For those who enjoy rural tourism, Bulgaria offers a multitude of incentives, among them that there are many populations that have their own ethnographic museums, with information about the history and customs of the region where they are found, they usually have old photographs, folk costumes, ancient war clothes, household and / or work utensils, etc,… It is a wonder for those of us who like to know the history and customs of the places we visit, and it is surprising because almost every population in Bulgaria, county head, has, higher or lower, some kind of place for an ethnographic museum.
Even more, in Bulgaria there are peoples who have taken this pride in their history and customs to a higher level, are the so-called ethnographic complexes, where it is not simply a museum-type venue, Instead, different premises have been maintained where artisans continue to work in the traditional way in view of tourists.. In this article we are going to mention, for example, the Ethnographic Complex of “Zlatograd”, although there are others like “Etara”. The one in Etara is perhaps better known because it is more accessible as it is located in the center of Bulgaria., but we always look for the most hidden places that are yet to be discovered, that's why we start with Zlatograd, although in future articles we will also talk about the ethnographic complex of Etara…
Zlatograd is a small town in the Rhodope Mountains, South of Bulgaria, located just 2 kilometers from the border with Greece and 60 km southeast of Smolyan town.
In the heart of the city is the area of ” Zlatograd Ethnographic Complex “, what is an open air museum, which at the same time is part of the daily life of the city. The complex has an ethnographic museum, craft workshops and an exhibition of traditional water installations. All in the premises of the village houses of a lifetime, so a walk through these streets immediately takes us back to the past when observing the aesthetics of the old houses and the craftsmen working on the ground floor of said houses.…You may have visited a medieval market but this is another story, the medieval markets organized by some town halls in Spain are still a recreation, a street theater, worth to watch, but this ethnographic complex of Zlatograd has nothing to do, true artisans work here every day (except Tuesdays when they rest), with utensils with years of history, everything is authentic and not artificial and you can freely enter the workshops to see the artisans' work live, If you buy them a product, you will make them happier and you will take something really handmade, but even if you don't buy anything you will take with you the experience of reliving past times…. If you decide to buy a souvenir, do not worry, the prices are very reasonable since it is not a place frequented by foreigners but is famous among the Bulgarians themselves and therefore they have prices for the Bulgarians, nothing disproportionate…
The tour of the Zlatograd Ethnographic Complex begins with the museum that familiarizes visitors with the history of the region. The museum has an archaeological collection: is an exhibition that tells the way of life of the local population in the past, with collections of folk costumes, ceremonial ornaments and utensils.
The tour continues with a visit to artisan workshops. Each one of them is active and in front of the visitors the experienced craftsmen create products that can be bought at the moment.
The sewing workshop familiarizes us with the traditions of this craft through interesting collections of old photographs, sewing machines, plates, pair of scissors, etc. Here you can buy authentic folk costumes from all regions of the country.
In the wool workshop you can see the wool knitting machines (gaytan). Gaytan are woolen cords that are used to decorate clothing.
In the saddlery workshop (leather work) the three types of the trade are presented: saddlery (manufacture of saddles and cargo saddles), manufacture of harness and upholstery accessories (padded chairs).
In the cutlery workshop the visitor can get ideas of how bladed weapons are made, and in the goldsmith's workshop you can see the mineral and crystal collections of the Zlatograd region, and you can also see how the master jeweler works.
The copper workshop presents the production of copper vessels, and in the carving workshop you can see how wooden objects are decorated. The ceramic pottery workshop attracts tourists with its diverse and colorful pots. The last workshop is that of the weaver: here is offered the opportunity to see works of traditional fabrics and knits.
One of the attractions of the complex are the three water facilities that continue to operate today: the mallet, the fuller and the mill. They are housed in a building, known as the Vuntsova Mill. The mallet is used for washing, the fulling mill is a facility for the processing of woolen fabrics, and the mill for grinding flour.
At the end of the walk you can have a coffee in the “Old Cafe” what date 1823 and try some of the typical recipes of the region in one of the traditional-style taverns in the city, using products from nearby farmers and ranchers, of freshness and exceptional flavor.
The existence of these ancient trades in Zlatograd is no coincidence, after the Ottoman occupation and in the 19th century Bulgarian Renaissance, It was in Zlatograd that European innovations in technology and agriculture first arrived., It was also here that the first Bulgarian post office and the first school-monastery in the region were built..
Already in the 21st century the city had a resurgence thanks to European funds that allowed to restore the old houses, many up 200 years of antiguaty, recover the traditional tools and open the premises for artisans in its basement. In 2001 there was only a small hotel of 10 plazas, while now there are several houses converted into family-run hotels and the city receives up to 90.000 visitors per year, mostly Bulgarians from other regions, and school trips to learn about the ancient trades.
As you stroll through the streets of the Zlatograd ethnographic complex, you will see that it has not lost any of its traditional atmosphere. You will appreciate the white chimneys of their houses, the red tile roofs and the wooden windows and doors. Because of the picturesqueness of this city, various music festivals are held there at the end of the year, folklore, traditions, etc…sometimes accompanied by traditional outdoor barbecue for attendees, the narrow quiet streets during the rest of the year become lively and colorful by the regional costumes during these festivities…