Bulgaria’s Svilengrad to Restore 16th Century Ottoman Arch Bridge with EEA/Norway Grant

This photo shows most of the 295-meter Old Bridge in Bulgaria's Svilengrad, the first major work of Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, completed in 1529 AD. Photo: Svilengrad24

This photo shows most of the 295-meter Old Bridge in Bulgaria’s Svilengrad, the first major work of Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, completed in 1529 AD. Photo: Svilengrad24

A 16th century arch bridge from the period of the Ottoman Empire will be restored by the municipal authorities in the southern Bulgarian town of Svilengrad with funding provided from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants mechanism.

The grant contract for a total of EUR 1,036,568 for the rehabilitation of the Ottoman arch bridge over the Maritsa River has been signed between Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, which administers the EEA/Norway funding, and Svilengrad Municipality, reports local news site Svilengrad24.

The grant is provided from the EEA/Norway Grants mechanism under a measure for the restoration, rehabilitation, and preservation of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage.

The bulk of the million-euro grant will be spent on the restoration and conservation of the arch bridge in Svilengrad built in 1529 AD by the most famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan (1490-1588) as his first major project.

The bridge, which is known today as the Old Bridge, is the symbol of the Bulgarian town of Svilengrad.

During the period of the Ottoman Yoke, i.e. when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire (1396-1878/1912), it was known as the Mustafa Pasha Bridge because its construction was ordered by Coban Mustafa Pasha, an Ottoman statesman and vizier.

The rehabilitation of the 300-meter Old Bridge with funding from the EEA/Norway grant has to be completed by April 30, 2016.

Part of the funding will be spent on turning Svilengrad’s Old Bridge into a site for cultural tourism using 3D mapping; an open-air museum will be created to present models of a medieval Ottoman waqf complex (a property given to a religious establishment for charity purposes) which existed near the bridge. It included a caravanserai (inn), a mosque, a bazaar (market), and a hammam (Turkish bath). The only of these structures to survive to this day is the Turkish bath which has already been renovated and turned into an art gallery.

Some historical sources allege that the Ottoman complex near the bridge was built at the initiative of legendary Roxelana (1502-1558), an ethnic Ukrainian, the favorite wife of Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD). Later the town of Svilengrad developed around the waqf complex.

Download the ArchaeologyinBulgaria App for iPhone & iPad!

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest!

A wide view of the 295-meter Old Bridge in Bulgaria's Svilengrad. Photo: Todor Bozhinov, Wikipedia

A wide view of the 295-meter Old Bridge in Bulgaria’s Svilengrad. Photo: Todor Bozhinov, Wikipedia

The Old Bridge in Bulgaria’s Svilengrad is largely comparable to the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge on the Drina River in Visegrad, Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, too, was built by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan but much later in his career – in 1577 AD.

Svilengrad’s Old Bridge, however, is 295 meters long and has 21 arches, while Visegrad’s Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge is 179 meters long, and has 11 arches. The other major difference between the two bridges of the legendary Ottoman architect is that the bridge in Bosnia was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, while the bridge in Bulgaria lacks that status.

The Mehmet Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in Visegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was also built by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan but 48 years later. Photo: Klackalica, Wikipedia

The Mehmet Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in Visegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was also built by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan but 48 years later. Photo: Klackalica, Wikipedia

However, in Bulgaria the Old Bridge in Svilengrad has been recognized as a “monument of culture of national significance". Its restoration will comply with the recommendations of Bulgaria’s National Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties issued several years ago. One of the recommendations is to make the Old Bridge a pedestrian zone once its rehabilitation is completed.

Bulgaria has a large number of monuments from the Ottoman period, and for the most part those have been preserved after Bulgaria’s National Liberation (1878). This was certainly not the way the invading Ottoman Turks handled the monuments of the medieval Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century: most of the some 6,000 Bulgarian fortresses, cities, and monasteries were destroyed by the Ottoman invaders. This is just one of the reasons, and actually a less important one, why this period of Bulgarian history is known as the “Ottoman Yoke".

The EEA/Norway Grant mechanism is a major source of financial support for the restoration and preservation of Bulgaria’s archaeological sites and cultural heritage monuments.

Most recently, Bulgaria’s Plovdiv signed a EUR 740,000 EEA/Norway grant contract for the “digitization", i.e. filming, photographing, 3D presentation, and web publication of its archaeological and historical heritage.

In addition to Plovdiv, the northern Bulgarian town of Tutrakan has also won an EEA/Norway grant of EUR 250,000 for the “digitization" of its archaeological heritage, including the Ancient Roman fortress Transmarisca on the Danube.

An EEA/Norway grant worth EUR 748,000 has also been provided recently to Kardzhali Municipality in Southern Bulgaria for the partial restoration of the acropolis of the ancient and medieval rock city and fortress of Perperikon.

Another EEA/Norway grant worth EUR 736,000 has been provided recently to Pavlikeni Municipality in Northern Bulgarian for the restoration of an Ancient Roman ceramic factory at a Roman military veteran’s villa estate.

Background Infonotes:

The Old Bridge in the southern Bulgarian town of Svilengrad is a 16th century arch bridge over the Maritsa River.

It is 295-meters long, 6 meters wide, and has 21 arches. It was built in 1529 AD as the first major work of the most famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, and was part of a medieval Ottoman waqf complex (a property given to a religious establishment for charity purposes, which existed near the bridge). It included a caravanserai (inn), a mosque, a bazaar (market), and a hammam (Turkish bath).

The only of these structures to survive to this day is the Turkish bath which has been renovated and turned into an art gallery. It is around this complex that the town of Svilengrad developed. Some historical sources allege that the Ottoman complex near the bridge was built at the initiative of legendary Roxelana (1502-1558), the favorite wife of Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD), an ethnic Ukrainian.

During the period of the Ottoman Yoke, i.e. when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire (1396-1878/1912), Svilengrad’s Old Bridge was known as Mustafa Pasha Bridge because its construction was ordered by Coban Mustafa Pasha, an Ottoman statesman and vizier. A flood destroyed some of the arches in 1766, and they were rebuilt in 1809. The Ottoman army unsuccessfully tried to destroy the Old Bridge as it was fleeing the Bulgarian advance after the Battle of Lule Burgas during the First Balkan War in November 1912.

The Old Bridge in Bulgaria’s Svilengrad is comparable to the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge on the Drina River in Visegrad, Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, too, was built by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan but much later in his career – in 1577 AD. However, Visegrad’s Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge is much shorter: it is 179 meters long, and has 11 arches. The other major difference between the two bridges of the legendary Ottoman architect is that the bridge in Bosnia was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, while the bridge in Bulgaria lacks that status.

However, in Bulgaria the Old Bridge in Svilengrad has been recognized as a “monument of culture of national significance". Its restoration will comply with the recommendations of Bulgaria’s National Institute for Cultural Heritage Monuments issued several years ago. One of the recommendations is to make the Old Bridge a pedestrian zone once its rehabilitation is completed. Bulgaria has a large number of monuments from the Ottoman period, and for the most part those have been preserved after Bulgaria’s National Liberation (1878). This was certainly not the way the invading Ottoman Turks handled the monuments of the medieval Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century: most of the some 6,000 Bulgarian fortresses, cities, and monasteries were destroyed by the Ottoman invaders. This is just one of the reasons, and actually a less important one, why this period of Bulgarian history is known as the “Ottoman Yoke".

Mimar Sinan (1490-1588) is the most famous Ottoman architect. He is believed to have been of Christian origin (Byzantine, Armenian, or Bulgarian Bogomil) as he was taken at an early age into Janissary Corps under the brutal Ottoman blood tax (devsirme) – an annual practice by which the Ottoman forces abducted boys from the Christians in the empire, converted them to Islam forcefully, and trained them as fierce Islamist fighters or civil servants. Sinan built more than 300 major structures. His masterpiece is the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, although his most famous work is the Suleiman Mosque in Istanbul.

Download the ArchaeologyinBulgaria App for iPhone & iPad!

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest!