The Legacy of Nikola Fichev

20.06.2012 § 3 Comments

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Nikola Fichev (also known as Kolyu Ficheto) is Bulgaria’s best-known Revival-era master-builder and architect. An orphan, he became a builder’s apprentice at age 10, and eventually taught himself the fundamentals of construction, architecture, drafting and arithmetic required to become one of the most prolific masters of the 19th century. He was also fluent in Turkish, Greek, Serbian and Romanian.

In his lifetime (1800-1881), he built four bridges, over a dozen churches, a town hall, monasteries, houses and inns, all between Veliko Tarnovo and the Danube port of Svishtov. He used innovative building methods and embedded revolving pillars into several of his churches. The pillars would be able to freely rotate around their centres as long as the integrity of the building’s foundations was not compromised. Despite being built almost 150 years ago, many still revolve to this day. Here are just a few of his masterpieces that can still be seen in Bulgaria.

1. The Bridge at Byala

Kolyu Ficheto built the Byala bridge in 1867. It is rumoured that when the Russian army deployed heavy artillery to aid in the liberation of Pleven in 1877, its column rolled up to the bridge and stopped, unsure if the bridge would hold the weight of its cannons. The Russian commander asked around and was introduced to the architect of the bridge, an unassuming man in his 70’s. He asked him if the bridge was strong enough, to which the man replied:

“It will hold. I built it hoping you’d come liberate us one day, so I measured the weight of your heaviest cannons in Odessa.”

Then, to reinforce his words, the old man descended to the bank and stood under the first arch of his bridge. His message was clear: if the bridge fails, may it bury me under its rubble.

2. The Covered Bridge, Lovech

Completed in 1874, the bridge was commissioned by the mayor of Lovech and built with the participation of the town’s residents. Its span was lined with 64 shops which were taken up by various artisans. The bridge has been destroyed and rebuilt twice (after a fire in 1925 and during a restoration in 1981) and is one of only a handful of covered bridges in Europe.

3. The House with the Monkey

One of several iconic landmarks built by Ficheto in Veliko Tarnovo, the House with the Monkey (as it is known to locals) was built in 1849. A small statue of a humanoid monkey adorns the front door and gives its name to the house.

4. The Ottoman Town Hall of Veliko Tarnovo

The site of the first post-liberation National Assembly in 1879, which ratified the Veliko Tarnovo constitution and selected Prince Alexander I Battenberg as independent Bulgaria’s first ruler, was built by Ficheto in 1876.

5. The Inn of Hadji Nikoli

Ficheto completed this three-storey inn, factory and merchant storehouse in 1856. Commissioned by Hadji Nikoli, a pivotal player in the formation of the Bulgarian autocephalous church, it was locked and decrepit for many years. However, it’s been recently restored and it currently houses a restaurant with an extensive wine cellar, a private museum, a gallery and several luxury apartments. Visit the complex’s official site here.

6. Preobrazhenie Monastery

Built by Ficheto between 1837 and 1865 and painted by another Revival master, Zahari Zograf, the monastery is only seven kilometres away from Veliko Tarnovo, nestled in a breezy forest.

7. Church of the Holy Trinity, Svishtov

One of the finest examples of Revival-era church architecture, this three-nave church is the symbol of Svishtov, the birthplace of Aleko Konstantinov. Ficheto completed it in 1867 and laid in many interesting architectural elements, including some that broke Orthodox canon at the time.

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