Sliven Celebrates 180th Anniversary since First Industrial Production in Bulgaria (and Ottoman Empire) with Special Exhibition

Sliven Celebrates 180th Anniversary since First Industrial Production in Bulgaria (and Ottoman Empire) with Special Exhibition

The first manufacturing plant in Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire founded in 1834 by Bulgarian entrepreneur Dobri Zhelyazkov, aka the Industrialists, in the city of Sliven. A drawing by Austro-Hungarian geographer Felix Kanitz. Photo: Wikipedia

The city of Sliven in Eastern Bulgaria has celebrated the 180th anniversary since the opening of the first industrial production in Bulgaria, and, for that matter, in the Ottoman Empire of which the country was part at the time.

The first ever manufacturing plant in Bulgaria (and in Ottoman Turkey) was a textile factory established in 1834 in Sliven by Bulgarian entrepreneur Dobri Zhelyazkov (1800-1865) nicknamed “Fabrikadzhiyata” which can be translated as “the Factory Owner” or “the Industrialist”.

Zhelyazkov was a pioneer who set a trend of the emergence of industrial manufacturing in Bulgaria, especially in textiles, which later spread to other Bulgarian cities such as Gabrovo (later known as “the Bulgarian Manchester” because of its numerous textile plants) and Plovdiv.

The trend itself is seen as an economic manifestation of the period of Bulgarian National Revival (18th-19th century) which eventually culminated into the National Liberation of Bulgaria (1878-1912) from the highly oppressive and economically and culturally backward Ottoman Empire.

The period when Bulgaria was conquered and ruled over by Ottoman Turkey is thus known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912).

This 2008 photo shows the building of the 1834 manufacturing plant founded by Dobri Zhelyazkov in Bulgaria’s Sliven. Photo: Edal, Wikipedia

Bulgarian entrepreneur Dobri Zhelyazkov’s first industrial factory in Sliven is also intriguing because of the way it played out in the history of Ottoman Turkey, and its efforts for European-style reforms in the 19th century.

Thus, his manufacturing was at first supported by the reformist-minded Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839) who formalized his support and investment in the Sliven factory with a decree (firman).

Zhelyazkov’s business became the main producer and supplier of uniforms for the Ottoman army.

Subsequently, however, on the eve of the Crimean War (1853-1856) with the Russian Empire, the Ottoman authorities decided that the important industrial production could not be left in the hands of an “infidel”, so the Bulgarian entrepreneur was removed from his own business, and eventually died in poverty.

The 180th anniversary since the establishment of Bulgaria’s (and the Ottoman Empire’s) first industrial plant has been celebrated in Sliven with a special exhibition at the Sliven Regional Museum of History entitled “180 Years since the Beginning of the Textile Industry in the Balkans”.

Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Martin Ivanov (front) at the opening of the exhibition. Photo: Sliven Municipality

The exhibition has been organized by historians Veselina Yanakieva and Mariya Kirova, and has been supported by the Sliven-based National Museum of Textile Industry, the State Archive Agency, and the Stefan Kirov Theater in Sliven.

“Our Museum’s intention is for this to be a traveling exhibition so that it can be seen by more people,” Nikolay Sirakov, Director of the Sliven Regional Museum of History, has stated as cited by the website of Sliven Municipality.

The items on display in the exhibition include Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II’s firman (i.e. decree) from February 16, 1836, supporting the Bulgarian industrialist’s factory, the factory’s first key as well as documents and photos about the life of Dobri Zhelyazkov, and the Bulgarian families – the Kalovs, Mihaylovs, Andonovs – who later ran the enterprise up until it was nationalized by the Communist regime in 1944.

The exhibition also features a presentation about Tsveta Boncheva, Bulgaria’s first female industrialist, who started a silk production business in Sliven in 1925.

The exhibition dedicated to the 180th anniversary since the start of Bulgaria’s first industrial manufacturing has been opened by Sliven Mayor Kolyo Kolev and Minister of Culture Martin Ivanov, among other officials.

“Today, as we are talking about the reindustrialization not just of Bulgaria, but also of Europe, Sliven has shown that it was, and, hopefully, will once again be, one of Bulgaria’s industrial hearts,” Ivanov has stated.

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Photos from the exhibition entitled “180 Years since the Beginning of the Textile Industry in the Balkans”. Photos: Sliven Municipality

The most famous archaeological landmark of the city of Sliven in Eastern Bulgaria is the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress Tuida which is intriguing for many reasons, including a relatively well-preserved secret passage.

Learn more about the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven in the Background Infonotes below!

Background Infonotes:

Тhe Tuida Fortress is a Late Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress located on the Hisarlaka Hill in the eastern Bulgarian city of Sliven.

It was first excavated in 1982 by archaeologists from the Sliven Regional Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The archaeologists have discovered there remains of a Late Iron Age Ancient Thracian settlement (6th-1st century BC) which in the Roman period turned into a market place; a 2nd-4th century Thracian settlement is cited in written sources as Tuida, Suida, or Tsoida. The name is believed to be of Thracian origin, though its precise ethymology is still unclear.

The Tuida Fortress was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD. It is known to have had a secret tunnel built in the 6th century AD leading to the Novoselska River located to the west, a tributary of the Tundzha River.

The Tuida Fortress avoided destruction during the invasion of the Goths in 378 AD but was destroyed in the invasions of the Huns in the 5th century AD. It was rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518 AD), preserving but also enhancing the original architecture of the fortress. The Tuida Fortress was ultimately destroyed around 598-599 AD, most probably during an invasion of Avars and Slavs.

The territory around today’s Bulgarian city of Sliven was made part of Bulgaria, i.e. of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), around 705 AD when Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel gained the Zagore Region south of the Balkan Mountains after he helped Byzantine Emperor Justinian II the Slit-nosed (Rhinotmetos or Rhinotmetus) (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) regain his throne in Constantinople. Thus, a Bulgarian settlement, whose name remains unknown, was built on the place of the Tuida Fortress. A lead seal of Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Mihail (r. 852-889 AD) has been found there.

The Bulgarians rebuilt the fortress walls and the aquaduct of Tuida, and erected new buildings inside the fortress that were covered with marble slabs produced by stone cutters in the then Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav”). Several bricks with an Ancient Bulgar sign (resembling “|Y|”) have been found there. Written sources indicated that Tuida was the seat of a bishop from the 4th century AD onwards.

After the original excavations of the Tuida Fortress first started in 1982, they were resumed in 2004. The archaeological finds there include, in addition to Knyaz Boris I’s lead seal, a number of iron tools, ceramic vessels, ornaments, coins, and bones from 14 species of wild and domesticated birds including Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), great bustard (Otis tarda), and common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).

The archaeological excavations have revealed the fortress walls of Tuida, fortress towers and gates, remains of buildings, two marble pedestals dedicated to gods Apollo and Zeus which contain the name of the fortress as Tuida or Suida (known in written sources as Tsoida), a 3rd century AD inscription describing the settlement as a market place, a cult complex used between the 4th and the 13th century consisting of a three-nave one-apse Early Christian basilica and a unique baptistery decorated with murals and mosaics.

The ruins of a larger basilica have been found outside the fortress walls (which encompassed an area of about 40 decares (app. 10 acres)) which is taken to mean that the settlement was not confined by the fortified area but spanned outside of it.

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