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>> Bulgaria >> Bulgarian culture
For thirteen centuries, Bulgaria - the cradle of Slav culture, the land of Orpheus and Spartacus has given the world men of great achievements, mysterious Thracian treasures and burial tombs, magnificent frescos and many brilliant examples of ancient applied arts.
Bulgarian festivals and customs date back to ancient times when men tried to appease the natural elements and trembled before their power. Full of beauty, gaiety, mystical voices, fiery dances and brightly colored costumes - Bulgarian folklore has to be seen, felt and experienced!
Fire dancing is the most ancient mysterious ritual - barefooted dancers performing on burning embers. This religious and mystical ritual for expelling illness, for health and fruitfulness is one that must be seen to believe it.
The Festival of Roses is a lovely festival celebrated in the Rose Valley near the town of Kazanluk (at the foot of the Balkan Range) on the first weekend of June every year. The festival is a pageant of beauty in the unique Rose Valley. In the run-up of the event, a Queen Rose beauty contest is held in several rounds. Artists, actors, circus performers, writers and singers flock to Kazanluk at the start of June. The Bulgarian oleaginous rose yields 70 percent of the world's attar of roses used by every perfume company as an essential component of its products.
The history tells that in the Thracian provinces of the Roman Empire, the Thracians grew 12 varieties of roses, one of them known as the "Thracian Rose".
In the 1270, during the crusades, Count de Gruye brought the Damascus rose from Syria to the valley of Kazanlak where conditions proved excellent. Experts claim that Bulgarian roses and rose oil owe their unique properties to the local climate and the generous soil. The temperatures in February, when roses bud, are ideal. The blossoms are picked in May and June, when high humidity is very important. So is the cinnamon-forest soil in the area and, last but not least, the remarkable skills of the Bulgarian rose-oil producers.
Kukeri Carnival held in the region of Dupnitsa and Pernik is a splendid festival of brightly colored masks and costumes which marks the beginning of the spring. Every participant makes his own multi-coloured personal mask, covered with beads, ribbons and woollen tassels. The heavy swaying of the main mummer is meant to represent wheat heavy with grain, and the bells tied around the waist are intended to drive away the evil spirits and the sickness.
The Bulgarian voices are called to be mystery. Experts are still trying to explain the incredible range of the Bulgarian voice and the variety of songs. Its unique sound was universally acknowledged by the fact that the popular Rhodope song "Izlel e Delyu hiadutin" sung by the talented singer Valya Balkanska was recorded on a gold record and was sent as a message to outer space on the American spaceship Voyager in 1977. The world is discovering it again and again at major folklore and song contests in Italy, France, England and Ireland from which the Bulgarian music and dance ensembles invariably walk off with the first prizes.
The folk festivals "Pirin Sings" and Rozhen Sings are the best-known Bulgarian folklore festivals. Last year alone, some 150 000 visitors from Bulgaria and abroad came together to witness the show by the 4 000 performers on each festival. They came not only to see these inspiring events, but also to learn about the curious world of Bulgarian folklore traditions.
Applied crafts have gradually emerged from the narrow frame work of strictly domestic life to become an art which breeds art: Bulgarian embroidery with its intricate geometrical figures, Bulgarian rugs and carpets with their vibrant colours, exquisitely painted Bulgarian ceramics, finely ornamented Bulgarian fretwork and superbly fashioned Bulgarian jewellery.
The Samovodene Market in Veliko Turnovo, the Permanent National Exhibition of Folk Art in Oreshak near Troyan and the Etura architectural and ethnographic complex near Gabrovo are all original museums of the revived beauty of Bulgarian handicrafts. You are bound to find your own particular memento from Bulgaria here - a small carved wooden wine vessel, a Troyan pottery set, a fleecy Rhodope rug, an original piece of silver jewellery, a finely embroidered silk blouse or a colourful carpet.
Creating art from every kind of material
The aesthetic principle of the Bulgarian masters, inherited the traditions of ancient Thracians, stems from the admiration of nature and is expressed in the attempt to resemble it. They create art out of any material - wood and clay, wool and copper, silk and silver. The desire for beauty that has let them through the millenia first grew up at home. Applied crafts have gradually increased and emerged from the narrow domestic frame and become an art which breeds art. At the end of the 14th century arts and crafts in Bulgaria amounted to about 50.
The unfading beauty of Bulgarian arts and crafts has to be felt:
Bulgarian embroidery with its intricate geometrical figures, is used exclusively for dress decoration. It is geographically differentiated depending on decoration, execution, colour and composition. Typical features of embroidery, however, are plant and geometric patterns and their skilful technical fashioning. The red always prevails.
The Bulgarian women 's embroidering art was noted by many a foreign traveller in the Bulgarian lands during the 16th-19th centuries. The tradition of embroidery was mostly spread among the peasant population and predominantly connected with the decoration of garments. Ornamental needlework involved counting the cloth fibres and, in the case of thin cotton and silk textiles, using an embroidery frame for stretching the material with the pattern being previously drawn on it using a pencil or a stick of charcoal.
Traditional Bulgarian embroidery is characterized by great regional and local diversity. There is a wide variety of flat, raised and open-work stitches. Among those most often applied are several types of stitches: straight stitch (horizontal and slanted); cross stitch (or Koumanian); loop stitch, and two-faced stitch. The high artistic value of the designs is largely due to the skilful selection and treatment of materials. Commonly used are woollen and silk threads. Metallic (golden) threads would give a touch of brilliance and magnificence to the embroidery. The designs are primarily geometrical, combined with stylized floral motifs and animal and human figures. The hem embroidered with anthropomorphic figures is typical of the patterns from the town of
Embroidery ornamentation accounts for much of the specificity and uniqueness of Bulgarian costumes. It is typical of all areas, but mostly spread in North and North-West
Both textile decoration and embroidery are remarkable with their ornamental designs and motifs some of which are rather ancient such as the "tree of life", rosette, swastika, circle, cross. The rhomb is particularly rich in graphic patterns.
Three elements of traditional Bulgarian embroidery: rhythm, symmetry, and contrast, are common throughout the Bulgarian ethnic territory. Compared to the textile ornamentation, embroidery compositions are characterised by even greater variety owing to the specific technique of ornamentation.
Colour is of key importance for the ethnic specificity of Bulgarian folk costumes. The typical colours used in ornamental embroidery designs intended for clothing are red, black, and white. This seemingly narrow range of colours, however, does not represent the actual situation. Each colour is displayed in a number of shades and combinations, sometimes clear and brilliant, sometimes dark and harmonious, and sometimes deep and contrasting.
Bulgarian textile art includes the weaving of covers, rugs and carpets. There is evidence of carpet making in Bulgaria as early as in the 9th century, but large carpet industry were established in 18th-19th centuries in Kotel, Chiprovtsi, etc. The decorative diversity is different in the regions, but on the whole the Kotel carpets feature large and orderly patterns while Chiprovo carpets tend to have small patterns. The Rhodope rugs have white, brown and yellow long woolen fringes. The smaller textiles are variety and the most numerous - aprons, waist-brands, towels, pillow-cases, bags, belts.
Bulgarian pottery (painted ceramics). Etching, colour painting and applications are the usual methods. Etching, or the circular drawing-out of straight lines continued up to the 19th century in the old pottery centres of Troyan, Teteven and Gabrovo, has been replaced later by painting with colour. The most typical shape is the jug, with an elongated, delicate neck, its top glazed in yellow and green.
Bulgarian wood-carving - a craft, considered purely male. Since immemorial times the Bulgarians have carved wood, depicting nature on shepherd's pipes and crooks, on chest and cradles, on weaving looms - in fact, wherever possible. Wood was part of the house furniture, skilful hands brought it to life and gradualy became part and parcel of the interior.
Magnificent compositions may be seen in the National Renaissance houses in Tryavna, Kotel, Koprivshtitza, etc.
We are also famous with small wood-carved products: spoons, spoon cases, shepherds cups, prosfory (bread seals), distaffs, nooses, crooks, stools, chandeliers, nut-crackers, etc. To this collection also belong the musical instruments kavals, gudoulki, bagpipes.
Bulgarian coppersmithery - an artistic craft, which had its heyday during the 18th-19th centuries when methods of decoration became more numerous. The fashioning of the form itself is an art - depending on the size and destiny of the indentations, the decoration of coffee-pots, cauldrons, trays and dishes resembles a string of tiny beads or scattered stars. Copper vessels have their romantic place in today's modern interior.
Bulgarian goldsmithery - an art, whose works are purely decorative.inherited the rich traditions of the ancient Thracians, we attained a perfection of the form and an executive finish. Although this art was most susceptible to outside influence - particularly that of West-European Baroque - the plant and geometric ornaments, as well as the composition, retained their National characteristics.