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Exploring Shumen

At first sight Shumen looks no more than a mass of concrete ex Communist buildings, however the town has much in the way of historical sites. Within the city there are several important cultural institutions including a theatre, philharmonic orchestra, a large library, art galleries and a splendid historical museum with many modern-day exhibitions.

There are some extremely well-preserved architectural monuments like Bezistena, the oldest building in Shumen and the Dobri Voynikov People's Cultural Centre, which was built in 1898 by a French architect, as well as the House of the Kutsarovi brothers, which is a classic example of Bulgarian Revival architecture. The Kurshun Cheshma is rather unique in that it was built in 1774 from limestone rocks. It’s richly decorated façade was covered with ugly slabs until quite recently.

The centre of town holds much to see and do. The 18th century city clock runs on a manual mechanism and is ornately decorated with Turkish script. The Elena Karamihailova Art Gallery founded in 1956 has a permanent exhibition of over 70 works whilst the Gallery of Society of Shumen Artists houses exhibitions of local and visiting artists.

Religious Sites

Shumen is rich in religious sites; the Armenian Saint Asvizazin Church often called Saint Bogoroditsa is well worth a look. It was built in 1834 by Armenian refugees. The original design was modified somewhat in 2001 when a new bell tower was added. The courtyard has some interesting marble gravestones belonging to some of the wealthy 18th and 19th century Armenian donors. The Bulgarian Orthodox Holy Three Saints Cathedral and Holy Ascension Basilica are also well worth visiting as is the Saint Vuznesenie Church, which was built during 1829. Inside there are some amazing mural paintings dating back to 933, a gold fabric shroud with pearls from 1776 and an icon of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. Some important historical figures are buried in the church’s temple - among them are two heroes of the Renaissance period, Dimitar Muruzi 1766-1812 and Valerian Grigorievich Madatov 1782-1829. Perhaps Shumen’s most famous religious site is the Tombul Mosque, the largest of its kind in Bulgaria. The mosque was built between during the 18th century in what was originally the town centre. As the town has developed and grown in size it now lies in the south western part of Shumen. The mosque has a spectacular spherical dome, 25 m in height and a 40 m high minaret. It also consists of a main prayer hall, a yard and a twelve-room extension. The interior is crammed full of murals of geometric figures and vegetable life along with lots of Arabic inscriptions from the Koran.

Museums

Shumen’s Regional History Museum houses over 150,000 exhibits in eight halls covering Shumen’s rich history from antiquity to the end of the 19th century. Amongst the rich collection of exhibits, there is a large assortment of icons as well as coins, stamps and Thracian tombs from the 4th century. Shumen also has many living museums; the Panayot Volov House Museum houses exhibits from the life and times of one of Bulgaria’s notable revolutionaries from the April Uprising, Panayot Volov. The Dobri Voynikov House Museum used to be the home of the writer Dobri Voynikov. It is another architectural monument from the Renaissance period. Inside this living museum there are letters, photographs and exhibits from Dobri Voynikov’s life. The Pancho Bladigerov Museum Complex focuses on the life of Pancho Bladigerov, one of the country’s most prominent fiction authors. The house contains exhibits from the early part of the 20th century as well as musical exhibits from this time – many concerts are staged in the complex both in the large hall and in the courtyard. The Layosh Koshut House Museum is another monument of Renaissance architecture with a three tier courtyard and high walls. This house belonged to Shumen businessman and once Mayor Dimitraki Hadjipanev. The main significance of this house is that Hadjipanev gave refuge to the leader of the Hungarian revolution Layosh Koshut. The house shows how a rich Bulgarian businessman lived as well as providing interesting documentary evidence about the Hungarian revolution.

On the Outskirts of the Town

Perhaps the most famous historic site in the area is the renowned Madara Horseman, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an ancient bas-relief that features on the back of the Stotinki coins and has been chosen as the country’s national symbol. The relief is believed to have been carved into the bare rock in the 8th century; some scholars believe it to be even older. Over time the relief has been attacked by the elements but you can still make out a faint outline of a horseback rider that some believe to be the nameless rider god of the Thracians, trampling a lion. A greyhound tails him. In one hand, he holds the reins to control his horse and in the other he holds a goblet of wine. Next to this faint yet impressive rock carving, there is an inscription, which records a debt owed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II to Bulgar leader Khan Tervel.

The area around the Shumen Plateau is also home to some interesting caves including the Golyamata Peshtera cave located beneath the giant rock overhang, which forms the base of a 14th century rock monastery, although there is little left to see of it. Many pieces of ancient pottery, flints and bones have been found here.

Undoubtedly one of the town’s most impressive sites is the Monument to 1,300 Years of Bulgaria, which lies on top of the Shumen Plateau. From the roadside it looks no more than another concrete carbuncle, however it holds many surprises including the 1,300 steps that lead up to it. The monument depicts the history of Bulgaria from its creation to the present day and is regarded as the only one of its type in the world. It was built solely from concrete in 1981 and is dedicated to the Founders of the Bulgarian State. It has a Cubist touch to it, yet the sculptures of revolutionary fighters, monks, Khans and heroines are fantastic. Within the monument there is an impressive replica of the Horseman of Madara, which many find is better than the real thing.

The 5th century Shumen Fortress on the Shumen Plateau has been partially restored since its devastation by the Turks in 1444 and is a prime example of medieval Bulgarian architecture. It lies on top of the Shumen Plateau and can only be accessed by a major hike to the top via a rough-hewn path. The views from here are spectacular, but it is not for those with a fear for heights or a desire for safety as there are no barriers between you and the vertical drop. The fortress is one of the most explored archaeological sites in the country and is a great example of life in the second Bulgarian Kingdom.

Nearby Pliska was once the capital of the first Bulgarian state established by Khan Asparouh. It is home to an archaeological museum, which houses many of the archaeological exhibits found in the area as well as displays focusing on the life within the villages during the 7th to 10th centuries. Shumen Municipality is also home to another former Bulgarian capital, Veliko Preslav. This town was the capital of the Bulgarian state from 893 to 972. Today, the town has a museum, which displays masterpieces from the Bulgarian Golden age. There is some wonderful Preslavian gold including a golden stamp collection and many authentic documents from the 9th to 11th centuries. There have been many interesting archaeological finds in the Shumen area; one recent treasure is the discovery of a Thracian tomb complex near the village of Ivanski. The complex consists of two tombs dating back to the 4th century B.C.


The village of Koniovec is home to Bulgaria’s oldest stud breeding farm. The Kabiuk Stud Farm was established in 1864. Today the farm has a museum dedicated to horses. It is also possible to tour the grounds in a with hansom carriage.