"Levski's Birthplace and Much More" Karlovo by johngayton

Karlovo Travel Guide: 33 reviews and 109 photos

The Town In The Mountains

The first thing that struck me about Karlovo was that every scene I caught in the viewfinder of my camera had mountains as its backdrop (with the exception of the one of the tripe soup in the cafe!). This, of course, shouldn't have surprised me as the township sits in the valley of the river Stryama with the main range of the Balkans overlooking it from the north whilst the foothills form an almost enclosed horseshoe shape to the east and west.

Karlovo has two main claims to fame - firstly as the centre of the local rose-oil industry and secondly as the birthplace of the Bulgarian revolutionary hero Vasil Levsky.

Both of these are attributable, in their own ways, to the mountainous location. For the roses the relatively high altitude combined with the sheltering effect of the surrounding mountains provides ideal growing conditions. For the revolutionaries the mountains provided sanctuary and hideouts known only to the locals.

Whilst Levski and the roses (sounds like a local rock band?) are the attention seekers the town is in fact quite an important industrial, educational and cultural centre. During the late Ottoman period and the National Revival the old town developed as an artisanal production base, including the rose oil manufacture, and the early 20th century saw in the beginnings of heavy industry which was accelerated by the building of one of Bulgaria's first hydro-electric plants in 1926.

Following the Second World War the Soviet-led regime constructed several large factories and the town grew apace.

A Short Biography of Bulgaria's Favourite Son

Vasil Ivanov Kunchev was born here on the 18th July 1837, the eldest son of a local wool dyer. As a young man he was indentured to his uncle to train in the Orthodox Church and became a monk in the nearby Sopot monastery in 1858, soon rising to the rank of hierodeacon.

At the time Karlovo was a hotbed of Nationalist feeling and in 1861 Kunchev forsook the priesthood to join the revolutionary movement.

In the early 1860's he was an active member of the First and Second Bulgarian Legions, based respectively in Serbia and Romania, where his courage earned him his name - Levski meaning "like a lion".

In the later half of the decade he was a founder member of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee where he drafted his ideas for a Bulgarian Democratic Republic based on the French Revolutionary principles of "Liberty, Egality and Fraternity". He saw the struggle against Ottoman rule not against the Turks as people, nor against their religion, but rather against authoritarianism and oppression.

Bulgaria's freedom was his overriding passion and in the early 1870's he spent much of his time secretly travelling around the country, often on foot, organising resistance cells. Just as the movement was gaining momentum and support from within Bulgaria Levski's assistant, Domitar Obshti, without authorisation, successfully robbed a Turkish postal convoy. However the Turks identified Obshti as one of the participants and he, along with several others, were arrested. In their forced confession they revealed Levski's revolutionary role and so he became a sought fugitive.

Intending to escape to Romania Levski first needed to rescue some potentially damaging papers from the committee archive in Lovech but was betrayed when staying overnight in the nearby village of Kakrina.

He was arrested on 27th December 1872 and taken initially to Veliko Turnovo for interrogation before being transported to Sofia where he was tried and sentenced to death. During his interrogation and trial he admitted nothing but his identity and steadfastly refused to reveal names or details of the organisation.

He had always been prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. As he wrote: "If I shall win, I shall win for the entire people. If I shall lose, I shall lose only myself."

He was hanged by the Turks in Sofia on the 18th February 1873 and his body consigned to an unkown grave.

Levski, warrior, poet and free-thinker, is often referred to as "The Apostle of Freedom" and in a 2007 television poll was voted "The All-time Greatest Bulgarian".

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Great Scenery, Interesting Historically
  • Cons:Not Very Many Restaurants Open In January
  • In a nutshell:A Proper Town In Addition To Being Historical And Scenic
  • Last visit to Karlovo: Jan 2010
  • Intro Updated Jan 21, 2010
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Reviews (14)

Comments (2)

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Dec 21, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    John, another fabulous page about your adventures in Bulgaria. Karlovo seems to be a pleasant side trip from Plovdiv. Interesting to see that there is another Vasil Levski Stadium in the country.

  • RoyJava's Profile Photo
    Jan 17, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    Hey John, great new Karlovo VT pages, keep up the good work my friend, greets from Holland, Roy


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