A walk through Etara, Bulgaria
Etara is the first museum under the open sky in Bulgaria, established in 1964. It takes the visitor back to the 18th and 19th centuries when the Revival was in its apogee. I, personally, don’t like fantasy movies, but going back in time is very real while walking through Etara. It catches my breath from the entrance with the smell of old wood, aging moss on the stone slit roofs, the bright colors of stucco and planters, and the calming sound of running water from the river. There are about 50 houses with workshops where skillful masters demonstrate how things were done 200 years ago. There are not many craftsmen who can use old-fashioned and primitive fools and their own hands. It is a miracle to me to see the wooden bowls, the leather shoes, the carved knives, copperware, and much more coming out of their hands. Then all stored on a shelf behind the window, inviting the tourists to be touched, admired, purchased.
The people from that area apparently expressed their dreams, feelings, and hopes through colors and shapes. I could see it in the hand-woven rugs, in the elegant and unique silver jewelry, in the pottery products, and the folk clothes.
Most fascinating and authentic experience to me was the visit to the coffee shop. Upon the second floor, we were sitting on the “minder” ( a wooden bench under the window, covered with a colorful rug and offering comfort with many pillows). The traditional Turkish coffee is made in a copper pot with long handle. The strongly smelling precious brown powder is mixed with some water and brought to a boil over hot sand. Right after the coffee starts boiling. (turning over), the pot must be removed. The coffee doesn’t cook or boil. It has to “turn over” three times. Then it is strained and poured into a small coffee bowl/cup ( no more than 50 grams). If it doesn’t have a handle, the cup needs to be held in the palm. The coffee is served with a glass of water and the authentic homemade white jam. Everything then is being consumed slowly, with an expression of pleasure and thanksgiving to the shop owner. Traditionally in the 18th and 19th century, the client will be sitting criss-cross on the ‘minder’ as in those times only men were allowed to visit public coffee shops. Women visited each other in their homes and enjoyed the same style of coffee and white jam.
Many Bulgarian villages back then had granite basins with running spring water on the streets. Gabarevo is one, known as the village with the hundred spring waters. Etara shows that well. Visitors don’t need to buy bottled water. There is mountain spring water running nonstop, and it is cold and tasty.
It can take a whole day to visit, observe, and learn from each workshop. The information on the internet doesn’t do it justice. The true experience is when a hand can touch, the eye can see, and the nose can smell.
Author: D.Stafford, MI, USA