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Kovachevitsa Back to History

by Mihail Enev Ph.D.


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A Tale of Stone and Wood

Simplicity underlies finest taste
Auguste Rodin

The worldly wisdom of the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin most accurately fits the architectural expression of the self-made construction genius of the modest Kovachevitsa masons. Simplicity elevated to perfection in the architecture assembly as a whole and its magnificent details is the most noteworthy merit of the unique style of the Kovachevitsa Construction Architecture School. It would be difficult to find elsewhere such an impeccable architecture synthesis between natural environment and building miracle created by human hand. We would only be grateful today for the existence of this tale of stone and wood in which the complete splendor of local spirit, diligence and talent of the Renaissance Kovachevitsa are entwined.

Viewed from a historical perspective the architecture aspects of the village prior to the arrival of the emigrants from the Debar, Kichevo and Tetovo Regions in 1791 were almost wiped out. The new professional interventions is so strong such as to acquire gradually almost all architecture spaces in order to leave our modernity a masterpiece of a unique accord of styles!

The Debar builders that in several generations turned into Kovachevitsa ones appreciated natural beauty and therefore not only did they not impair it, but further skillfully integrated their creations into the limited unity with nature. Today we cannot miss expressing our admiration for the approach and mode of situating and constructing the houses, the building of ancillary economic premises, commercial, public ones, etc. and the link in between, the unique stone arteries the alleys compliant with natural resources: a scarce, steep, and rocky terrain.

Some facts of the past that provoke curiosity and amazement also today in view of the unique construction of the public utilities in the village evidence the building talent and foresight: for instance the pipeline, which was based on a modern technology at that time dug into the rocky alley terrain at depth of 2.5 m!

The unique alley pavements with a drainage denivelation of the rain water with included cross thresholds of stone plates that prevented from happening sliding on the extremely steep terrain in the winter could also be deemed as construction models.

The eaves of the houses clustered in between at many points that cast a deep shadow on the cobblestone pavements and brought a nice sense of coziness in hot summer times, were also fine shelters against snow drifts in times of harsher winters. These picturesquely mazy narrow village alley without sidewalks were one of the most attractive relaxation places especially next to one of the 12 fountains that filled with life and poetry the ancient architecture. The house walls solidly standing right on the alley pavement does not bother the eye, as their forms were softened, the sharp edges were rounded by the caring hand of the builder such as to ensure comfortable and save movement of people, carts and stock.

The notion of saving the construction space led to extremely rational architecture solutions that impress with its logic and completeness. Each of the Kovachevitsa houses in itself was a unique architecture solution of the general task: to achieve maximum residential space with minimum means. Therefore, the common feature of the houses is the development of the built-up area on the vertical axis as the space in the basis is the tightest and the most limited and the expansion unveils in elevation. Timber used by the craftsmen in the lower register of the houses at scattered places only in the form of koshak (reinforcement) in the solid two-folding entrance doors and some small service windows, created a general impression of the houses of being stone Middle Age fortresses. They resembled defense towers standing on guard in the midst of the village raised right from the rocky landscape and reaching high with 3-4 floor size structures. Naturally, the latter notion was brief until the eyes reached the upper floors where the gifted builder demonstrated extravagance using timber.

Along the stretch of the houses two- or three-floored one of top of the other the ceilings were made of timber. The visible main structures of the roofs made of 10-15 m planks that impressed even the most critical eye with its master processing, added the new feeling of warmth provoked by the noble color of timber.

The abundance of timber of the finest quality in the vicinity gave several centuries the liberty of the craftsmen to create the unique interior of the Kovachevitsa house. The timber-made couches, the embedded furniture, book shelves, closets, columns and anything else required by the home customs and coziness passed through the hands and the hearts of the original craftsmen from Tetovo, Kostur and Debar characterized by proverbial expression simplicity and beauty. Extreme ornateness and eclectics typical for Renaissance houses in other regions of the country were not present here. No object existed unless having a functional purpose. Simply what was useful became beautiful as well. Harsh life and living of people for centuries were reflected in the modest, simple interior architecture even in the residential premises number, type and functionality. The famous Kovachevitsa houses referred to as fraternal reflected the philosophy of input labor and equal relations in the family and lineal patriarchal life. In the assembly of two to three houses none of them dominated. They situated on the terrain such as to avoid hindering one another, competing, robbing one another of the space and light. Such an interaction of volumes in the architecture composition reached in the fraternal complexes did not have an analogue in the records of the Bulgarian Renaissance architecture thought.

It would not be hard to imagine the understanding among people and the participation of the entire working population in the process of building each new house. The latter was the main reason for the synchrony reached between the mixture of complicated Ô-shaped or ϔ-shaped rows and groups of houses that formed the compact carpet-like building of the village. Once again the main reason for the rich and extremely functional building was the lack of terrain. Scarce and steep, the latter imposed the differentiation of the residential environment in Kovachevitsa into three zones: residential center zone, a layer of agricultural premises (for weeding, granaries, etc.), and outside the latter also a zone of agricultural areas. That structure of the village was preserved for a long time since it was the most natural and successful solution for adequate existence of the population.

The Kovachevitsa houses similar to the Rodopi houses in general were solid stone-made buildings with peculiar masterfully executed masonry. The building technology was quite simple: mozaically arranged non-hewed stones cemented with soft soil. The solid masonry was extremely firm and its duration has been verified by time, and the beauty of the overflowing ochre to a cold gray stone mosaic was indisputable. The thin patina-covered-over-time reinforcement (koshatzi) separating the stone masonry into horizontal layers introduced a human dimension and a decoration response of the austere stone areas. The Kovachevitsa masons left also their unique construction mark on the timber frame of the top structures, the windows, the doors, the timber oriel paneling and naturally on the simple and laconic architecture detail of the interior. Entering into the traditional Kovachevitsa house, a prototype of the Rodopi one, one should first pass through the dry yard next to which the podnik (cattle-shed) was situated in the lowest register of the building. If an economic floor were present, usually developed at a semi-level, one could reach it using a large timber step-ladder. The following one or tow floors were designed to accommodate the crowded families. In the initial type of construction that lasted until the 17th century the large families inhabited a big room with a fireplace that functioned both as a bedroom and a living room.

In the 19th century the structure of the family houses underwent a significant change after the separation of separate families in individual rooms with fireplaces. The interior was enriched by building specialized premises that noted the advanced everyday manners of the Kovachevitsa community. The most popular interior structures were as follows: ceiling ponton (salon hall way) with an adjunct step-ladder thereto fully made of timber via which a link could be made with all other premises; vodnik (water storage for daily necessities); kyoshk resting room; independent rooms with fireplaces and ovens sometimes linked with the ceiling. The ceiling remains the most interesting interior element even from a modern point of view. Always directed to the best view, the latter defined also the visual and space solution of the main fa?ade of the house, as it integrated very strikingly in the assembly type of the fraternal houses. Various architecture schemes of the situation of the ceiling: longitudinal, cross, symmetrical, and central-transverse determines the differences in the facades of the Kovachevitsa house.

The talented craftsmen did not stop importing variety into each new house as they exported further one-sided, two-sided or threesided balconies with wide eaves. They also enriched the architecture and construction elements with peculiar details on the parapets, and the wooden wall-curtains of the eaves. The moderate use of the socalled joiners fretwork on ceilings, doors, garrets, and column ends, visible from the outside was in full harmony with the austere style of the interior.

The flexible dynamics of the oriels exported above the stone facades of the Daskalov House, the Sarafov House, the Bangov House, the Urdev House, etc. exemplified the early Renaissance Rodopi architecture. The assemblies of the Dishlyanov House, the Shumarev House, the Pilarev House, the Gyuzelev House, the Kyupov House as well as the large group of the Shimerov Houses had a unique impact and architecture and artistic virtues. All of the latter as well as the other Kovachevitsa houses owed their stylistic completeness to the stone top made of a beautiful mosaic of the famous tiles, riolyte plates, each one with a different shape obtained by manual processing and having natural patina. The Kovachevitsa would not have been harmoniously complete architecturally without that authentic architecture feature.

The significant construction achievements of the Kovachevitsa masons indisputably originated from the expertise passed on as a family tradition, but also in the customary legal norms observed by everyone that regulated the relations in the league in view of hierarchy, arrangements, labor distribution, and profit allocation. The gradual introduction of hired labor under the waged-based form in the mason groups at the end of the 19th century was a prerequisite for a new statute and hierarchy in the construction guild. It is known to me that in Kovachevitsa a Management Board used to be selected of the most prominent masters that presented the image of the mason profession in society. Shops for specialized instruments were opened and competition rendered the craftsmen create a secret language of theirs referred to as meshtrovsky or meshtrogansky of the type of social dialects close to the Bratzigovo one and fully incomprehensible to the uneducated ones, as more than 300 meshtrogansky words and phrases have been preserved.

Only memories passed on by word from one generation to the next have remained from the tremendous construction times of Kovachevitsa. One could hear a word or two even today about the large Vris bazaar in the center and the twenty shops located there from the Shubalekov fountain to the Landjov one, named after local families, about the smithy, the packsaddles shop, the forge, the shoemakers shop, the tailors shop, the confectionary, and the grocery. They still exist in the memories of the few local residents. Some of them used to run as kids on the Vris bazaar and used to enjoy the unique big market on which villagers and merchants of the neighboring villages used to come to offer their various goods. In the 50s of the last century the new road built to the Beslet Forestry put an end to the diversity and tumult because it passed right in the middle of the bazaar destroying all commercial buildings. The unique inn (the Bakalov House) that had used to be in the very center of the bazaar was also demolished. Fortunately, not all public sites were damaged. The public-spirited community of Kovachevitsa saved the most precious monument of effort of the entire community, it used to be a symbol of hope of better life, confidence, and protection of suffering. Therefore, they dedicated it to St. Nikola, a guardian of the strangers, workers, and refuges as the entire community originated there of.

The story of the permit obtained hard from the Turkish Authorities to build the church turned into a local legend tells for a famous Kovachevitsa merchant that managed to receive recognition even in the Sultans Court in Tzarigrad as being a skillful barber. His fellowvillagers asked him for assistance since it had been impossible for them to receive a construction permit from the Sultan Administration (the High Gate). The latter was done by Sultan himself who issued and signed a firman for the construction of the Kovachevitsa church as a sign of benevolence and recognition of the Kovachevitsa barbers talent. The only condition was that it should not be raised tall in order not to been seen from a large distance. Therefore, the builders dug the church into the ground and yet preserved its large size in the interior. The entire community worked to build this Gods temple and maybe that is the reason why the craftsmen forgot to engrave their names in a commemorative tablet on the wall or probably the sponsors were that numerous and it was difficult to fit onto one wall. The church was completed and sanctified in 1848. The St. Nikola basilica with a nave a two aisles, one of the five largest basilicas in Bulgaria, was built following the traditional Kovachevitsa technique and materials, solid stone walls and top, covered by stone tiles tikli. The windows were laid high in the sub-ceiling structure and provided fine lighting in the interior of the church.

A vast three-row iconostasis fully made of wood with an extremely beautiful royal entrance welcomes the worshippers with its awesome magnificence. The sacral mysticism of the church is reinforced more than 70 icons arranged in three horizontal rows.

The twenty royal icons of the middle of the 19th century were created by an anonymous icon-painter that bore the marks of the late icon-painters of the Tryavna Painting School. The colors, the composition solutions and the painting technique were undoubted executed by a fine brush master the created unique images of the late Renaissance icon-painting. The apostolic and celebration row of icons in the iconostasis was made by other anonymous icon-painters. On the Northern and Southern walls close to the iconostasis were placed arcs of two extremely precious icons: St. George and a Horse and St. Dimitar and a Horse created by the hand of Georgi Stregyov in 1874 of the Balkan Artistic School.
The church complex was fully completed as late as 1900 when the Kovachevitsa people gained courage and money to raise without an official permit a 12-m tall bell tower in the church yard. In the latter four-floor tower they placed 2 large bells cast by Goren Brod craftsmen as a donation by the Alexov brothers. On the eastern side of the tower also the first clock was installed that measured time by the beat of the clock hammer on the bells. Thus the ring sound with its melodic sound accompanied Kovachevitsa people on every hour in their hard days and spread a rich tune of the two bells on holydays. Unfortunately the clock did not survive to our times. The buildings of the St. Nikola Church, the Cell School and the Elementary School Yordje Dimitrov linked in a unique architecture complex as well as many of the old village houses have a status of Architecture Culture Monuments in compliance with the provisions of the Law of Culture Monuments and Museums.





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