water fountains were built by one of the local benefactors who brought "the sweet water into the town." "Water flowed from many fountains so that anyone could drink the nectarean water ..." – says one of the oldest Turkish epigraphic monuments from 1665. For the Dobrogeans the definition "sweet water" means drinkable water.

The Slovenian Rodzhier Boshkovich, who passed through Dobrogea in 1762, notes the existence of a large and interesting in its architecture water fountain, located on the main road to Constanta. Some researchers suggest that this is the so-called Karalezka fountain /the village of Karalez, today's Tsarevets/, located today in the region of the village of Stefan Karadzha, for which the writer Yordan Yovkov, who glorified Dobrogea, wrote one of the most beautiful and poetic descriptions and made it one of the most famous fountains in the region.
“What a fountain and what a place! Nineteen stone tubs, cobblestone in front, like the court of an inn, three spouts that babble and pour cold and clear as a tear water. And all around the field is faded, the earth is dry and cracked, and the heat is like in a desert. Flocks and people come, and as they approach the fountain, their eyes burn from stuffiness and heat. On both sides of the fountain there is a white road and anyone who passes by it, either going somewhere, or returning from somewhere, pulls to the fountain to drink water. Although rarely someone will admit it, deep inside everyone is grateful to God and praises those who made this fountain and whose names the three spouts seem to be whispering forever."
Relying on local oral tradition, the author connects the building with the fountain with the sebap of Murad Bey from Surnino – a person whose existence is not proven by historical facts.
A true model of the interrelationship and complementarity of the Christian and Muslim traditions is the Big water fountain in the village of Zheglartsi. The fine inscription on a marble plaque is in Arabic, and the dating is according to the Christian system of chronology, as in the text alongside stand the names of Ibrahim Aga and St. George:
„Everything is derived from water. This fountain, fruit of true diligence, was built by a man, possessing true virtues, a source of water, a gift of grace from the beneficent deed of the benefactor Ibrahim Aga – a Turkish officer of the retinue of the Grand Vizier. He built and revitalized this holy place. The water was in the hands of St. George, if the water of this spring, the water of all life was not sought in the vicinity. Do not waste a single drop of his water!" 
A legend associated with this fountain, says that Dzhidzhi Bashi, the Turkish governor in the village, had a beautiful daughter. He was about to marry his daughter to a rich Turkish officer from Silistra and had given a lot of money to prepare her maidenly dowry. But a misfortune happened. The girl was in love with another man, a poor boy from the village, and she was so grief-stricken that she fell ill and died. The governor understood his injustice, sold the prepared dowry, and with the money he built as a benevolent deed a stone fountain – white and beautiful like his only daughter.

Each fountain has its own history. According to another legend, the name of the "Damned fountain" in the town of Kavarna is associated with the tragic love between a beautiful girl and a young shepherd, who were burnt alive in the furnace of the "hammam" / old bathroom / located in close proximity, by an order of the Sultan. Widely spread are the legends of the "embedding" of an eminent, beautiful girl – the stone "wants a soul" in order to "harden" and resist the power of the elements and the vagaries of the weather. There are also water sources related to specific historical events. For example the water fountain in the village of Kaynardzha became known after the signing of the Kyuchukkaynardzha peace treaty between Russia and Turkey in 1774, as the inscription perpetuates this event.
        The Damned fountain, XVIII century                    The fountain in the village of Pop Gruevo 1797
Particularly important is the role of water and water sources in the ritual system. According to folk beliefs the purifying, magical power of water brings health, fertility and well-being to people, it binds man to his home and family. Not surprisingly, the first ritual after the wedding is when the young bride goes to the water fountain to bring water. And with the first going to the fountain to bring water, the grown-up girl shows that she has already entered the premarital age. Bathing and pouring with water is a compulsory ritual on St. Yordan’s Day (Epiphany), St. Ivan's Day (St. Yoan the Baptist), Grandmother’s Day (Midwife’s Day). Special magical power has the "silent" water brought home in complete silence. It is used in the kneading of the ritual bread for the holidays, when predicting the future for the unmarried ones on New Year's Day and Midsummer. On St. George's Day everyone rolls in the dewy grass in order to be healthy. The spring water sources and their particularly important role in the life of every village are closely connected with the respect for the water and the belief in its miraculous power. The water fountain is a place where people socialize, where lovers meet and exchange bunches of flowers as a sign of love and faithfulness; it is the center around which the people gather and celebrate family, calendar and labour holidays. Almost no celebration takes place away from the water. The water source and the area around it became one of the most important centers for spiritual communication based on traditional values and the water fountains preserved today give a unique image of the Dobrogea settlements. Although the vast majority of these fountains are no longer active, the white stone symbols of the plane continue to impress with their beautiful combination of monumental architectural composition, original stone reliefs and exquisite plastic decoration. Intertwining together daily, religious and spiritual needs, they are one of the most valuable historical, epigraphic and architectural monuments, magnificent evidence of the skillful craftsmanship of the masters and the keen spirit of the population in this region. Today, despite having lost their traditional role, the white stone water fountains built during the centuries continue to remind us of the everlasting Bulgarian traditions and they carry the message of our ancestors for wisdom, hope and kindness.

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