Пътеписите и описанията от първите десетилетия на свободна България винаги са представлявали особен интерес за нас. Живият език на западните пътешественици вдъхва рядък колорит и придава плът и кръв на личностите и събитията от онези времена. Подобно любопитно четиво представлява и книгата на Джеймс Самюелсън "Bulgaria past and present", издадена през 1888 г. Макар целият текст да заслужава внимание, тук ще публикуваме само една част, посветена на младата София. Препечатваме и няколко фотографии. Поставяме специален акцент върху тях, тъй като снимките от 80-те години на 19 век са истинска рядкост.
Sofia is situated on an elevated plain in the south-west of Bulgaria, and more than one range of mountains is visible from its higher parts, conspicuously the Balkans to the north and Mount Vitosch immediately on the south. During my stay in the city there was unfortunately a change from very dry to wet weather. This had the effect of making the surrounding plain change from a parched brown to a bright green colour, but it prevented me from ascending Vitosch, from which there is a splendid view, as the summit was nearly always in the clouds. The atmospheric effects as these rolled over the mountain and around its slopes were, however, very grand and imposing. There is a gradually rising plain a few miles in extent from Sofia to the foot of the mountain, and it may then be easily ascended in any direction. The city itself, which covers a very considerable area, resembling in that respect Bucharest, contains about twenty thousand inhabitants. It may be said to have three distinct quarters. The new city, which was virtually planned and founded by Prince Alexander, is situated round about the palace, of which a fair idea may be obtained from the photograph; the old "Turkish" quarter, which resembles the narrow streets of certain Oriental cities; and a straggling series of streets and roads, with houses of moderate dimensions and some imposing buildings, as the barracks, the new printing-offices, and the boys' "Gymnasium" or upper middle-class school, etc.The Palace, Sofia
The new part of the city comprises the palace, which is a very fine structure of modern French Renaissance (as may be seen from the photograph), resembling portions of the Louvre and Tuileries; the ''Hotel Bulgaria" opposite, really the only fine hotel in the city; some good shops; the houses in which the Ministries are situated, very unpretending buildings, and near at hand the "Agencies" of foreign courts. These are situated at a higher elevation than the palace, and the finest is the Russian Agency, of which also a photograph is appended, showing the Russian and part of the British agency.
The Russian Agency, Sofia, with British Agency on the right
The old town is by far the most interesting to strangers. It consists of a series of streets containing shops with open fronts, enabling the visitor to see the artisans at work, and the trades are, as far as possible, grouped together — shoemakers, tinsmiths, cutlers making knives and dirks, brass-workers, butchers, bakers, clothiers, etc., and not the least conspicuous the furriers at work making the kalpack or cylindrical Bulgarian head-dress worn by the men. The better kinds are made of real fur, the commoner descriptions of sheep's wool died black. In some places I saw very beautiful white kalpacks. In addition to these features the striking peculiarities of this and other towns are: first, the mosques, which have been converted to secular uses, as prisons, printing-offices, markets, &c. (in Sofia the baths, fed by natural hot springs); the execrable pavement, which makes progress in a carriage very difficult; the wooden skeletons of triumphal arches, which are permanently retained throughout the country, so that the people may not be put to any unnecessary trouble in preparing a joyous reception in turn for Russian general, German prince, or nationalist hero!
In Sofia there is no theatre, no concerts, and, as far as I could learn, no lectures nor systematic entertainments of any kind, except a military band, which plays very well, and one or two cafes-chantants. During my stay there the people were very much exercised, not only by the intrigues of Russia, but by the refusal of the Powers to recognise their Prince and the threat of the Germans to send men-of-war to blockade or bombard Varna on account of some petty insult in the shape of a newspaper article which had recently appeared reflecting on one of their Consuls, and that may have accounted for the serious aspect of the place. But to me it appeared that politics alone occupied all men's thoughts, and the whole place seemed to be in the throes of one vast mysterious conspiracy. That the political atmosphere was highly charged the reader will find when I come to describe a “meeting” which took place during my sojourn there. I was told that the Sofians are always either up in the skies or down in the mud, and I am afraid that it was my ill-luck to find them in the lower regions.
The places of interest to be visited there, besides those just named, are the Technical School of Kniajevo, which is situated a few miles out of the city, at the foot of Vitosch, and is unique; the printing-ofiices; the boys' Gymnase, which was unfortunately closed when I was there; and, for those who care to study the aspects of crime, the prison. Let us visit the last-named first.
It is a (very slightly, I should say) converted mosque — the Black Mosque. You enter it from a kind of court or garden, and find yourself in a quadrangle, badly paved and slovenly, and containing a few stunted trees, with a series of buildings all round, consisting of of large chambers or cells. In these there are raised shelves where the prisoners sleep, and where they stand in a row for inspection. The prison costume is white duck, and the prisoners are numbered. When I was there, there were about 170 men and (in another part of the building) seven women. One of the men was a priest, who was permitted to wear his long-gown and silk hat. I understood that he had been implicated in the election riots. The crimes of the others had been murder, manslaughter, highway robbery (or, as they call it, brigandage, of which I shall speak hereafter), and other heavy offences, and all but two or three were imprisoned for long terms, up to fourteen years or even longer. Two or three were sentenced to death, and I was shocked to see one man in chains standing amongst the rest, when I subsequently saw them in a body in the quadrangle, who was to be executed in a few days. He had previously sent me from his cell, where he was standing along with others, a belt made by himself of small beads, for which, of course, I gave him a trifle. Other prisoners voluntarily make similar objects of small, parti-coloured beads, as purses, necklaces, &c., which they sell to visitors, and that is the extent of the prison labour! The prisoners do absoliitely nothing, as, with some trifling exceptions, they did in Bucharest, when I was there in 1881. The result of this enforced idleness and of the free association of the prisoners is that they are constantly conspiring to escape. About a fortnight before I was there two prisoners had escaped, and, I believe, np to that time they were at large. The very day previously another prisoner, it was believed in collusion with about ten more, was within an ace of making his escape. I was shown a key which he had cleverly constructed out of a piece of thin plate-iron, wherewith he was going to open his cell door, and another of wood for the outer gate. In case they had succeeded in reaching that, the prisoners would have overpowered, and probably murdered, the guard. The prisoner was afterwards shown to me in a strong cell, heavily loaded with chains round his breast, waist, and legs. The system of associating prisoners of various degrees is, however, not so bad as formerly. Some years since, if a soldier failed to salute his superior officer, or committed some slight military offence, and received a sentence of a short term of imprisonment, he was bundled into this and other gaols, and compelled to herd with murderers and highway robbers. The prisoners are well fed. As one of the Ministers said to me, "they live more comfortably than ordinary workmen." They have meat four times a week, bread in the morning, excellent nourishing soup (which I tasted) at noon, and another meal of some kind later on. They are nearly all well-educated, and three who could neither read nor write when they entered the gaol had been instructed by their colleagues. A few books were lent to them by a Missionary Society, but that was all that was done for their intellectual advancement. There is some kind of weekly inspection. I asked them whether they would not prefer to work, and was answered affirmatively; they even said they would petition for work; but I fear that is a reform of the future. Generally speaking, the treatment of prisoners is mild; the Government is averse to inflict capital punishment, and the prison officials are forbearing, intelligent, and attentive, and fully alive to the danger and inconvenience of the present system. And now a few words about the administration of justice generally in Bulgaria.
The Black Mosque (prison) in Sofia
The police system in Sofia comprises four districts (including the central), called Ootchastoks, which take cognisance of crimes therein committed. In the central office, which was the one visited by me, a commissioner sits and disposes of petty cases involving not more than twenty-four hours' detention. Imprisonment for any longer period must be inflicted by higher courts. A second petty court is that of the Juge de Paix, who adjudicates upon cases not involving disputes or damages beyond 300 francs.
There are three superior courts. The Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal, and the "Cour de Cassation." From the first, prisoners nearly always appeal to the second, and facilities are freely granted to enable them to do so. The Court of Cassation may revise the sentences of the Court of Appeal, order a new trial, or mitigate the sentence. So far the machinery of the law, which seems excellent; now as to how it is administered. I made searching inquiries, and received the following information from a great variety of sources. "Are the judges corrupt?" The answer is "No; not so far as bribery is concerned;" and this redounds greatly to their credit, for the salary of the President of the “Cour de Cassation," the highest court, is only £300 per annum! (Let me here add that a prefect receives at most £200 a year, a Minister of State £480. A Deputy gets fifteen francs per day during the session of Parliament, and his travelling expenses.)
On the whole, however, the administration of justice is mild, capital sentences are often commuted, and no such severities are to be met with as killing prisoners by insanitary or exhausting employments.
Prom the prison and crime we will pass on to a more agreeable subject, namely, technical instruction in Bulgaria. After having visited many such institutions in Europe and the United States, I have no hesitation in saying that, plain and unpretending as it is, the "Ecole Technique" at Kniajevo is the most interesting and practical that I have met with anywhere. It is situated at the foot of Vitosch, about five or six miles from Sofia, and consists of three buildings — one on the roadside, another in the grounds in the rear, and the director's residence — and gives instruction to about seventy pupils, forty of whom work in iron and thirty in wood.
The printing-offices in Sofia are at present located in an old mosque, but they will soon be transferred to a fine new building just completed. They are at present employed for printing State papers and postage-stamps, and contain the necessary apparatus for engraving, binding, etc.; but a good deal of work is done out of the country which could just as well be done in it; and a few weeks or months will probably see important changes, when the offices are removed to the more commodious building.
And now a few words regarding the people of Sofia. The population is mixed, consisting chiefly of Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, and Jews. Of the latter, of whom there are about five thousand, nearly all Spanish, I heard a good deal whilst I was there; and my first question was naturally, "Are they persecuted?" They are not openly persecuted, but they are unfairly treated. The reader probably knows that in many Eastern countries certain organs of the press try to stir up bad blood against them; and that is the case here. There are no direct attacks upon them or their dwellings, but offences are charged against them to create a prejudice. Last year a Christian child was missing; its absence was attributed to the Jews, and there was nearly an outbreak, which would have ended in bloodshed if it had not been suppressed by the Government. The trade of the city is largelv in their hands, and they are extortionate; they are in consequence shunned by the Christian population, and any one who befriends them is regarded with dislike. This has, however, not prevented one good Christian, Dr. Matincheff, from devoting much time and labour to succour their sick and aged, and he is now earnestly endeavouring to found an hospital for indigent Jews. If a few of their coreligionists in England, who take such an interest in the welfare of the Jews in the East, would help Dr. Matincheff in his laudable undertaking, they would do more practical good than by sending deputations to English statesmen to demand their intervention in behalf of the Jews in other countries.
New part of Sofia
I have already given the reader some idea of the modest remuneration which is received by Ministers of State, and he will therefore not be surprised to hear that their mode of living is most unassuming. Some reside in the smaller hotels, others in neat unostentatious houses.
FEW words concerning the medical and sanitary arrangements of Bulgaria. Until quite recently the only medical men (if I may be permitted a bull) who troubled themselves about the health of the community were old women. In many villages, and amongst the lower classes generally, this is still the case, and the witch of old is the "sage femme " of to-day.
One of the Ministers told me that only a few days before my visit one of his servants who was ill refused to see a doctor, and preferred consulting the "sage femme." The foundation of a new system is, however, laid, which will in the course of time produce excellent results. Besides the hospitals in large towns (there are three in Sofia and one with 200 beds in Philippopolis), there is a regular medical staff throughout Bulgaria. Under this system, which was initiated in 1878, there are 140 State-paid qualified practitioners, spread over sixty-five districts, and about the same number of assistants (Feldschers or dressers).
There is a Medical Council in Sofia, which has the superintendence of this staff, and they pay each medical officer 4000 francs (about £160), and each assistant 1200 francs (about £48) per annum. Unfortunately, the care of the army engrosses much of the attention of these doctors, but they are useful in promoting rational sanitary arrangements. Those are, as I have said, very bad. It is true there is a good fire-brigade and good water, collected and impounded from the slopes of Vitosch, at Sofia, but drainage is bad; and I was told by a leading medical man at Philippopolis that there the water from the Maritza is very poor, and that, coupled with bad drainage, it leads to frequent outbreaks of fever. There is no medical school attached to the hospitals, and the young men are educated and take their degrees in Germany, Constantinople, Moscow, and France. As for the traveller, he often turns sick with the filth, which is indescribable, in the sanitary arrangements at some of the smaller hotels; and the employment there of water, towels, ewers, basins, etc., is still in its elementary stage.
The working classes in Sofia are comparatively well off. What a Bulgarian must consider an evil, however, exists there, namely, that the work of skilled artisans in connection with the building and some other trades is performed almost entirely by foreigners. Such institutions as that of Kniajevo will doubtless soon supply the remedy. The Italian masons, &c., who perform this higher class of work, receive from 5 francs to 10 francs (3s. 9d. to 7s. 6d.) per day, of which they expend two-thirds on food and clothing. They eat meat, and generally live well. Bulgarian labourers receive 2 francs to 4 francs (1s. 6d. to 3s.) daily, and live on bread, fruit, and vegetables, which are cheap. The peasantry live chiefly on the products of their farms, and dress entirely in garments made by themselves.
House-rent in Sofia is comparatively high, ranging from £50 to £60 per annum for a moderately good house. Such houses as the Agencies average £400 per annum. Land is about £1 to £1, 10s. per square yard in the best neighbourhoods. Butcher's meat is about 4d. per lb.; veal, 8d. to 9d. Bread is very cheap, the commonest kind about 1d. per lb. Of the cheapness of fruit I will give an instance farther on. Vegetables, too, are exceedingly cheap. A favourite article of diet, which one sees everywhere, is "paprika," large red pepper, which is cooked in various ways at different stages of its growth. A workman pays about £2 for a suit of good clothes of home-made cloth, and 20 francs (16s.) for a pair of shoes. Taxes are moderate, as the reader will find when the Budget is under consideration, and schooling free. Fodder for horses and cattle ranges from 6 centimes to 8 centimes per oka (about 2 lbs.) for hay, 18 centimes for oats, and 5 centimes for straw.
As in Roumania and other Catholic countries, the labouring-man works about 240 days in the year, the remainder being Sundays and festivals. Those English employers who are constantly railing at their workmen and talking of cheap labour abroad will kindly note this fact. The amusements of the working-classes in Bulgaria are not very diversified. As I have already said, there is little or no intellectual recreation for them. They like music, still more dancing, and I fear it must be added that they indulge very freely in the British habit of drinking.