Europe, Bulgaria, Central Bulgaria

Koprivshtitsa and the April 1876 Rising

No Comments 21 July 2010

Koprivshtitsa and the April 1876 Rising

You say you want a revolution? Will an uprising do? Back in 2002 the Monkey traveled to Koprivshtitsa, in Bulgaria’s Stara Planina Mountains, to learn about the village’s role in an uprising against the Ottoman Empire.

Bridge of the First Shot, Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
Koprivshtitsa is a medium-sized village in the Stara Planina (Old Mountains, or Balkan Range), the spine of mountains that bisects northern and southern Bulgaria. In April 1876, a group of local traders and intellectuals launched an uprising against Ottoman rule from the village. Here, the Monkey sits by the Bridge of the First Shot, the scene of the opening salvos of the uprising. Though unsuccessful militarily, the brutal repression unleashed on Bulgarian peasants by the Ottomans in response to the April Rising led to widespread outrage in the great cities of Europe and an outpouring of sympathy for the plight of Bulgaria’s oppressed masses.

The Russian Tsar Alexander II was riled enough that he raised an army to confront the Ottomans in Bulgaria; by 1878 the Russian forces had liberated their Slavic cousins in Bulgaria. The subsequent peace settlement between the Russian Tsar and the Ottoman Sultan granted Bulgaria significant autonomy, and the much-prized territory of Macedonia, something Bulgarian nationalists had long agitated for based on their cultural and linguistic commonalities with the Slavic population there. To the dismay of the Bulgarian proto-state and arguably to the detriment of the Balkans, at the Congress of Berlin later that year the Great Powers undid the Russo-Ottoman Treaty of San Stefano, removing Bulgaria’s rights to Macedonia and igniting the irredentist streak that continues to plague not just Bulgaria but the entire Balkan region.

Karavelov House, Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
Among the leaders of the revolutionary cells that led to the April 1876 Rising was Lyuben Karavelov, a writer and activist who argued for a pan-Slavic Balkan republic brought about by open revolt against the Ottomans. In this photo, the Monkey visits Karavelov’s house in Koprivshtitsa, one of six historic homes in the town that have been opened as museums.

Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
The Monkey hangs out on one of Koprivshtitsa’s narrow streets. Visitors to Koprivshtitsa are often enchanted by the whimsical designs of the houses there. Many of Koprivshtitsa’s homes date from the 1860s and 1870s, a period referred to as Bulgaria’s National Revival due to the diminishing Ottoman influence and increasing nationalist agitation prevalent during the period. Plovdiv is another city renowned for its National Revival architecture.

National Revival house, Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
Maimunka pauses for a photo on a corner in Koprivshtitsa. Behind him is one of the many beautiful National Revival houses, with their exterior painted adornments and rustic appearance, for which Koprivshtitsa is famous.

Monument, Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
The Monkey inspects a marker on the Bridge of the First Shot, in Koprivshtitsa.

Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
The Monkey relaxes on the porch of one of Koprivshtitsa’s historic homes. Where’s that rakia when you need it?

This Monkey adventure has been viewed 1194 times since the 2010 website relaunch.



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7,262,675 (2008)

Land area:

110,550 sq. km.


Sofia (pop. 1,113,674; 2005)


In 2006, Bulgaria ranked 55th in the UNDP Human Development Index and 66th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $4,089.22. Public debt accounts for 10.5 percent of total GDP, while 14.1 percent of Bulgarians are beneath the poverty line.

Main language(s):


Monkey's name:

Maimunka (my-moon-ka)

Fun fact:

Bulgarians nod their heads up and down to say “no,” while they shake their heads from side to side to signify “yes.” That is, unless they adjust their head movements to accommodate for visitors accustomed to the more conventional non-verbal cues. Either way, head symbols can be a confusing affair in Bulgaria.

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Recommended reading

A Concise History of Bulgaria
R.J. Crampton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
This short book has become the go-to summation of this Balkan country’s long and complex history. A perfect introduction to the country.

Beyond the Frontier: The Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria 1944
E.P. Thompson (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997)
A fascinating exploration of a British mission to rendez-vous with Bulgarian Partisans and raise a force against the Nazi-allied royalist dictatorship during World War II. Reads like a spy novel at times, but also a memorial to the author’s brother, who was killed in the effort.

Communism and the Remorse of an Innocent Victimizer
Zlatko Anguelov (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2002)
Part personal memoir, part exploration of the all-encompassing nature of Bulgaria’s Communist government, this book poses uncomfortable questions about the banal, everyday forms of repression and victimization that take root under coercive governments. Anguelov’s observations resonate far beyond Bulgaria’s borders…

The Balkans: A Short History
Mark Mazower (New York: Modern Library Paperback, 2002)
As the title says, a short history of the Balkan region. A helpful intro to this corner of Europe.

The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999
Misha Glenny (New York: Penguin, 2001)
A rather epic undertaking by a former BBC correspondent for Central Europe, this book traces the tumultuous two centuries of the Balkan states’ struggles for independence from the Ottoman Empire, the emergence of pan-Slavic tendencies and their tribulations, and the reign of various regimes of the right and left during the 20th Century. A worthwhile read—don’t let its dimensions frighten you…

Description of a Struggle: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Eastern European Writing
Editor: Michael March (New York: Vintage Books, 1994: Out of print)
A great anthology of short stories from the former Eastern Bloc, providing an evocative snap shot of the early post-Cold War era. Stories are organized by state, with the Bulgarian Victor Paskov’s tale of “Romanian” exiles in the Paris Metro a particular highlight.

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