For centuries, nearly 60 000 movable cultural values have been collected in the museum - the "living" memory of Bulgaria’s past

On the 4th of July at the Regional Ethnographic Museum - Plovdiv the exhibition “100 YEARS HISTORY” opened, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the museum. The museum was founded on the 22nd of January 1917, when there was a meeting of the members of the Standing Committee, teachers and public figures at the Regional Court. There it has been decided to set up a Regional Museum, "to collect everything from the region that would be important for our homeland studies and the upbringing of the future generations". And over the centuries the museum has made a serious contribution to the preservation, research and presentation of the Bulgarian traditions, the promotion of the Bulgarian cultural and historical heritage. More about its development, its achievements in the past and today says its director - Assoc. Prof. Angel Yankov.

- Prof. Yankov, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Regional Ethnographic Museum - Plovdiv. What are the brighter events, with which you are celebrating this important anniversary?

- It is an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the museum. Throughout the year we have planned different events. For example, in April, our museum was the organizer of the national ethnographic conference "The Tradition in the Folk Culture", and another one dedicated to the museum's friends (together with the National Polytechnic Museum - Sofia) will be held in October.

We also present several jubilee exhibitions, the first of which - "Treasures from the Old Chests" - was already exhibited at the State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw, and the second "The Museum-Host of Heritage" was shown to the citizens and guests of Plovdiv. Check out more HERE. Only a few days ago we discovered the retrospective exhibition "Regional Ethnographic Museum - 100 Years of History".  

For the celebration of the anniversary in July, we tried to collect the publications of all the colleagues who worked in it over the past 100 years, which we will present in our Bio-Bibliographic Guide. We will delight the audience with the Jubilee Journal as well as with a film presenting the museum as one of the most popular and beloved scientific and cultural institutes in Plovdiv. And in order to make the celebrations appropriate, we invited the folk choir "The Cosmic Voices of Bulgaria".

- On the 19th of May, the museum was awarded by the Ministry of Culture at the "Golden Age" ceremony with a diploma for contribution to the development of Bulgarian culture and on the occasion of the 24th of May - the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and the Slavic Literacy. How did your colleagues receive the award?

- We are grateful to the Ministry of Culture for the honor to be among the awarded with a diploma for contribution to the development of Bulgarian culture. For the team of the museum, this is recognition of the excellent work done both in the present and in the past. The award is an incentive to work more with the aim of popularizing and preserving the Bulgarian cultural and historical heritage.

- The proposal for the creation of the museum was made by a great Bulgarian – Stoyu Shishkov, who is also its first secretary. What is the history of the institution since then? What are the highs and the lows in its development?

- The beginning was laid by Stoyu Shishkov in 1917 with the establishment of the Plovdiv Regional Museum, which housed two rooms in the building of today's Plovdiv Municipality. In 1931 the collected ethnographic materials were over 2,200 pieces, but this did not prevent the decision to transfer the museum's property to the National Library with a museum in order to save the budget.

The second beginning of the Ethnographic Museum was set in 1938. The museum then found its home in the most beautiful Renaissance house in Plovdiv, built by the merchant Argir Kuyumdjioglu. Thanks to the efforts of the mayor Bozhidar Zdravkov, the building was transferred from the state to the municipality, and the municipal house-museum was founded, and a large part of the property was gathered by Stoyu Shishkov and the Regional Ethnographic Museum. After a thorough renovation of the house, which lasted for several years, the museum opened for visitors in 1943.

After the change of power in Bulgaria in 1949, the Municipal House Museum was transformed into a People’s Ethnographic Museum. Under the new conditions, it has actively developed its collections and, despite the "winds" throughout the years, it has grown to become one of the country's leading museums.

In 1990, the word "people’s" (not knowing why) fell out of the name. Because of the new realities, the idea of building an Ethnographic complex in the Old Town was also dropped, but the museum kept growing and developing despite the lack of resources in the first years of the transition. In 2006, a Decree of the Council of the Ministers established the new role of the museum as a regional center and its new name - the Regional Ethnographic Museum. To date, it has collected 60 000 movable cultural values, which are the "living" memory of Bulgaria’s past.

- Which collections and exhibits stored in the museum make you most proud?

- When a person has many children, he does not like one more than the others. In this sense, I shall mark not individual exhibits, but collections. Some of them have roots far back in time, and with others we are proud because they are unique. Here we can mention collections of shepherd’s carvings, ornaments, church utensils, copper vessels, ceramics, weapons, costumes, embroideries, musical instruments, even a collection that tells the story of the messages in our lands.

- Your "Fabric and Clothing" Fund has over 11,000 exhibits. How and to what extent do you manage to show it to your audience?

- "Fabrics and Clothing" is one of the richest and largest funds in the museum. Each exhibition or cultural event is connected with the presentation of authentic folk costumes and fabrics, which, with their diversity and colorfulness, tell stories from the lives of the old Bulgarians. This year we released a wonderful calendar of costumes from different regions of the country. Urban clothing and underwear, exquisite embroideries and laces are included in a number of our temporary expositions that present the lifestyle and culture of wealthier groups of society. We are working through temporary exposures to show this wealth because a very small part of it can be seen in our constant exposure.

- You also have romantic names of funds like "Furniture and Interior", "Musical Instruments and Requisites"... What do they communicate?

- The museum boasts a rich collection of furniture and items from the city's interior that does astonish the audience. The collection of folk musical instruments is the most bursting in the country. Thanks to the wealth of our funds, we have a number of temporary exhibitions such as "Fashion Alafranga (or how the trousers became pants, and the sukman - a silk petticoat)", "Signs of Time" (antique clocks and gas lamps), "Treasures from the Old Chests (adornments and folk costumes)", "Fast, Accurate, Timely (or through the history of messages)", "Romance from the Memories Box", etc. They all talk about a past and probably a romantic time, from which only things are left as witnesses...

- The museum building is unique - a national monument of culture ...

- Yes, the building is enchantingly beautiful. The house of Argir Kuyumdjioglu is the masterpiece of the Plovdiv Revival architecture - with the exquisite rock form of the façade, the monumental portico with the five columns in front of the main entrance, the stylish carvings on the ceilings, the cupboards and the doors, the rooms with their beautifully painted walls, the original haiete with the magnificent sun-ceiling; the chalice around it and more, and more ... This masterpiece was built in 1847 by the Rodopi master Hadji Georgi Stanchovski from the village Kosovo. In 1927 the house was declared a "Folk Antiquity", and today it is a monument of culture of national importance.

- You have serious publishing activities. What are your aims, and what are your ambitions in this area?

- Besides its collecting and popularizing activities, the museum is also a scientific institute. So far, six tomes have been published since the so-called Yearbook of the Regional Ethnographic Museum - Plovdiv. We publish more and more catalogs at various exhibitions and collections of museum funds. Tradition became also the printing of a catalog of the International Biennial "Cartoon Masters" organized by us, which this year will have its eighth edition. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary, in a few days, our Bio-bibliographic guide will come to life. Dozens are the advertising brochures, leaflets and calendars that present different aspects of the museum work.

- Yours is the first museum-club in Bulgaria – the "Friends of the Regional Ethnographic Museum - Plovdiv" club. How is that going?

- In 2006 we created our club "Friends of the Regional Ethnographic Museum – Plovdiv". We are grateful to all of them because during all these years they remained faithful to the ideas of the association. Our friends are strong supporters and help reinforce all the initiatives of the museum. Some of them are serious donors, others help with their work by facilitating purchases and donations of relics and works of art to enrich existing collections, and they are also involved in many other initiatives. Gradually, a community of same-minded people was formed alongside the museum, sharing common ideals for protecting and preserving antiquities. As people say: "A yielding group can move a mountain!".

- What extent has the digitization of the cultural heritage, preserved by the museum, reached?

- REM - Plovdiv actively participates in the realization of the project "Digital, Cultural and Historical Heritage" under the auspices of the Plovdiv Municipality under the BG08 program "Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Arts". Thanks to this, 8,500 movable cultural assets have been digitalized from museum funds that will soon be available on the Internet. The technique that was provided for use (book scanner, photo scanner, mobile 3D scanner, professionally equipped photo studio) is an excellent prerequisite for continuing the digitization of the entire museum fund.

REM - Plovdiv was also the first Bulgarian museum in the Google Cultural Institute. Four of our collections in the form of virtual exhibitions are already available on the Google Arts&Culture platform, and there is also an online virtual walk of the museum. So everybody in the world with access to the Internet can go to the museum hall. See more HERE

- Do you have special plans for presenting our culture and traditions during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union?

- Of course we have plans. We always work one step ahead. Together with colleagues from the Regional Museum of History - Rousse, we developed a conceptual project on this occasion. It has already been submitted to the Ministry of Culture and we are waiting for approval to begin working on its implementation next year. The overall exhibition of the two museums - "From Vienna to Constantinople. Ethnography of the City"; will prove once again that Bulgaria has always been in Europe. The exhibition will present the Europeanization of everyday life in the Bulgarian cities, their transition to Modernity at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. At that time Plovdiv and Rousse were the main economic drivers of the young Bulgarian state, and the effect of the created wealth also affected the way of life of their inhabitants.

- Plovdiv will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019. What will be the role of REM - Plovdiv in it?

- The Ethnographic Museum is the "heart" of Old Plovdiv. In this sense, our museum will be one of the cultural centers of the city, as it has always been for the past 100 years.

Photos: Regional Ethnographic Museum – Plovdiv

In them: The Head of REM - Plovdiv, Assoc. Prof. Angel Yankov, opens the exhibition "100 YEARS HISTORY" on July 4th. Next to him - Vladimir Balchev, known as the "living memory" of Plovdiv, who helped the organisation of  the exhibition.