Sunday, November 29, 2009

Survey on the image of Bulgaria abroad

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Hidden Treasure - The Old Mosque (Eski Djamia) in Stara Zagora

Normally as hidden treasures we understand something small, that was buried and hidden from invaders, thieves etc. In this case, the architectural and artistic treasure of the 600-year old mosque is hidden because of political reasons: the place is not “politically correct”.

Situated in the dead center of Stara Zagora downtown, next to the biggest department store, only two blocs away from the City Hall and a block away from the Regional Museum of History, the prominent structure of the Old Mosque hardly qualifies as hidden. All of us who were born and raised in Stara Zagora had seen the mosque thousands of times. And yet, we didn’t know anything about it. Falling into ruins, it was just another old building.

Recent archaeological discoveries inside of the mosque and the photographs of Georgi Illiev (from the Regional Museum of History, Stara Zagora) and Ivan Marinov (Ph.D. student in archaeology), made me curious about the building, and especially about its interior. After many times asking permission to see the interior (and denied, because falling objects may be dangerous for me), finally, this year my guests from the USA and I were allowed to enter into the mosque and see its interior. I was stunned in disbelief - how didn’t I see this beauty before? What is the story behind?

The Eski Djamia


It was inaugurated in September 1409, as an inscription in the prayer’s vault tells us. That was the time of the Ottoman Interregnum, when the son of Bayazid I (“The Thunderbolt”), Suleyman Çelebi, or Emir Süleyman (b. 1377 – d. 17 February 1411) ruled over Thrace, Bulgaria and Greece. In that time, the capital of the Ottoman Empire was still in Edirne (Hadrianopolis, Thrace) and very close to Stara Zagora. Which explains the magnificent construction of the mosque.

Documents suggest that in spite of its name, the mosque was not the oldest mosque in the city – prior to it, there was another one, which is not discovered yet.

The mosque was built on a sacred place, occupied previously by a Thracian sanctuary (a heron) dedicated to the Thracian Horseman, the most prominent hero in the Thracian civilization. A Bulgarian Medieval Church from the 10thC. A.D. was discovered in the recent archaeological digs below the floor of the prayer salon of the mosque. The chu

rch was built following a simple architectural one-nave plan and the foundation of the church was 30 cm (1 foot) below the base of the mosque. Next to the church were discovered 30 graves, which suggests a Christian necropolis or burial ground for the noblest Christians of the city (then called Irinopolis) was situated there.

Below the eastern wall of the mosque was discovered a ritual pit from the Early Iron Age (1000 years BC). The ceramic kilns, discovered during the 2001-04 excavations, date from the 5th and 6th C. A.D. The long history of the sacred place, where the mosque is located, has layers of civilization from 1000 years before the common era to 19th century.

Between 2001 and 2004, the archaeologists discovered a stelae with Greek inscription from the times of the Roman Emperor Gallienus (Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus, c.218-268), which was covered by plaster around 1882, during the second major reconstruction of the mosque.

The Eski Djamia was mentioned in the travel memoirs of Evliya Çelebi, a famous Ottoman traveler from the 17th century (

In modern day Stara Zagora, Eski Djamia is the only building to survive the burning of the city by the Turkish Army in the Russian-Turkish Liberation War. Francis Vinton Greene, in his book “The campaign in Bulgaria, 1877-1878” describes the atrocities of the Suleyman Pasha armies during the war: “Suleiman Pasha had already burned the large town of Eski- Zagra to the ground, and had begun in the valley of the Maritza a wholesale system of hanging at the street corners every Bulgarian who had assisted (as guide, etc.) Gourko's troops during their stay south of the Balkans.” Another writer explains why Stara Zagora is completely new city (in architecture): “The town is almost entirely new, as the old town was burnt by the bashi-bazooks, who made pyramids of the heads of the Christian inhabitants.” (The Living age‎ by Eliakim Littell, Robert S. Littell – 1894).


The building consists of a square prayer hall and open entrance, covered by three small domes. From the entrance, the visitor proceeds to a gallery on the northern side of the mosque from which follows the prayer hall. A cupola shaped dome with 20 sides covers the prayer hall. The minaret of the mosque existed until 1987, when it was destroyed on purpose because of danger of collapse. Three rows of windows - the ones on the cupola dome and two lines of windows on the walls, give natural light to the prayer hall.

From archaeological data it is known that the Eski Djamia went through several reconstructions and improvements during the Ottoman history of Stara Zagora (Eski Zagra was the Turkish name for the city).

The first big reconstruction of the mosque was performed in the middle of the 19th century, just after a fire, which destroyed the adjoined bazaar in 1856. During this reconstruction, the floor level was raised by about 30 centimeters and covered with square tiles.

The northern gallery dates from the same period, as well as the frescoes, which decorate the walls, the dome and the second row of windows.

The second big renovation and the re-sanctification of the mosque dates from 1882. During this reconstruction, the arched spaces were filled and two spaced were formed in the main building.

Thanks to the great architecture of the building, the Eski Djamia is declared as national monument of culture in 1927. In 1979 it is declared as national monument of architecture.

Wall paintings, frescoes and calligraphy

The majority of the wall paintings (frescoes and Islamic calligraphy) date from the first reconstruction in 1856. The picturesque baroque style and the elegance of the calligraphy are the reason behind declaring them separately as a national monument.


During the period immediately after the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Turkish Empire, many of the mosques and examples of Ottoman architecture and arts were destroyed. The reason was the anger and hatred of the Bulgarian people against 500 years of torture, genocide, and constant attempts for destruction of the Bulgarian nation by the oppressors. Eski Djamia was spared from this campaign, and now represents the only building remaining in Stara Zagora from the 15th century.

The artistic and architectural importance of the mosque are recognized by both scientists and governments. The recent archaeological discoveries are extremely valuable because they prove the continuance of the sacred place during several époques of the human history hidden below the building.

Current situation

Several plans for preservation and restoration of the mosque were carried out with different success during the past 30 years. The mosque is still in decay and under great danger of destroying the wall paintings and the interior structure. A recent plan for complete restoration of Eski Djamia was proposed, with the idea of that the place should become a “Museum of the Religions and Faiths”. Unfortunately, the misinformed citizens of Stara Zagora strongly oppose the restoration of the mosque, fearing that it can become an active Mosque. Of course, this is not possible, viewing the status of the Eski Djamia as national monument of culture. Still this movement against the Islamic culture is an obstacle for financing and preserving the art and architecture of the mosque.

© 2009 Rossitza Ohridska-Olson – text, photography (all except 1,2,3) & English version.

© 2009 Regional Museum of History, Stara Zagora - research and photographs 1,2,3.

Acknowledgments: Enormous thanks for the help of Dimitar Yankov, Vanya Tzenkova and Georgi Iliev from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History for the information provided.

Used sources:

Yankov, D. Eski Djamia, Istoricheska Spravka (in Bulgarian)

The campaign in Bulgaria, 1877-1878, By Francis Vinton Greene, 1894

Slideshow of my pictures of the mosque at

Saturday, August 15, 2009

La tumba Tracia de Alexandrovo

Dedicado a la memoria del Dr. Kitov, el descubridor de la Tumba Tracia de Alexandrovo.

El 15 de Mayo 2009 han inaugurado la copia de la tumba de Alexandrovo, cerca de Haskovo, Bulgaria. La tumba original es del siglo 4 A.C. y representa unos de los más importantes ejemplos de pintura antigua en esta parte del mundo. Descubierta por el arqueólogo doctor Kitov en el año 2000, la tumba original es en un estado de emergencia. Los frescos se callen por la gran humedad, a pesar de los esfuerzos de conservación. Como la tumba Thracia de Kaznluk, el original no se podrá visitar en el futuro inmediato hasta una conservación muy cara no tenga lugar.

La copia está colocada en el museo del Arte de los Rhodopes del Este, construido con la ayuda del gobierno Japonés. En el museo se ven las fotos de los monumentos mas importantes de la civilización Thracia en la region de los Rhodopes del Este, así como los objetos hallados en la Tumba de Alexandrovo. La copia de la tumba esta hecha de materiales similares al original. Las dimensiones, frescos y arquitectura son exactamente iguales al original.

La tumba original (escrito basado sobre materiales publicados por el Ministerio de la Cultura de Bulgaria)


La Tumba Alexandrovo se sienta en la base de una pequeña colina, situada en una llanura cerca del río Maritsa, en el sureste de Bulgaria. Se encuentra a 100 metros al sur oeste de la aldea de Alexandrovo, 18 km del centro regional de Haskovo. La carretera internacional que conecta Europa con Turquía pasa el sitio a una distancia de 2 km.

La tumba fue construida a nivel del suelo y luego se cubre con un cono en forma de montículo. El túmulo está hecho de tierra, que está ahora bien compactado. Toda la tumba fue construida a partir de grandes bloques de piedra tallados que parecen ser de piedra caliza suave. El espacio protegido abarca un total de 43,4 hectáreas, el 4,8 de los cuales rodean el tumba y estrictamente protegida, y 39,1 hectáreas tienen la protección del paisaje.

El túmulo (montículo de tierra) es de 15 metros de altura, y unos 60 - 70 metros de diámetro. Es parcialmente cubierto con numerosos árboles y arbustos, así como marcados de trincheras de ladrones desde la antigüedad hasta la más reciente de 2000, la fecha del descubrimiento de la tumba por los arqueólogos.

La tumba propia se encuentra en el antiguo nivel del suelo, en la parte oriental del túmulo. Consiste en un largo pasillo de 10 metros (dromos), que conduce a una antesala pequeño rectángular de medida 1,2 x 1,85 metros, lo que a su vez se abre en una cámara circular más grande con un techo abovedado. Las tres cámaras son construidas de grandes bloques tallados de piedras locales calizosas. El mortero de barro se utilizó entre los bloques para llenar los vacíos causados por irregularidades en el corte de la piedra. A pesar de ello se ve que la precisión con que fueron cortadas la piedras.


Mortero / yeso - Las dos cámaras y una porción del corredor estaban cubiertos con dos capas de cal a base de morteros (capa inferior de aproximadamente 5 mm de espesor, capa superior aproximadamente 2 mm de grosor). Las superficies de los muros de piedra fueron cubiertos primero de un acabado rugoso, y después pintadas.

Frescos - En el pasillo, la mayoría, si no todas, las superficies de las paredes interiores eran cubiertas con escenas pintadas. Hoy en día, han sobrevivido sólo las escenas siguientes:
El extremo occidental del pasillo, una escena representando un jinete en combate contra un guerrero a pie. Las secciones más bajas están pintadas a las losas de mármol con rastros de bandas decorativas. La parte occidental de la luneta pequeña de la antecámara, representa otra imagen de un jinete combatiendo una figura de pie, y de nuevo la parte inferior son pintadas formas geométricas y vegetales.

En la cámara principal los colores son los mas brillantes (rojo, negro, blanco y amarillo), y los decorados contienen varios frisos con escenas. El friso inferior está muy dañado y sólo cuatro figuras humanas se han preservado que representan una escena de fiesta funeraria, dedicada a un héroe. El friso superior es de 0,38 m de ancho y contiene las imágenes más importantes en la tumba. Se componen de cuatro escenas de caza, entre ellas cuatro jinetes, cuatro cazadores de ciervos y jabalíes, quien, por su parte, son perseguidos por nueve perros.


La tumba Tracia de Alexandrovo es un monumento cultural de gran importancia nacional e internacional. La tumba contiene preciosos y únicos frescos, con colores brillantes cuales se han conservado asombrosamente casi 2 500 años. Las imágenes son de gran interés para los estudiosos del mundo clásico no sólo por su mérito artístico, pero porque revelan una nueva información sobre los estilos de vestir, armas, sistemas sociales, y las creencias religiosas de la gente que vivió en Tracia en breve antes de la conquista del territorio por Alejandro Magno y su padre Felipe. Cuando se comparan con otras tumbas conocidas que contienen pinturas en la Tracia (como el mundial de la UNESCO patrimonio pintadas en la tumba Kazanluk), así como en Anatolia, Macedonia y Grecia, los frescos pueden contribuir a nuestra comprensión de las influencias culturales y otras conexiones entre los diferentes regiones, así como la evolución del ritual funerario y sus estilos de imágenes.
© 2009 Rossitza Ohridska-Olson - texto, fotografias y version Espanola

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Thracian Tomb of Alexandrovo

By Rossitza Ohridska-Olson
Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Kitov, the dicoverer of the tomb, and great friend.
One of the most striking examples of Thracian art and architecture is the Alexandrovo Tomb in Bulgaria, in Haskovo region. It was discovered in December 2000 by Dr. Georgi Kitov (Георги Китов), one of Bulgaria’s most prominent archaeologists.

The Alexandrovo tomb, as a combination of magnificent architectural exemplar of the domed Thracian tombs and its superb frescoes place it in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List almost immediately after its discovery.


The Thracian Tomb of Alexandrovo is situated only few miles south-east from the Haskovo, in Southern Bulgaria and only 1 mile from the international road linking Western Europe to Istanbul. From Turkey, it can be accessed from the road lining Edirne with Svilengrad/Haskovo.


The tomb was built by the middle IV century B.C.E. The frescoes can be dated as second half of IV century B.C.E.


The Alexandrovo Thracian Tomb was hidden under a mound of 60 m (around 200 ft) diameter and around 15 m (50 ft) high. Its dromos (“road” in Greek, depicting a long corridor for access to the Tomb) was 9 m (30 ft) long, and its opening was facing East. The entire dromos was covered with stone plates. Following the dromos, the visitor enters in a rectangular antechamber of 1,85 m by 1,20 m (6 by 4 ft). which is richly decorated with polished frescoes. The art continues in the main chamber, which is a round domed chamber with diameter of 3,30 m (11 ft) and 3,30 m (11 ft) height.

The stone plates continue in the low parts of the antechamber and main chamber. The The vault arch of the antechamber and the dome of the main chamber have artificial vault created to preserve the proportions.


Above the stone plates the entire Alexandrovo tomb was covered by “Stucco Lustro”, - a double layered plaster covering, later polished to perfection. That is valid for both monochrome zones and the scene painted ones. In the antiquity, all the interior of the Alexandrovo Thracian Tomb was covered by paintings. Now only the ones of the antechamber are preserved partially and completely – these in the main chamber.

The most preserved frescoes in the main chamber are composed by a geometric freeze, followed upwards by four groups of hunt scenes. The hunting scenes are of astonishing realism, dynamic and of rich colors, depicting boar, deers, dogs, horses and horsemen, during hunting.

The tomb Thrace de Alexandrovo is a cultural monument of great national and international importance. Containing one of the best examples of unique frescoes with brilliant colors, preserved for more than 2 500 years, the Thracian Tomb of Alexandrovo represents a great interest for classical studies of the Antiquity. The images depicted on the frescoes not only represent the artistic achievements of the Thracians, but they also reveal information on clothing styles, armament, the social system and the believes and rites of this lost civilization. They also show the religious and spiritual system of the people who lived in Thrace before the conquist of these lands by Alexander the Great and his father. The frescoes of the Alexandrovo Tomb also represent a good point for comparison between similar artistic expressions from other parts of Thrace (The Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk, UNESCO World Heritage Site), as well as in other parts of the Mediterranean world, such as in Anatolia, Macedonia and Greece. Studying these comparisons will serve as a departing point of understanding the cultural influences and the cultural transfer between these regions, as well as the evolution of the funeral rites and imagery.

The Copy of the Alexandrovo Thracian Tomb

In May 2009 was inaugurated the Museum of the Thracian Civilization of the East Rhodopes, which hosts an exact copy of the Thracian Tomb of Alexandrovo.

The museum also displays objects which were found in the tomb, as well as photos, multimedia and other information on the presence and artistic expression of the Thracians in this region of Bulgaria.

The photos of this blogposts are made from the copy. The original tomb is closed for visits, due to the fragile state of the frescoes.

© Rossitza Ohridska-Olson - text, photography