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The 14 Museum Towns of Bulgaria

Bulgaria boasts fourteen Museum Towns which are ‘showcases’ for houses built in the National Revival style of the 18th and 19th Century. These are towns where the past seems to come alive and are full of beauty and architectural style. It is very strange how they have come to be called ‘Museum Towns’ as this would suggest a cheerless, colourless and dull atmosphere whereas this could not be further from the truth. The towns are lively, active and inspiring places, full of life.

Arbanassi

Austere houses that resemble minor fortresses on the outside. High, solid walls and heavy gates and secret hiding-places, the houses are spacious and comfortable, richly decorated and furnished on the inside. The farm premises were housed in the ground floor made of stone. Open verandahs on the first floor typify Arbanassi style. Rooms often tiled with terracotta.

Bansko

In the old part of the town (see right) the Bansko fortified house is a masterpiece. Solidly built of stone and wood with high walls and iron-studded doors. The Pirin houses have two faces, stone facades facing the street and an open terrace overlooking the mountain and the courtyard.

Etura

Eight kms from Gabrovo, is this charming ethnographic centre where you can watch craftsmen fashion beautiful gold, silver, copper, leather and wooden items right in front of your eyes. Around this are lovely old houses, flowers on the window sills, small shops with wooden shutters and gas lanterns on the street corners. Mostly two storey buildings, the exact replicas of the homes of the old local craftsmen. The upper floors house the living area, whilst the ground floor was for workshops.

Koprivshtitsa

One of the most charming small Bulgarian towns, still preserving the atmosphere of the National Revival period, is huddled in the mountain folds 111 kms east of Sofia. No other Bulgarian museum town boasts such a large number of listed houses and monuments, most of which have been restored to their original appearance.

White stone walls, overgrown with ivy and wild geranium, fence in gardens full of flowers. Heavy, iron-studded gates hide blue, yellow and red houses with verandas, bay windows and eaves, and the spacious rooms are lit up by brightly coloured rugs and cushions, carved ceilings and cupboards, copper vessels and ceramics. The earliest houses are single storey. Specialists say that every house in Koprivshtitsa is a work of art. The houses built in the second half of the 19th century have exquisite painted facades and sunny verandahs, with carved ceilings.

Bozhentsi

An idyllic village nestling in the folds of the Balkan Range, 16 kms from the town of Gabrovo, which time seems to have lulled to sleep centuries ago. Typically here there are overhanging first floors (see left).

Houses with lavish interiors and wood panelled rooms. Beautiful carved ornaments on the ceilings, doors and cupboards.

Kovachevitsa

An architectural wonder. Amazingly tall houses set on narrow lanes. Solid and austere houses with many covered yards with large stone tiles. First floors have high ceilings. Unusually even at that time houses here had an inside toilet with sewerage! From a distance the houses look the same but with a closer look it can be seen that they are all different.

Melnik

Melnik is the smallest Bulgarian town (about 800 inhabitants), picturesquely situated amidst fantastic scenery. During the 17th - 18th c. it become a flourishing tobacco and wine-producing center, whose fame spread to many European countries.

The beautiful fortress-like houses with broad wine-cellars cut in the limestone rocks date from this period. Steep, strangely shaped sandstone rocks, lovely white houses perched on their slopes and a single street running along the river with steep paths leading to the houses perched above. Two or three storey houses with carved cupboards inside. Ornamental ceilings and double windows.


 

Nessebur

Located on a small peninsula in the Black Sea which is linked with the land only by a long and narrow isthmus.

Nessebur is best known for its old town. Beautiful architectural ensembles flank the narrow streets and heavy gates hide cosy small yards with box shrubs and fig trees. The houses have two stores with the ground floor made of stone. Wooden staircases lead to the second timbered floor with broad eaves giving shade to the windows. The centre of the houses often have a living room, the remaining rooms off this. Interiors are simple with white walls, decorative ceilings and wooden floors.

 

Old Plovdiv

During the 19th century Bulgarian master builders erected the National Revival city of Plovdiv (the Old Town) with steep cobbled lanes, lovely houses with large bay windows and slender columns, latticed eaves and heavy oak gates, quiet green yards and rippling marble fountains.

Every house here has its own style and atmosphere (see left). An architectural phenomenon, blending splendour in the houses with modest cobble streets. Symmetrical houses where the interior is dominated by a central square or oval living room. Many carved wooden ceilings and oval niches in the walls.

Shiroka Luka

A village in the valley of Shirokolushka River, 20 kms north-west of Smolyan; architectural and ethnographical reserve. Population of 910. 90 buildings are monuments of culture.

The oldest houses date back to the beginning of the 19th C. (1802, 1829). The houses built towards the middle of the 19th C. are bigger, varied in design by the introduction of overhanging bays and forthcoming protrusions. These resemble fortresses - the ground floors of economic importance are built of stone, levelled by means of wooden girdles (santrachi); topmost one will see the residential quarters - glazed, with protruding bays, white-washed and framed in wood. The roofs are stone-tiled, and the chimneys - of original multiform design. The houses developed in height because of the lack of space in the village.

Sozopol

The Bulgarian National Revival period left its own vivid marks on the appearance of this unusual town, some 30 kms south of Bourgas, fine architectural ensembles of solid wooden houses.

The unapproachable stone houses resemble fortress with secret stores and only through secret entrances one can get into them. Lanes wind along stone walls and lead right up to the shore. Sozopol’s houses preserve the spirit of their inhabitants. The solid ground floors represent security, whilst the timber faced upper floor is an expression of space. Windows have wooden shutters and vines shade the verandahs.

Tryavna

Tryavna is a town preferred by tourists for its clean mountain air and unique architecture. A good road and railroad network connects the town with all further spots of the country.

The Tryavna masters gain popularity in the field of building, woodcarving and icon painting, which they handle to perfection and transform into art. Two storey houses with open terraces, carved eaves covered with heavy stone tiles.

Veliko Turnovo

The Bulgarian National Revival times are embodied in the architecture to be found in Gurko Street and the Samovodene marketplace.

The distinct Turnovo building tradition is influenced by the terrain. Stately buildings with bay windows and garrents are built one above the other into the rocks (see right)

 

 

Zheravna

The village of Zheravna is spread over the southern slopes of two small hills. The village houses with their broad eaves peak out behind high stone walls, The majority are well preserved. All are modeled on the ‘wooden type’ house prevalent in the entire region of the Eastern Balkan Range.

A characteristic feature is that all Zheravna houses, without exception, face south - with extensive facades in the yard’s northern part, far from the street when it passes south of them, and houses turned the other way, but close to the street if it runs to the north.

The older houses are single storeyed and made entirely out of wood. Later houses, with two stories, have their ground floor built of stone. The facades have clearly horizontal lines, emphasized by the forward brought second floor and the strongly jutting out eaves.