Sunday, 20 October 2013

The life in medieval Bulgaria, seen through the frescoes in three old orthodox churches

We don't know much about the life of the medieval Bulgarians, about their daily fashion, food, rituals, customs, folk songs and beliefs. Unfortunately, most of the written heritage was destroyed through the centuries, and the oral traditions gives us only fragmental and not systematized knowledge. 

But still there are ways to reconstruct parts of the lost heritage of the Bulgarian people in the Middle ages. I selected for you a short collection of frescoes that present some interesting features of the medieval life in our lands. The frescoes are taken from three different places in Western Bulgaria, and they are all drawn in 13th-14th centuries. 

Lets start with the wonderful 14th century paintings from the chapel in The Tower of Hrelyo in Rila monastery. The stone tower is 23 meter high. It was built by the powerful local feudal Hrelyo in 1334-35 to protect the monks. The last, fifth floor is a chapel with unique frescoes. The paintings present commoners' festivities: horo dancers, musicians, and a group of elders... 

Musicians from the chapel in the Tower of Hrelyo, 14th century.
The first fresco presents some of the instruments, used by the commoners for their holidays. A horn, an 8-string instrument similar to tambura, and another instrument (in the middle) which I can't recognize. Two of the musicians sit on small decorated stools. The weird thing is that the seats of the chairs are not horizontal, but inclined.  

A drummer, painted right
from the other players. 
Musician, painted left
from the other players.

Bulgarian horo dancers. 
There is something very interesting in this folk dance. The way people hold their hands over one another is unique and still in use today. And just like nowadays, the leader of the dance waves a piece of cloth.

The elders.
The frescoes from the Tower of Hrelyo show the clothing, the music instruments, and the dances of the common people in the middle of the 14th century, in the eve of the Ottoman conquest. The strange shoes are called navoi and were rolled around the feet like foot wrappings. The medieval Bulgarians wore trousers, that followed the shape of the feet. The main garment was the tunic, cinched perhaps with a belt or rope. Usually the tunics were decorated at their edges. 

The Tower of Hrelyo. In 1844
was built an additional bell tower. 

Photo: Wikipedia.  
Lets continue with the murals in the church of Zemen monastery. It has spectacular images from mid-14th century, representing Biblical scenes. But there is one particular painting that depicts the moment of forging the nails for the crucifixion of Christ. 

Medieval Bulgarian smithy.
This fresco from Zemen monastery's church represents a real medieval smithy. The characters in the scene with the sharing of the garments of Christ (below), are dressed in medieval style, too:

And finally, there are two great 13th century paintings from the glorious Boyana church near Sofia. The church was painted on the order of sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava (below left) in 1259. One fresco depicts the donors, and another fresco depicts tzar Konstantin Tikh and tzaritza Irina (below right). Here they are - the spectacular clothes of the Bulgarian aristocrats from the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.

In my opinion Desislava was more cute than Irina, and better dressed. What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment