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Ivan Denkoglou, a benefactor of Bulgarian public education

| updated on 5/15/20 8:37 PM

In Sofia’s central part there is a street named after one of the champions of the Bulgarian nation’s spiritual growth. His acts of charity in 19 c. have given many Bulgarians access to high-quality education for the standards of that time. 

Ivan Denkoglou, a Bulgarian entrepreneur, donated close to two-thirds of his financial wealth to a noble cause – public education in Bulgaria. The biography of Denkoglou makes an unusual story. The great man lived during the Bulgarian National Revival, a time of material and spiritual progress of the nation, explains Associate Prof. Rossitsa Stoyanova from the Institute of History at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“His name of birth was Ivan Nenov Denkov. He was born in 1781 in the village of Balsha not far from Sofia. His father was a tailor, and at a certain point moved to Sofia. Unfortunately he died young and little Ivan was not properly educated – her had to work to make a living. Pressured by need, his mother sent him to a relative who was a monk but the boy did not stay for long with him. In the aftermath of the 1812 Russo-Turkish War the young man left for Russia and settled in the town of Nezhin, the Kharkov region. It was not a big town, with just 16,000-strong population, however a busy trade center with a big Greek merchant community. Since the reign of Catherine the Great onwards Greek merchants enjoyed important concessions – they could travel freely across the Russian Empire and imported goods duty free. The hard-working and enterprising young man first worked for the Greek merchants and engaged in trading with the Ottoman Empire. He gradually made a fortune. Denkov became part of the Greek community and even changed his name to Denkoglou, however he never forgot about his Bulgarian roots.”

In the 1930s Ivan Denkoglou was already a wealthy merchant in Moscow. He traded in Siberian skins and expanded his business that reached out as far as Central Europe and was engaged in banking operations. Ivan Denkoglou started from scratch, had no systematic education and grew rich. He spent most of his adult life outside Bulgaria. Nevertheless, he emerged as one of the biggest benefactors of Bulgarian public education and as the most generous donor of the City of Sofia during the National revival.

In 1834 Denkoglou deposited at Moscow University 15 thousand rubles for a scholarship fund”, Rossitsa Stoyanova goes on to say. Interests paid on the fund were meant to provide scholarships to Bulgarian students in the university. An advantage was given to students coming from Sofia mostly talented but poor youths. Later, in his testament, Denkoglou raised the capital of the fund. In 1856 Denkoglou invested 6250 rubles for the creation of a fund at the reputed Richelieu Lyceum in Odessa. Financing went to scholarships for Bulgarian students, mostly from Sofia. The scholarship was named after the donor and candidates were selected jointly by the Odessa Bulgarian Trusteeship and the Municipality of Sofia. The lyceum’s Bulgarian graduates enrolled in Moscow University. In this way future Bulgarian leaders of the Bulgarian Revival received first-class education. Both funds – at Moscow University and at Richelieu Lyceum, were operational until 1917-1918. After the Russian Bolshevik Revolution the two funds were confiscated. 

Back in 1849 Ivan Denkoglou donated a large sum for that time, 30 thousand gold rubles, for the building of the Bulgarian school in the churchyard of the present-day Sveta Nedelya Church in Sofia. His bright example was followed by other Bulgarian patriots. In the years after the school opened he was sending various books to it. In 1857 he visited Bulgaria for the school’s official opening and donated further funds for its expansion. One major donation made by Ivan Denkoglou was the one for the Sofia City Hall, and it was included in his will. The great patriot and benefactor died in 1861 and left money for the maintenance of the school built with his decisive support in the Sofia center. 

“The cash first went to Russian banks and after the liberation of Bulgaria from five centuries of Turkish rule in 1878 the Sofia City Hall regularly received the interests on the deposited capital and used the money as prescribed by the will of the donor”, Rossitsa Stoyanova says. “This was in fact the first charity fund of the Sofia Municipality and it released grants to poor pupils. With money from the fund the municipal authority bought a building at the corner of Vitosha and Alabin streets where the Ivan Denkoglou School was accommodated after it had been burnt down during the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War. Financing from the fund was used to build the Sofia City Hall too.” 

Ivan Denkoglou made other donations that did not necessarily have regular character. Under his will he left a sum for seven churches in Sofia and donated money to debtors serving terms in prison. Owing to his financial support the historical works of Nikola Palauzov as well as part of the historical research of Ukrainian ethnographer Yurii Venelin. The patriot bequeathed his entire library, about 600 volumes, to the schools in Sofia. In the aftermath of the liberation from Turkish rule in 1878 it became the basis for the archives of the National Library but was later returned to the Sofia schools. With money donated by Ivan Denkoglou schools and public education institutions were supported across Bulgaria. After changing its location the school founded by Ivan Denkoglou still exists downtown Sofia and is named after him. A humble monument in his native village of Balsha keeps the memory of him alive. The name Ivan Denkoglou was written down in the very first golden books of benefactors of public education in Bulgaria. 

Translated by Daniela Konstantinova
Photo: archive

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