Military History Museums in Bulgaria’s Pleven Saw Almost 150,000 Visitors in 2016

The Pleven Epopee of 1877 Museum, known popularly as the Pleven Panorama, contains a huge panoramic picture of the third attack during the Siege of Pleven in 1877. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

The eight Museums of Military History in the northern Bulgarian city of Pleven, which are dedicated to the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 partially liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire, saw a total of 146,000 visitors in 2016.

The medieval Bulgarian Empire, which was feudally fragmented in spite of boasting high culture and Pre-Renaissance or Early Renaissance art, was conquered by the Ottoman Turkish invaders at the end of the 14th century, ushering into five centuries of what is known in Bulgarian history as the period of Ottoman Yoke (1396/1422-1878/1912).

Bulgaria was restored as an autonomous state, an Ottoman vassal, on part of its medieval territories as a result of the Bulgarians’ April Uprising of 1876, and the ensuing Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878, known in Bulgaria as the Liberation War. The so called Third Bulgarian State (or Third Bulgarian Tsardom), a successor of the First (632/680-1018) and Second (1185-1396/1422) Bulgarian Empire became fully sovereign only in 1908 with its Declaration of Independence during the respective Bosnian Crisis.

The Siege of Pleven, or Siege of Plevna, as it is also known in English-language historical literature, was a protracted battle in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 in which the forces of the Russian Empire and Romania managed to capture the city of Pleven only on the fourth attempt, having suffered substantial losses in the three preceding attacks.

Today’s city of Pleven is dotted with historical monuments and memorials preserving the memories of the Plevna Siega and the Liberation War, including the eight Military History Museums, including the Pleven Epopee of 1877 Museum, the St. George Mausoleum, and the Museum House dedicated to Russian Tsar Alexander II the Liberator, among others.

The Pleven Epopee of 1877 Museum is perhaps the most famous of those. It is popularly known as “The Pleven Panorama” because it features a large-scale panorama canvas depicting the third and bloodiest attack of the Russian and Romanian forces against the besieged troops of Ottoman Turkey, which occurred on September 11-12, 1877.

The Pleven Panorama museum was opened in 1977 for the 100th year since the Siege of Plevna.

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A scene of the Siege of Plevna battle from inside the Pleven Panorama museum. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

In 2016, with their combined total of 146,000 visitors, the eight Military History Museums in Bulgaria’s Pleven welcomed 14,000 more tourists than they did the previous year, according to latest data reported by BTA.

The Panorama Museum itself was visited by a total of 89,000 tourists from 74 countries in 2016. This is 8,600 more visitors than it saw in 2015; however, the number of foreign visitors declined by 770 year-in-year.

The largest groups of international tourists who visited the Pleven Panorama in 2016 came from Romania, Russia, Israel, France, and the UK. The number of visitors from Turkey, Germany, Ukraine, the USA, and Italy, on the other hand, declined last year.

The city of Pleven in Northern Buglaria is the successor of ancient Storgosia and medieval Pleun. Learn more about its archaeological heritage in the Background Infonotes below!

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Late Antiquity, Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress and settlement Storgosia, also known as Dianensium in the Antiquity, and as Pleun in the Middle Ages, are located in the Kaylaka Park in the northern Bulgarian city of Pleven.

The Kaylaka Park itself (the name stems from Ottoman Turkish, and means “a rocky place”), a beautiful gorge of the Tuchenitsa River, features archaeological remains indicating civilized life as early as the 5th millennium BC, as well as traces of Ancient Thrace.

The Antiquity settlement Storgosia (Dianensium) was first started as a Roman road station on the road connecting the major Roman city of Ulpia Oescus (located near today’s town of Gigen) on the Danube, and Philipopolis (today’s city of Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria). The Roman road station was first located in what is today’s downtown of Pleven on the spot of Ancient Thracian settlements from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

Detachments from the Italian First Legion (Legio I Italica) based in the large Ancient Roman city of Novae on the Danube River, today’s town of Svishtov, were stationed at Storgosia (Dianesium), with the road station gradually attracting settlers from around the region.

The Gothic invasions into the Balkan territories of the Roman Empire, which began in 238 AD, ushering into several centuries of barbarian invasions, forced the Roman authorities to adopt measures to protect the local population.

This led the population of the road station to move to the site of today’s Kaylaka Park, about 2.5 km to the south, because of its natural defenses. The new settlement was built on a high plateau on the left bank of the Tuchenitsa River.

The fortress wall of Storgosia was built at the beginning of the 4th century AD. The wall was 2.2 meters wide, and encompassed a settlement with an area of 31 decares (app. 7.5 acres); it was made of stones and white mortar.

The archaeological excavations have revealed that Storgosia had two gates, three fortress towers, homes, a public horreum (i.e. a granary), administrative and military buildings, and a large Early Christian basilica, which was 45.2 meters long and 22.2 meters wide.

According to some experts, this may have been the second largest (Early) Christian temple in the medieval Bulgarian Empire (in particular in the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), after the 9th century Great Basilica in the early capital Pliska (680-893 AD) which was 102.5 meters long and 30 meters wide. (The Round Church, also known as the Golden Church, in the other early capital Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) (893-970 AD) was a bit smaller – 40 meters long and 21 meters wide.)

The archaeological excavations of Storgosia and its necropolis have discovered artifacts such as ceramic items, weapons, and coins, leading the archaeologists to conclude that the Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress existed until the end of the 6th century AD. It is believed that the ancient city of Storgosia was destroyed in the barbarian invasions of the Slavs and Avars which started in the 6th century and ended in the middle of the 7th century.

At the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire, the site of the Storgosia Fortress was turned into the medieval city of Pleun (today’s Pleven), which existed throughout the entire Middle Ages as a strong fortress with developed crafts and trade.

Folk legends say it was connected with the last days of the last holder of the Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo) throne of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395 AD).

In 2013, Pleven Municipality completed a project financed with about BGN 5 million (app. EUR 2.5 million) in EU funding for the restoration of the Storgosia Fortress, the Pleven Panorama, and the Victory Monument and Bridge on the Vit River (the latter two monuments are connected with the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 which brought about Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire).

The restoration project has been criticized for violations in its public tender and it has been claimed that it has caused damage to the original ancient and medieval ruins causing concern that it might end up as one of Bulgaria’s notorious botched archaeological restorations.

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