Exhibition Tells Story of Italian Revolutionary Garibaldi and His Influence on Bulgarian Freedom Fighters

A poster for the exhibition on Garibaldi and the Bulgarians. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

A new exhibition entitled “Argonauts of Freedom – Garibaldi and the Bulgarians” tells the story of 19th century Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi and his influence on Bulgarians fighting for Bulgaria’s national liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

The exhibition on Garibaldi and the Bulgarians has been opened at the Museum of Bulgaria’s National Revival and the Constituent Assembly of 1879 in the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria. It can be viewed there from May 30 until June 24, 2018.

The feudal rump states left over from the once mighty medieval Bulgarian Empire were conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in the late 14th – early 15th century ushering into a period in Bulgaria’s history known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396/1422 – 1878/1912)

Bulgaria’s national Liberation and rebirth, and partial unification was achieved as a result of a widespread revolutionary movement, with dozens of rebellions, uprisings, and mutinies as well as hundreds of guerilla bands fighting the Ottoman Empire throughout that period, but, most noticeably, during the time of Bulgaria’s National Revival, the 18th – 19th century.

Italian revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi, a legend for freedom fighting and national unification movements in Europe and the Americas in the 19th century who was instrumental in the unification of Italy in 1861 – 1871, was a known ardent supporter of the cause for Bulgaria’s Liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

A number of Bulgarian freedom fighters were influenced by Garibaldi and some even joined his liberation endeavors elsewhere.

An example in hand is Petko Kiryakov Kaloyanov (1844 – 1900), better known as Captain Petko Voivoda, who became a close friend with Garibaldi in 1866, and organized with him the so called Garibaldi Battalion of 220 Italians and 67 Bulgarians who fought for Greek freedom against the Ottoman Turks in the Cretan Revolt of 1866-1869, on the island of Crete.

Captain Petko Voyvoda is the only Bulgarian with a monument in the Gianicolo Park in Rome, Italy, where it stands together with the monument of his friend, Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi.

“The ‘Argonauts of Freedom’ exhibition tells about the life and work of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the battles he led for the unification of Italy, his influence on the Bulgarian Revivalists, and the Bulgarians who participated in the Garibaldi’s movement,” the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History has said.

The opening of the exhibition is dedicated to June 2 – celebrated in Bulgaria as the Day of revolutionary and poet Hristo Botev (1848 – 1876) and all who fought and fell for Bulgarian freedom, and in Italy as Republic Day.

The “Argonauts of Freedom – Garibaldi and the Bulgarians” exhibition has been put together by the curators of the Museum of Bulgaria’s National Revival in the Black Sea city of Varna, and has been initiated by the Varna Regional Museum of History (which includes the Varna Museum of Archaeology), the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, and Dr. Antonio Tarquinio, Honorary Consul of Italy in the Bulgarian cities of Varna, Burgas, Ruse, and Shumen.

The Garibaldi and the Bulgarians exhibition has been opened by Tarquinio and Veliko Tarnovo’s Deputy Mayor Gancho Karabadzhakov, on behalf of Mayor Daniel Panov.

Karabadzhakov has pointed out in his speech that the example of Italian revolutionary leader Guiseppe Garibaldi was especially inspiring for the Bulgarian Revivalists in their fight to liberation Bulgaria from the Ottoman Yoke.

“The exhibition offers a very valuable view on the history of Italy and Bulgaria, the connectedness between our peoples, and the battles they fought in the 19th century,” the Deputy Mayor stated.

The exhibition features a wide range of items such as photographs, documents, personal belongings, and armaments all associated with the Garibaldian movement.

The exhibition explores the deep influence Garibaldi had on Bulgaria’s freedom fighers. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The Bulgarian freedom fighters presented in the exhibition – who collaborated with Garibaldi – including Georgi Rakovski (1821 – 1867), the most important person in Bulgaria’s liberation movement in the mid-19th century; the above-mentioned Captain Petko Voivoda (1844 1900); rebel band leader Hadzhi (haji) Dimitar Asenov (1840 – 1868); Dimitar Obshti; Gruyu Nachev; Teofan Raynov; and Nikola Smilov, a native of Veliko Tarnovo known by the nickname “Garibaldito” (“the little Garibaldi”).

One of the most impressive exhibits in the Garibaldi and the Bulgarians exhibition is a war flag used during Garibaldi’s military campaigns.

For a long time, the flag was owned by Italian professor Alberto Cafarelli, a historian, researcher, and collector from Reggio di Calabria, who donated it to the National Revival Museum in Bulgaria’s Varna.

“[The flag] is a sign of solidarity, unification of the peoples who love justice and freedom, and get inspired by the heroic past to build a better future,” Cafarelli is quoted as saying.

The flag was carried by Vincenzo Pietrogrande during Garibaldi’s campaigns in Sicily in 1860, Aspromonte in 1862, and Mentana in 1867.

Momument of Bulgarian freedom fighter Captain Petko Voyvoda (Petko Kiryakov) in the Gianicolo Park in Rome, Italy, where it stands together with the monument of his friend, Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. Photo: Amaunet, Wikipedia Page

Another interesting exhibit is a photograph of Giuseppe Garibaldi with his personal autograph.

The exhibition also showcases personal belongings of Pascal Stanini, an Italian from the Garibaldian movement who live in Bulgaria after its liberation in 1878, and was an employee of the Ruse – Varna railway, Bulgaria’s first rail line.

Stanini’s belongings were provided for the exhibition by his great-granddaughter, Letitsiya Atanasova.

The Garibaldi and the Bulgarians exhibition in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo also shows some of the famous red shirts worn by his volunteers, the Garibaldini, as uniforms.

The exhibition has inspired present day Italian painter Alessandro Chiarappa to draw a portrait of Guiseppe Garibaldi which has been donated to the Bulgarian side as a token of friendship between the people of Bulgaria and Italy.


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