Ottoman Period

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Varna during the period 14th – 18th c.

Type: Publication | Historic Period: Ottoman Period

There are still no secure sources indicating when exactly the Ottoman Turks conquerred Varna. The information by the Ottoman historian Mehmed Neshri, that the first attempt to seize the city was made by Yachshi beg, general of Ali pasha, in 1388, is well known. However, the first attempt probably failed and the Ottomans seized the city next year – 1389. This year the bishop seat of Varna was divided between Anhialo and Nessebur. Such event should not take place if the city was still the capital of the Dobrudja despot and the bishop seat continued to exist. The Ottoman traveler Evlia Chelleby mentions 1389 as the year of conquest of Varna by generals of sultan Murad I. Not like other Bulgarian cities, Varna obviously was not seized by assault and the population was spared. Otherwise the Ottoman historians would not miss to mention the taking by assault of one of the biggest Bulgarian cities and the extinction of population within the walls. However the city’s dwellers would have certainly suffered in 1399, when they were “enslaved by pagan tatars.” The city was not destroyed even during the campaign of the Polish-Lithuanian king Vladislav III Jagelo in 1444. From that campaign date some of the weapons preserved in the museum – swords, lances, maces and other war equipment. Located near the port, the medieval city fortress was preserved and used by Ottomans well until 19th c. The Russian army destroyed the city walls in 1830, while the citadel itself was destroyed in 1906.

There are no particular and detailed data about the city fate until the end of 15th c., but it seems that it enjoyed peaceful life, as it was far from the Ottoman military routes. The region enjoyed certain economic prosperity, especially the city. It was vacuf of sultan Selim I. One document dated 1527 indicates that the city has 15 neighborhoods (mahla). Ten of these are named under the Christian priests serving their churches – Papa Kostadin, Priest Colo, Papa Yani, Priest Yorghy, Priest Manol, Priest Stani, Kyriakos Yani and Bishop, obviously indicating that population was Christian.

The city continued to be the most important port on the west coast of the Black sea and was traditionally called "main port of Zagora". It is included in commercial and trade handbooks of Florence, mentioned as important market center in documents of Genoa and Venice by the middle of 15th c. Most probably a Venetian colony thrived in the city even under Ottoman rule. This, relatively peaceful and prosperous development of the city, as compared to other Bulgarian regions is well illustrated in Ottoman tax registers dated 16th c. The traders of Varna were importing expensive and luxurious goods from the Italian cities-republics. A collection of majolica made utensils, product of workshops in Florence, Venice and other Italian cities is a good example of such exchange.

The city imported luxurious utensils from ceramic centers in Asia Minor. The Archeological museum - Varna holds one of the largest collections of faience ewers, dishes, plates and cups, produced in Turkish towns of Iznik, Kyutahia and Chalak kale. They are of high quality and rich colorful ornaments. The production dates from end of 15th to 19th c. Local ceramic shops produced skilful imitations of imported utensils. Various shape of pottery utensils are produced – ewers, plates, dishes and cups. They form the riches collection of such pottery from the period found in archeological excavations in the city. They reflect the mixture of local tradition with many foreign influences interacting in the heterogeneous city society.

Additional testimonies of relative prosperity of dwellers of Varna are the china cups produced in China, Saxony and other parts of the world and discovered in the old part of the city. Citizen had the chance to buy one of the most valued and expensive medicines in Medieval Europe – terriac (mixture of opium and large number of herbs). Many covers of utensils with the names of Italian apothecaries-producers of the medicine have been found during excavations.

Many covers of utensils with the names of Italian apothecaries-producers of the medicine have been found during excavations.

The museum possesses relatively rich collection of late medieval jewelry – rings, rings-seals, necklaces and bracelets.

Research fellow Valentin Pletnyov, PhD