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Ivan Zambin Museum

Ivan Zambin's house is part of the St. Sofronii Vrachanski Compound. Although Ivan Zambin' place in Bulgarian history is related to his early 19th century Russian mission, his house was transformed into a museum of handicrafts and other period livelihoods from the Vratsa region.

Locals proudly relate the story of how the first Bulgarian diplomat made an attempt to win the Russian emperor Alexander I for the Bulgarian liberation cause.

In 1804, dignitaries from the North West commissioned Ivan Zambin, along with Atanas Nekovich, on a diplomatic mission to the Russian emperor in St. Petersburg. Initially, the Bulgarian envoys were turned down: they had no formal credentials as at that time Bulgaria did not exist on the map of Europe. On February 26, 1808, Zambin presented to Russia's Foreign Ministry a "letter of faith" signed by Bishop Sofronii Vrachanski, saying that Zambin came "on behalf of all his compatriots", along with "certificates "for the public weal." At that time Sofronii was in Bucharest and enjoyed undisputed authority among the Russian establishment, both because of the post of his grandson, Stefan Bogoridi, granted by the Turkish sultan, and because of the support of the local political and spiritual elite – and personally of the Wallachia ruler, Constantine Ypsilantis.

This diplomatic mission went somewhat ahead of Russia's eastern policy intentions during the first decade of the 19th century. But it also posed the "Bulgarian question" before the Great Powers for the first time. It might have also added some additional traction to the belief among the Bulgarians of that time that Russia would save us from the five centuries' Ottoman rule.

In October 1808, after a serious illness, Ivan Zambin died in St. Petersburg, while still working on his mission.

It is interesting that the museum house, built as a replica of the original, is not dedicated to Zambin's life and work, but instead represents the region's traditional crafts and livelihoods. This is not accidental: Ivan Zambin was a descendant of an influential Vratsa clan, involved in the silk manufacturing and trade, in jewellery and wine growing. The typical local crafts are presented in three exhibitions: "Goldsmithing", "Traditional and modern sericulture, silk and silk fabrics manufacturing" and "Traditional viticulture and winemaking".

In one of its rooms, the house also lays out a small collection featuring goldsmiths traditions in Vratsa. The presence of ore deposits and gold-rich sands in local mountain rivers is one of the key factors for this craft to become a true art in local goldsmith's workshops. In the 19th century, the artefacts of Vratsa goldsmiths were sold throughout the Ottoman Empire and even beyond its borders. It mostly involved jewellery and church utensils, but also gilding and ornaments of weapons, e.g. swords, rifles, pistols, etc. Goldsmiths continued to thrive after the Liberation - at the 1907 London Exposition of the Balkan Countries, the Vratsa Goldsmith School won a gold medal.

The exposition shows a bench from a goldsmith's workshop with a complete set of tools, molds and dies. One of the stalls features many pieces of women's jewellery, including the so-called "arpalia" earrings. The name comes from the Turkish word for barley, "arpa", because of the grain–like pieces surrounding the filigree hub in the middle. Such earrings adorned Bulgarian women as early as the 13th century: Dessislava, the wife of Sevastokrator Kaloyan, as can be seen from the Boyana Church fresco, wore earrings of that same type.

The house also displays a collection dedicated to the Sericulture and silk fabrics that glorified Vratsa in the 19th century even outside the Ottoman Empire. The 1893 establishment of Vratsa's Sericulture Experimental Station gave impetus to industrial silk production. In 1904, in St. Louis, Maria Pishchikova from Vratsa won the gold medal for her collection of home-woven silk fabrics. In the small exposition hall you can see one of the few remaining cottage industry looms for silk and cocoons; you can also trace different stages of silkworm growing, e.g. the so-called "spinning" of cocoons by using oak, beech or smoke tree twigs preferred by larvae. What might impress female visitors are the exhibits of hand-woven fine silk fabrics with entwined lace, cotton and linen.

The third collection is located on the ground floor and is dedicated to the traditional viticulture and wine-making in the region. The famous Vratsa misket, a.k.a. "Vratsa Temenuga" (meaning pansy because of its aroma), was also grown here.


Useful information:

See the info about ECO "St. Sofronii Vrachanski".

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