East of Malko Tarnovo, in the
outermost reaches of Bulgaria, a
bridge spans the Rezovska River.
Once it had three high, beautifully
crafted stone arches, but now only one
remains – that on the Turkish bank. The
thick Strandzha forest surrounding it is quiet,
inhabited only by deer, wild boar and hornets.
You can only find the dirt road leading to the
bridge with a local guide, preferably driving
The story of how that bridge was built
and demolished is a telling example of the
difficulties you will encounter when trying
to work out what part of Bulgaria's cultural
heritage is Ottoman by concept, execution,
influence or funding.
No written account for the early building
history of the bridge exists but legends
Until the 1800s that stretch of the Rezovska
was uncrossable. The people of nearby Malko
Tarnovo had to make a long detour to reach Kucuk, or Little, Samokov, now the modern
Turkish town of Demirkoy.
About that time a man decided to build a
bridge over the river. Valchan Voyvoda was a
Bulgarian haydutin, or brigand, who had won
fame as a daring robber of Ottoman convoys
carrying taxes to Stamboul.
Valchan Voyvoda hired a local Bulgarian
master builder. Somebody – the myths are
quiet about just who – secured the approval
of the local Ottoman authorities. They
were more than happy to see an important
infrastructure project materialise without
their having to spend a penny of the state's
Work started, and no one knew that one of
the builders hewing stones on the site was
Valchan Voyvoda himself.
The bridge was completed, a marvellous
structure 15 metres long, six metres high and
two metres wide, enough for both people and
carts to cross. The locals gathered to celebrate
the dedication of the bridge, Bulgarians and
Ottomans together. When the ceremony
was over and all the food and drink had
disappeared, one of the builders stood on
the river bank. He let out a shout and then
jumped over the river. "Maşallah, maşallah!,"
the Ottomans cried in delight at this
demonstration of skill and bravery. The man
evaporated into the forest, and no one realised
that this was "blood-thirsty" Valchan Voyvoda.
The bridge soon became a busy point on the
road through the Strandzha, and elderly folk
still remember how their grandfathers and
great-grandfathers crossed it on horseback
and even on camels.
The story of how the bridge was demolished is
as bizarre and fascinating as the story of how
it was built in the first place.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers