The villages in Bulgaria that are abuzz with life are generally located around cities in the plains, like those surrounding Plovdiv. Their houses were mostly built after the 1960s, so more often than not they do not offer much for the curious visitor to see, besides the ubiquitous memorial to some local Communist and a few stalls with fresh homegrown produce.
The villages that charm with their traditional architecture and atmosphere are the complete opposite: they are located in the mountains and are now depopulated. Their houses are crumbling, their gardens full of weeds, their churches locked, their cemeteries abandoned. The extent of these villages and the presence of large communal buildings, such as churches and community centres, suggest that once they teemed with life. That came to an end with the emigration to larger cities that followed the forced industrialisation under Communism, and the continued emigration to larger cities and abroad, fuelled the hardships that followed the transition to democracy.
Dlagnya is a village that defies the general rule.
It has fewer than 30 permanent residents and is located on the northern slopes of the Stara Planina, near Dryanovo. The area is liberally scattered with small villages and hamlets that once were home to thousands of people but are now mostly empty.
St Dimitar is an example for a village church that does not open for funerals only
Dlagnya, however, looks in good shape. The houses in the centre are well maintained and the main place of interest, the 1842 St Dimitar Church, has been sensitively restored and is now open for the major Orthodox holidays. When this happens, the visitors in and around the church by far outnumber those who live in Dlagnya.
Until 2002, Dlagnya was the same as the other villages around: quiet, with a locked church. Then, however, the locals organised themselves, and gathered enough money to restore St Dimitar. A young and active priest from Veliko Tarnovo started visiting. Believers and curious locals from the region began to gather, attracted by the tranquility of the place, the genuine feel of community, and the beautiful natural surroundings.
At important Christian feasts now dozens of Bulgarians and expats living in the region attend mass at St Dimitar, listen to classical concerts performed in the church, and share meals at the restored 1867 village school in the churchyard.
Outside these events, however, Dlagnya returns to the quietness of a mountain village abandoned by most of its former inhabitants.
The classical concert at the Dlagnya church after Christmas mass has become a local tradition
High Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.