Nestled at the feet of the Balkan Range in the beautiful valley carved out by the Yantra River, Gabrovo, Bulgaria is a pretty town with an abundance of traditional Revival architecture. It has been dubbed with many nicknames including the capital of humour and satire, Bulgaria’s Manchester and the longest town, which it is stretching 25 km along the Yantra, yet only being 1 km wide in places.
Located in North Central Bulgaria, Gaborovo is 165 km away from the capital, which is home to the nearest international airport, although the one at Bourgas, around 185 miles away is also accessible.Gabrovo is situated close to some of the country’s bigger town and there are frequent bus links. Stara Zagoro lies 56 km away, Veliko Tarnovo 36 km and Sliven at a distance of 85 km .
A Dip Back in Time
Civilisation dates back to Neolithic times in this area, but it wasn’t until the 12th century when neighbouring Veliko Tarnovo became the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire that the town really flourished.The town became a key centre for craft work and trade – its location close to the Balkan passes as well as the new capital helped.Legend has it that a young man called Racho, a blacksmith by trade, founded the town and gave it its name because a hornbeam grew next to the fireplace he used for his work. In Bulgarian Gabar translates as hornbeam. In medieval times, the town consisted of a hundred houses, however once the Ottoman Turks took over in the 14th century, the population swelled fuelled by Bulgarians fleeing from the capital and neighbouring fortress. Before long it had become a well developed town in terms of its economic and cultural advances. Rich tradesmen invested heavily in the town’s planning and a secular, grammar school was opened in 1835. During this century Gabrovo developed as a key industrial centre with many factories and connections to the stock exchange.
Famed for its humour and satire, it is no surprise that the town has much in the way of entertainment with two theatres; the Racho Stoyanov Drama Theatre and the Puppet Theatre, a cinema, and the unique House of Humour and Satire, which houses exhibitions of local humour and art in the form of cartoons, photographs, paintings, sculptures, and verbal humour. The House is divided into a museum and an art gallery and here you will see plenty of evidence as to why this is the international capital of humour and satire including plenty of references t the city’s motto, “The world lasts because it laughs".
There are several other museums in the town like the Museum of Education at the 19th century grammar school, which is still in existence and the History Museum and even a Planetarium, but perhaps the most fascinating site is the Etar Architectural Ethnographic Complex, which is more of an open air museum displaying splendid wooden Revival homes – the most amazing of which is the Saakov House with its 21 windows. There is also a classic Revival clock tower and many displays of the crafts in existence at the time like wood carving, pottery making, treating furs, coppersmiths and cutlery makers.This wonderful park is located 8 km outside of the town but it should be included on any itinerary because this is the real Gabrovo of old. The complex has plenty of places to eat shop and relax and there is also a three star hotel on the site. During some of the main festivals and public holidays like Easter, traditional celebrations are held in the park.
The town has five churches the most notorious of which are the ruins of the 13th century St Petka church, which was burned to the ground during the 1798 Kardzhali invasion. The 19th century church dedicated to St Joan the Precursor is a classic Revival style church with some amazing iconostasis. Another must see is the 19th century Baev's Bridge, which has an interesting plaque written in Arabic and Bulgarian, which reads, "The present has been built up by the mercy of His Majesty the Sultan Abdul Medzhida, for whom we pray for health and many years. Amen. 1855"
Out of Town
The museum village of Bozhentsi, 15 km from Gabrovo also offers plenty of evidence of the Revival culture. It was declared an architectural reserve by the Bulgarian government in 1964 and was also made a UNESCO cultural monument. These preservation orders and the ban on construction have kept the village intact. The architecture in this area is distinguished by the numerous balconies, stone roof tiles, corner fireplaces and ornate wood carvings on the ceilings. To add to this quaint ‘olde worlde’ feel the streets are paved with cobblestones.
The nearby Dryanovo Monastery lies in the Andarka River Valley and is a fully functioning monastery, which was established in the 12th century. It is dedicated to the Archangel Michael and was raised to the ground twice during the Ottoman reign. The present site was restored in 1845 and is known to have played a leading role in the April Uprising in 1876. Another famous monastery in this area is the Sokolski Monastery, which was established in 1833 by Yosif Sokolski and is now classed as one of the country’s heritage sites. It is decorated with some impressive religious frescoes, one of which depicting Mary and Jesus is said to have miraculous powers. The courtyard also contains a beautiful fountain with eight taps. This monastery also took a key role in the April Uprising and during the Liberation it was a hospital.
The mountain resort of Uzana at the foot of the Ispolin peak is a great place for recreation with plenty of hiking paths, caves and rocks and for winter visitors, ski runs. It is located in a large meadow surrounded by woodland at an altitude of around 1,220 m. The area contains rare fauna and flora some of which is contained in Bulgaria’s ‘Red Book of Endangered Species.’
Pictures courtesy of www.ImagesFromBulgaria.com