Bulgaria is a country with a history that can be traced back morethan a thousand years. The investigation and conservation of monumentsbegan during the Bulgarian Revival period during the 18th century
During this most productive period in the spiritual life of the nation,Paisii Hilendarsky wrote The Slavonic-Bulgarian History (1762) at theAton Monastery “Hilendar”. In the book, he addressed all Bulgarian peoplewith an appeal to study their language and history and to be proudof being Bulgarian
Organised museum work in Bulgaria began with the establishmentof the first Bulgarian museum in Svishtov on the 30th of January 1856
This stimulated the study of Bulgarian history and monuments, revealingthe power of medieval Bulgaria, prospering centuries on end betweenByzantium and the Empire of the Franks. During the 18th and 19thcenturies, although the Bulgarians had no national state, they succeededin establishing a unique Bulgarian cultural institution called chitalishte– a library and community centre. The first task of these centres was theconservation and popularisation of books in Bulgarian (manuscripts andprinted) and secondly, the preservation of the historical evidence of themedieval state tradition through museum collections
All of the museum collections in the Revival period are the result ofdonations. One of the highest achievements of the Bulgarian museumwork from its beginnings till nowadays has been this sustained traditionof donations. Indeed, the “builders” of newly liberated Bulgaria afterthe Russian-Turkish War in 1877-1878 perpetuated this Revival periodtradition
The first state museum in Bulgaria was established under the ContemporaryRussian Government (1878-1879) along with the National Libraryand Museum. In 1892, the National Museum separated from theLibrary and began its own development. Originally, there were three independentcollections: ancient, ethnographical and numismatic. In 1906,the ethnography department of the National Museum split off as the NationalEthnographical Museum. Thus, early on, there were already twonational museums in the country. The National Archaeological Museumhad priority over the investigation, preservation and popularisation ofthe Bulgarian archaeological monuments through its four departments:ancient, mediaeval, numismatic and art. The National EthnographicalÈñòîðèÿ íà ìóçåéíîòî äåëî â ÁúëãàðèÿMuseum gathered, preserved and made popular ethnographical materialsfrom the Bulgarian lands and historical documents concerning theBulgarian Revival through two distinct departments: ethnographicaland historical
During the last decade of the 19th century, two types of museumswere prevalent: central-state (i.e., National Museums) and local-public(community and library centres, school collections that later developedinto town museums). The rapid growth of local museums, from the late19th through the early 20th centuries, contributed to the extensive establishmentof the Archaeological Associations, which were founded afterthe Liberation in almost all towns in the country. Many enthusiasts participatedin these as they were all devoted to the investigation of ancientand mediaeval centres in Bulgarian lands
During 1912-1918, Bulgaria participated in three successive wars –the First Balkan War, the Second Balkan War and World War I. The periodbetween the two World Wars was also very difficult for Bulgarianmuseum work. There were serious social upheavals after World War II inBulgaria. The country fell under the influence of the Soviet Union whoseCommunist ideology came to influence all spheres of social and culturallife. Museum exhibitions were conceived of according to the ideologicalview of historical processes
The period 1944-1989 was characterised by a steep increase in thenumber of museums and protected moveable and immoveable heritagein the country. There were also grants from the national financial resourcesfor the whole system of preservation of cultural and historical heritage
Although there was no university subject called “museology” inBulgaria until recent years, highly qualified specialists were trained towork in the museums. Specialised scientific work was carried out, someof it related to the most important Bulgarian cultural and natural monumentsincluded in the World Heritage List of UNESCO: 166: Thraciantomb of Sveshtari 3rd century BCE; 167: Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo(13th-14th century); 168: Madara Rider; 169: Ancient City of Nessebar;170: Boyana Church (12th-17th century); 171: Rila Monastery (10th-19th century); 172: Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak (4th century BCE); 165:Srebarna Nature Reserve; 173: Pirin National Park
The changing tides of 1989 reflected upon all public sectors in Bulgaria,especially the cultural sector. The museums, as part of it, weretransformed. The social and economic crisis in the country reflectedupon the preservation of the cultural monuments. The priorities in thecultural policy agenda in the sphere of the museum work were mainly:changing legislation; establishing national mechanisms for informationand communication based on the new information technologies; restruc369turing the available financial resources and finding new ones; examiningthe experience of other countries; providing conditions for conservationand restoration of the moveable cultural monuments; organisingscientific research; promotion and publicity; encouraging the participationof the Bulgarian museums in international programmes; financialsupport for the technical equipment of the Bulgarian museums and galleriesand finally, the implementation of new technologies into museumwork. > Although the economic conditions in the country have been quitebad, the number of museums and galleries remained the same. Nowadays,the museum network is comprised of 13 national museums andgalleries, governed and financially supported by the Ministry of Culture;193 museums and galleries financially supported by municipalities; agood number of departmental museums; as well as over 400 museum collectionsat schools, library and community centres, public organisationsand enterprises. The number of private galleries has increased. The firstprivate museums have also been established
One of the biggest changes after 1989 in the museum sector was theopportunity to produce exhibitions on the cultural heritage of ethnicand religious minorities in Bulgaria. During the Communist period, thatwas absolutely forbidden. Today, the National Ethnographical Museumand other Bulgarian museums follow the international trend of multiculturalismand the presentation of local cultures
The signing of the European Union (EU)Accession Treaty of Bulgaria on 25 April 2005 is recognition for thework and efforts of all Bulgarians to attain European standards in allspheres of social and economic development in the country. There is onesphere about which Bulgarian people can be really proud – cultural heritage
For the successful work of the Bulgarian museums during thetransition towards a market economy, a new law for the protection ofmonuments and museums needs to be passed. The present national legislationdates from 11 April 1969 and contradicts the dynamics of thepresent cultural heritage situation
For a small country like Bulgaria, with waning State support, public/private partnerships and donations guided by the high code ofethics created during the Bulgarian Revival help museums preserve culturalheritage that is part and parcel of national identity.