Europe, Bulgaria, Northwest Bulgaria

Vidin and its Fortress, Baba Vida

No Comments 21 July 2010

Vidin and its Fortress, Baba Vida

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.


Baba Vida, Vidin, Bulgaria
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.

Baba Vida, Vidin, Bulgaria
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.

Baba Vida, Vidin, Bulgaria
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.

Old Library, Vidin, Bulgaria
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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Bulgaria

   FAST FACTS


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Population:

7,262,675 (2008)

Land area:

110,550 sq. km.

Capital:

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

Economy:

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):

Bulgarian

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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