Low blue house with tiled roof
Architecture,  Bulgaria,  History,  Monday walks

Koprivshtitsa: a Bulgarian time capsule

Koprivshtitsa is no ordinary town but rather a time capsule. Several of its houses are associated with significant players in the 1876 April Uprising against Ottoman rule. The uprising failed, but a fire had been ignited. The brutalities committed by the Turks while suppressing it led to widespread condemnation across Europe which was the trigger for the Russo-Turkish War. This ended in Turkish defeat. Thus the April Uprising can be regarded as having eventually achieved its original aim, the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.

Today all the buildings in the centre of the town together constitute a museum. It was declared as such in 1952 in order to preserve and promote the town’s cultural and historical heritage. Since 1971 it has been protected as a national architectural and historical reservation, with a total of 388 architectural, historical, artistic, and ethnographic monuments.

Large wooden house
Typical Bulgarian National Revival-style house in Koprivshtitsa

There are various accounts of the founding of the town. However all agree that it dates back to the late 14th century. Back then the houses would have been built mainly of wood and between 1793 to 1819, Koprivshtitsa suffered from destructive fires on three occasions. The third time the town was almost completely destroyed. It was after that the town that we see today was laid out, perhaps surprisingly still with many largely wooden houses.

Visiting Koprivshtitsa

I shared one photo from here in a recent post, In the mood, and promised in the conversation that followed to tell its full story. I went on a walking tour here with some Virtual Tourist friends which introduced us to a lot of the history associated with this small town. It should make for an interesting Monday Walk. On the way we will learn more about the April Uprising and why it started here. We will also visit some beautiful houses and a lovely church!

The Dimcho Debelyanov house

The first house we visited was built in 1830. It is the former home of the Bulgarian poet Dimcho Debelyanov who was killed in Greece in WW1. Our guide Elena told us that while he did write some war poems (I asked, thinking he might be a Bulgarian equivalent of our own Wilfred Owen or Rupert Brooke), he was best known for his sad love poetry.

Wooden house, its ground floor painted blue, with a tiled roof
The Dimcho Debelyanov house

Inside the Dimcho Debelyanov house

The displays inside would have been more interesting had the signs been in English. But luckily we had Elena to point out the most interesting photos etc. However I would have liked to have been able to read one or two of the poems displayed on the walls, to give some context. I have since found English translations online. I have to say that I find them rather flowery compared to the English poets of that time, but see what you think: Dimcho Debelyanov.

Debelyanov was buried in Greece, near where he fell, but his remains were later removed to the graveyard here in Koprivshtitsa. In the garden of his house is a copy of the statue that Ivan Lazarov designed for that grave. Elena told us that it represents motherhood, and all mothers waiting for their son to return from the war.

Statue of Motherhood by Ivan Lazarov

The Church of the Assumption

From here we went to one of the two churches in the town, the older of the two. It is dedicated to The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and was built in 1817 on the site of an older church.

Low vivid blue church
The Church of the Assumption

I chose to pay the required five leva to take photos inside, which was worth it as the light was very atmospheric albeit difficult for photography. The real bonus came when my photo permit allowed me to video the priest who kindly sang an Orthodox chant for us. It really added to the atmosphere!

In the Church of the Assumption

The church of course has lots of icons. Elena pointed out several that were the work of a famous painter, Zaharij Zograf, including one of the Assumption and another of St George, which date from 1837/38.

The Todor Kableshkov house

This is the birthplace of Todor Kableshkov, who was the head of the local revolutionary committee in Koprivshtitsa and led a band of rebels during the uprising. It was his arrest in fact that triggered its start. It is said that he killed a policeman and the local Ottoman governor. He then used the governor’s blood instead of ink to sign the so-called Bloody Letter. This letter proclaimed to the other revolutionary committees that the uprising had begun.

After the uprising was supressed Kableshkov was captured and later tortured in prison. He eventually committed suicide while in police custody at the age of just 25.

Large painted wooden house with shutters
The Todor Kableshkov house

Inside the Todor Kableshkov house

Elena’s talk focused mainly on the story of Kableshkov. But I spotted a sign, helpfully in English as well as Bulgarian, which told me more about the architecture:

The Kableshkov House was built in 1845 by Koprivshtitsa master Ghentcho Mladenov. With its three symmetrical façades, a beautiful yoke-shaped pediment and a glazed kiosk, it is a veritable pearl of the Bulgarian genius of architecture that flourished during the National Revival era. Wood-carving on closet doors, room doors and ceilings represents the decoration conveying the main ideas and trends of that time.

Lyutova house museum

This attractive house was built in 1854 by an influential Koprivshtitsa tax collector Stefan Topalov. Then in 1906 it was sold to a wealthy merchant, Petko Lyutov. Hence it is sometimes known as the Lyutova house and sometimes the Topalova house.

Large wooden house painted blue with ornate portico
The Lyutova house
Arched roof with panel below it dated 1854
Above the door

Today this house serves as an ethnographic museum. There was a small fee of one lev to take photos, which I happily paid.

The museum has several rooms restored and decorated in the style of the mid 19th century when the house was built. There are some lovely delicate murals on some of the walls and around the edge of the beautiful wooden ceiling of the central hall.

Inside the Lyutova house

Displays included lots of old photos, costumes and some intricate lace in a local style known as keneta. Elena explained that this was sewn (rather than being made in traditional lace-making fashion) and incorporated horsehair to give it strength.

Sewn lace or keneta on display

The Lyuben Karavelov house

The last house we visited was actually three structures in a single group. It had a separate winter house, summer house and a third housing the family business, making the famous Koprivshtitsa sausages. The oldest part is the yellow winter house, built in 1810. The sausage-making part was added in 1820 and the summer house, with its first-floor open terrace for semi outdoor living, in 1836.

Large wooden house, partly painted
The summer house with open terrace
Yellow house with wooden outbuilding
My friends Karl and Teresa listening to Elena. The winter house is on the left and sausage-making part on the right

This was the birthplace of two important Koprivshtitsa residents, the brothers Lyuben (1835-1879) and Petko (1843-1903). One was a propagandist, writer, and revolutionary; and the other served as Prime Minister, helping to build modern Bulgaria. There is a bust of Lyuben in the garden of the house.

I was tiring by now so when Elena told us that the house was primarily a museum devoted to the life and work of Petko I decided (like a number of those in our group) not to go inside but instead enjoyed relaxing and taking photos in the pretty garden.

Around town

I’ll finish with a selection of photos taken on the streets and back lanes of this picturesque town. As you will see, it may be a museum but it is also very much lived in.

I visited Koprivshtitsa in 2019


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