The battle on Stara Zagora on 19 July 1877 during the 1877 – 1878 Russo – Turkish War was one of the most epic and tragic at the same time events. The Turkish army won then and mass slaughters of the population followed, burning down the town. The place was defended by the Opaltchentsi formation (volunteer troops) that smelled gunpowder for the first time as part of the Upfront Russian Squad under the commandment of Gen. Gurko. While withdrawing from the battlefield, both Bulgarians and Russians fought to save the Samara Banner – the symbol of the Opaltchentsi volunteer formation. Sub-colonel Pavel Kalitin kept his promise given upon receiving the banner that he would rather die, but would not let it fall into enemy’s hands and sacrificed his life to protect it. This banner remains the only one in our history awarded with the For Bravery Order. The Defenders of Stara Zagora 1877 memorial complex was later built on Chadar Mound – the place where the Opaltchentsi were headquartered. It is in the shape of the Samara Flag.
“The Samara Banner has been twice in great danger during the war,” says expert from the Regional Museum of History Vanya Doneva-Tsenkova. “The first time was on 19 July 1877 here at Stara Zagora, and the second – up on Shipka Peak during the August 11 battle the same year. The bravery of both the regular Russian troops and the Opaltchentsi formation saved the sacred object twice. The first event was recreated by this glorious monument a century later and it was named Samara Flag.”
The monument is some 50 meters high and was a project of sculptors Krum Damyanov and Bozhidar Kozarev and also of architects Bogomil Davidkov and Blagovest Valkov. Anton Maleev was the constructing engineer.
“The monument displays an original space solution,” Vanya Tsenkova goes on to say. “Three strong pillars bear the construction of the flag. There is an ossuary in the ground underneath with the remains of the victims. The sarcophagus has been engraved with the words of local poet Mikhail Berberov: “Stara Zagora, Stara Zagora – living town with roots grounded into bones.” Six Bulgarian Opaltchentsi statues and a Russian officer’s one symbolize the heroism of the six companies that saw battle for the first time. The eternal flame honors the memory of the dead heroes and it is placed in a construction in the form of bayonets. The other part of the monument consists of the memorial walls with texts recalling the road of the Samara Banner. The first one is the speech of Petr Alabin at the handing of the flag and the second – the words of Gen. Gurko, mentioning the Stara Zagora defenders. The overall composition solution of the monument is impressive as well with two distinguished zones: a monumental staircase with 100 stairs – implying the idea that the monument was built on the occasion of the 100th anniversary since the heroic battle. The second one consists of three consecutive terraces which link the separate components as an entity. Those symbolize the past – future connection through the present.”
The remains of the hero defenders were solemnly transferred from the ossuary-mausoleum /built earlier in 1910/ to the Memorial Complex at its 1977 unveiling ceremony. In 2007 an Eastern Orthodox cross was placed on the occasion of the battle’s 130th anniversary – the idea belonged to one of the monument’s authors Krum Damyanov and sculptor Filip Papazov.
“A tradition of recreations has been initiated since 2007. These events, staged at the site of the monument, keep alive the interest in the deed of the heroes. They also bring visitors back to the place for paying tribute to those heroic and tragic events of 1877,” Mrs. Tsenkova concludes.
English version: Zhivko Stanchev