19th Century Community Centres (Chitalishta) – Homes of Enlightment and National Consciousness, Guaardians of Bulgarian Traditions
Donka Koleva
pp. 69 - 79
Title: 19th Century Community Centres (Chitalishta) – Homes of Enlightment and National Consciousness, Guaardians of Bulgarian Traditions
Authors: Donka Koleva

Abstract: The Chitalishta/community centres are those associations of followers which have elevated and kept the national consciousness and have been the source of the freedom-loving spirit of Bulgarians. The Renaissance period is always connected with the historical rebirth of Bulgaria. We know about our master-builders and their work creations, about the symbols, the legends and the stories in which the hope for humankind immortality is intertwined, but we don’t know enough about the social and moral life of the people of that time and their perception of truths. Many of those days Bulgarians have dedicated their lives to higher causes inspired by the idea for spiritual development.
During the Renaissance arise one of the most respected and long-lived cultural institutions in Bulgaria – the community centres – "chitalishta". They emerge from the middle of 19th century as public organizations, libraries, educational and cultural centres and are real civil communities teaching cult, respect for the national origin, togetherness and unity in the thoughts and deeds. The first data for establishment of community centres in Bulgaria are from 1856 and these are the chitalishta in Svishtov, Lom and Shumen. The library in Svishtov community centre has more than 2000 volumes, in Lom is presented the first Bulgarian theatrical play – the adapted "The Suffering Genoveva" and in Shumen is kept the oldest and unique bible from 15th century weighing 3 kg. and the first Bulgarian theatrical curtain. The "chitalishta" are the first town centres which ensure equal participation and access to cultural and educational services and stimulating the development of social relationships and forms of interactions, preceding the formation of the Bulgarian nation. The Bulgarians start to organize chitalishta in Macedonia and in Istanbul – the strongest spiritual organization outside the Bulgarian boundaries. They emerge and are recognized as indicators for the national spirit where the consciousness for science is alive and that’s why prof. Marin Drinov calles them "collective centres of the most educated and most active for the progress of the nationality Bulgarian forces". In 1869 are opened chitalishta in Pleven, Plovdiv, Kazanluk, Stara Zagora, Sliven, Braila, etc.
Their peer is the Kyustendil chitalishte "Bratstvo" and the Tarnovo "Nadejda" - the initiator for its founding being Dimitar Hadji Pavli Ivanov /1847-1913/, heir of an old Tarnovo trade kin. Many documents about the chitalishte have been preserved including its statute and in the library are kept 12 old manuscripts, 231 old printed books, 18 newspaper head-lines and 15 magazine titles. The new community centre’s building is opened on 19th October 1886 and there are held the Third, Fourth and Fifth Great National Assemblies. In it, Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg and Gotha pledged oath on 2nd August 1887 as knyaz of Bulgaria and also the Independence of Bulgaria is declared there. Later from the chitalishte scene start the carriers of the unforgettable actors Konstantin Kisimov, Dimitar Panov and Elena Stefanova. From here originates the national motto "United we stand strong" which is on the façade of the chitalishte building and the National Assembly building in Sofia.
In its modern history chitalishte "Nadejda 1869" continues to enhance important for the spiritual development of the city events, to be a guardian of the traditions and self-consciousness, to create new cultural spaces, mapping its projection in the future.
Today, 150 years later, the national community centres continue to be sustainable cultural institution with specific mission for preserving and developing the traditional Bulgarian values. Their deep interconnections with the past, the traditions, educational process, culture, charity and work in support of the community earn trust and their potential to encourage the social change and to strengthen the civil society makes them successful in the challenges of the modern world.

Keywords: History, Community Center

Received: 01-05-2018     Accepted: 30-05-2018     Published: 30-05-2018

Citation: Koleva, D. (2018). 19th Century Community Centres (Chitalishta) – Homes of Enlightment and National Consciousness, Guaardians of Bulgarian Traditions. Cultural and Historical Heritage: Preservation, Presentation, Digitalization (KIN Journal), 4(1), ISSN 2367-8038, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 69–79