Along the banks of the Danube, the Monkey explores the Bulgarian city of Vidin. In the process, he discovers an unrivaled stone fortress and other remnants of the city’s contested past.
The Monkey visits one of the prides of Bulgaria: the northwestern town of Vidin’s Baba Vida Fortress. Vidin was originally a Celtic settlement that was overrun by the Romans, who called the town Bononia. The 1st Century Roman Emperor Trajan fortified much of the Danube (even building a bridge across the river upriver from Vidin). The foundations of those fortifications were used by the Byzantines and more so by the 10th Century Bulgarian tsars as a basis for the Baba Vida Fortress. Built up over four centuries of Bulgarian rule, the town, partly because of the fort that defended it, was the last area of Bulgaria to be conquered by the Ottomans, in 1396.
The Monkey peers out from one of the towers of the Baba Vida Fortress, taking in its commanding view over the Danube. Across the river is Calafat, Romania. After conquering the Bulgarians, the Ottomans continued construction on the fort, adding its riverside walls and other improvements. The Austrians and Ottomans clashed at the fortress on several occasions as their empires competed for supremacy along the Danube.
The Monkey hangs out inside one of the myriad dark interiors at Vidin’s Baba Vida fortress. If you decide to follow in the Monkey’s footsteps, be advised that a flashlight is an absolute necessity. In a display of Bulgarian attitudes toward safety precautions, the interiors are unlit, which is atmospheric but also quite dangerous considering the number of low doorways and pits (yes, pits) an unseeing visitor could bump or plunge into. A flashlight helps you avoid these pitfalls (sorry, the Monkey loves puns), and illuminates such noteworthy touches as the prisoners’ marks, carved into walls to count the days, months, and years spent in near-complete darkness and isolation.
The Monkey found this derelict little library beside Vidin’s Osman Pazvantoglu mosque. The library and mosque date from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, a period when Vidin was ruled by local strongman Osman Pazvantoglu, who managed to carve out a semi-independent statelet free of Ottoman and other rule as the power of the Porte began to waver. While the Vidin enclave was short-lived and Istanbul resumed control of the region, many nationalists—not just in Bulgaria, but in neighboring Serbia—took heart in Vidin’s successful challenge to Ottoman authority.
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