Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A market day in 19th century Plovdiv

Plovdiv is one of the most beautiful Bulgarian cities. It is the biggest city of Thrace - a very ancient place, which proudly brings the heritage of several historical and cultural epochs, and preserves them up today. It was the Thracian Eumolpius, the Greek/Byzantine Philippopolis, the Roman Trimontium, the Slavic Puldun, the Turkish Filibe, and now Plovdiv...

The Czech-Bulgarian artist Ivan Mrkvicka left to us a nice painting of the old market in the late 19th century Plovdiv. His 1883 work "Plovdiv market" reveals a lot about the life of the population in and around the city.

Thanks to Mrkvicka we have an intriguing source of information about the social, demographic and cultural trends in the Bulgarian urban society in the end of the 19th century. Let's take a look at it!


Most of the people at the market follow the traditional Bulgarian peasant fashion. In the left side of the picture are depicted Bulgarian women selling birds and eggs. We recognize that they are Bulgarians by their clothing. They wear red or white cloths on their heads. Also they wear aprons, as in the foreground in the picture there is a lady with red apron and red cloth on her head. The clothes were not the only thing that brought the rural spirit. The whole economy was based on agriculture. Well, from today's point of view it is good that the people followed the principle "Buy local."

The man with a horse wears poturi (pants), poyas (wide red textile belt), elek (vest), and kalpak (hat). The broad leather disagi (saddlebags) on the horse serve to transport the purchases.

An adult Turk with a long beard, dark suit and red fez is squatting and probably asking about the price of the bird that he has chosen. Two Turkish boys with turbans carry birds, and one of them is showing something to the Bulgarian orthodox priest (the man in right with black cassock, kamelavkion and beard). This detail clearly represents the tolerance between the ethnic and religious communities in Plovdiv. The Turkish women are missing in the painting, which is quite interesting, because even the lack of something can be a subject of discussion. In this time among the Turkish community there was a custom that men and women can not be mixed in the public spaces. 

The young elegant lady with European clothes and hat in the right side of the painting represents the wind of change in the Bulgarian town. Just behind the man with a horse, we see the head of another lady with European-style hat. These two ladies are the only persons to belong to the more educated and prosperous class of the new Plovdiv's bourgeoisie


There are two minarets in the distance - they mark the presence of mosques built by the Ottomans. It was practical to build the religious temples in the centers near by the administrative and social buildings, like palaces, markets and public baths. The round building with a domed roof probably was a han (inn), where travelers and traders from far could rest. Behind the women, selling birds, there is a dyukyan (shop). 

The paved square shows that the market was in the center - the most affluent and wealthy part of the city. As for the public welfare, there were no street lighting, water supply and sanitation.  

The heights at the rear of the picture depict some of the famous 7 hills around which the city spreads. That is why Plovdiv was called The City of the Seven Hills. Cool, isn't it?

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This was a short look at the life and the social structure of the people in Plovdiv in the 1880s. It's not enough to draw general conclusions, of course, but it's a good start for us to learn from the artifacts around us. 

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