Middle Ages Hall

Once you have entered the Museum you face the magnificent replica of Madara Horseman sheltered in the arch over the central staircase toward the gallery. This is the only replica exhibited in the Museum. For the Bulgarians it is of special importance. Made at the beginning of the twentieth century, it represents the spirit of this unique time in the history of the European culture and of the Bulgarian state: the foundation and establishment of Medieval Bulgaria. To reach the Horseman, the visitor has to go along an alley, similar to the prestigious alley of our first capital of Pliska. Along the alley there are columns with inscriptions, recording of wars, conquests, peace treaties with the Byzantine Empire and building activity of the first Bulgarian rulers. These inscriptions represent the ‘stone chronicle’ of Bulgaria from the 9th century.

In the gallery on the second level of the Central Hall artifacts, thematically grouped, are shown: masterpieces of medieval murals of great importance for the development and the understanding of the Bulgarian medieval painting. The richest collection of fine art pieces from the Middle Ages is also exhibited in the gallery. The National Museum started preserving the artistic heritage of Bulgaria a hundred years ago. Due to this activity a significant number of wall paintings are preserved for the next generations. In recent years generations of painters and specialists in conservation managed to restore and prepare for display many wall paintings, originating from mediaeval churches, partially or fully destroyed. The wall paintings from St. Nikola Chruch in Melnik from the 12th century are not only the most significant and earliest of its kind, but also one of the most important for the development of the art in medieval Bulgaria.

Wall paintings from Melnik are also situated on both sides of the entrance to the Medieval Room. Murals of saints face the Madara Horseman and emphasize another aspect of the development of the medieval culture.

In 681 a new state stepped upon the stage of the history. The Bulgarians developed settlements and build houses, following their own traditions or the traditions of the land they migrated to. The traditions that build up the new nationality were complex and various, as those transmitted from other cultures. In their new established state these people exchanged experience, acquired skills and created the phenomenon defined as ‘Bulgarian culture’ during the centuries.

The builders of the new state put a lot of efforts in their work. The towns were well supplied with water and had a well-constructed drainage system. The buildings were well heated. Luxurious pottery of perfect shapes and ornaments decorated the table of thirteen- century aristocrats. Expensive metal vessels were a privilege of aristocracy or the rich citizens. Small objects of everyday life illustrate the employment of wood for construction of houses or home decoration. The wooden doors of the houses were framed with iron.

The second section of the exhibition, a case to the left of the entrance, presents the topic Women and Men-warriors. The exhibits illustrate the pursuit of beauty of woman from various social groups. Expensive clothes and ornaments of pretious metals, copper, bronze, glass and precious stones were produced and bought in the ateliers in the Bulgarian towns. Other pieces of attire were imported from the East and the West, from the emperor’s workshops of Byzantium or the traditional ateliers of the Eastern Mediterranean and West Europe.

Men carried with dignity their weapons and various other objects associated with warrior status. This practice, regardless of the changes in the types of weapon (sable or sword), lasted from the 7th to the 14th century, when the Bulgarians had to face the Ottoman conquest. This is illustrated by artifacts from the necropolis at Novi Pazar from the seventh century and many other later sites. Even in a state of war the mediaeval man continued wearing expensive ornaments. Magnificent horse harness adored his favorite horse.

Metal tools were of great importance in the daily life of the medieval man. Tools for agriculture and war time protection are exhibited in the cases. Great variety of iron artifacts illustrating labor, daily life, armour and armament outline the traditions inherited on the Balkans or transmitted from the far-off territories of the Slavs, Bulgars and other nations, who came to live on these lands.

Agricultural techniques, reflecting ancient traditions and new knowledge, gained from the developed Mediterranean society, are of great importance in the Middle Ages.

Some of the shapes and types of the Bulgarian golden ornaments imitated the standard products of famous workshop during the medieval period. Other ornaments were produced to meet the needs of elite consumers.

Far back in time the man discovered the potentialities of clay for everyday use.The production of earthenware in Bulgaria followed its own genesis. At home the woman used to make simple and rough clay vessels for the needs of the family. The wheel turned this production into a craft. The ceramics became a means of exchange. Thin-walled pottery of different shape and decoration appeared in the Bulgarian kitchen even as early as the first millennium. The peak in this production was the luxurious white clay, painted and glazed ceramics from Preslav in the 10th century.

The whole life of the medieval man was influenced by his beliefs. They were reflected in images on the simplest objects for daily use, on amulets, as well as in scenes, depicting mythological characters. The tradition of writing in the Bulgarian territories is represented by two alphabets - the Glagolitic and the Cyrillic. The Cyrillic alphabet endured the ages and was the ground of the development of the Bulgarian literarature. The first known inscription upon stone in Cyrillic is the epitaph of the churguboil (a superior pre-Christian Bulgarian office rank) Mostich from Veliki Preslav from the 10th century, displayed at the end of the first part of the exhibition in the hall. The development of literature in medieval Bulgaria, is illustrated also by the white clay glazed tablets with liturgy texts, produced in Veliki Preslav in the 10th and 11th century.

The apotheosis of the exhibition is its second part, arranged separately into a space with architecture resembling the interior of a church. The square area, designed as a domed structure, the arched entrance and a shallow niche opposite to the entrance, inspires the visitor to feel the harmony between man and God. One of the masterpieces of the icon painting of the 14th century, the double-sided icon from Poganovo, depicting The Holly Virgin with John the Theologian and the Vision of Ezekiah, beautifies the centre of this area. A niche, resembling an altar space, shelters the most significant and precious treasures from the Middle Ages in the Museum’s Collection: the 10th century ceramic icon of St. Theodor from Veliki Preslav; the mosaic icon of the Holly Virgin with the baby Jesus Christ in her hands from Thrace; and a 14th century icon with a donation inscription by the uncle of the Bulgarian king Ivan Alexander on the silver frame. The fabulous golden cross-reliquary from Pliska, decorated with many images and scenes, one of the prides of the Collection and highlight of the exhibition, shines in a case.

Two displays on both opposite sidewalls present the high achievements of two periods. Veliki Preslav, the Christian capital of the early Medieval Bulgaria, is known not only for its literature and white stone buildings, but also for its ateliers for stone decoration, which made its buildings of unique beauty, and for the production of decorative white clay glazed ceramics. The scales of the development of these applied arts in the Bulgarian capital turned it into the only of its kind center in Europe. The painted glazed tiles inspire the feeling of sacredness and glamour inside many churches decorated with ceramic icons. The icon of St. Theodor, displayed in the exhibition, is a perfect representative of this kind. Light and shade upon the marble decoration, the many colors of the decorative tiles, wall paintings and mosaics, aroused an incomparable feeling of the pilgrims in the temple.

A relief icon of Christ from Nessebur is the highlight of the topic Church Decoration. The exhibits illustrating this topic are discovered in settlements with highly-developed culture from the period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The topic is developed in the central area of the Room. Around the relief icon are exhibited various architectural members typical for the church decoration as well as wall paintings, representative for the art of the 14th and 15th century.

The exhibition is focused also on icons of warriors-patrons, a common subject of icon painting in the period from the 11th to the 14th century. The icons of saints-warriors depict also aristocrats and prelates. The icon of the Holy Virgin, decorated with gold, is the highlight of this section. This icon is considered to be one of the most significant of the mediaeval Museum’s Collection.

The topics, presented in a case at the end of this section are the Ruler and the Church. On display are stamps and seals of Bulgarian rulers and spiritual leaders of different times. The minting is illustrated by coin types of different rulers. Golden and silver rings with heraldic symbols from Western Europe show for common use by rulers, aristocrats and probably rich citizens.

The wealth of the Bulgarian aristocracy is illustrated by the golden belt fittings from Madara from 7th to the 9th century; by the impressive silver cup of Sivin, found in his grave in Preslav, and by finds as the Nicopol treasure from the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, comprising richly decorated vessels, ornaments and coins.

The representation of the life of the Bulgarians, displayed in both areas of the Room, follows its own internal development in the period from 7th to 14th century. Each of both sections of the exhibition outlines the traditions, their preservation and development through the aged under the influences, resulting from the interaction with the medieaval world

Margarita Vaklinova