Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
The Heavenly Protectors of Rousse (Rousingrad) and Giurgevo (Giurgevgrad)

NikolayNenov, Director

How are names given to the surrounding world – to rivers, mountains, towns? The nomination is not random, it is always subdued to a system, to models of the thought. The Bulgarian model for nominating space is part of the Old Bulgarian mythology, the religious system of the Bulgarians from the period of their paganism, from the time of the mastering of the Balkan lands. Due to this reason it is not by accident that the rivers in Northern Bulgaria are bearing the definitions of “black” and “white” – Cherni and Beli Lom (Black and White Lom), Cherni and Beli Osam (Black and White Osam), Vit, Iskar. According to the same model the Bulgarians are calling the sea Black and White.

The main god has coded his name in a number of sites – Pirin Mountain, the towns of Pernik and Perushtitsa, the flower Perunika (Iris), Peperuda (butter-fly) – an insect and a folklore ritual for raining. His divine wife – the Old God’s Mother, is found in the image of Stara planina (the Balkan Mountains). We can also find her in the texts of Christmas carols, where she is described as riding “koshuta” (a hind). “Koshuta” is also a name of a rock-hewn monastery near the village of Koshov in the Rousse Lom river valley, which has probably had Virgin Mary – God’s Mother, for its patron.

These examples are displaying a certain system for the nomination of the ethnic Bulgarian territory – namely because of this all of the Bulgarians are naming the rivers, mountains or towns with a single name, and not randomly. I’ll give an elementary example – in the folklore of all ethnographic regions is present the topos of the “White Danube” – have the people from the region of Sofia or from the Sakar Mountain went to check wheter this is so?
The emergence of the name of a certain town is related with the mastering of the space in regional terms. The settlement system of the ethnicity constructs the base of its territory. Within this territory, the towns are those durable points for “communicating with God”, which are also centers of ethnic-cultural regions, and crossroads of economic, demographic and other information.

Throughout its existence, the settlement called “Rousse” has been Bulgarian by characteristics and functions – this is the reason for us to look for the arguments for its nomination in the Bulgarian onomastic tradition. While existing as a Bulgarian town, Rousse had two nominations, which are marking stages of its existence – these are the nominations of “Rousse” and “Giurgevo”. The name Rousse is related with the traditional festivities throughout the Rousalska Sunday (the Midsummer Sunday), the ritual of Rousalii and with pre-Christian cult practices. After adopting Christianity, the Day of the St. Trinity became bordering for this holiday, which is the probable cause for choosing exactly this patron – St. Trinity, for one of the two oldest churches in Rousse.

There is a character in the Bulgarian mythology, called “Rousa moma” (Rousa Maiden), which is related to the rituals and tests, after which the growing-up young men-warriors are transitioning to the group of the sexually mature men and gain the right to marry. According to folklore logic the construction of Rousa Maiden is symbolically equal to Rousin grad (Rousin town), and this nomination can be deciphered in another time and in another context (at the fading of memory for the initiation rituals) not as “gradezh” (construction), but as “grad” (settlement, town). The presumption for the origin of the nomination ROUSSE out of the name of the folklore character “Rousa Maiden” (grandmother Rousa, according to the legend, written by G. S. Rakovski) finds support in the famous legend for the name of the town of Vidin, where at the base is standing the character of Grandmother Vida. Vida is also a well-known folklore image, she is most often a maid or samodiva (a wood-nymph), and the familiarity for her in folklore, in parallel to Rousa Maiden, is common Bulgarian, she is also present in ritual songs. It is known for certain that the patron of the youth military formations after the Bulgarians adopted Christianity is St. George. This quality of the saint – to protect the young men-warriors, is the reason for the change of the previous one (pre-Christian) local protector Rousa Maiden with Saint George. This logic may seem strange today, but eleven centuries ago it subdued the reality of the 9th century and it named the settlement, whose patron was St. George – Giurgevgrad (Giurgev town) or Giurgevo. This name is known nowadays, too.

One of the two oldest churches in Rousse is dedicated to Saint George. When in the 14th century a bridgehead (a fortification, not a settlement) was constructed on the left riverbank of the Danube, the new fortress from the fortification system of the town also received St. George for a patron and bore the name Giurgevgrad. The name Giurgevgrad is preserved in the song folklore of Northeastern Bulgaria. In the historical sources there are different varieties of the name – Giurgevo, Yergiogi, Yorgovo. The official and the folklore nominations of the settlement are not excluding each other, because they are subduing to the cultural differences of the Bulgarian society, which has its own official (“high”) and folklore (“low”) manifestations. The first one are corresponding to the state ideology, and the second – with the affirmed folklore-mythological concepts, with the image for a world of the Bulgarians. The Old Bulgarian town, located on both sides of the Danube has been part of the Medieval military system for defence, which included couples of settlement along the river. Through the towns-bridgeheads armies and stock could be sent without unobstruction, thus controlling the territory beyond. A significant specific in the nominations of “Rousse” and “Giurgevo” is their character as topoconfessionyms – nominations, which are preserving the memory for the religious history of the community. The two oldest churches in town – “St. George” and “St. Trinity” are indirectly evidencing for the change of faith (from paganism to Christianity) and the change of the name and patron of the town as a result. Thus, the first nomination of the town (Rousingrad, Rousse) marks the time of the Old Bulgarian paganism, and the second (Giurgevgrad, Giurgevo) – the Christian presence, which substituted functionally one character-patron with another.

After the loss of an own statehood and with the appearance of a second fortress (on the left riverbank) the duplicity in the nomination of the town was gradually surmounted. As of the middle of the 15th century ROUSSE marks only the settlement on the right riverbank of the Danube, and GIURGEVO – the one on the left riverbank. This is the time when the independent development of these two towns started.