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Village of Kurtovo Konare – paradise of tomatoes and peppers

Photo: Kurtovo Konare Cultural Center

The village of Kurtovo Konare, with its population of over 2,000 is situated in South Bulgaria, near the town of Stambolyiski. People here are proud of their vegetables that are among the tastiest in this country. The first kilo of red pepper was produced here a century ago at the first plant of this kind. The first sort of early tomatoes has also been grown here. The local sort of paprika – Kurtovska Kapia is well-known among vegetable connoisseurs, along with the local sort of apples, known as kurtovka.

© Photo: bspb-grasslands.org

An annual Festival of Paprika and Tomato is held each autumn in Kurtovo Konare, as locals express their gratitude to the earth for its fruits. The event has quickly become popular across Bulgaria and hundreds of visitors come to the village to taste and buy some of its products. The local Lyuben Karavelov community center is the main organizer of this and other events. Its Secretary Emilia Shusharova takes care for its participation in different projects and she will now give us more details on her work.

© Photo: archive

“Traditionally a community center is considered a cultural institution, but the participation in the festival has changed our attitude and has got us back to those customs that had existed for centuries. We work for the turning of the community center into a focal point of the entire community. People gather here, meet the mayor, share their problems and we seek a solution together. We want to restore the old fame of Kurtovo Konare as an agricultural paradise. We also developed a strategy for support of disabled people that gradually turned into an important document that all local authorities comply with. We were the first to build a ramp for people with disabilities and now those have access to the library and the document archive…”

Mayor Ivan Pirinov is a young man that works very actively for the restoration of the place’s old fame. The festival mentioned above is prepared over the entire year, people invite relatives and friends from other settlements. A Queen of Lyutenitsa is selected each year /lyutenitsa – a side dish, made of mashed tomatoes, peppers and spices/ and Mrs. Sofka Mitreva won the title in 2012. A slice of bread, covered with lyutenitsa has always been the traditional favorite breakfast for Bulgarian children in the winter.

© Photo: Kurtovo Konare Cultural Center

The Queen of Lyutenitsa (in the middle) and her two daughters posing with the abundant and tasty production

 “This festival has contributed a lot to the life of people here,” Sofka Mitreva says. “Visitors from across Bulgaria attend the event, we make a lot of contacts and thus we know where to offer our production. I have revenues from my lyutenitsa that was appreciated by everyone this year.”

Children are the next thing that Kurtovo Konare is proud of, since there are lots of young families there. Mrs. Margarita Momchilova leads a class in plastic arts with the community center – perhaps the only place, where the kids create dolls out of corn leaves, following an old local tradition. Margarita and her students received an award from the Wonders of Bulgaria national contest a few years ago.

© Photo: marica.bg

The former king’s palace of Krichim is the main landmark of the place, as it is situated only 150 m away from the houses. Despite this many of the people from the village haven’t visited it, mainly due to the severe access restrictions from the past, Emilia Shusharova says.

© Photo: archive

The Krichim residence

“It was a real fortress during the era of socialism,” Emilia Shusharova says. “The high level party leaders used to come here regularly and then people in the entire village were forced not to leave their houses. After the democratic changes the place was open for a while, but with a very high entrance fee and so it couldn’t turn into a real tourist attraction. Nowadays the National Security Service takes care of it and it requires a one month’s notice for each group. There is an idea the palace to be included in the list of 100 national tourist sites, which will perhaps make it more attractive and accessible…”

English version: Zhivko Stanchev

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