Kotel - The Privileged Soldiers Village

The town of Kotel is situated in a small valley in one of the passes of the Balkan Range linking North and South Bulgaria. This is also why its statute during Ottoman domination was that of a "privileged soldiers village", exempt from state taxes. This enabled its inhabitants to acquire wealth as merchants and craftsmen, and to feel spiritually and politically free to a large extent. In 1765 Paissii of Hilendar, the author of the First Bulgarian History - Slaviano-Bulgarian History - gave the manuscript to Kotel clergyman Priest Stoiko, the future bishop Sophronius of Vratsa, who was responsible for the History's first copy. Kotel's inhabitants were also the first to mark the Day of the Founders of the Slavianian Script, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, on May 24, 1860 - an official holiday today.

In the 19th century Kotel already boasted four secular schools. The school in the Galata quarter is now a Museum of the Bulgarian National Revival. A large part of the exhibition is dedicated to local Georgi Stoikov Rakovski - one of the outstanding ideologues and figures of the Bulgarian national liberation movement.

Kotel's National Revival period houses are of the "wooden type" seen frequently in the Eastern Balkan Range. The only difference was that in Kotel they were higher - up to 3-4 stories, the ground floors housing shops and workshops, rather than the usual household premises. The originally open verandas is lost in later times, making the houses akin to closed urban homes - with spacious central salons and a wealth of decorative elements.

A devastating fire in 1894 wiped out nearly the entire town of which only two quarters - Galata and Durlyanka survived.

Although but a few, the preserved architectural examples provide a good idea of the town's former appearance. Just take a look at the Kyorpeev House, now an Ethnographic Museum, the Kosichkov, Pisomov, Burnev, Bairumov and Karaivanov houses, the old water mill and the inn. The yards are dotted with geraniums and carnations.

The locals still weave their famous Kotel carpets, and many of their children study at the town's secondary music school for national instruments and folk singing.