Начало Новини Prof. Toshev: Belogradchik is a city of a worldwide reputation

Prof. Toshev: Belogradchik is a city of a worldwide reputation

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Borislav Toshev

Borislav Toshev

Dr. Borislav Toshev is a professor of physical chemistry and colloidal chemistry, lecturing at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski University, Shumen University “Bishop Konstantin Preslavski”, Plovdiv University “Paisii Hilendarski” and the University of Blagoevgrad “Neofit Rilski”. Prof.  Toshev has been a vice-president (research studies) of the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, as well as a deputy minister in “Higher Education” in the Ministry of Education and Science. At present, he is a member of many prestigious Bulgarian and international scientific societies.

Prof.  Borislav Toshev was born in Belogradchik in 1943. Nowadays, he is a chief editor of the “Wreath”:  a Belogradchik magazine for history, culture and ethnology, ISSN Report No. 1314-0426. The magazine has a page and in Facebook.

Prof.  Toshev, tell us more about the Belogradchik magazine “Wreath”.

Wreath” is an anthropological scientific magazine referred and indexed in print and in electronic version. It is included in some packages of scientific journals in areas distributed to the university libraries worldwide. Thus, the “Wreath” can be found in about 650 libraries around the world and at present, it is distributed exclusively to the scientific community. The magazine is bilingual, with articles in Bulgarian and in English. Most of the texts are about Belogradchik, but there are many other materials which are not related to Belogradchik written by foreign authors. The magazine is being published since 2010 and at the moment, we are now on the fourth edition with an annual volume of about 500 pages.

Up to this point, the printed version is not distributed in Bulgaria. It is intended for some sources that insist on the printed form such as the British Council Library or the Library of the United States Congress. The big universities already prefer online versions in order to build their information databases. Fortunately, the magazine is doing fine.

How do you select your texts?

 The magazine follows the usual rules typical for the publishing of scientific journals. This means that the “Wreath” has an international editorial board. More importantly, an expert evaluation of the manuscripts submitted is provided by specialists in the relevant areas.  If the expert assessment is favourable and proves that the given research is of interest to science, then the article is accepted for print.


Who is behind this magazine?

The idea behind this magazine belongs to a scientific community called “Belogradchik Society for Local History and Ethnology”. The people working for the magazine are mainly people around the University of Sofia, but we also have members from other places, including from abroad. The ambition of the scientific society is to study in detail the history of the city, to collect and preserve documents, books, articles and other materials which reveal the rich cultural heritage of Belogradchik.

How do you combine history and anthropology with your main research interests and expertise?

This is something new for me and is quite far from my specialty – physical chemistry.  This is a specialty of a little physics, a little chemistry and a lot of math. In addition, I am occupied with many other things and the whole system goes highly loaded, and I rarely have spare time.  On the other hand, I constantly learn lots of interesting things I haven’t even thought of. So for example, when I visit England I have the opportunity to study achieves in details in which I often find many interesting things for Belogradchik.

Which came first, the interest in your homeland or in anthropology?

Both of them are closely related. Belogradchik is a special case. Sometime in the 1960s, the town totally changed its population. Very few natives from Belogradchik and the vicinity stayed to live there. Collectivization attracted people from the villages into the city, and the urban population sought fulfilment elsewhere. That was a very long process, but around 1960, it ended. And because my roots are from the region of Belogradchik, I know a lot. Probably, I am the person who knows most about Belogradchik. I inherited a lot of documents from my father and my grandfather and at one moment I decided I should give publicity to these things.

And how does anthropology intervene? Because I’m a man of science and I know the scientific methods, I couldn’t help considering these things scientifically. So everything combines and exists in this way.


Белоградчик в миналото

Belogradchik in the past

It’s a fact that you publish many old photos from Belogradchik. How do you gather this collection?

A part of the photos are from my personal archive, but I’ve gathered the bulk from different people. I prefer to be given original photographs. Then I make some improvements if the picture allows.  Then this material is archived in electronic version. Collecting old photographs is extremely important as these are the documents of the past. If they are properly archived, they can be used later for research. Pictures referring to the educational activities in Belogradchik, for example, are very interesting.  They are very old, made shortly after the First World War and are very enlightening.

Is it hard to get the truth about the past?

Bulgarian history has its conspicuous characteristic. It has been entirely replaced and falsified over the years. And that was done deliberately! In my excerpts, I usually focus on facts and almost never give evaluations, even when things are evident.  It can easily be seen that there are some important historical events which are intentionally concealed. For example, there used to be important buildings in the town which have been destroyed to conceal the memory of the so-called “bourgeois past”. There was some wrong impression that in bourgeois Bulgaria people used to wear pattens, which is far from the truth.

The other option to find the truth is to see what’s in the archives. Presently, some records of the military intelligence were declassified and a lot of things came out for Belogradchik.  I wonder why they had interest in some specific people in the town.

When is this information collected?

Reports date from the early 50s – the beginning of the Cold War. So there are a lot of details that are of particular interest to the researchers.

It turns out that you find more information on Belogradchik abroad than in Bulgaria.

Yes, much of the information comes mainly from abroad. Otherwise, I always encourage people to send me photos and I often encounter very interesting materials.  Unfortunately very few pictures come from the villages. There is no pictures preserved, and apparently that was the attitude. It seems to me that the Bulgarians have no sense for material values. Why the Vidin and Belogradchik fortresses are preserved? Because just after the Liberation of Bulgaria, they came under the control of the War Ministry to be used as military objects. That saved them from being looted. Things are different with the Roman fortresses around Belogradchik.  Immediately after the Liberation, they have been destroyed and the construction material has been used for the construction of houses.


Снимка: Тихомир Младенов

Photograph: Tihomir Mladenov

What do you think about the ranking of the new wonders of the world? The Belogradchik rocks were among the contenders and this prompted many Bulgarians to visit them.  

Of course, these rankings are of great importance for the promotion of a historical or natural site, but I don’t think the popularity of the Belogradchik rocks would have any lasting effect.

In order to develop serious tourism, you need to firstly develop strong human factor. People should know more languages.  There should be more communication. Once upon a time, the railroad was built on purpose to make a big turn in order to get closer to the city. “Oreshetz” is the railway station of Belogradchik.  Now the authorities intend to eliminate this turn to speed up the line to Vidin. This reorganization will have an adverse impact on Belogradchik. Otherwise, the roads in the North-western Bulgaria, no matter how they make them, still remain in deplorable condition. I have no idea what causes this.

The future of Belogradchik remains unclear to me, but at least historically, things are already quite well-known.  It’s true that the Bulgarian cities like Belogradchik, with such a worldwide reputation of two-three centuries ago, are just a few.

Specially for www.severozapazena.bg. Prof. Toshev showed us his own text published in the “Wreath” magazine in 2012.

Again for the Belogradchik meteorite

B. V. Toshev

The gorge of Belogradchik (Williams, 1932)

The gorge of Belogradchik (Williams, 1932)

Belogradchik and its area of around 90 square kilometres are a huge natural museum in the open.  Any visitor around will enjoy the world-famous Belogradchik rocks – smaller and larger stone formations with weird shapes, which in spring and summer are immersed in lush vegetation, and in the autumn and winter stand hidden in the mists or are surrounded by snow and ice (Tronkov & Sinnyovsky, 2012). The natural beauty of the area, however, is not everything. Actually, this is a museum of the natural history of the Earth – the sandstones are the basic rocks, but there are also limestone and karst areas, with more than 100 caves (Leonidov & Trifonov, 2005), among which is the famous “Magura” Cave (Tranteev, 1971) and the Kozarnika cave which has recently been intensely explored “(Sirakov et al., 2010). Here is the largest inland lake in Bulgaria – the Rabishko Lake. There is a cave even in the red sandstone – “Lepenitsa” (Boev & Iliev, 1991), inhabited in prehistoric times, as Magura and Kozarnika Caves used to be inhabited by humans. Respectively, Belogradchik offers not only joy to the eye and food for the imagination, but also knowledge of physical geography (Giles, 1930), geology, petrography, mineralogy, botany, zoology, mining (Gaul, 1942), astronomy (Antov, 1999), ethnology (Kanits, 1932), folklore studies (Popov & Dzhonov, 1969) and linguistics.

The same place thirty years earlier

The same place thirty years earlier

After the successful participation of the Belogradchik rocks in the world race for the new world natural wonders, today many people know much about Belogradchik – there are hardly any Bulgarians who haven’t heard about this remarkable natural phenomenon. Yet, there are still some unknown or vague facts.  Few people have heard of the Belogradchik meteorite.

The meteorite fell in the area of Belogradchik (Varba village, 43 ° 32 ‘ N 22 ° 38 ‘ E), and is present in all prestigious meteorite collections, but it’s never been exhibited in Bulgaria. The largest chunk of the meteorite (3040g) is kept in the Museum of Natural History in Budapest; a chunk of 104 grams can be seen in the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, 74g. of it is located in the Museum of Natural History in Paris, and three pieces with overall weight of 38 grams can be seen in the British Museum. Small specimens weighing 1.5g, 4.5g and 1.8g respectively can be seen at the Berlin Museum of Natural history, among the collection of meteorites in the Vatican and at the Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Today in the world catalogues of meteorite, this meteorite is most commonly found under the name Virba, but there are other synonyms used for it, such as Urba, Belgradjek, Belgrade Djik, Wirba (Toshev, 2009).

The same place nowadays

The same place nowadays

There are two publications providing similar description of the appearance and the chemical analysis of the Belogradchik meteorite (Daubrée, 1874; Meunier, 1893). These publications recently translated in Bulgarian, together with commentaries on their authors, appeared recently (Toshev, 2010b).

Here the Belogradchik meteorite will be introduced with the words of one of the most famous meteorite researchers – Walter Flight (1841-1885). “On May 20, 1874. in Varba village near Belogradchik, Turkey, the meteorite fell with a loud crash, boring into the Earth to 1 meter depth. Its weight was 3.6 kg. The fragment, received in the meteorite collection in Paris, was a gift from His Excellency Saffet Pasha. It has black crust under which a meteorite with light-gray colour and very fine-grained texture, with metal grains, finely dispersed through the mass of the specimen, can be seen.  The microscopic studies reveal that the rock is transparent and almost colourless with the rock particles reacting to polarized light. The metal part consists of nickel and iron; the iron sulphide is proved with acid. The silicon particles gelatinize with the acid and show the presence of olivine. The residue, which is resistant to aggressive chemicals, is less than half of the weight of the meteorites and can pass as enstatite. The meteorite shows relationship with other meteorites such as the one from Luc, Sarthe, France (1768, September 13) or the aerolites from Bachmut, the Island of Oesel, St. Denis-Westrem, Suschof, Dolgaja Wolja, etc. (Flight, 1887).

According to some literary testimonies, the Belogradchik meteorite has been gifted in Paris by Saffet Pasha. Who is Saffet Pasha?

Saffet Pasha (1815-1883)

Saffet Pasha (1815-1883)

The meteorite has been gifted to France while Saffet Pasha used to be an ambassador of the Ottoman Empire in Paris. For us, it is especially interesting that later in 1878, as a Minister of the Foreign Affairs of the Sublime Porte, Saffet Pasha, as imperial representative of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, together with count Nikolai Ignatieff, as an imperial representative of the Emperor Alexander II, signed the Preliminary Treaty of San Stefano.

Saffet Pasha and count Ignatieff signed the Peace Treaty of San Stefano.

Saffet Pasha and count Ignatieff signed the Peace Treaty of San Stefano.

The name of Saffet Pasha relates to yet another curious story – the discovery of Troy by Schliemann (Allen, 1999). The location of the excavations planned at the fortress Kum appeared to be a private property and Schliemann intended to buy it for 1,000 francs.  However, a governmental permission for the start of any archaeological studies was needed. In order to get it, in December 1870 Schliemann met Saffet Pasha in Istanbul, a Minister of Culture and Education at that time.

Saffet Pasha has never heard anything of Homer and Troy, but he thought he might find some gold in these excavations. He said that the authorization would be obtained in eight days. In the meantime, he forced the owners to sell him their property for 600 francs. The agreement between the two was to split the treasures in half, with Schliemann obtaining the right to export his part out of the country. Two years later, Saffet Pasha broke this condition and with a ministerial decree Schliemann kept only the right to sell his part only on the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Of course, these conditions were later broken and in the spirit of the European colonial traditions today a small part of these exceptional archaeological finds can be seen only be seen in Turkey.

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890)

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890)

With its natural beauty, Belogradchik is known to the cultural world for centuries in many other respects: “neither the gorges of Ollioules in Provence nor the Gorge of Pancorbo in Spain, nor the Alps or the Pyrenees, nor the most beautiful mountains of Tyrol and Switzerland could be compared to what I saw in Belogradchik” (Blanqui, 1845) – this is just one of the few testimonies. The Belogradchik meteorite brings a new and unknown (at least to the general public until now) touch to the history of this remarkable Bulgarian town.

The original text and references used can be seen here.

More on the topic: Toshev, B. V. (2010). The Belogradchik meteorite. Wreath magazine, 1, 42-55.

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