History of Bulgarian Town-Planning 19th-20th Century


Part One

Diachronic Analyses of the Planning of the Major Bulgarian Towns

Ed.”Valentin Trayanov”, Sofia, 2009

 ISBN 978-954-9928-41-9


Subject of the present research is the development of the Bulgarian town-planning in the period of the Modern Time and Modernism, i.e. from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century.

When the research started in 1993 the available database proved insufficient, even scarce, so that it was impossible to collect the necessary amount of source materials to allow drawing of conclusions, such as cadastral plans, regulation and town-planning plans and documents accompanying them, information about the authors. Besides, much of the data published by that time and considered as firmly established facts by the professional community needed revision or even refutation. What is more, rather than being based on authentic archive material (plans, drawings) the available publications instead used mutilated, re-drawn, interpreted, manipulated and censored plans. None or only sporadic publications were available in the professional writings about big towns such as Plovdiv, Varna or Rousse. The methodology for historical interpretation that had been used was outdated and to a large extent obsolete.

Therefore, it was imperative to first of all collect an optimum amount of data, allowing the investigators to draw, as objectively as possible, historical laws, generalizations, principles, etc. Secondly, a new methodological concept needed to be adopted.

The above led to the need to work with a selected set of data and to narrow the object of research. Thus, only preliminary selected “reference” big towns became the object of research, such as Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Rousse, Stara Zagora, Veliko Turnovo, etc., characterized by uninterrupted urban continuity and sustainability over time. The following methodology was adopted:

Diachronic analyses were used to trace the most important stages in the development of the selected big towns, from their topogenesis, through the first cadastral and regulation plans, to their prospective urban planning.

Synchronic analyses applied to the periods of topogenesis, of Antiquity, of the time of the first cadastral sketches and regulation plans, and finally to the first town plans, made it possible to identify the paradigmatic characteristics of the big Bulgarian towns, distinguished for their long historic continuity.

One can safely say that these paradigmatic characteristics are also true with regard to the other towns in Bulgaria. This is how in the course of the synchronic analyses new towns were studied, selected according to a certain quality, e.g. newly created towns, villages growing into towns, industrial towns, railway stations which became towns, etc.

In its essence, the adopted methodology is characteristic of the structural and semiotic approach and the results of the research present a stereoscopic and dynamic image of the history of the Bulgarian town-planning during the period under review, on the basis of the most prominent towns which determined the overall town-planning process in Bulgaria.

This first part of the research analyzes diachronically, i.e. in the course of its development in time, the evolution of the creation and spatial development of nine of the present-day big Bulgarian towns: Sofia, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Rousse, Varna, Bourgas, Kyustendil, Veliko Turnovo and Vidin.

The towns studied in the research were selected according to several criteria, including long-lasting urban continuity; leading functions of these towns (social, political and local centres) during certain historic periods and in terms of Bulgarian statehood or the present-day urbanized territory of this country; growth and evolution of these towns’ spatial development in the 19th and 20th century; representative functions with regard to other unstudied towns in terms of certain criteria, such as border, river or sea towns, etc.

The towns were studied independently from one another in the course of their history whereby the most distinct stages and events, the most significant characteristic features of the town-planning structure of each one of them were revealed and verified.

The research was based on written data, found in professional literary sources, in historic, geographic and memoir writings, as well as on archive material found in state, local and private archives. Authentic graphic, photo, etc., visual materials were collected and analyzed during the research. We strived to avoid re-drawing or retouching the discovered plans and pictures so as not to distort the information. A large portion of these source materials have been circulated for the first time in the architectural community.

For most of the towns studied in the course of the research this was the first time when the evolution of the population centres and the development of urban planning came to be studied. This has a bearing on not just the history of these towns but also on their future planning, management and urban policy as the research revealed both the invariants and traditions ensuring the identity of these towns as well as the trends for the future development defined already at their creation and guided by the objective course of history.

Parallel tracing of the evolution in the millennia-long development of the big Bulgarian towns makes it possible to form a relatively objective idea about the overall town-planning process and its development in time. The research could thus be seen as a basis of a general history of Bulgarian town-planning, not restricted to just the 19th and 20th century.

Events, laws, occurrences, facts taking place in precisely defined historical moments which the research found to be symptomatically repeated in the histories of all studied towns, build the framework of the historical town-planning paradigms. Outlining these paradigms was exactly the aim and result of the research.

These diachronic analyses of the towns studied in the research make it possible to outline the paradigmatic phenomena which had a bearing on the history of the Bulgarian town-planning during the 19th and 20th century. Standing out as invariant phenomena with regard to all studied towns, these occurrences should be judged as valid with regard to the rest towns in Bulgaria.

Having thus established a certain methodological routine of research, it is possible to add to the analyzed towns new ones and study them diachronically. We can safely assume that the same paradigmatic characteristics will surface, albeit naturally possessing certain specifics which guarantee these towns’ identity in history.

The parallel phenomena and processes discovered in the diachronic analyses are thus the following:

• the topogenesis of all of the studied towns is traceable in pre-historic times: during the Paleolithic Age, the Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age;

• the main gradients of urbanization were established in Antiquity;

• the first large-scale town-planning activities during the period under review were launched by Midhad Pasa in the 1860s, when he governed the Danubian vilayet;

• the creation of the first cadastral maps of the studied towns took place in the late 19th – early 20th century;

• the first legislation in the area of urban development and the first statutory regulations were too introduced at the end of the 19th century;

• the first town-planning of cities and the first regulation plans appeared at the start of the 20th century; rationalism;

• the reconstruction is in full swing; clash at the level of style; spreading of the ideas of Camillo Sitte;

• first town-planning competitions;

• industrialization and urbanization; territorial expansion of towns;

• wars, migrations, housing crisis and urbanization, growth of towns in area and population;

• transport, urban zoning;

• specialization and professional separation of urbanism;

• spreading of the ideas of the town-garden; of other concepts, models and styles;

• first town plans in the 1940s;

• Modernism and its spreading in town-planning; application of the vocabulary of Modernism;

• change in the social and political paradigm; a new reconstruction in the mid-20th century.

The second part of the research will contain the synchronic analyses in terms of stages and periods, which mark the evolution of the towns, the urbanization of the country and the development of urbanism as theory, legislation and practice in Bulgaria. The synchronic analyses will be conducted on cross-sections, on the basis of the diachronic analyses of the major towns and the collected database.

Synchronic analyses will be made of the most interesting paradigmatic periods, phenomena and laws in the history of town-planning in the 19th and 20th century, such as:

• synchronic analyses of the pre-historic and ancient period, containing the origin, topogenesis and the town-planning matrix of the big towns;

• synchronic analysis of the first large-scale town-planning activities in the Danubian vilayet during the 1860s;

• synchronic analysis of the first cadastral plans and the structure of the big towns just before the Liberation from the Turkish Rule (late 19th century);

• synchronic analysis of the first regulation plans of the big towns at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century;

• synchronic analysis of the first town plans in the 1940s until the middle of the century;

• synchronic analyses on specific problems such as:

– the ethnic structure of the big Bulgarian towns before their first planning in the late 19th century;

– social structure and territorial distribution of the population;

– legislation and enforcement;

– creation of new towns;

– styles and spreading;

– compositional concepts, ideas, principles and models.

The synchronic analyses presented in Part 2 cannot presumably exhaust the entire potential contained in Part 1 and the conducted diachronic analyses. There exist a number of possible cross-sections that can be a target of future analyses, based on various indicators, e.g.:

– in the area of architecture and its typology;

– in the area of town-planning, its typology and components: squares; street and transport network; emergence of large-scale construction;

– public amenities: water supply, sewerage, electrification, street pavement and construction of sidewalks; river regulations; industrial zones, etc.;

– park and landscape design: creation of first public gardens; parks; planting of trees along streets; sport zones, etc.;

– monuments; urban design, etc.

What is more, it is possible to go beyond the narrow professional framework and conduct interdisciplinary synchronic analyses on cross-sections defined about general cultural topics, such as The Image of Towns on the Eve of the Liberation from the Turkish Rule, or Urbanization, Industry, Housing Crisis in the Post-war Period, or Organization of the Cultural Town Spaces, or The Town as a Cultural Phenomenon in the 1920s, etc., etc.

In other words, the research, in both of its parts, is open to future studies and interpretations of the already collected facts.

The significance of the diachronic analyses thus conducted is seen in several directions:

– first, the study is important for the architectural and town-planning science: history, theory and methodology, because many new data have been collected; various types of information content has been processed; a number of studies, articles and reports on the history of the individual towns have been published; new methods of study have been verified; new aspects, data and facts of other sciences have been incorporated and analyzed; interdisciplinary bridges have been thrown in the direction of research in general history, Balkan studies, culturology, historical geography, etc.;

– secondly, the research is important as a database for the next methodical move in the second part: the synchronic analyses, as well as with regard to future interpretations on the part of the science of the town-planning history, general history, history of the material urban culture, etc.;

– thirdly, the study can be repeated for other towns as well and be used as a model of interpretation;

– and finally, the diachronic analyses are also important in the architectural and town-planning practice in the area of preservation of the cultural heritage, as they reveal the invariants and reference points of the development of the individual towns; in the area of town-planning design, as the studies identify the dominant directions of development, basic characteristics  and the identity of the individual towns; in the area of urban management and policy, as they demonstrate the historical background and experience collected and preserved in the biographies of the towns.

The abundance of the collected graphic material is in itself important because it circulates authentic, until now unknown and unpublished archive documents: plans, sketches, pictures, etc.

Being an initial attempt in terms of objectives, approach and form, the research surely has errors and omissions, about which the authors hope for understanding on the part of the esteemed readership.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.