The port city of Rousse, which lies on the eastern bank of the Danube River, is the fifth biggest city in Bulgaria. Its history began some 23 centuries ago, when a Thracian settlement was established in the area. Later, a Roman fortress, known as Sexaginta Prista, aka The Port of Sixty Ships, was erected. The Medieval Ages saw the development of a fortified settlement bearing the name of Rousse. During the Ottoman domination, the city’s name was changed to Rustchuk. In the 19th century, it became the hub of the Danubian Vilayet, which was the largest administrative and territorial unit within the empire.
Rousse is rich in expositions that trace the various stages of its history. If you go sightseeing there you must see the Museum of Urban Life, also known as The House of Calliope. The two-storey house perches on a hillside overlooking a magnificent view of the Danube.
Here is more from Iskra Todorova, curator at the ethnographic department of the Regional Museum of History in Rousse:
“The house was built back in 1864, when Midhat Pasha became governor of the vilayet. Legend has it that he was strongly impressed by a lady who was referred to as Calliope, as she was beautiful like the muse in the Greek mythology. Unfortunately, she was married. As a testimony of his love, the Turkish governor gave her a house, a gift that matched his status. He ordered the house, and chose himself its design and interior. Once it was built, he came up with a somewhat elegant way to make Calliope its owner. His servants organized a pigeon shooting competition for ladies from the higher circles of society and announced that the winner would be awarded the beautiful house. All participants received guns loaded with blanks. It was only Calliope who was given live cartridges. There was a shooter hidden nearby in case the lady missed the target. It is rumoured that Calliope won the contest.
What we know for sure is that after Bulgaria’s Liberation from Ottoman Rule in 1878, the house had a new owner, who was called Stefan Kambourov. He was a rich merchant, who fought for the independence of the Bulgarian church. As he was in conflict with the then Turkish authorities, he lived in Manchester the UK up until Bulgaria’s liberation. A partner in a ship company, he accumulated good fortune. After coming back to Bulgaria, he decided to live in Rousse. He liked the house but had to go to Vienna to sign a contract for its purchase. The then owner Katerina Kalish, who was married to the Prussian consul Moris Kalish, lived in Vienna. The purchase order is the earliest historical document we have. It gives researchers sound reason to claim the Prussian Consulate was located in the house back then”, Iskra Todorova explains.
Rumour has it that the mysterious Calliope was in fact the wife of the Prussian consul. As for the exhibition in the museum, it includes unique works of art, showing the everyday life and holidays of the rich. Back to Ms. Todorova with more details:
“The Kambourovs owned the house some 90 years. It was then bought by the municipality, which reconstructed it and restored the furniture. Its unique frescoes, ordered by Stefan Kambourov, were cleaned and restored. It is worth mentioning that they were made by Austrian painter Karl Schauersberg. The museum was set up in 1987. It shows urban models of living. At the end of 19th century, the city was hugely influenced by European life and culture. The first floor hosts temporary exhibitions. We pick a certain topic, arrange the exhibits and try to present them in an interesting and contemporary way. The second floor reveals the interior of a typical rich house in Rousse from the early 20th century”.
The museum’s authentic furniture was owned by well-known families in the past. The living room has a unique marbled cabinet and a big table that was used for official dinners. The room boasts Meissen porcelain, pearl of the South Seas and Chinese faience. There is also a grand piano, which is claimed to have been among the fist instruments of this kind introduced in Bulgaria. The museum has a music hall, where private concerts were held. The House of Calliope exhibits various music instruments, such as the zither, which was popular at the time. One of the rooms displays magnificent needlework such as tablecloths, curtains and clothing items. Like all Bulgarians, the ladies of Rousse were skilled in the art. The walls are decorated with paintings, owned by the Art Gallery of Rousse. The House of Calliope reveals numerous objects that cast light on the lifestyle of the people in Rousse, who followed European trends much earlier than their fellow countrymen.
English version: Vyara Popova
Photo: Albena Bezovska