Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
The Rousse Initiatives through the Eyes of Foreigners

MarianaDimitrova, Curator at the “Modern and Contemporary History” Department

Rousse has always been associated with the speedy incorporation of Liberated Bulgaria to the cultural values of the European nations. Its development is predetermined by the traditionally developed trade connections along the Danube. The proximity to Europe formed new values for the citizens, examples for behaviour and standards for living. The presence of many foreigners, as well as the existence of peculiar elite distinguished it from the traditional Bulgarian town. Up to the beginning of the 20th century Rousse evolved as a typical European town with a strong urban eradiation that is visible far away outside the region. But in 1878 Rousse looked the same as the Ottomans have left it – with a number of minarets, Turkish baths, tumbledown houses and with a single, landed among them, “Bucharest” commercial street, according to the expression of Dobri Nemirov, which the citizens of Rousse would call “Knyazheska” (Princely Street), because it is being the most representative one and on it is located the Prince’s Palace, former seat of the manager of the Rousse-Varna Railways. Next to the palace was located the famous “Islyah Hane” hotel, seriously damaged by the fire of the Russian Fleet.

The Russian officer Esper Serebryakov, commander of the Danube Fleet in 1885, is writing on its memories: “My first impression after the arrival in Rouschouk was that if I were in some Russian province, transferred somewhere to the East. On one hand you could often hear Russian speech, you could hear the ring of church bells, you could meet a detachment of soldiers, dressed in Russian uniforms, joyfully marching under the sounds of Russian military songs. All of this reminded me of Russia. On the other hand you could often meet Turks with fezzes and turbans, Bulgarian villagers with their traditional costumes, pretty much resembling the Turkish ones, the high points of the minarets and the shouts of the muezzins from them, was bringing us to the East. The sorrowful traces of the centuries-long disgraceful yoke were still visible everywhere. There has not even been a generation that has grown on a free soil. The educated and intelligent people were individuals. And as an exception, a hundred other people have graduated in Russia, as much or not more than that that have graduated in Europe, the entire so-called first class (the urban bourgeoisie) was consisting of mainly underdeveloped trade class, of people who under the yoke were related to their oppressors and have risen due to the fact that they have indulged their former masters, the Turks. Of course for those people the yoke has left mainly deep and almost incurable traces. Thus, when observing the Bulgarian life at that time, you could see a lot of unpleasant and ill-looking phenomena, as it would have been in other countries, which have been just liberated and not due to the strength of their own, but with the assistance of foreign interference.”
After the Liberation Europe is apprehended by the Bulgarian society as an opposing economic power, which flooded the local market with goods. The Bulgarian economy is entirely open and the imported production ruins the national economy. The traders from Rousse were startled. It is enough to turn over the pages of the Municipality of Rousse and the protocols of the Rousse Trade and Commerce Chamber, to determine a curious public adjustment – endless requests for state protection of professions and individual citizens, worried by the invasion of foreign goods and the ruin of local crafts. The fear of risky undertakings – a negative consequence of the foreign rule is deeply integrated within the mentality of the local population and holds its trading and production capabilities. Meanwhile, a positive impact over the economic development of Rousse was caused by the central geographic position, the positive role of the Danube and its fertile agricultural vicinity. As of 1890 were registered 1460 trading, craftsman and production companies. 14 % of the urban population was dealing with commerce. The retail trade – the colonial, the groceries, the publican business, was engaging mainly the Bulgarians. Among the wholesale traders were included also Jews, Armenians, Greeks.

Up to the end of the 19th century the economic characteristics of the town were determined mainly by the import-export and transit trade with the Danube cities from Central Europe, Romania and Russia. Rousse turned into a significant deposit center, which stimulated the opening of trade houses and the construction of storehouses for goods. Usually, the storing grounds were located around the port, and the storehouses – along the central town streets. Rousse became the main supplier of manufacture and colonial goods, of machinery and wooden construction material not only for the region, but also for the interior of the country. The significantly increasing incomes of the customs of Rousse are displaying exactly that: in 1906 they were 4 533 750 leva, and in 1907 – 5 985 082 leva. The Italian publicist Vico Mantegazza in his book: “Two Months in Bulgaria – Notes of a Witness, 1886” mentions: “In Turkish times Rouschouk, as to say it this way the capital of the Danube vilayet. And even now, according to the number of the population and according to its commerce, it is the most important town in Bulgaria. It is the debouche of Europe for the trade with Bulgaria… The population of the town is mixed, in similarity to all of the trade towns of the East. A lot of Greeks and Jews… Because of being more than the rest of the Bulgarian towns in relations, contact with Europe, Rouschouk very soon felt its influence, when the Turkish rule ended. There are a couple of tolerable hotels, a certain number of two-storey houses, very well constructed, several wide and paved streets. It has been ages since I’ve seen such a good cobblestone!... The Prince’s Palace, the Regional Government, the main hotel are buildings, which hare constructed elegantly. The Austrian and Hungarian colonies are pretty large and are holding in their hands a lot of branches of commerce.

Among the towns of the Principality, Rousse possesses undoubtedly brightest future and in several years it can develop into one of the main centers of the Eastern trade. The traffic now is being conducted by the only railway track, possessed by the Principality, the Rousse-Varna line. In Rousse there is now a start of a public life. In the winter there are evening meetings conducted. The singers of the café-chantants, which are flooding the East, have not skipped Rousse. The European dress is the predominant. The proximity to Bucharest, where you can go for 7-8 hours, causes great influence. Industry also made its first steps. The beer continued its victorious march and has now turned into a regular drink. The wines of Rousse are the best in Bulgaria.” In his travel notes the famous Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek describes Rousse of the beginning of the 20th century this way: “Instead of an oriental town, shining with its peculiar domes and minarets, you can see the smoke of the factories for silk textiles, for leather and leather transmissions, pottery production with the renowned silver decoration, and if you enter the town among several narrow streets, you are suddenly coming up to one boulevard, which could put to shame many western towns. The houses are constructed according to the European manner, I found a building with mezzanine, a nice town hospital, barracks, cafes, decorated by the European fashion, chantants, etc.

At the port there is liveliness. During the whole day, and sometimes in the night, the clamour is endless. The ships are arriving one after another, they are leaving their freight, they are loading another, they leave, others are coming… And this entire fair consists of different nationalities: Bulgarians, Greeks Turks, Armenians, Gypsies, Romanians, Serbians. Whoever wants to gather a dictionary of the curses, may he stop for a while in the port of Rouschouk.”
The citizens of Rousse gradually understand that the European economic penetration is not so dangerous for the development of local economy. In 1886 the mayor Petar Vinarov allowed the Black-Sea-Danube Shipping, whose steamboats traveled from Odessa to Svishtov, to use for 10 years a premise for agency and a storehouse. For the place of the port was chosen the terrain under the Giurgiu scaffolding, and for a storehouse – the town’s bakery. The Municipality gave places for the construction of storehouses of the Austrian-Hungarian Shipping Association. The Municipality of Rousse tried to look more globally on the development of market relations. The efforts in this direction are stressing on the establishment of these conditions within the town, which would stimulate and support its sustainable economic development. One of the first events in this relation is the decision from May 20th, 1885, for the construction of several buildings, which are to be let out for the tobacco factories of the town. In the next year it was decided for the municipal mill to be sold to borthers Papamanoli and Andre Turiot. Municipal lands were giv en to the leather factories of “Penko, Pavlov and Co.” and to “St. Korabov”. The request of the Austrian citizen Haberman for the decrease of taxation of his brewery was fulfilled. After issuing the Law for the Stimulation of Local Industry, the Municipality continued to grant state-owned or municipal lands for the construction of industrial enterprises – to the factory for production of cement and brick items “Trud”, to the machinery factory of Evgeni Mulhaupt, to the soap factory of Vasil Bachevarov, to the vinegar factory of Dr. Nikola Chervenivanov, to Dimshid for the expansion of the factory of essence and ethereal oils, for the expansion of the factory for ink and wax of Filip Simidov, for the completion of the spirituous factory of Nacho Nachev, to Hartyun Manukyan for the construction of a factory for machinery and iron items, to Paparinov for a vegetable oil factory. The design and construction of a new commercial port quay also began. The impulse for the integration of the citizens of Rousse to the economic model of advanced Europe is also expressed through the participation of one entirely modern fair – the First Bulgarian Agricultural-Industrial Expo in Plovdiv (1892). The regional governor of Rousse Nikola Obretenov proposed as early as 1890, probably influenced by the trip[ to Austria-Hungary, for the organization of such a fair in the town. At first, according to him, there should be a collection opened within the building of the Regional Government, which is to consist of selected local production, as well as of the antiquities and minerals, gathered from the region. In the future, proposed Nikola Obretenov, a special building should be constructed for this purpose.
When the Regulations for the organization of the First Agricultural-Industrial Expo were adopted, it was settled that the expos should be two – the first one, the agricultural – in August-September 1892 in Plovdiv, and the other – the industrial, in the same time in 1893 in Rousse. From the pages of the “Our First Exhibition” newspaper we see that from the very beginning the citizens of Rousse prepared their participation in the Plovdiv expo with the self-confidence of being the future hosts. On the personal request of Nikola Obretenov, who was also the Chairman of the regional commission of the preparation of the expo, the Municipality granted 30 000 leva. The design and construction of Rousse’s pavilion was given to the regional engineer Todor Tonev, who was sent to the Prague expo in 1891 with this purpose. In his memoirs, Nikola Obretenov recalls: “I had the entire ambition my region to be distinguished as the champion (I am a citizen of Rousse, after all)”. In the appeal of the Rousse regional commission to all of the farmers, craftsmen and manufacturers was said: “May everyone according ot his own craft, produce the things which he can best, the most beautiful and the most expensive, and to present it in the Regional Government”. With the assistance of Nikola Obretenov, the ethnographer Dimitar Marinov and photographer Hristo Dashkov visited the villages of the region to make photos of the holidays, rituals and the typical costumes of the local population. The implemented albums were bound luxuriously. One of them was presented as a gift to Prince Ferdinand during the exhibition, and the other one went to the Rousse museum. After the closing of the First Bulgarian expo, the Government issued that the Rousse expo, projected for 1893, is postponed due to the large financial expenses of the state. The stories of the foreigners who have visited the town after the Liberation are distinguishing a number of specifics of the Rousse urban model. Multinational according to its demographic outlook, the town gradually became predominantly Bulgarian.

When talking about the architecture of Rousse, it can be stated that it really has its intransitive values. It would hardly be hidden that the architecture is not native, but imported from Europe. But the men from Rousse made their selection, he has adapted the classical architecture examples towards the local conditions and has created this warm, provincial and in the meanwhile holiday outlook of Rousse’s streets and squares. Actually, in the town can be seen all of the styles, but mixed, acquainted and smiled. And this is the whole magic of Rousse. Especially valuable for the future development of the young Bulgarian state are the initiatives of the entrepreneurs from Rousse from the last decade of the 19th century, absorbed from the experience of the advanced European countries. The companies, established here in the 1890-1895 period – the First Bulgarian Commerce Chamber, the First Bulgarian Insurance Company “Bulgaria”, the largest provincial financial institution – the Bulgarian Commercial Bank, and laying the foundations of the of the modern industry in town, turned Rousse into a peculiar center and engine of the Bulgarian economic advance in the beginning of the 20th century. We should not forget that from here has started the path of the Bulgarian sailors, that the citizens of Rousse were witnessing the initial steps of the Bulgarian diplomacy, that they were the first in the country to see the epochal discovery of the Lumier brothers – the cinema (1897). And what number of small things, which are differing the modern man, have emerged for the first time in Rousse – the elevator, the bicycle, the sports boat, the water ski.

Somewhere on the pages of the classical Russian prose there is a legend for Rouschouk, which have appeared who knows from where. Two miserable, homeless muzhiks are talking: “Don’t fear, fellow! There is a town, distant and wondrous town, there behind the large river of Danube. This town was called Rouschouk. Peace and love reigned in it, for each one there is bread and shelter. You and I shall go there”. Much later the European author Elias Canetti, will repeat the same legend for the town of his happy childhood: “… this is one marvelous place, inhabited with people, alien to racial and national discrimination, industrial people, strong and joyful”. How much of this has remained up to the present day?