BRIDGES OF FREEDOM

by Dimana Trankova

America's War of Independence and Bulgaria's April Uprising began in a similar way: on a bridge

koprivshtitsa rebelion bridge.jpg

History sometimes moves in mysterious ways, as indicated by the story of the role two bridges played in two revolutions, a century and an ocean apart.

Most of the tourists visiting Koprivshtitsa, a town of beautiful traditional houses in the Sredna Gora mountains, pause at a certain bridge. Small and humpbacked, it does not look that important.

And yet, it is. Here was where one of the most fateful events in Bulgarian history unfolded. On 20 April 1876, local men conspiring to rebel against Ottoman rule learnt that their plans had been betrayed. It was now impossible to stage their rebellion on its planned date, 1 May. On the spur of the moment, the rebels in Koprivshtitsa decided to go ahead straight away. Storming through the streets, their banner waving, guns shooting in the air and church bells ringing, they proclaimed their freedom from the Sultan.

Immediately, Ottoman guards were sent to Koprivshtitsa to check what all the commotion was about. The Bulgarians and the Ottomans met at the old stone bridge in the centre of town. Tensions rose. One of the rebels shot and killed the town's Ottoman governor, and the rest of his men ran away. The victorious rebels used the blood of the dead Ottoman to sign a letter to their co-conspirators, announcing what they had done. As soon as the Blood Letter, as it went down in history, reached the neighbouring towns and villages, the rebels there followed suit.

This was how the 1876 April Uprising started: on a bridge, with a single shot and a victory for the rebels.

Amazingly, almost the same happened 101 years and one day earlier, in the American colonies.

Old North Bridge Concord MA

The Old North Bridge in Concord, where in 1775 the American War for Independence started © John Phelan

After a number of incidents and the Tea Party in Boston, in February 1775 the British government declared that the colony of Massachusetts was in a state of rebellion. Things were mostly quiet until April 1775, when government troops were sent towards Concord to capture the military supplies the rebels had stored there.

Those were no longer in Concord, but the rebel militia was ready for action.

The first fighting erupted at dawn on 19 April 1775, at Lexington. The rebels were defeated, but later in the day, at Concord, they got the upper hand. Militia and government troops clashed at the North Bridge in Concord. The rebels outnumbered their foes, and drove them off. The American War of Independence had begun.

The events in Concord and Koprivshtitsa share some crucial details. Both were fought on bridges. In both the rebels were initially victorious. Both had consequences of historic proportions. One of the reasons Russia used to explain its 1877-1878 war against the Ottomans was the brutal suppression of the 1876 April Uprising. A year later, the Bulgarian state was restored after 500 years of Ottoman rule. What followed after the American War of Independence does not need any explanation. It was an event that changed the economy, technology, politics and culture of the whole planet.

In one way the bridges in Bulgaria and the United States are not alike. While the First Shot Bridge in Koprivshtitsa is the same stone structure that witnessed the beginning of the April Uprising, the Old North Bridge in Concord was made of wood. What you see today is a replica.

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