Since I was writing about modern protests yesterday, it seems only appropriate to tell you about my trip to Koprivshtitsa at the weekend, as it’s the location of one of the most famous rebellions in Bulgarian history.
If you ever go to Koprivshtitsa, here are my top travel tips for you:
- Leave your house before lunchtime.
- Find out in advance which bus companies go there. For some reason, instead of having one central ticket office, the bus station in Sofia is filled with about 20 different bus companies and there’s no central place to find information about which one goes where, so you have to wander around asking whether the companies have buses that go there.
- Learn to pronounce the name Koprivshtitsa so that you don’t get a blank look when you ask if there are buses going there.
- Learn Bulgarian, so that when the response to your queries is ‘nyama’ (none), you can find out whether they mean that there are no buses to Koprivshtitsa, or simply that their company does not travel there.
- When sitting on the bus, if someone asks if you are staying the night, ignore them. Don’t say ‘no, we want to come back later’ – or they may say ‘IMPOSSIBLE!’ and terrify you that you will be stranded there.
- Take more than 20 quid in cash and no working credit cards between the two of you, so that you don’t need to worry about whether you will have to wash dishes to earn your ticket home.
- Reserve a ticket home in advance, so you don’t have to stand for the 2 1/2 hour journey, while slightly crazy looking people stare at you and laugh.
Bearing all these tips in mind though, I’d recommend a visit. It’s a quaint town with brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets, which bely its bloody history.
In 1876, when Bulgaria was still under Ottoman rule, the Bulgarian Central Revolutionary Committee decided that the time had come for an uprising. They set about creating revolutionary ‘districts’ across Bulgaria. However, the Ottoman authorities got wind of their plans and arrested the head of one of the revolutionary districts in Koprivshtitsa. The local committee attacked the police office and it was decided that it was necessary to start the insurrection straight away, a few weeks earlier than planned. Todor Kableshkov proclaimed the start of the April Uprising from the Kalachev Bridge in the centre of the village. He also wrote the famous ‘bloody letter’ to other committee members to inform them of events in Koprivshtitsa and the need to bring forward the uprising.
The April Uprising led to widespread atrocities across the area – an American reporter who visited three months after the events wrote that fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria had been destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people massacred.
The uprising was suppressed by the Ottoman authorities, but news of the events reached Europe and America and led to public outcry and to many high profile Europeans demanding reform of the Ottoman Empire. Events that followed (including the Russo-Turkish War) led to the establishment of Bulgaria as an autonomous nation two years later in 1878.