by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Uzundzhovo used to be centre of international trade, but no longer

uzundzhovo church mosque gate

Notwithstanding online shopping, it is hard to imagine what the experience of purchasing goods from far and wide in a highly cosmopolitan society was like in pre-industrial times. A quiet village in southern Bulgaria offers some illumination.

The cries of merchants selling splendid carpets from Persia and flamboyant fabrics from India, the aroma of the sacks of coffee and tea mingling with that of food wafting from the kitchens of the inns. The varied smells emanating from the press of humanity mixed with the livestock for sale, the rays of the autumn sun catching the expensive furs from Russia and the exquisite glass vases from Italy: all these exciting scenes used to take place during the Uzundzhovo trade fair when the vast Ottoman Empire still covered three continents.

In its heyday, the international trade fair, which used to take place at Uzundzhovo each September, would run for 40 days and attract up to 50,000 people.

It is hard to say how one of the biggest trade fairs in the Ottoman Empire kicked off, as historical data is scarce. According to the most popular theory, around the end of the 16th century Koca Sinan Pasha (1506-1596) arrived in the village of Uzundzhovo. The politician, military leader and statesman was granted the position of grand vizier five times during his turbulent career and was five times dismissed by two sultans at that, Murad III (1574-1595) and Mehmed III (1595-1603).

Sinan Pasha decided that Uzundzhovo would be suitable as a trading centre as the village stood at the crossroads between Constantinople, Belgrade, the Aegean Sea and the Danube. The pasha knew that trade fairs and the people that visited them needed infrastructure, so he proceeded to build a large compound for merchants and travellers. This included a magnificent mosque with a stone dome and a marble fountain in the courtyard, a hamam, or bath house, an imaret, or soup kitchen, and a two-storey kervansaray, or roadside inn, with 350 rooms and stabling for 1,000 horses. A watchtower was added in the 17th century.

Admittedly, Uzundzhovo was a quiet village on non-market days – nearly as quiet as it is today. Even the enthusiastic 17th century Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, who described the kervansaray as "impressive", admitted: everyday Uzundzhovo was a village of "some hundred hovels, and lacked a water supply."

The fair enjoyed its heyday at the beginning of the 19th century but declined rapidly some 50 years later. "Buyers seldom turned up. Trade was slack. Many merchants brought their goods back, having failed to make any bargains," the Bulgarian Tsarigradski Vestnik weekly reported in 1859. The authorities tried to stimulate trade by tightening security on the roads and abolishing some taxes, but their efforts were to no avail. In 1876 merchants and buyers gathered in Uzundzhovo for the last time.

A stone inscription marks the location of the imaret, or soup kitchen, that used to feed hundreds of hungry merchants visiting Uzundzhovo each year

A stone inscription marks the location of the imaret, or soup kitchen, that used to feed hundreds of hungry merchants visiting Uzundzhovo each year

Modernisation tolled the death bell for the trade fair. The railway connections between Ruse on the Danube and Varna at the Black Sea (1866), and between Belovo and Lyubimets (1874) left Uzundzhovo out of the loop. The merchants who had once bought goods at the fair could now order as much as they wanted whenever they needed it directly from the producers, and receive the goods by train.

Within decades the kervansaray, the hamam and the imaret disappeared from the face of Uzundzhovo. New streets and homes were built on the site. A single arch is all that remains of the huge kervansaray.

The mosque survived too, but only because it was turned into a church.

Muslims left Uzundzhovo after the 1885 unification of the independent Principality of Bulgaria and the autonomous Ottoman province of East Rumelia. The abandoned mosque was still in good condition, so when the old village church collapsed in the early 20th century, instead of constructing a new one, the local community chose the cheaper option, and moved the church into the mosque. Fortunately, proposals to pull down the mosque and use its stones to build a new church were scrapped.

The Ottoman decorations and inscriptions were painted over and an altar was built from the stones of the demolished minaret.

The church of the Assumption of Our Lady was consecrated in 1906. During renovations in 2007 the restoration revealed some of the decoration of the former mosque. Some can still be seen on the walls. Otherwise, modernisation meant painting new, "modern" murals depicting Orthodox saints and Biblical scenes. 


    Commenting on

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Organisers of the notorious Burning Man festival seem to have heeded the lessons of 2023 when festival-goers, paying uprwards of $500 for a ticket, had to wade, owing to torrential rains and flashfloods, through tons of mud in the northern Nevada desert.

In Bulgaria, nature has created a number of little wonders. They might not be spectacular or grandiose, but they constitute a vital part of the local wildlife, create a feeling of uniqueness and are sometimes the sole survivors of bygone geological epochs.

Next time you visit Sozopol, pay more attention not to the quaint houses in the Old Town, the beaches around or the quality of food and service in the restaurants. Instead, take a stroll by the sea and take in... the rocks. 

Bulgaria's Ottoman heritage is the most neglected part of the rich past of this nation. This is a result of the trauma of five centuries spent under Ottoman domination additionally fanned up under Communism and up until this day.

As the official symbol of Bulgaria, lions can be seen everywhere, from the national coat of arms to architectural ornaments to "patriotic" tattoos.

Some monuments impress with their size, artistic value or historical significance, and some have a hidden history to match.

From Venice to Rio, carnivals are a time honoured tradition to celebrate the end of winter with a riot of noise and dance, with masks and a temporary subversion of established social roles.

Еvery April, since 2020, hundreds of young Bulgarians gather in Veliko Tarnovo and embark on a meaningful journey, retracing the steps of a daring rebellion that took place in the town and its surroundings, in 1835.

Sinemorets, at Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast, remains one of the most idyllic and calmly beautiful spots around.

When wanderlust grabs you in 2024 but deciding on your next destination is hard, here is a list of places to whet your appetite. Some of them are millennia old and others are new, but they are all remarkable and most are one-of-a-kind.

A white mammoth dominates the upper part of Boulevard Todor Aleksandrov in central Sofia. Its massive, concrete surfaces are imposing.

Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.