In this edition on Bulgarian folklore, we bring you more about famous Bulgarian master builders in the past, with some legends and stories about them. What were the building methods in Bulgaria in the 19th century, who was the Bulgarian Icarus, and what was so peculiar about the art of building bridges? All this coming up over the next 20 minutes, to the accompaniment of some authentic Bulgarian folk songs. Stay with us!
Stone, certain types of soil, wood and some straw – these were the traditional materials that Bulgarian craftsmen in the past used to build houses for centuries on end. Along with the traditional lime and sand, they sometimes used to add some eggs and animal blood to the mortar. Thus, the walls became so strong that sometimes they can hardly be destroyed even by means of modern equipment. When we walk near houses and bridges dating back to the 18th and 19th century (which was the Revival period in Bulgaria), it is really hard to believe that most builders in the past were actually self-taught. Many of them had no knowledge of architectural drawings and plans but they acquired their skills from experienced craftsmen who taught them the secrets of this trade.
In some areas of our country, there are very well-preserved houses built of handmade adobe bricks. Interestingly, this technology was preserved until the mid-20th century, and adobe houses are still in very good condition, maintaining excellent thermal insulation. Another popular building technique in the past was the so-called "flimsy construction" consisting of a wooden skeleton and a plaster filling. Strange as it may seem, this construction was not only robust but also waterproof and earthquake-resistant. In general, master builders in the past were skilled not only in different construction techniques, but also in carpentry and stonework.
According to legend, the man known as the "Bulgarian Icarus" was also a builder. The story about him goes like this: a Turkish Sultan survived a terrible disaster, so he decided to build a mosque in Edirne in gratitude to God. At that time, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. So, the Sultan summoned the most famous builder and this was Bulgarian Manol. He worked for seven years and constructed a miraculous temple. After it was completed, the Sultan asked him: "Can you build a more beautiful mosque than this one?" and Master Manol replied: "One always has what to learn. Maybe I made some mistakes here that I will avoid in the future and I will be able to build an even more majestic temple." Hearing this, the ruler ordered that Manole be shut in one of the mosque minarets until his last breath. The inventive craftsman, however, managed to create another miracle – he designed himself wings made of wood. And one day, the people in Edirne saw a huge flying creature soaring in the sky and heading home to Thrace. In this way, Master Manol managed to save his life and turned into a favorite hero in Bulgarian folk tales and songs.
Such as the song we offer you next – its name is Master Manol.
Besides the well-reserved 19th century houses in Bulgaria with amazing architecture, there are also a number of remarkable old bridges. Built centuries ago, many of them are still used - with or without modern intervention. One of them is Kadin Bridge built over the river Struma in Southeastern Bulgaria. It bears an inscription in Turkish, saying that the bridge was built in 1469 and 1470. There are several legends about its history. One of them says that the bridge was commissioned by a high-ranking Turkish official as a token of the courage and beauty of a Bulgarian woman. According to another legend, one of the builders walled up his own wife’s shadow into the bridge.
The legend told of three brothers who started building the bridge. They were working hard all day long but during the night, everything they had done crumbled down. At the end, they resorted to a drastic measure – they remembered the old belief that a human shadow had to be incorporated into the construction to make it stronger although they knew that this person would be fated to death. So they decided that the first person who approached the bridge at dawn break would be the victim. At early dawn, the wife of the youngest brother prepared breakfast for her husband and came to the bridge to bring it to him. The two elder brothers walled up her shadow into the structure and soon afterwards the young woman fell ill and died.
The motif for walling up a human shadow or even a living person into the construction of a bridge is very common in Bulgarian folklore. Researchers have discovered similar motifs in many ancient and historical resources of other nations.
Master Kolyo Ficheto is probably the most famous builder of the Bulgarian Revival in the 19th century. His real name was Nikola Ivanov Fichev. This unique self-taught architect, builder and a man of remarkable aesthetic taste, he really created history with his own nds. Many storytellers invented entertaining stories of his unmatched skills. One of them depicts the following plot – Master Kolyo Ficheto was building a bridge in an inaccessible place. When people walked on it for the first time, they feared it might collapse. To appease them, the master lay under the bridge himself and waited for everyone to pass upon it. So, Kolyo Ficheto risked his life to guarantee the strength of his construction. Folk legends also depict him as a very good singer and musician as well as a cheerful man who adored his work.
English translation Rossitsa Petcova