Major landmark just off international highway near Ruse
Issue 68, May 2012
by Minka Vazkresenska; photography by Anthony Georgieff
Every day thousands of people pass by one of Bulgaria's most remarkable old bridges which spans the Yantra River near Byala, in the region of Ruse. Few, however, pay any attention to the elegant 19th Century structure. The bridge is close to the main road to Ruse and Bucharest, but the new bridge over the Yantra there is so awkward that it has witnessed many sometimes lethal accidents. Extreme caution is recommended, so most drivers never pay any attention to the surroundings.
The old bridge, however, deserves not only your full attention but even a special visit. Situated about a hundred metres upstream, it was built in 1865-1867 and is the result of a collaboration between two great men, the Bulgarian architect Kolyu Ficheto (1800-1881) and Midhat Pasha (1822-1884), then governor of the Danube Vilaet.
Midhat Pasha was a reformist in an old-fashioned Ottoman empire struggling to adjust to modern trends. During his tenure as governor at Rustchuk he started ambitious projects aimed at modernising this part of the empire. He promoted modern agriculture, built roads and included – to a certain extent – non-Muslims in local administration. Later he would successfully overthrow the sultan, Abdülaziz I, unsuccessfully try to implement the first Ottoman constitution, and die in exile.
The self-taught Master Kolyu Ficheto, whose real name was Nikola Fichev, was the skilled architect of dozens of churches and bridges, and public and private buildings which were beautiful, strong and excellent value for money.
In 1865 Midhat Pasha saw clearly that the lively Danube port of Rustchuk (modern-day Ruse) needed better connections with the hinterland of the empire. The Yantra near the town of Byala, however, was so wide that no bridge had ever spanned it. Midhat Pasha, so the story goes, allocated the task of building the bridge to his usual architect, but when he received the plans and the estimates, he was far from happy. The architect had calculated that the construction of a bridge on that part of the river would take three years and would cost three million grosh. Both seemed too much to Midhat Pasha, so he looked for a second opinion.
Master Ficheto was already famous enough to be invited to submit that second opinion. According to the story, he immersed himself in the task. He spent dozens of days by the river, measuring it and experimenting with different designs made from wax. The trouble was that the Yantra was too wide for the traditional Ottoman hunchback bridge to be a solution. Finally, Master Ficheto opted for a flat construction. It was 276 metres long and nine metres wide, and had 14 arches and 13 supports.
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