Koprivshtitsa : Beauty and Revolution

Koprivshtitsa Travel Blog

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Oslekov's House.

Koprivshtitsa.  A quiet little rural town just over 100 kilometres east of Sofia snuggled into the bosom of the Sredna Gora mountains.  A quiet little town I am utterly incapable of pronouncing correctly judging by both my verbal wrangles in attempting to do so and the bemused responses consequent to my stammering attempts.  Koprivshtitsa means ‘nettle’ in Bulgarian which in its own small way is appropriate to the historic character of the town, but a little more of that later.

Today I am in the company of my latest FMF (Five Minute Friend) Tetsuo from Japan whose grandmother was born the day the Titanic sank (April 14th 1912) and at the ripe old age of 97 no longer recognises him or anyone else “because she is insane“ he says.

Tetsuo my FMF for the day :)
  “Do you mean she has Alzheimer’s or something?”.  “Yes, that is right”.  I’d met he and his Missus on the trip to Rila yesterday too.  Today she’s shopping in Sofia.  Nice lad.  Shaking off the slumbersome effects of what I shall refer to as ‘Bus-Tranq’ from now on (the almost guaranteed urge to pass out, as if tranquilised when travelling too frequently on public transport) we stumble from the bus into this beautiful and becalmed little living museum of Bulgarian country life, architecture and history.  The sun is on cue to paint the town in all its finest hues for which we are glad.

And really pretty Koprav… Coprivshit… Kopravshtish… Kopshticksa… “darn it!”… really pretty this place is too!  It is a town that sits in perfect harmony with its calm, calm surroundings.

One of the traditional Bulgarian costumes on display in the house museums that appeared to me like little floating ghosts.
  Aside from the fact that businesses catering for tourism have of course over recent decades crawled with hermit-crab like opportunism into the many empty or renovated shells of the town it’s well-weathered charms have not been harmed or faded as a result of this process.  Well, they have faded.  But therein lies the charm.  Koprivshtitsa is a town of earthy, rich and seductively picturesque decrepitude studded with immaculately preserved examples of brightly painted traditional architecture.  Its aesthetic bedrock is the network of slope-clambering cobbled streets and lanes lined with stone-walled homesteads and houses.  Small wooden doors and gates.  Often half broken down.  Rusted nails and padlocks.  Cracked plaster walls.  Small recessed glass windows with lace curtains and potted plants within.
 

Six of the towns most well-preserved, and most historically significant examples of traditional Bulgarian architecture ( referred to as the ‘Bulgarian National Revival’ style) can be visited and entered for a small fee [see info below] and so Tetsuo and I set to strolling around this idyllic town in happiness and a sunshine state of awe.  It is through ambling around these ‘House Museums’ that one is introduced to a little of the towns more famous inhabitants and history (only a little though owing to marginal English translations for non-natives) and its significance in the Bulgarian Independence movement.  The long running struggle for freedom from Ottoman rule that would not end until the Russo-Turkish war of 1877- ‘78 and in which Koprivshtitsa played its own small little role.

Koprivshtitsa Residents 2
  A thorn; a ‘nettle’ in Turkish sides.

For it was here in April 1876 that the first shot was fired in the ‘April Uprising’ against the Turks.  An action long planned by the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee but initiated too soon, and so disorganised and successfully quashed by the Turks with the taking of the life, amongst others, of one of Koprivshtitsa’s most famous inhabitants, the revolutionary Georgi Benkovski whose house can be visited here.  The ‘First Shot Fired Bridge’ can be found.

Also the house of Todor Kableshkov, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee in Koprivshtitsa, he who ordered the start of the ‘Uprising’ and co-authored the ’Bloodsigned Letter’ a document which I have been able to locate no information on but assume was some sort of written statement of intent (in blood?) to the Turkish rulers along the lines of ’Would you please kindly bugger off and leave us to our own devices… or suffer the consequences.

The green green grasses of Europe.
  Yours Rebelliously, the bloody undersigned.’  Lyuben Karavelov’s house sits on one of the bends of the Topolnitsa River and houses the large, iron and wood press that once printed revolutionary papers and materials as well as more sedate publications. 

But all is calm today.  No need for revolution anymore.  Everything returned long ago to natures rhythms.  Stood in the sun in the garden of the former home of the Bulgarian poet Dimcho Debelianov I am waiting for Tetsuo and stroll into the middle of its green lawn.  I crouch down.  The summer-fresh grasses criss-cross and interlace with small purple and white flowers.  Occasionally a butter-yellow bloom punctuates the green carpet too.  Not knowing how to name any of these flowers I am frustrated at my lack of ability to describe the nature about me.

The large statue of the Bulgarian Revolutionary and Koprivshtitsa resident Georgi Benkovski.
  Yet another language of the world I am inept at.  Illiterate in the language of my environment.  The flora and fauna and natural phenomena; the physical world I live in.  The clouds even.  The appearances of which are so varied and subtle and sumptuous by turns in Europe.  I scribbled in my book the other day ’LEARN ABOUT CLOUDS!’.  So much still to learn.  Having read some more Hardy recently I think I am envious of his marvellous capacity to paint the pictures of the rural life of his Wessex surrounds and its natural moods and appearance.

Crouching there I instinctively run my fingers through the lawns grass tresses.  The memory, the image of this gesture now feels like such a cliché but it’s an act of unconscious need at the time.

The quaint, unusual and homely Uspenie Bogogodichino Church
  It’s the first moment that some deep-seated part of me realises that I am back in Europe,  my home continent and needs to reach out and touch its soils, its land.  Yes, apologies Cyprus I know you are Europe too but it never quite feels as such to me although it’s been a member of the EU twice as long as Bulgaria.  As my fingers reach down, dewy jewels of dawn-waters have taken silvery refuge from the sun within the grasses and wet the tips of my fingers.  These tips now touch  the earth beneath and its bodily warmth shocks me.  It seems to pulse gently with life blood like having placed the palm of my hand on the flank of a slumbering cat.  Heat transfuses directly from Europe through my skin and to my heart and I am happy.  I am home again.
  Sort of.

After our house tour I bid farewell to Tetsuo who must return to Sofia sharpish to keep his Missus happy but I am content to stroll for some hours more in this wonderful little rural scene even if the weather is closing in a little.  I am totally seduced by the wonderful pastel painted shades of the plaster walls and wooden trim exteriors of the houses here.  Bright blues, brick reds and rustic ochre yellows with white-bordered windows.  The gorgeous Uspenie Bogorodichno Church with the frail old lady custodian watching within and the ticking pendulum clock on the wall inside which makes it feel more like a home than a church which I like and I am curiously near prompted to tears by the sheer gentility of the scene. 

A delicious, cheap lunch of traditional mince and herb-stuffed, boiled cabbage leafs and large breaded, fried sheep’s cheeses and coffee.

Koprivshtitsa Residents 1
  Perfect!  Cats patter about on broken tile roofs.  Swifts (or swallows?  Never was sure of the difference) flit about all over town a mere inch or two above the cobbled grounds.  No fear here of their flight being impeded by four-wheeled fiends.  Another church sits, locked and lonesome.  Abandoned?  I don’t think so, but rotting gracefully nonetheless.  A large congregation of ivy creepers and vines in permanent attendance.  Broken windows.  Wooden ladders to nowhere and tumbled walls.  Many little stone arch bridges arcing over the river and its tiny tributaries as if stitches running along, holding the gentle landscape together.  Now the rain thumping down and washing a little more of Koprivshtitsa’s weathered, elderly façade away.
Koprivshtitsa Residents 4

I’d love to stay here longer.  To catch a later bus back.  But the rain tricks me into thinking its settling for the duration so I head back to Sofia suffused with happiness at having been to this pretty little town that I remain incapable of pronouncing to this day.

[ Koprivshtitsa info :  Buses leave approx every 2 hours from 8.00am onwards from ‘Trafik Market’ (Traffic Market) which is basically a large tarmac car park and collection of travel agent booths situated exactly between Sofia main train station and bus station so is easy to locate.  You pay when on the bus.  10 Leva (£4.30) and the journey takes about 3 hours.  It will cost the same again to come back.  Return buses leave to return from where you were dropped off at 13.

10, 15.10, 16.50 and I’m told 19.10 in high summer season.  To view the 6 ‘House Museums’ it’s best to buy the combo ticket (available + handy map at any of the houses you first go to) for 5 Leva (£2) or 2 Leva (90p) if you’re either a student or a lying sh*t pretending to be a student off the back of your travel pal’s ID like wot I did ;D ]

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Oslekovs House.
Oslekov's House.
Tetsuo my FMF for the day :)
Tetsuo my FMF for the day :)
One of the traditional Bulgarian c…
One of the traditional Bulgarian …
Koprivshtitsa Residents 2
Koprivshtitsa Residents 2
The green green grasses of Europe.
The green green grasses of Europe.
The large statue of the Bulgarian …
The large statue of the Bulgarian…
The quaint, unusual and homely Usp…
The quaint, unusual and homely Us…
Koprivshtitsa Residents 1
Koprivshtitsa Residents 1
Koprivshtitsa Residents 4
Koprivshtitsa Residents 4
Carved wooden ceiling.
Carved wooden ceiling.
The approach to the Bulgarian poet…
The approach to the Bulgarian poe…
Yummy scrummy lunch!
Yummy scrummy lunch!
Former Koprivshtitsa Residents: th…
Former Koprivshtitsa Residents: t…
Koprivshtitsa Residents 3
Koprivshtitsa Residents 3
(Koprivshtitsa) Muju [www.mujuworl…
(Koprivshtitsa) Muju [www.mujuwor…
Koprivshtitsa
photo by: Stevie_Wes