Bethan Morris – Bulgaria report

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“It seems that the direct interpretation of collections is often dependent on the initiative of local folklore groups. It was those moments and visits like this, which brought the collections and houses we were visiting really to life. It reminded me of the way we are trying to communicate and get visitors involved within the Georgian House with our school and education visits, as well as our Living History tours, in attempts to make the House and its collection attractive and interesting through not only seeing but through hearing, tasting and interaction with guides, volunteers and costumed ‘actors’. This brings in another dimension which can be experienced, not only seen.”    Bethan Morris

Our exchange visit took place between Sunday 22nd and Sunday 29th June 2014 in Central and Southern Bulgaria. The main objective of our exchange, whilst experiencing the cultural heritage of Bulgaria, was to promote a culture of co-operation between the public and private sectors, and to furnish those taking part, such as myself, with vocational skills and experience. These skills and experiences would ultimately be disseminated on our return to Scotland and our respective work and volunteer places. The programme consisted of an 8 day, 7 nights, exchange to Bulgaria, and visiting the capital city of Sofia and Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv, and the towns of Hissarya, Tryavna, Sevlievo, and Troyan, and many smaller villages. This report records my experiences of our travels, predominantly in Central Bulgaria, and the cultural heritage, the people we met, the landscape, and a whole lot more. We took part in many activities, ranging from visits to archaeological sites and museums to participation in the local celebrations of St Enyo’s day, the patron of herbalists. The exchange was fully funded by the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ programme of the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture, promoted by ARCH, Comrie, Scotland and organised through the Devetaki Plateau Association.

This was my first visit to Bulgaria, a country I had heard lots about, but about which I knew nothing concrete. I was encouraged to visit by my fiancé, who had spent a number of months there a few years ago studying the geology. Prior to the trip, we were given full details of the places we would be visiting and some of the people we would be meeting, as well as a short introduction to the Bulgarian language in our information pack. I also met up in Glasgow beforehand with the others who would be joining me on the exchange (all a part from Tom who really couldn’t make the trip down all the way down from Orkney just for a couple of hours!) to get to know each other, discuss the trip and cover any other details and questions with Shelia. We were all from a variety of different backgrounds and had a wide range of interests and objectives in taking part in the programme. At the meeting we were encouraged to do a wee bit of research into Bulgarian history and culture, which I did via the Internet and a trusty Eyewitness Travel Guide to Bulgaria. I was particularly interested in all the Thracian archaeology, as well as checking out the different wine regions of Bulgaria!

I also had a number of learning outcomes I wished to cover in my visit. One was to develop an understanding of the cultural and political differences in Bulgaria which impact on the management of museums; I was keen to find out the political changes in Bulgaria in the past few decades had influenced the development of museums, excavation and the management of archaeological sites and the cultural and heritage tourist industry as a whole. Second, I wished to learn about community and volunteer participation in the activities of Bulgarian museums, so to compare with the British and specifically my own experiences. A further learning outcome was to learn about possible new approaches for museum management. In particular, I wished to learn about approaches to ethnography and open air museums, which had relevance to a number of National Trust for Scotland properties and events, and specifically historical re-enactments which take place at my own place of work. By comparing the culture and approaches to cultural and heritage tourism of this more remote region of Europe with that of Edinburgh’s New Town, where I work for the National Trust for Scotland, and the more traditional ways of life still active in Scotland, I was hoping to gain more knowledge and a better insight into these matters and how to apply them to my job as Senior Visitor Services Assistant at the Georgian House and the way I approach teaching Celtic and Scottish culture and history at the University of Edinburgh. One of my key responsibilities in both these roles is to research and deliver learning programmes and experiences for students at the University and for all ages, backgrounds and abilities amongst our visitors to the Georgian House. My roles require me to excite both students and visitors, both from Scotland and internationally, with a desire to find out more about cultural, history and heritage-related subjects of Scotland. The heritage and cultural tourism industry is constantly changing as to what visitors expect from the places they come to see, as too are students demanding more from their university experience. As such, I was hoping to be able to utilise and emulate the more practical skills offered on the exchange itinerary for upcoming events connected with the Georgian House and to provide interesting tutorials for my students; for example, wood cutting, icon painting, pottery and traditional and local crafts. I was also keen to find out the political changes in Bulgaria in the past few decades had influenced the development of museums, excavation and the management of archaeological sites and the cultural and heritage tourist industry as a whole.

So, on Sunday 22nd June 2014, very early in the morning I got a taxi to Edinburgh airport to catch our flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. My first impression when leaving Sofia airport was of warmth, not just with the temperature in June in Bulgaria, but also of the welcome Velis, our guide, and Ivo, our driver, gave us at the arrivals gate. I was also surprised at by how green the landscape was, expecting it to be more similar to Greece, but was informed by Velis that due to the surrounding mountains Bulgaria experiences a healthy amount of rainfall leading to the wonderful greenery. Sofia, where we were staying on our first night, struck me as a very cosmopolitan European city, with the architecture resembling that which I have seen in France and Germany in part, but with Russian influence clearly felt, especially in the design of some of the churches. I loved that you could see the mountains from the city, both in the drive into town and from the centre itself. Our first evening was a quiet one; we just tucked into some lovely traditional dishes in a local tavern, including Shopska salad, which ended up being a substantial part of my diet on the visit. It was a delicious mix of cucumbers, onions and tomatoes with a lot of parsley and a lot more white, feta-like cheese on the top.

Once leaving the city the following afternoon, my impressions were of continued greenness, lots of mountains and long rolling plain. After much experience of driving the M6 in rush hour and other busy roads between Scotland, England and Wales, I was struck by the comparison to the relatively calm and quiet roads of Sofia, though there was a small amount of disregard for some of the rules of the road concerning overtaking that we follow in the UK. Once we left the city, the older rural buildings contrasted particularly with some of more modern buildings and business premises within and on the outskirts of the city, including the high-rise housing. Bulgaria strikes me as quite a large country in comparison to its population, which Velis informed me, has a declining birth-rate and suffers from losing its young people to the cities and to abroad. In some ways it has much in common with certain parts of the UK that I am familiar with, such as Cumbria and parts of Wales and Scotland.

In the course of our exchange, we visited a whole variety of sites and attractions such as the Thracian tomb and temple complexes at Starosel, Kazanlak and Golyama Kosmatka, as well as the medieval town and fortress at Sevlievo. We also visited the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia, the Iskra History Museum in Kazanlak, the Monument and Museum of Liberty in Shipka, the Tryavna wood-carving and icon museums, The House of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo and the crafts museum in Troyan. Possibly the most interesting and rewarding visits were to the local celebrations of St Enyo’s day, the patron of herbalists, in a small village between Hissarya and Starosel, where we took part in a ritual with traditional Bulgarian dress and singing and got to meet and spend time with the women and children from the village, and our stays at the guest-house and cultural museum of Eli and the Eco-Art house of Villi and Encho, who took part in the exchange from Bulgaria to Scotland in 2011. We were able not only to sample local food and drink, but also take part in the activities of the guest-houses – traditional ways of life with Eli, and pottery and crafts with Villi and Encho. I did of course also enjoy our trip to a winery near Starosel. I think we all particularly enjoyed that part of the trip.

Ancient Bulgaria: The Thracians and Romans

On Monday 23rd June, we began our tour of Bulgaria by grabbing a breakfast of traditional cheese filled pastries and coffees from a little bakery near our hotel. This was followed by a walk around the Roman remains in the centre of Sofia. I was impressed at just how much there was to see and the quality of the remains. Also, by the fact that the building design of the shopping centre, complete with a Roman road and houses, and even a hotel, had been altered to accommodate and display the archaeology. A large Roman building was discovered in 2004 during the ground survey for a new hotel. The amphitheatre of ancient Serdica, as it turned out to be, was built in the second to third century AD. The remains now form part of the basement floor of the Arena di Serdica Hotel; to judge from its surviving proportions it was only a few metres shorter than the Coliseum in Rome, and so had a capacity for 25,000 spectators. It was interesting to see how the modern hotel and the archaeological site it is built upon interacted; you can have drinks receptions and weddings amongst the archaeological remains, and it is open to non-hotel guests to visit for free every day from 9am to 7pm. That same day a few hours away in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city, we visited the second-century AD Roman theatre, discovered whilst excavation was underway for a new road tunnel in the city in 1972, and the ancient forum and stadium, which would have seated 30,000 spectators, right in the heart of Plovdiv’s modern shopping area. It seems that when you scrape the ground a little in Bulgaria, there is a whole lot of archaeology popping up to be revealed; not surprising in Plovdiv, which is one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited towns, settled in the fifth millennium BC by the Thracians. The public authorities in the cities seem very keen to preserve and display ancient remains, even if it means a lot of extra work to work around what is found.

On our third day, we visited the Starosel Thracian complex. There are 120 tumuli in the area; only a few have been excavated and two are open to the public. The main temple-tomb within this cult complex was excavated in 2000 at the Chetinyova Mound. The excavations were carried out by the prominent Bulgarian archaeologist Dr Georgi Kitov (1943 – 2008) and his team. There they made some of Bulgaria’s most remarkable archaeological discoveries; the golden mask of King Teres possibly being the most dramatic of them all. The temple is very large and is in fact the largest underground temple found in the Balkans so far. The walls of the temple are built of over 6000 huge stone blocks, which weigh up to 500kg each. The temple itself dates from the sixth century BC and the theory is it is the burial place of the legendary Thracian ruler, Sitalkes. The whole of the hilltop is encircled by a wall, and there is a large wine trough (yes, a wine trough!), which hints at its early use as a temple; as does the central chamber’s alignment for the winter solstice.

After our visit to the temple-tomb, we went to a wine tasting in a mock, underground Thracian temple at the Старосел (Starosel) winery, hotel and spa; it was very atmospheric, indeed. The temple recreated the acoustics of the real temple and so gave us an insight into what visitors, worshipers and mourners to the original tombs may have felt and how they used the acoustics as part of the rituals performed there. Plus, the wine was very good. I particularly recommend the muskat, a white wine made from a local variety of grapes. We ended day three with a walk around the Roman walls and baths of the ancient Roman spa town of Dioclecianopolis, modern Hissarya. We enjoyed dinner in a local tavern, with folk music, singing and dancing, and a walk back along the Roman walls from the South Gate, ‘the Camels’, and overnight in Hissarya at the Augusta Hotel.

On day four, we also visited the picturesque Thracian Tomb (replica) and UNESCO World Heritage site on a hill in Kazanlûk. Kazanlûk is the capital of Bulgaria’s rose-oil industry and also the centre of a large area of Thracian settlement. This was another Thracian tomb from the area and Bulgarian archaeological site that had been discovered by accident. In 1944 soldiers were digging trenches, next to a former mosque, when they came upon the tomb. A one-to-one replica had been erected next to the original one for the visitors to see, as the original is too fragile and important to cope with mass influxes of visitors. The replica was fascinating enough and we all marvelled at the incredible frescoes recreated, which seem to depict the funeral rituals of the local Thracian elite. After our visit to the tomb we found a pizza place in the town and spent a bit of time at a gift shop buying the local rose honey (if you ever have a chance to try it, it is delicious, but only have a little or you will feel its effects pretty quickly in the form of stomach cramps and what follows after) and trying to find ice cream.

In the afternoon, we visited a further Thracian tomb near Shipka, in the Tundsha Valley, north-west of Kazanlûk. The temple-tomb at Mogila Golyama Kosmatka was built during the second half of the fifth century BC and consists of three linked chambers with an entrance from the south. It was discovered in 2004 and contained many artefacts presumed to have belonged to or connected with King Seuthes III, including a golden wreath, a wine goblet, knee-pieces, armour and a helmet, decorated riding accoutrements and other valuable gold and silver objects. These are all on display at the Iskra Museum in Kazanlûk. Seuthes III was the ruler of the Odrysae tribe in the fourth century BC and died in battle away from the area, and so his body was not buried in the temple-tomb, just his belongings and associated items, but his mourners did place a stone sarcophagus in the tomb, perhaps to symbolise his burial place.

The Tundzha Valley appears to have been quite a holy place for the inhabitants of the Thracian city of Seuthopolis, the capital of Seuthes III. There are many stone tombs in the area, all sealed and then covered with earth, presumed to house the tombs of Thracian kings and nobles. About fifteen have been excavated and a few our open to the public, including Moglia Shoushmanets, Moglia Griffin, Moglia Helvetia (named after Switzerland which provided the funding for the excavation), Moglia Golyama Arsenalka and Moglia Ostrousha, which contains six chambers and is 20m high.

On our last two days we quickly visited two more Roman sites: on day seven the Roman road of Via Troyanus, named after the emperor Trajan, and on day eight we had a short stop at the Roman fort of Sostra in the afternoon on our way to the airport. Bulgarians seem very proud of their Thracian and Roman history. Over fifty Thracian tomb complexes have been excavated and the Roman sites we have seen seem to be in much better condition and survived better than many I have seen in the UK.

Medieval Bulgaria: Between the Romans and the Ottomans

What was slightly disappointing to me in Bulgaria was the small amount remaining in the landscape and the little displayed in museums from the medieval period. I am an early medieval archaeologist by training and so I was hoping to see and visit sites from the fifth to thirteenth centuries. In the sixth century AD, Bulgaria was settled by Slavs from north-eastern Europe and these tribes soon made up the majority of the population, although they were under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. In the later seventh century, the Bulgars, whose origins were in central Asia, invaded what was to become the kingdom of Bulgaria. The ruling elite absorbed the Slavic language and culture, and the two populations merged to form the Bulgarian nation. The First and Second Bulgarian kingdoms survived, though waning off and on in terms of power and coherence, until the fourteenth century. The small amount of medieval remains may be due to a lack of survival over the many centuries as would be expected over the passage of time, and due to the organic nature of many objects and the building materials used in this period, which is often the case in Scotland, and to the centuries of Ottoman rule, where settlements will have been built over, moved or even destroyed. What does survive are medieval churches and monasteries, often adapted and rebuilt over the centuries, particularly in the nineteenth century, but many dating originally back to the earliest days of Christianity in Bulgaria. I asked Plamen at the Iskra Museum in Kazanlûk why there were no medieval items on display in his museum, and he answered that they simply do not survive. I may be wrong, but from the sites we visited and the people we spoke to on our short exchange I get the sense that it is the Ancient Thracian and Roman history and the more recent history and culture from the Revival Period in the nineteenth century which are held more dearly in modern Bulgarian culture, most likely because there is so little surviving comparatively from the medieval period, and from the hiatus in Bulgarian culture

Those medieval sites we did visit were wonderful. On day two in Sofia we saw the Rotunda of Sveti Georgi, which dates from the sixth century AD and was probably built on the site of a pre-Christian temple; there are second century Roman remains behind the Rotunda. This is a beautiful red-brick building and contains spectacular frescoes, including a fourteenth century depiction of Christ Pantokrator in the cupola, and fragments of surviving tenth century frescoes. The Rotunda was converted into a mosque in the sixteenth century. A service was taking place when we visited, so I just popped my head in quickly, but even a short look was enough to be impressed by the spectacular and colourful wall-paintings. Photography was not allowed of course, but I did purchase a postcard as the frescoes were stunning.

Whilst looking at the Roman houses and road revealed during the construction of a modern shopping centre, we walked past the tiny Church of Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska. It is a beautiful wee building, and sits rather lonely, below ground-level, surrounded by the concrete of the shopping centre. I recognised it as a church from the rounded apse at one end. When we returned home to Scotland, I looked up the church. It is dedicated to a third century Christian girl from Asia Minor, who was martyred during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, and the crypt is thought to date from the Roman period. In Sofia, we also went to see the Church of Sveta Sofia. This church is Sofia’s oldest surviving church and dates from the sixth century, but was built on the site of two fourth century churches; some fragments of the fourth century mosaics can be seen on the floor in the south aisle. The spot was also the main graveyard of Serdica, as Sofia used to be known, and was located outside the city walls as was the norm in Roman settlements. It remained the principal burial ground well into the medieval period. During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185-1396), Sveta Sofia was most likely the seat of the city’s bishop.

On day six on the drive to Troyan, we went via Sevlievo and the Hotalich Fortress. The fort and associated settlement had been inhabited for more than 1000 years and functioned as an important defensive centre for the region, and existed together for centuries with the surviving town of nearby Sevlievo, known as Servi and Selvi. We walked around the medieval settlement below the fortress, which has recently been adapted for tourists. We visited the displays on medieval dress, food and agriculture and had two enthusiastic young guides who encouraged us to get dressed up, of course! We were told the legend of the last Bulgarian king, who managed to escape from the incoming Ottomans and holed up in the fort at Hotalich, before escaping through a tunnel. We were told archaeologists have not found the tunnel from the story.


On our walk around Sofia on day two of our visit, we also went to the Archaeological Museum. Many of Bulgaria’s finest prehistoric, Thracian, Roman and medieval artefacts are preserved and on display here. These include Greek, Roman and medieval sarcophagi and sculptures, a Thracian gold burial mask from the late fifth century BC and gold laurel wreath from the fourth century BC, and many examples of Thracian Rider symbolism, thought to be depictions of the hunter-god, which often adorn Thracian tombs. The building itself was built in 1494 and it was originally the Grand Mosque, the Buyuk Dzhamiya. The mosque was converted into the present museum in 1894, only two decades after Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule. I could have spent all day at the museum. All the items were well labelled with date and provenance, and there was such a variety of items from all periods, not just the grand and the beautiful, but every day and household items were included as well. I was pleased to see a small room mainly dedicated to medieval items from all over Bulgaria, including a very early manuscript and a number of medieval icons.

On day three of our visit, after tasty lunch of local salads and meats in Hissarya, we visited the local archaeological museum and met the director and one of the curators. The museum mainly housed prehistoric and Roman artefacts from the Hissarya area, including a large collection of Roman coins and items discovered in the course of excavations of the baths and public buildings we had seen in the town. The museum also had rooms dedicated to traditional Bulgarian life and craft, and the collected items of a local military leader who had donated items he had collected over his career.

On the Wednesday 25th June, after breakfast in the Augusta hotel (Lynsey and I escaped the rigmarole of the breakfast buffet and opted for fresh apple juice and Lavazza coffee at the bar) we travelled to Kazanlak in the Valley of Roses and Thracian Kings to visit the Iskra History Museum. Here, we met Plamen from the exchange group to Scotland in 2011. We discussed with him the protection and adaptation of Thracian monuments and local archaeological sites. It was slightly heart-breaking to hear that the nearby Thracian city of Seuthopolis, which had been discovered in 1948, had been flooded in the 1950s as part of a government’s scheme to create a water reservoir. We were told that divers had recently been down to the city to check on it, and it seems to be doing reasonably well under the water, all things considered. There was also a display of high-tech plans from a Japanese company to create a circular dam around the city in order for it to re-emerge from the depths and so receive archaeologists and visitors again. The plans look spectacular, but also as if they would cost an incredibly vast amount of capital to go ahead. One dares to dream. The museum itself was opened in the early 1970s. It is an airy and bright place, and quite a stylish place for the collections to be displayed. On the lower ground floor is the collection of prehistoric, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman artefacts, which includes a substantial amount of pottery. The display itself is well laid out and very attractive to the eye, but I surmise that either Bulgarian children are much more well behaved than British or that the museum gets few younger visitors as the pottery and artefacts were on open display at floor level.

We visited the House of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo on Friday 27th June. Breakfast beforehand of fat-cakes, donut-like and extremely tasty, and honey was prepared in the guesthouse by Eli’s husband. Gabrovo was the second largest industrial town in Bulgaria before the Communist regime came to power in 1944 and was known as the ‘Manchester of Bulgaria’. Velis’s long-term colleague and friend, Galina Boneva, guided us around the House of Humour and Satire, which is a museum dedicated to the local Gabrovian humour and jokes, and art inspired by it, as well as items from around the world. The museum was first opened in 1972 and includes a room dedicated for children, of all ages I might add. Galina described it as a place where ‘children can go wild’, and it includes sound effects and items and art made by local children.

Many sites and museums we visited faced similar issues and problems with funding to those we have in Scotland. I was also interested to see how some sites, such as the Roman theatre in the basement of the Arena di Serdica Hotel and the medieval fortress of Hotalich, had been restored as to make them more useful, as in the case of the theatre to be used for functions at the hotel. Furthermore, I was blown away by the lack of a large volunteer sector in heritage in Bulgaria. Organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland and even the National Museums of Scotland heavily rely on their volunteers to remain open to the public or even exist.

National Identity, Ethnography and Heritage tourism: The ‘Revival Period’ to the Modern Day in Bulgaria

On our third day, we had a wonderful surprise in the morning. We took part in the celebrations for St. Enyo`s Day, the patron of herbalists, in a small village between Hissarya and Starosel. I can definitely say we all had the most brilliant time! We were greeted by the local women dressed in traditional costume, who offered us bread and salt, and an expert performance of traditional songs for St. Enyo’s. We observed and took part in a traditional ritual used to predict who the local girls would marry and blessings for them and us visitors. We also joined in in a bit of traditional dancing, the ladies were much better before we all joined in and missed the steps, and we had a chance to practice our wool spinning skills, as well as a look around the displays in the house concerning traditional life. It seems that the direct interpretation of collections is often dependent on the initiative of local folklore groups. It was those moments and visits like this, which brought the collections and houses we were visiting really to life. It reminded me of the way we are trying to communicate and get visitors involved within the Georgian House with our school and education visits, as well as our Living History tours, in attempts to make the House and its collection attractive and interesting through not only seeing but through hearing, tasting and interaction with guides, volunteers and costumed ‘actors’. This brings in another dimension which can be experienced, not only seen.

On day four we stopped for a quick visit to the magnificent Rozhdestvo Hristovo, Birth of Christ, Memorial Church, which has spectacular golden domes, visible sparklingly in the distance from miles away. This church was built in 1902 as a memorial to the Russian and Bulgarian soldiers who died in the War of Liberation against the Ottomans. We then travelled to Gabrovo, via the Shipka Pass. On the way we stopped on the peak of St. Nikola to visit the Monument of Liberty, on the site of a significant battle in the Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878. This is a very popular attraction connected with the Revival Period in the nineteenth century in Bulgaria. The monument is 32m high and built of roughly cut stone. It was erected between 1924 and 1934 to commemorate the dramatic victory of General Gûrko and the Russian army, supported by Bulgarian militia, over the Turkish army in 1877. The monument also houses original artefacts, including documents, from the battle and is the resting place for the remains of 374 Russian soldiers. The battle and the story of the war are explained over four floors, and there are a number of specially commissioned paintings, and text in four languages.

We stayed the night in Sabotovtsi village, in the guest house of Eli from the Bulgarian exchange group in 2011. We had a lovely home-cooked meal with home-baked baked, home-made cheese, home-made red wine and rakia! On the morning of day five, we had breakfast in the guesthouse with more lovely cheese and this time cheese and egg filled pastry. Breakfast was followed by a look around the farm and restored traditional house that Eli runs with her husband, followed by a rides on the farm’s horse. We discussed traditional dress and Eli and her husband explained the methods of traditional farming and ways of life that they show to visitors and school groups. It was very much a hands-on and ‘experience it yourself’, but obviously within the bounds of what is safe and practical to do. We had a lift of the water carriers Bulgarian women would use to fetch and carry water each morning, but we weren’t made to carry it the miles that very often women had to do.


Later on day five we visited Tryavna, and the museums of woodcarving and icons and the Shkoloto Museum there. We witnessed and took part in a wood carving demonstration and were instructed in ivy painting, a local tradition. The Old School (Shkoloto) Museum, offers ‘lessons’ in which children are taught by a dressed-up member of staff. This was very similar to the school visits we run at The Georgian House, where local primary school classes visit and get dressed up in early nineteenth century dress to experience what life was life both above and below stairs in Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town. At Tryavna, this was also used as a way of generating income for the museum, whereas most of the schools who visit NTS properties pay a small annual education membership fee. We were told about the problem of insufficient funding in almost every venue we visited. At Tryavna, there are summer placements for local students studying for a degree in craft, heritage, culture and tourist-related subjects, but the concept of relying on volunteers or having a large contingent of volunteers, of all ages, seemed quite unusual to the director of the museum. It seems that museum staff often share roles and responsibilities, more so than in the UK.


After Tryavna, we visited the Etara Architectural and Ethnographic Complex, near Gabrovo, which is a model, nineteenth-century village with craft workshops and exhibitions. We met Rosi Bineva, the curator, who was in the exchange group from 2011. The village is a fully outdoor complex all built, or in some cases rebuilt from elsewhere, in the style of the Revival Period in Bulgaria: the late-eighteenth to late nineteenth-century, when Ottoman rule came to an end in Bulgaria in 1878. Etara first opened in 1964. The complex consists of several houses and workshops, and the exhibits range from a functioning water-mill to several workshops to a small church. The complex is one of the most visited tourist sites in the whole of Bulgaria, with upwards of 500,000 visitors per year. When we visited there were many Bulgarian and Russian tourists, but also to judge by their accents a few British and American visitors too. The site also has a hotel and restaurant attached to it. There are similar open air sites in Scotland, such as the Auchendrain Township near Furnace, Inveraray, Argyll, and The Royal Burgh of Culross, but I haven’t come across in Scotland the idea of charging craft-workers rent properties on site as an additional source of revenue. After our visits to Tryavna and Etara, we had dinner in the village of Bozhentsi, which was proclaimed an architectural and historic reserve in 1964. The settlement itself was founded over 600 years ago, and the houses surviving and preserved today are mostly 100-200 years old, and so from the Revival Period of the nineteenth century. However, due to its location and the difficulties of getting there, Bozhentsi village only receives around 4000-5000 visitors each year. Over the course of our visit to Bulgaria, it became quite clear that the Revival Period and the liberation from Ottoman rule was one of the most popular subjects and heritage attractions amongst Bulgarians, linked to a great feeling of national pride, confirmed by our visits to numerous attractions connected with this period.

On day six we had the most delicious of lunches at the House of the Herbalist. We also walk to see some beautiful waterfalls, swim in a mineral pool and to the caves. In the afternoon – visit to ECO-ART guest house of Villi and Encho, with dinner at The Kaiser Tavern, where we met Velis’s husband. On day seven, Saturday 28th June, in the morning we took part in the Herb and tourism festival in the mountains near Troyan. The food at the festival was very tasty indeed, and we tried the local herbal tea. There was also a number of groups performing traditional music, including the Bulgarian, fifth runners-up of Eurovision. In the afternoon we visited the crafts museum in Troyan and talk to one of the curators, Desi. The museum displayed much of the pottery that Troyan is famous for and the different styles available and the history behind them. We then returned to Villi and Encho’s guesthouse and took part in a pottery workshop, both on the wheel and by hand. We spent our last night in the guesthouse with homemade meals, including our cranachan , Bulgarian style with yoghurt, mascarpone and local strawberries rather than cream and Scottish raspberries, and more local wine and rakia, as well as some Famous Grouse we provided. Villi had been mushrooming in the forest, so we had these as part of our dinner too. On day eight, we had a breakfast of lovely, lovely fat cakes and honey, herbal tea, coffee and fruit. We then began our journey from Troyan to Sofia with some visits on the road, including Troyan monastery, founded in 1600, and we got to experience a Bulgarian Orthodox service in honour of St Peter’s Day, we also visited the local crafts exhibition, focusing on pottery, textiles, wood carving and ion painting and furniture making.


On Sunday 29th June we said goodbye to Velis in Troyan and Ivo drove us in the afternoon the few hours to Sofia Airport and our waiting flight back to Scotland. We had one last stop to sample Bulgarian food on the way (a lovely filo pastry snack for me, filled with spinach and cheese), with the obligatory final ice cream, of course!

Bulgaria is a large country with a small population and a very long and varied history. This history, Bulgaria’s heritage, and the peoples’ remembrance of the past have and continue to be a strong influence on its culture, and the Bulgaria we see today as visitors. The exchange programme to Bulgaria fulfilled and, I would say, exceeded all my expectations. Bulgaria is a wonderful and beautiful country, and all the people we met were so warm and welcoming, even when all we could say to each other was ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. I was particularly moved by the welcome of the local women at the ethnographic house on our third day. I believe all my aims and objectives for the visit were met. I received a detailed insight into how Bulgarian museums and heritage sites are managed and run and have come back enthused and excited about how my organisation can develop our own ideas in such a way and bring in new ideas from Bulgaria. I will disseminate my experiences to our volunteers at the Georgian House through a talk concerning our visit to Bulgaria through the Georgian House Education Committee (GHEC), and by making this report available to my fellow staff members and volunteers at the National Trust for Scotland. I hope my students at the university will benefit from the conclusions and comparisons that can be drawn from traditional culture in Bulgaria to those traditions we teach in Scotland. I hope to sustain an on-going relationship with some of our guides in Bulgaria, including Velis and Eli in Sabotovtsi – I am seriously considering spending my summer holiday next year working with Eli and her husband on their farm and guesthouse.

The whole stay was organised flawlessly by Velis and Shelia. The accommodation at all times on our exchange was comfortable and clean, and most of all the welcome given to us by our hosts was overwhelming. The exchange was well planned and quite intense with all we had to visit, but there was free time to take a bit of a rest – the mineral pool at Hissarya was wonderful! We were provided with ample opportunity to network with both others from our home country but also with our hosts. And although it might sound twee and conventional, but I feel valuable bonds and friendships have been formed between us, hosts and visitors alike. We have only been back a few days as I write this, but I already miss my fellow participants, and we are planning a group visit to Orkney to see Tom. I can warmly recommend this programme to anyone and I am so very grateful to have been given this opportunity. Sign me up for the next one, please!

Bethan Morris

Senior Visitor Services Assistant

National Trust for Scotland

The Georgian House


Undergraduate Tutor

School of History, Classics and Archaeology &

School of Literature, Languages and Culture

University of Edinburgh

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