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Arbanasi

Arbanasi is a village in Veliko Tarnovo municipality, Veliko Tarnovo Province of central northern Bulgaria, set on a high plateau between the larger towns of Veliko Tarnovo (four kilometres away) and Gorna Oryahovitsa. It is known for the rich history and large number of historical monuments, such as 17th and 18th century churches and examples of Bulgarian National Revival architecture, which have turned it into a popular tourist destination.

The village's name comes from a Greek word, which, like Turkish arnavut, was used to denote Albanians and other people that came from parts of Macedonia and Albania that had a large Albanian population, regardless of nationality. As of 2005, Arbanasi has a population of 291 and the mayor is Tosho Krastev.

There is considerably richer documentary material, such as correspondence and chronicler's notes on religious books, preserved from the 17th and 18th century, that evidences that Arbanasi reached its economic blossoming between the second half of the 17th and the end of the 18th century. The settlement had over 1,000 houses at the time, its population consisting mostly of eminent merchant families who traded in Transylvania (mostly Sibiu and Bra?ov), the Danubian Principalities, Russia and Poland. Handicrafts were well-developed, with copper- and goldsmithing, vine-growing and silk production playing an important part. The homes of the rich merchants, as well as the five churches built in the years of progress, bear record of the economic upsurge and prosperity.

In the 18th century, Arbanasi was regularly donated by the Phanariote rulers of Wallachia, and a number of expelled Wallachian nobles settled temporarily in the village. In 1790, there were 17 Wallachian nobles with their families in Arbanasi. To this day, some of the houses in Arbanasi bear the names of their former Wallachian owners (Br?ncoveanu, Cantacuzino, Filipescu).

As a result of well-organized brigand raids in 1792, 1798 ad 1810, the settlement was pillaged and burnt down. The plague and cholera epidemics further damaged the town's well-being. The richest merchants fled to Wallachia and Russia. A new settlement of Bulgarians began after 1810, when people came down from the Elena and Teteven parts of the Balkan Mountains, but Arbanasi could never again reach its former heyday. An Ottoman royal decree of 1839 deprived the town of its former privileges and the development of handicraftsmanship after the Crimean War almost ceased.

Arbanasi was a stronghold of Greek cultural affiliation for centuries. Greek language was official in the town, there was a Greek school and divine services were in Greek. This, however, did not reflect the local population's national self-consciousness, as Arbanasi residents took part in the organized armed struggle of Bulgarians that ultimately led to the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule as a consequence of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

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