The museum department was separated from the Library and established into an independent institution with ‘special personnel’ in 1892. The Edict of Ferdinand, the Royal Prince of January 1, 1893 legitimatized the establishment of the National Museum, with its own budget and stamp.
The artifacts of the Natural Science Collection were moved to the University. The other artifacts set the beginning of three collections, an Old Ages (Antiquity) Collection, which included prehistoric, Thracian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Turkish finds; a Numismatic Collection and an Ethnographic Collection. Buyuk Mosque was transformed into exhibition space and the Museum arranged its exhibitions there. Vaclav Dobruski, a Chech scholar, was appointed director of the Museum from 1892 to 1910. He was only the first director, but also keeper of the Old Ages (Antiquity), the Medieval one and the Contemporary Art Collection. Domenico Tachella,an Italian, was appointed keeper of the Numismatic Collection. Boris Diakovich headed the Ethnographic Collection.
Certain legal documents assured the enrichment of the Collections: Instructions to the Regional Governors for Collecting of Artifacts and Their Dispatch to the National Museum; Temporary Rules for Scientific Institutions and Libraries in 1888; Law for Search of Antiquities and for Supporting Scholarly Institutions and Libraries in 1890. These decrees had great impact on the development of the museum and on archaeology. They stressed on the leading position in museology and defined the guiding function of the Ministry of National Education in archaeological excavations and export of artifacts. These documents helped revealing artifacts and emphasized on their educational and cultural significance for the Bulgarian cultural heritage. Thus the Revival Period ideal of unifying all Bulgarian territories was still followed. In an atmosphere of political and cultural boom in the country after the Liberation the Museum kept its highly estimated position in revealing and storage of archaeological artrifacts.
The rich Collection ranked the Museum third among the museums on the Balkans (after those in Athens and Istanbul (Constantinople) only a few years after the differentiation of the Museum from the Library and its establishment into an independent institution. The Museum found its prestigious place not only in the society in Bulgaria, but also in the whole Balkan region.
The Museum was officially opened to the public on May 18, 1905, in the presence of Ferdinand, the Royal Prince, ministers, and other cultural and political fames. This fact reflects the significance of the Museum. Its primary task in the first years of development was to collect any kind of artifacts throughout the country, with the active co-operation of the administrative, military, school and church authorities. Alongside to illuminate some of the problems in development of culture and society in Bulgaria by archaeological research the Museum had to enrich the Collections.
Thus significant part of the budget supplied purchase from private persons for enrichment of the Collections, chiefly the Numismatic and Ethnographic ones. The latter grew and in 1906, along with the Archives of the Bulgarian Revival Period, it set the beginning of the Museum of Ethnography in Sofia.
The growth of the Collections, as well as the extension of the research, resulted in reorganization of the Museum’s structure and new appointments. The Law of National Education in 1909 stated the necessity of these changes. The National Museum was declared a National Museum of Archaeology. According to the section 374 of the Law, the Museum had the task to collect and preserve archaeological artifacts, … coins, … church plate, … all materials from abroad, related to the history, archaeology and art in the Bulgarian territories,” as well as ‘to take care of the preservation and maintenance of all objects and sites of architectural and artistic value in Bulgaria.’
The Museum’s structure was defined according to section 379 of the Law. The Collections were organized in four departments: Old Ages (Antiquity), Medieval, Numismatic and Artistic ones.
A keeper was appointed for each of the departments. A Museum Committee was constituted. Two archaeologists and delegates of the Ministry of National Education attended the committee meetings. The Law defined the duties of the director and the keepers, as well as the regulations for work with museum collections. According to the Law, everyone is allowed to work with the Collections ‘free of charge according to the established order, regardless of profession, sex and ethnic origin.’ Thus the statute of the National Museum of Archaeology was legally defined, making it available for any member of the society. The Museum acquired the status of an institution of primary importance for the country in the domain of cultural and historical heritage. In 1909 a Temporary Statute Book of the National Archaeological Museum was affirmed.
The Museum’s staff worked actively to enrich the Collections. Vaclav Dobruski, the first director of the Museum, transferred to his successor Bogdan Filov (1910-1920) a rich Collection of artifacts. The Collection still kept growing in the next years. In 1912 the remarkable Thracian treasure from Radjuvene, Lovetch region entered the inventories. In the same period the Museum participated in auctions abroad and bought various ancient artifacts for its Collections. The growth of the Collections demanded new storage spaces.
‘Chemical preparation’ treatment of artifacts was initiated in 1913 by the keepers of the largest Collections Raphael Popov and Petăr Mutafčiev. The treatment was successful and projects for future similar treatment of all artifacts were formed. But to accomplish its purpose the Museum had not only to shelter artifacts, but also to develop archaeological research. The shortage of other specialized institutes in Bulgaria forced the Museum staff to undertake a series of activities for the preservation and study of all historical sites (different kinds of buildings and church paintings of exceptional importance for the Bulgarian history and culture).
A special Law for the Antiquities was enacted in 1911 due to the efforts of the Museum’s authorities. In conformity with this law, an Office for Preservation and Maintenance of Antiquities was established at the Museum in Sofia. The director of the Museum headed the Office. Members of this institution were also all keepers, the Committee for the Antiquities of the Museum, the director of the Museum of Ethnography, the director of the National library, three representatives of the Ministry of National Education and three delegates from the archaeological societies with local museums. The decisions of this Committee were affirmed by the Minister of National Education and were significant as decisions for ‘all issues related to the search, preservation and maintenance of artifacts.’ This Law was of exceptional importance for the preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of Bulgaria and once again confirmed role of the Museum in studying, preservation and presentation of artifacts.
Important tasks demanded to enlarge the Museum’s staff. The reasons for this shortage laid in unqualified personal rather than in the lack of money. As the staff was already not sufficient in number, Bogdan Filov appointed new employees. The Ministry of Education also appointed for a certain period of time scholarship students and teachers from Sofia and teachers from the country, who had the task to help, and at the same time to specialize in the museum’ activities. Bogdan Filov believed the Museum can keep its important role only in case the public itself care and cherish the archaeological findings.
Following his ideas he grouped around the Museum ‘all scholars in the country,’ who could work in the sphere of archaeology. Filov turned the Museum into a center of Bulgarian archaeological research, with which he continued affirming it as a scientific and public institution of major importance in Bulgaria. In this period, due to Filov’s personal and international fame, the Museum activated the contacts with similar institutions abroad. Bogdan Filov was the first to introduce the tradition to release annual reports about the staff of the Museum. This marked the beginning of ‘public accounting’ of the activities of the most important museum institution in the country.
The Museum worked in close cooperation with the Bulgarian Archaeological Society, organized in 1901. The Society’s task was ‘to search, preserve and study the artifacts of the past and to aroused the public interest in them.’ These objectives were similar to those of the Museum. Until the beginning of the 1920s the Museum and the Bulgarian Archaeological Society continuously worked in a close and cooperative manner. In 1920, on the recommendation of the Bulgarian Archaeological Society, the Bulgarian Institute of Archaeology was created as an independent scientific institution and Bogdan Filov was appointed to be its first director.
Andrej Protič was appointed director of the Museum from 1921 to 1928. He continued the tradition to release annual reports of the Museum’s staff. The Museum’s departments in 1920, according to the annual report were already five:, Prehistoric, with keeper Raphael Popov; Old Ages (Antiquity), with keeper Ivan Velkov; Medieval, headed by Krastju Mijatev; Numismatic, with keeper Nikola Mushmov; and Artistic with keeper Andrej Protič. The members of the Museum Committee and the delegates of the Ministry of National Education Gavril Kazarov, Jordan Ivanov and Bogdan Filov, began filling new inventories of the Collections, and file-cards of the exhibits, as well as classification of every object. In 1921, when Andrej Protič was appointed director, the exhibition was rearranged and the publishing activity of the Museum became more active. Specialized courses in archaeology and museology were organized in cooperation with the Bulgarian Archaeological Society in 1926 and 1929. The courses aimed at improving not only teacher’s and museum’s keepers’ qualification, but also of amateurs, interested in archaeology. Thus, the Museum continued training specialists in the sphere of museology and archaeology for the needs of the country. In fact it was the only institution, which took care of the professional growth of the museum specialists and archaeologists.
The fourth director, Gavril Kazarov, managed the institution in 1928-1929. He was a distinguished Bulgarian scholar. He followed the most important principle of sharing the results from archaeological research with the public. He also pointed out that the state must engage in the archaeological research in Bulgaria. Gavril Kazarov was the first Museum’s director who started organizing temporary exhibitions. The first artifacts on display in a temporary exhibition illustrated the development of the two Bulgarian Kingdoms.
Raphael Popov, the fifth director of the Museum, was appointed in 1929. He held this post until 1938. His name was associated with the development of the prehistoric studies in Bulgaria. Raphael Popov, as a member and secretary of the Bulgarian Archaeological Society, paid special attention to the popularization of the past and to the environment of all archaeological sites. Raphael Popov, like his predecessor, Gavril Kazarov, emphasized on the connection between past and present in archaeological research and presenting of sites. Raphael Popov worked for years in Madara and contributed a lot to the popularization of all artifacts found there. Ivan Velkov was director of the Museum from 1938 to 1944. Two wings were added to the southern and eastern facade of Buyuk mosque in this period. The construction of the new wings was part of the general reconstruction of the Museum and its permanent exhibition area. The new exhibition included only the most important from artistic, historical or archaeological value artifacts. A large scale conservation of the artifacts from the Museum’s Collections started.
Right after the end of the war, at the end of 1944, the Museum was in crucial state. Buyuk mosque was seriously damaged by the bombardments. A considerable part of the Museum’s documentation the library burnt. Research work and publications ceased. In this period a general structure reorganization of all institutions related to archaeological research began. In 1948 the Art Department was separated from the Museum into an independent institution and the foundations of the Art Gallery were laid.
The beginning of the changes in the Museum coincided with Nikola Mavrodinov becoming director (1944-1949). Under his tenure the new institution National Archaeological Institute with Museum was established. According to the Law of Reorganization of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences the institute joined the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Both institutions (the institute and the Museum) had a common director and a Scholarly Council, as well as common goals in the archaeological studies and their publication. The Museum continued developing its educational activities. The preservation of artifacts was also reorganized. In 1952 a special department was created at the Art and Culture Committee. Later this department was transformed into a National Institute for Monuments of Culture The main goal of the newly established institution was to organize conservation and restoration of the archaeological artifacts revealed in excavations.
The merge of the two institutions, the Museum and the Bulgarian Archaeological Society, led to reconstruction of the Museum’s activities. The Institute of Archaeology acquired a leading position thus giving priority to archaeological research.
The Museum as a Research Facility
Alongside its specific activities and being the one and the only center for conservation and restoration of artifacts in the country, the Museum of Archaeology takes a principal place in archaeological research. The objects uncovered in excavation continuously enrich its Collections and exhibitions.
In the early 1900s Vaclav Dobruski conducted excavations of the Roman towns Nicopolis ad Istrum and Oescus and the Thracian sanctuary of Asclepios near Glava Panega, Lukovit region. According to the Law for the Antiquities of 1911 one of the main tasks of the Museum was to make a map of the archaeological sites in Bulgaria. This task became a priority for the Museum’s staff for the next few decades. In 1910 and 1911 Bogdan Filov conducted excavations around the early Christian basilica St. Sophia in Sofia. A richly decorated Roman mausoleum near Ladzhene, Lovetch region was discovered in excavations by the same scholar in 1912. In the same period Petar Mutafchiev and Atanas Chilingirov registered archaeological sites throughout the country. Gavril Kazarov conducted small-scale excavations of Tell St. Kirilovo, Stara Zagora region. In 1912 Raphael Popov investigated the prehistoric layer of the Morovitsa cave near Glozhene, Lovetch region and made sounding excavations of Tell Deneva near Salmanovo, Shumen district. Several Thracian tumuli near Ezerovo, Parvomai region were also investigated by him. The famous golden ring with a Thracian language inscription was discovered in one of these tumuli. Shortly after the Balkan wars Petăr Mutafčiev conducted excavations of the magnificent basilica near Pirdop. In 1914 the Museum’s staff actively participated in excavations. Raphael Popov opened small trenches at various points of Tell Kodzhadermen near Shumen, while Petar Mutafchiev was excavating a cruciform church near Klisekioi, Pirdop region. In the next year Bogdan Filov started excavating the St. George Rotunda in Sofia, and the other keepers did small-scale excavations and registered sites in North Bulgaria. The excavations conducted by Gavril Kazarov in 1916 revealed many exceptional finds at Shapladere near Dedeagach in Western Thrace.
World War One forced a temporary suspension of field research. In 1920 the keepers registered various archaeological sites and investigated some of the most representative medieval churches in Bulgaria. In 1921 Raphael Popov conducted short-term excavations of the tell near Russe, and several tumuli in Vratsa region alongside his theoretical research. Ivan Velkov studied an early Christian basilica in Hissar and several tumuli near Bailovo, Sofia region. In 1922-1925 the Museum carried out several bigger projects. For two seasons Vassil Mikov excavated several sectors of a tell near Kubrat. Raphael Popov excavated the Thracian necropolis near village Vlashko, Vratsa region, and opened small trenches at various points of the Paleolithic layer of Temna Dupka cave near Karlukovo, Lukovit region. Excavations in the region of the rock relief near Madara, Shumen region, conducted by Raphael Popov, Gavril Kazarov and Ivan Velkov were among the most significant projects in this period.
Alongside Madara the second Bulgarian capital Preslav continued to range among the important projects in field research in the period from 1926-1931. Raphael Popov conducted the excavations in the region of Madara with the participation in particular periods of Krăstju Mijatev, Ivan Velkov and Vassil Mikov. Krastju Mijatev and Yurdan Gospodinov opened trenches at Preslav. Raphael Popov excavated two tumuli near Endzhe, Shumen region. Excavations at Pliska, the first Bulgarian capital, began in 1930 and ran during the entire decade. Krăstio Mijatev was the first to conduct excavations there. In 1932-1934 the fieldwork of the keepers became more active in different parts of the country. Raphael Popov continued excavating in the region of Madara. Vassil Mikov investigated dolmens in Sakar Mountain, opened trenches in some sectors of the Neolithic settlement of Mursalevo, Dupnitsa region, and excavated several Thracian tumuli in Shumen region. Ivan Velkov began investigating the necropolis near Brezovo, Plovdiv region, the ancient fortresses near Batkun, Pazardzhik region, and the settlement at Sadovets, Lukovit region. Nikola Mavrodinov investigated a medieval church near Ljutibrod, Vratsa region. The remains were conserved and partly restored. Alexander Rashenov conducted excavations of a recently found Roman bath in Kjustendil and some sectors of the Roman wall of Serdica. In 1935 Vassil Mikov opened many trenches in Tell Vesselinovo, Yambol region. In 1936 he discovered Tell Karanovo, Nova Zagora region. In 1939 the latter conducted excavations of Tell Zavet, Karnobatsko and Tell Yunatsite, Pazardzhik region. Vassil Mikov investigated the necropolis near Tatarevo, Haskovo region in 1942. Ivanka Akrabova participated in the Italian’s team excavations of the Ronam town of Oescus near Gigen, Pleven region.
After World War Two the field research work of the Museum’s staff became more active. Vassil Mikov excavated in 1945 the eponymous Early Bronze Age settlement near Mihalitch, Svilengrad region and began excavating the eponymous Chalcolithic settlement Krivodol, Vratsa region in 1946. In the same year the latter reactivated also the excavations of Tell Karanovo, Nova Zagora region, which later brought international fame to the Bulgarian prehistoric science. From the following year on Vassil Mikov and Georgi I. Georgiev conducted a large-scale excavations of the same tell. In 1946 Georgi I. Georgiev opened trenches in the Chalcolithic tell near Kolena, Stara Zagora region. In 1948 large-scale excavations of Tell Russe started. In 1945-1946 Nikola Mavrodinov, Stamen Mihailov and Stantcho Vaklinov started excavations of numerous sectors of Pliska. Vera Ivanova, Stancho Vaklinov and Ivanka Akrabova did large-scale investigations of Preslav. In 1948-1949 Stamen Mihailov and Stantcho Vaklinov investigated the early medieval necropolis near Novi Pazar. In 1946 Ivan Venedikov and Teofil Ivanov excavated a vast area of the necropolis of the Greek colony Apollonia Pontica near Sozopol. In 1947 the latter reactivated excavations of the Roman town of Oescus near Gigen, Pleven region. These excavations lasted the next few years.
The active fieldwork of the Museum’s staff produced a series of contributions released predominantly in the Annual of the National Museum of Archaeology or later on in Excavations and Investigation monographs. The information they contain is still actual.