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Zheravna - history

Ana Nyagulova

by Ana Nyagulova

© 2007 Ana Nyagulova - author
© 2007 Community centre "Edinstvo", Zheravna - publisher
© 2010 Hristo Svinarov, Maya Lyubenova, Stella Vassileva - translation into English

The article is part of the Ana Nyagulova's book "Memories about Zheravna families"
The text should not be copied or reproduced by any means without written permission from the copyrights holders - author, publisher and translators.

People used to live in this scenic place since way back in time. The area is rich with cool, crystal clear water springs, which is a fundamental settling factor. The local history museum treasures coins dating back to II and III century AD, when the first local inhabitants, the Thracians, were living here under Roman government. One can also see a lot of preserved Thracian burial pottery and jewelery discovered through random excavation works. The ruins of a fortress found on a nearby hill called "Vida" also date back to the Roman era.

The Slavs came and settled in the vicinity in the form of hamlets. They left denominations of purely Slavic origin, preserved until today. Zheravna was within the boundaries of Bulgaria even since the first Bulgarian state. During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, when its frontiers were expanded far to the south, Zheravna was situated at the crossroads of two important roads of the kingdom. The one who enters the village from Turnovo through Elena, Kipilovo, the western areas of Zheravna ("Russi kladenets", "Pesi dol"), enters the village and in the area of "Krastoputya" (the Field) is intersected with another important road, which existed since Roman times and was used during the first Bulgarian state: from Preslav through Kozyak peak "Vida" (its western foot), "Korenik", the "Usoite" area, and leads to the hill "Dobromeritsa". At its foot it intersected with the Turnovo road, which leads to the village of Ichera and from there to Sliven, and the Turnovo road - to the sea.

In the surroundings of Zheravna there are remains of many monasteries, which Simeon Tabakov, historian of Sliven (History of Sliven, Volume 1, p. 141-162), dates from the12th, 13th and 14th century. The largest and richest monastery of them, St. Mary the Virgin Monastery, was situated in a place called Klepaloto (The Clapper). The monastery, relics of which exist today, was built at the foot of a small hill and the belfry was raised on top of it so its ringing could be heard throughout the whole neighborhood, where, except for the central village Zheravna, there were eight other hamlets named Belichovets , Barakovets , Baevo Village, Toleva Hamlet , Kertotebek, Belizna, Gornyo Village and Belyuvets. A legend says that in the 16th century, when the monastery was destroyed by the Ottomans during the reign of Sultan Selim II, the monks managed to hide jewels, church plates, vestments and manuscripts in the surrounding caves. The old monks stayed and died for their faith, but the young ones took the miraculous icon of the Mother of God and set off for Tarnovo. They founded The Assumption Monastery in Arbanasi, where you can still see the famous icon. In 1997, I visited the monastery and honored this icon, revived from the legends I had heard from my grandmother.

The denomination of the village has Greek origin according to our teacher and specialist on the region, Daniel Konstantinov. The small river that flows through the village and divides it in two parts was named Zervona (Left river) and therefore the name Zheravna (see the book "Zheravna", D. Konstantinov, p. 59). There is another supposition for the name of the village. This river in the past was deep and there were a lot of mills along its banks. Slavs called them Zherki, Zherkov, and from there came the name Zheravna. In the beginning was called Zheruna, and for the first time Rajko Popovic gives the name Zheravna in his book in 1837.

When the Turks invaded our kingdom, the fortified village added the eight hamlets to its defense lines. Hence, the "Gornyo selo" hamlet settled in the eastern parts, the "Belizna" hamlet settled in the south-eastern parts, the "Belichovets" hamlet settled on "Malko byrdo", "Baevo selo" and "Toleva mahala" settled in the western parts. The "Butovo" residents settled in the north parts of the village. It was located on the river Kotleshnitsa close to Medven village. The "Butovo" settlers re-built their church close to Krincha spring and from then on the nearby forest was named "Cherkovna" (Church forest).

As one legend goes, the Zheravna lands used to belong to the sister of tsar Ivan Shishman, who arranged a marriage between her and the Turkish sultan Murad. The sultan then declared the village free. The government was delegated to the locals. Turks were banned from settling in the village and if they wanted to visit it, it was mandatory they dismount their horses and lead them on foot. The locals were exempted from taxes, their sole obligation being to annually send a certain number of soldiers to service the Sultan's seraglios and stables. This duty was later on passed to the local gypsies who, as famous bag-pipe players did a good job entertaining the sultan's men in Tsarigrad. All those factors proved vital for the village's economic growth under the Turkish yoke.

Also in exchange for the free-village status, the Turks demanded that all fortifications surrounding it should be destroyed. The locals started growing massive cattle herds in the plains known as „Dolnyo pole“ along the Tundzha river between Yambol and Elhovo. In the summer they moved them to the grass-rich Zheravna pastures for fattening. The locals started growing richer, they could afford to build big houses hiring master masons from the Zagore region, Tryavna, Gabrovo and Dryanovo.

They improved their streets, covering them with cobble-stone, and also built beautifully decorated unscripted taps. In 1828 they started building a new church which was later on richly decorated and painted by famous master icon-painters from Tryavna and also by the local Nedko Zograf (Nedko the icon painter). The Atonian "Hilendar" monastery used to have an affiliated numnery in Zheravna which after restoration and renoviation is still open today. Paisii also visited Zhervna and the first transcript of "Slav-Bulgarian History" were made here. This is actually the very first transcript of the book which is later referred to in "A few words about Asen II" by Rakovski (page 46). The teacher Dimitat Sabev, kept this copy till 1838. After that he passed it on to Vasil Aprilov who passed it on to Yuri Venelin and then history loses track of it. A marginal note left on the book by the "Hilendar" monk Makarii dates the manuscript somewhere before 1772 (refer to "Some words about Asen II", Rakovski, page 46). It is possible that Paisii has stopped in Zheravna on his way to Kotel. There, in the Hilendar numnery, a priest named Iovcho made the copy. Some cell schools have been founded by the Butovo church. There were two cells in the church yard where two priests, Diga and Subi, taught the youngsters how to read and write. Later, at the start of 19 century, the priests Stoyan, Todor, Vulcho and Ranko founded several cell-schools in the hamlets.

Deep in the religious souls of the Zheravna congregation, there were the habits of visiting Sveta gora on Christmas and God's Grave on Easter. As is known, Sveta gora was visited by men only. They took the long journey on horses in groups of forty led by a designated leader. The whole village escorted the group to the so called "Svetogorska mogila" hill, where the group continued along the Tundzha river heading to Odrin and then along the Marica river on to the White sea and Aton. The trip also was encouraged by the local high priest of the Hilendar nunnery. Along with the pilgrims a lot of young boys went to Aton in order to graduate the local schools. One of them was Raiko Popovich - the patriarch of Bulgarian teachers. The very talented Zheravna youngster Emanuil Pop Krystev, later known as Daskal Mano (Mano the teacher) also graduated one of the Atonian monasteries "Vatoped" and after that a school in Athens. He founded a cell-school in Zheravna but unfortunately died very young. His work has been carried on by the teacher Tsoncho Nikulov. After the new church was finished in 1834, the first public school supported by the priesthood was founded in its yard; the school building still exists today after a partial restoration. Raino the teacher, nephew of Raiko Popovich, son of Raiko's brother priest Stoyan used to work there.

The first printed books started to appear in Zheravna: the "Nedelnika" by Sofronii of Vratsa (found in almost every education-zealous family back then), a Chrestomathy by Raiko Popovich, the fish primer by dr. Petur Beron and others. This made Zheravna one of the important cultural centers from the Early Rennaisance. The teachings of Raino the teacher, proved insufficient for the locals who were pretty well connected with the surrounding villages and also Tsarigrad; they decided to invite Stefan Vulkov, brother of Dimcho Kehaya, from the Tsarigrad common school. He came back to Zheravna in 1855 to replace the breviary, the psalm-book and the book of apostles with arithmetics, grammar and geography, he cancelled the practice of cruel punishments, introduced public exams and twenty days annual holiday. Stefan Vulkov was a very well educated man for his time. He was fluent in Greek, Turkish and Russian. As a gifted teacher and a socially active character, he made regular reports for the Tsarigrad newspapers which were also distributed in Zheravna. He founded a school for young girls. He also persuaded the local government to start the construction of a beautiful new school in 1866 which was finished in 1867. The building is still alive today serving as a picture gallery.

In 1863 he introduced the celebration of the Holy Brothers Kiril and Methodii day. A memorable icon celebrating the occasion was then painted by the master painter Nedko Todorovich, which is still kept in the church's exposition room.
It was only the 18-th century yet and Zheravna already had its intellectual elite, well established interest in books, zealous population, and connections to larger villages and cities as well as Sveta Gora, Jerusalem, and Tsarigrad. All this resulted in the emergence of notable public education figures such as Raiko Popovich, Sava Filaretov, Todor Ikonomov, Vasil D. Stoyanov, all of them zealous founders of the new Bulgarian culture.

In 1870 a teacher from Shumen named Haralan Angelov, worked in Zheravna. He intended to introduce the school class structure which he knew from a school in Shumen. He was also a poet, a violin player and a contributor to the Tsarigrad newspapers and magazines. At the same time he was an active social figure, he founded the "Edinstvo" (Unity) school (August of 1870), which was initially housed by the class school. He used to lecture on Sunday sermons. Locals were subscribed to almost all Tsarigrad periodics, notable locals regularly gifted books to the local culture club and also a theatrical movement emerged under the supervision of Haralan Angelov.

Zheravna also played important role in the liberation movement. The forests of Zheravna were patrolled by famous chieftains such as Kara Tanas, Dimitar Kalachliyata, Altunlu Stoyan the chieftain, Stefan Tsotskin also called Kyuchyuk Karadzha (not to be mistaken with Stefan Karadzha) who was praised by the locals in numerous beautiful songs. Panaiot Hitov and Hadzhi Dimitar also roamed the local lands with his detachments. In 1871 Zheravna was visited by Vasil Levski and Angel Kunchev. The local lads listened to the fiery words of the Apostle in the local cafe "Brudo", and later on, under the command of Petar Zheinov, they started preparations for the April uprising. On May 7-th, 1876, twenty two of the locals joined the detachment of Stoil the chieftain. The unusually bad weather (a snow storm in May) lead to them being defeated by the turks near Ravno Buche by the village of Neikovo. Despite being poorly armed and despite the wet gun-powder, they showed great courage. On May 9-th the Zheravna convention was held in the name of St. Nikola. The church was full of people and all prayers were for the salvation of the young heroes. Later in the day, the turks brought seven impaled human heads: they belonged to the detachment secretary Ilarion Dragostinov, the granny Tonka's son Georgi Obretenov, the legendary Deli Radi from Neikovo and also to four local lads: Rusko Zheinov, Raino Lyutskanov, Vendyu Tsonkov, and Ivan Hadzhi Vulkov. The turks in order to punish the relatives of the lads, forced the locals to pass by the impaled heads in order to identify them. When the father of Rusko Zheinov showed up, and the turkish officer asked whether he recognized anyone, the old man bravely looked him in the eye and denied. Afterwards, on his stroll back to his house, a mere hundred feet away from the gory sight, his hair went fully white along the way. Later on, Iordan Iovkov praised the heroes in his "Heroes' heads" work. Another rebel from Zheravna, Iocho Nikolov, was killed by the turks nead the village of Kipilovo. He was buried on site by a sympathetic fellow patriot. The famous doctor Vasil Sokolski, the medic of the Benkovski flying detachment, which took a great part in the April uprising, was no other then the bright lad Vasil Boichev Rashkov also from Zheravna. Zaharii Stoyanov dedicated some of his best pages from his "Notes on the Bulgarian uprisings" to him.

In the following year, 1877, Nikolay Raynov, Nikolay Ivanov Tsonkov, Simeon Marinov Semov, Nicola Ruskov and Dimo Boychev from Zheravna joined the volunteer corps and took part in the battles for the mountain pass Shipka. On 8th January,1878 free Zheravna welcomed the Russian troops with flowers and sparkling wine.

After the liberation from Ottoman rule business and economics conditions radically changed. As it is known, after the Crimean War in 1858, the shepherds from Zheravna moved their herds from Dolnyoto field to Dobrudzha. At that time, when Bulgaria was free, they began to move their families to Dobrudzha too.

Before that the situation was quite different. The husbands who worked as shepherds came back in the winter to stay with their families for one or two months, but they spent the rest of the time with their flocks in the endless plains if Dobrudzha, where the sheepfolds were situated. People still remember the caravans carrying wool, which entered the village Zheravna in spring. The brides processed the wool, in each house the 'song of the looms was heard where the handy women from Zheravna wove homespun for sale, fleecy rugs, carpets and pillows for a their beautiful homes. The main means of livelihood was the shepherds trade, but crafts were developed too. All along the main street, as well as in other streets, the houses had shops on the first floor, where the workshops of shoemakers, tailors, goldsmiths, slipper-makers, comb-makers, furnace owners, barbers, furriers, halva-sellers, coffee-house keepers, saddlers, shoeing smiths, blacksmiths, butchers, carpenters and dairy owners. Zheravna had several inns (hotels), more in the western part of the village, where the main road, or the road to Tarnovo entered the village at that time. The inns had rooms for passengers, pubs, drawing rooms and stables for animal care. Some are still remembered - Nedelcho Bozhilov's inn, Vasil Hr. Kehayov's inn, Krustyu Hadji Dimov's inn, Haji Valchev's caravanserai (in good shape and repaired), Haji Penko's caravanserai (also preserved) and Bonchevs caravanserai. At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century five or six priests served the parish which was great for that time. About 120 children were born each year, there were lots of weddings and funerals. It is worth noting that the houses of the priests were all built around the church in the so-called Cherkovna (Church) neighborhood. After the liberation, for about 20 years, shepherds gradually moved their families to Dobrudzha. Crafts began to decline, many people from Zheravna left the village and settled in other places in the free mother country as clerks, merchants, teachers, booksellers, customs guards, etc. All this badly affected the overall situation in the village. Residents, who were 4000 in the time of the liberation, decreased by half by the year 1900; they were 1100 by 1920, and now, at the beginning of the 21st century there are only 490 people living in Zheravna.

The emptied at the beginning of 20th century beautiful Zheravna houses invoked a feeling of sadness. In 1913 some of them housed refugees from Eastern Thrace. There were 30 families at the beginning, but later some of them got land and moved to the village of Bolyarsko, Yambol. About 15 families remained in Zheravna.

In the 1930s people began demolishing the empty houses in Zheravna, which heirs sold to small contractors for timber and tiles at knockout prices. The locals felt sad and scared, so they helped preserve materials from rooms in Hadji Hadji Vasil Nikolov, Pop Nikola and Kiro Kehayas houses and bring them to the Ethnographic Museum in Sofia - they were among the most beautiful and rich houses with magnificent carvings. Materials from Pop Nikola's house - carvings of cupboards, doors, iconostases, etc. - were destroyed during the bombing of Sofia in 1944, when a bomb fell on the Ethnographic Museum.

Rusi Chorbaji and Sava Filaretov's houses survived as if by a miracle and are museums now. People appreciated what they were and didnt destroy them. This marked the beginning of museum work in Jeravna ...

After all the devastation Zheravna remained a pitiful place with houses and walls in ruins and desolate courtyards overgrown with weeds.

In 1958, by virtue of law, Zheravna was declared for a museum reserve. For monuments of culture were declared 172 houses.
The first architects who took up with the restoring Zheravna back to life, accomplished here apostolic work. These are the architects Peyo Berbenliev, Stefan Stamov, Maria Hadzhigeorgieva, Haralampi Anichkin, Dimitrina Bakalova, Eleonora Stamatova and others. They began work in very difficult conditions, but received the support of the local population. With great love and skill they revived Zheravna. By the end of 20th century 150 sites are revived and restored. In the course of almost 10 years with a very special attention has been restored the St. Nicholas Church, and eventually it shone with its beauty and is now the most attractive site for Bulgarian and foreign tourists.

The old class school was restored and converted into a picture gallery. The cobblestone streets in the whole village, the fences - stone walls and the fountains were recovered. The house of the great Bulgarian writer Yordan Yovkov was restored and converted into museum as well, perched on the high hill "Brado" opposite the three legendary forests, whose songs had been listened to by the little Yovkov, huddled in his mother's lap.

And Zheravna shone with its beauty, as had shone before! The houses - museums of Yovkov, Sava Filaretov and Russi, the master, are enchanting. The one who visits them, wants to return to Zheravna again and again ... The tourist complex "Golden Oresha" which is also a lovely place with its ten houses converted into hotels, restaurant and cafe, was built as well.

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