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Boyar Legends

Reconstruction of boyar garments, presented at the archaeological museum in the old capital Veliko Tarnovo.Photo: Veneta Nikolova
The title “boyar” was given to medieval Bulgarian aristocrats. They were the associates of Bulgarian sovereigns and did a lot of decision-making. Boyars occupied the top administrative and military positions. Some set up their own estates outside the capital city. The luckiest part remained independent even after the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria in 14 c. Others perished in the process. The survivors from the medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo, Central Bulgaria, scattered in the Bulgarian lands in search of refuge losing on the way their titles, posts and wealth.
How is this aristocratic stratum presented in folklore, the art of the peasantry? In Folk Studio Rumyana Panayotova focuses on a few legends about Bulgarian boyars.

The poetic story of forbidden love between a Boyar daughter and a young guy from the lower class has survived among the stone ruins of Bulgaria’s second capital, Preslav in Northeastern Bulgaria. The city’s high walls encircled the royal palaces and boyar estates, as well as churches and monasteries. The story however unfolded in the locality of Patleina. More – from Alexander Gorchev, director of the Veliki Preslav National History & Archeology Reserve cum Museum.

”An old legend has it that a young man from Preslav fancied a girl from the royal court. The couple succeeded in fleeing the city, however, the royal guard saw them and let them out. The girl’s parents sent persecutors to bring the fugitives back. At first, the two sweethearts found refuge in the Mecha Dupka Cave. Unfortunately, the persecutors found them. Then the boyar girl started throwing behind her back the gold coins that she had taken with her before leaving home. The soldiers that were after the couple, started fighting for the coins. Taking the advantage, the sweethearts ran away and went into hiding. And, where the coins had fallen, lovely yellow tulips started to grow. They grow in that place to the present day – a rare tulip variety, thanks to which the locality has been declared a nature reserve”, historian Alexander Gorchev says.

An old legend takes us back to the third Bulgarian medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo. Not far from it is the locality of Tsareva Livada, along the River of Dryanovo where the ruins of a medieval castle survive. According to the legend, there was a palace in that place way back, where the Bulgarian royal family would spent the summers together with the closest boyars. Gossip had it that a secret tunnel underneath the palace kept seven stone tubs full of gold, precious stones and jewelry. Three crowns and a scepter, symbols of statehood, as well as a Christian cross, were laid on a marble table in the crypt. This legend speaks of the relentless popular faith that the Bulgarian Christian state would resurrect after the Ottoman conquest.

In the western Balkan Range, amid the breathtaking deep canyon of the River Gabrovnitsa, stands a small, but unique monastery. It is popularly known as the Seven Thrones. This name derives from the seven chapels united in a most unusual way in the monastery’s church. According to the legend, the monastery was founded in 11 c. by seven boyars. Each of them built a beautiful village in the monastery’s vicinity. Another legend associates the Seven Thrones Monastery with the Bulgarian boyar Petar Delyan, a descendant of the Samuil royal family, who in 1040 lead an uprising against the Byzantine domination of Bulgaria. It is believed that two of his brothers founded the monastery, and later Petar Delyan was buried there. In other legends the monastery was destroyed during the Ottoman conquest in 14 c. The leading Bulgarian classic of the 19 and 20 c. Ivan Vazov devoted one of his poems to the last monk protecting the cloister from the Turks. The poet was inspired and wrote his work in the Seven Thrones Monastery. Other stories claim that the monastery was either founded or restored in 14 c. by seven voivodes (anti-Turkish resistance chieftains). Small, however quite well maintained, the monastery has been attracting many Christian believers, as well as crowds of tourists keen on heritage sites.

Written by: Rumyana Panayotova
Translated by: Daniela Konstantinova