Arts and Crafts
The woodcarvers were skilled professionals in the spirit of the National Revival (18th and 19th century). Some of the oldest woodcarvings date back to the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396): the gates of Hrelyo's Tower (Rila Monastery), the Sv. Petka Church in Veliko Turnovo, the altar of the church in the village of Bozhentsi. Intricate interlaced patterns prevailed in those days.
Several woodcarving schools emerged: in Mt Athos, Debur, Tryavna, Samokov. Interlaced patterns were eventually replaced by floral motifs, birds, human figures, mythical creatures, griffins and dragons.
Magnificent masterpieces from those schools are to be seen in the churches of Sv. NikoIa [St Nicholas] in Sofia, Sv. Bogoroditsa [Mother of God] in Pazardjik, Sv. Marina [St Marina] in Plovdiv, Sv. Arhangel [Archangel] and Sv. Georgi [St George] in Tryavna, as well as the churches in Bansko, the Rila and Bachkovo monasteries.
Unlike their predecessors from the National Revival who chiselled iconostases and thrones, altar gates and private ceilings, contemporary woodcarvers are commissioned mostly for thematic and decorative panels, ceilings, chests, chairs and mirror frames. Still, they draw abundantly on the tradition of their forefathers.
By the start of the first millennium, people in the Bulgarian lands were already using iron along with bronze tools. Iron, a stronger metal, eventually replaced bronze in most farming tools. Iron-mining methods were also perfected. Major centres of metalworking emerged over the centuries, the best known among them being Samokov. The town is named after the enormous hammer-like water-powered device that blacksmiths used to beat the iron into shape - some of those devices have survived to the present day. Smithery remained the most popular craft since it was very closely associated with the livelihood and lifestyle of the Bulgarian people. A number of legends testify to the long popularity and importance of the craft. For instance, legend has it that Tsar Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) once ingeniously ordered fixing yhe horseshoes on the hooves of his army'shorses the other way round, and thus deceived the enemy and won a crucial battle.
Along with geometrical decaration, artisans used floral motifs. However, animal figures - mostly horses, birds and serpents - were their greatest achievement.
Byzantine chroniclers note that in plundering the capital of the first Bulgarian Empire, Pliska (811), Emperor Nicephorus I (802-811) gave his men copper from the treasure of Khan Kroum (803-814). Archaeologists have found many copper vessels and weapons. The towns of Chiprovtsi, Plovdiv, Skopie and Veliko Turnovo were centres of copperwork. The craft flourished in the 17th to 19th centuries. Various household utensils from this period - coppers, braziers, basins, jugs, bowls for holy water and others - are amazing masterpieces of decoration. The vessels were embossed, engraved and exquisitely carved. Along with the intricate floral and geometrical patterns, the master, the master craftsmen depicted human and animal figures, and even scenes from the Bible.
The various alloys for bells for the livestock took just as much skill to make. The craft reached perfection in the bells in the Rhodopi Mountains which resounded across the mountain from early spring to late autumn, raising people's spirits and hope. The master craftsmen of yore jealously guarded their secret and novices had to find their own alloy to make a bell sound right. The craft was held in high esteem, as surviving surnames show: Chandjiev, Tyumbelekov, Zvunarov, all of which are synonyms of "Bell."
Gunsmithing developed in more recent times. The craft flourished in towns like Sliven, Gabrovo and Madan in the 18th and early 19th century. Bulgarian gunsmiths were so good that merchants from all over the Ottoman Empire and as far away as Persia came to buy their barrel guns, rifles, pistols and other wares.
Gunsmithing has a century-long tradition across the Bulgarian lands. Evidence of: a thousand-strong Bulgarian cavalry and Tsar Simeon's (893-927) impressive preparations for the march on Constantinople and his defeat of the strongest army in those days, the Byzantines, indicates that weapons making flourished in the First and Second Bulgarian Empires.
Manufacture of arms on a large scale leads to standardization. Bulgarian master gunsmiths, however, made customized items depending on the client's taste and wealth.
Gunsmithing is an unusual craft - a male craft of pride and dignity. It incorporates decorative arts such as woodcarving, goldsmithery, carving bone, mother-of-pearl and metal.
A number of goldsmithing techniques are applied in the course of ornamentation: forging, casting, inlaying, overlaying, hligreeing, precious and semi-precious stones, gilding.
The city of Sliven, once a major gunsmithing centre, was best known for the specific Sliven sisane, a wide-barreled rifle, and originally designed long and thin rifles. A rifle on view at the local Museum of History is dec-Orated with 16,000 bits and pieces of metal, mother-of-pearl, bone and horn, testifying to the high skills of Sliven gunsmiths.
Bulgarian-made weapons sold well at the big local fairs - in Sliven, Ouzoundjovo, Plovdiv, Chirpan, as well as Persia, Kurdistan, the Caucasus and across Asia Minor where, to quote a French traveller, "French weapons were no match for them."
The craft also flourished in the towns of Gabrovo, Nikopol, Sofia, Kazanluk, Panagyurishte, Vratsa and Vidin.
The tradition has been kept alive by contemporary master gunsmiths such as Dyanko Dyankov from Apriltsi, Dimiter Petrov from Sofia, and Pavlin Pavlov and Zdravko Kostov from Pleven
Pottery is one of the oldest crafts known to humankind. It played an important role in the life of the people inhabiting the Bulgarian lands in ancient times too. Archaeologists have evidence that the Thracians knew the manual potter's wheel even in the early Iron Age. The intensive cultural and commercial contacts with Ancient Greece at that time explain the influence of Hellenic arts and crafts on Thracian pottery.
The Thracian tradition diversified as the Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians settled in these lands. Painted Preslav ceramics from the second half of the 9th and early 10th century is a remarkable part of the history of certamics. Prechina ceramics, the first of its kind in Europe, was brought to Bulgaria by artisans from the Middle East. Ceramic facing tiles made in those parts of Europe sold all over the continent. Pottery flourished in the 12th to 14th centuries. Sgraffito ceramic appeared: glazed, double-baked pottery decorated with geometrical and floral motifs and, occasionally, human and animal figures. The predominant colours were green, yellow and brown.
Pottery declined in the first centuries after the Ottoman conquest (late 14th century) - only to recoover in the 18th and 19th centuries. There were potters in practically all bigger population centres: Gabrovo, Boussintsi, Aitos, Pirot and elsewhere.
Pottery covered the whole range from kitchen utensils (pots, baking dishes) to tableware (bowls, dishes), ritual vessels (wedding juds) and farming Items. The decoration depended on the shape and purpose of the piece. Wedding and ritual vassels had the richest decoration. Linear multicoloured patterns on bare or wholly glazed claywere the favourite technique. Relief rosettes, flowers and animal figures were also popular. The glazing varied in colour. Pottery is onoeof the richest legacies of the Bulgarian people. A legacy that blends century-long tradition with a flair for beauty and original taste.
Fabrics and embroideries made by Bulgarian women through the centuries come in innumerable shapes and patterns. All the blankets, sheets and dresses were hand made of wool and cotton. We also have carpets, rugs, bed covers, tufted rugs, fleecy rugs, and pillows. After the fabrics had been woven, the clothes were decorated and embroidered by hand. All different items of men's and women's garment like breeches, cardigans, waistcoats, shirts, kerchiefs, tunics, aprons, wool coats and many others were handmade. The shop has in store fabrics in excellent condition.
Embroideries can be seen mainly on the upper body garments like shirts, waistcoats and kerchiefs. Ancient Bulgarian embroidery is a real masterpiece of craftwork. The patterns of it characterize the different ethnographic regions of the country.
Carpet-weaving in the Bulgarian lands was brought along from the East together with its typical Anatolian and Caucasian ornaments. In the period of the Bulgarian Revival (18-19th cc) it developed into an intensively growing trade that had its markets all over the lands of the Ottoman Empire. Rugs were fabricated using the flat (double-faced) weaving technique. Their production was concentrated mainly in Chiprovtzi and Samokov, in Pirot (Western Bulgaria) and Kotel (Eastern Bulgaria). It was in these particular locations that the two most typical patterns of Bulgarian carpets developed. The ornamental and composition variety of the motifs of the rugs from Chiprovtzi contrasted with the austere geometric design of the Kotel carpets.
Chiprovtzi is famous for its rug industry. The design of earlier Chiprovtzi rugs is of ancient origin. It is geometrically styled. - composed of triangles, rhombi and other geometric figures that the flat carpet texture allowed to be loomed. Under the influence of the higher market demands, in the decoration of the 19th century carpets there appeared beautiful stylised flowers, plants, bird and animal figures, all arranged in perfect compositions. The colour harmony of the Chiprovtzi rugs is based on the juxtaposition of warm and cold colours. The prevailing shades are beige, brown, olive-green, light and dark blue, scarlet and crimson. The blue and black colours came later only as accents. The whole range of nuances was obtained by applying vegetable pigment dyes prepared by the Chiprovtzi women themselves. To build up the fabric of the carpet they used to choose a single, predominant tone, adding the rest of the hues only to make the composition look finer, while relying on their own faultless feeling for the balance and harmony of colours.
After the Liberation (1878), the changed way of life of the urban population and the rivalry of imported rugs gave an impetus to the application of richer colour schemes and more varied decorative motifs in the Chiprovtzi rugs. They won gold medals from the expositions in Anvers, Brussels, Liege, London, and became part of the collections of most of the European museums. Carpets from Chiprovtzi were sold in Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, Rome, Milan, New York, Los Angeles...