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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

The Saraf house and the history of the Arie family

Updated: Aug 30


Arieh translated from Hebrew means lion.

Once there lived a father with his three sons. His name was Moshe Abraham Arieh.

They lived in Vienna - the city of music, art and beauty.

His sons were among the most beautiful, but one of them especially stood out with his beauty and his beauty!

It so happened that one day, while the young man was walking through the streets of Vienna, the daughter-in-law of Empress Maria Theresa - Josephine saw him and instantly fell in love with him.

The water no longer quenched her thirst, the food stopped pleasing her, sleep fled from her eyelids - Josephine lost her mind over the young man!

"I'll steal it!" - she said and cut off! Josephine took him to her palace.

Said, done!

The emperor did not like this deed at all, he got angry and ordered the Arieh family to leave the capital an hour sooner.

The unlovable lions wandered and their path took them to the other bank of the Danube River - they settled on the territory of today's Bulgarian city of Vidin (then in the Great Ottoman Empire).

This happened around the middle of the 18th century.

Little by little, the family began to engage in trade, but soon the Kardzhalian riots drove them out of the Danube city.

One brother, named Avraham, left for Sofia and started working as a salesman.

Then he was noticed by the ayana* of Samokov - Ahmed Emin Agha.

*Ayanin or Ayan is a prince, an influential citizen in the Ottoman Empire, the governor of a city and its surroundings.

At that time, Samokov was famous as a traditional Bulgarian town with an active economic and spiritual life. But there was no one to trade in manufactured goods, and Emin Aga suggested that Aryeh come to his city and develop a business there.

In fact, Emin Aga not only became the reason for Arie to come to Samokov, but also supported him with money and even gave him one of his houses to house him and his family.

And here it is - in 1807, Avraham Arieh was appointed with a firman as treasurer of the state treasury, a position that his sons inherited and for years later also occupied.

After his death, his sons shared the banking, crafts and shops. They redeem and collect various types of taxes and send gold to Vienna where they have accounts.

Celebi Yeuda was the banker of Husref Pasha, a son of Samokov, commandant of the Belgrade fortress and governor of the province of Bosnia. His debtors are high-ranking Turkish dignitaries in the capital Istanbul.

During the Crimean War, the Arye founded their banking house in Constantinople and supplied the Turkish army with food acquired from indebted Turkish beys. They also have business relations with the Samokov shepherds.

Many of the family attend the Jewish school, a branch of the Baron Hirsch-funded Alliance Israelite. All are excellently educated and become clerks.

Years later, the heirs of old Arie developed an even greater activity in Samokov. They trade in iron, shayaks and hides; they buy the tithes of entire counties - Samokov, Sofia, Nis and Prizren.

As the years go by, the family members accumulate money and build a name.

Here we are in the middle of the 19th century in Samokov - Arie are the owners of several mills and are already thinking about building a modern blast furnace for steel extraction.

Their trade extends to fairs far and wide. But most of all they like to exchange coins - they exchanged the circulating European gold coins for Turkish silver ones, which is why they got the nickname Sarafis.

...currency trading is very clean and pleasant...

...and whoever needs money turns to us only...

In 1854, Yeuda, Gabriel and Avraham Aryeh became the initiators of the construction of the Synagogue in Samokov, that is why their names are written in golden letters on a marble slab erected above the outer door of the building.

The construction period of the building started in 1855, and construction activities ended in 1858. Two years later, the building was listed.

It was erected at the lower end of the town of Samokov – its location marks the formation of a Jewish neighborhood in the town in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

At that time, Samokov was home to about 25 Jewish families, and in two decades their number doubled.

Adjacent to the Synagogue, the only surviving home of the Arieh family is preserved today, which you and I will now visit.

The Saraf House

Samokov is undoubtedly an impressive and incredibly beautiful town, surrounded by the majestic slopes of Rila, Plana, Verila and Vitosha.

And this house is undoubtedly a beautiful, small and hidden gem, which often the guests of the city somehow ignore and do not visit, which for me is definitely a mistake.

I find it minutes from the city center and from "Kraiiskarets" park.

Built in the middle of the former Jewish settlement, the Saraf House stands in the middle of a large and green yard, adorned with old boxwoods, fragrant lindens and white birches.

The Saraf house in the town of Samokov: home of the Arie family
The Saraf House

It is surrounded by a high, thick and very beautiful wall, built using large round river stones.

The red Turkish tiles on it give it a revival style.

The gate is huge and wooden, and on it I see an inscription:

I push open the heavy oak door and enter.

Silence. It's incredibly quiet. Today, the yard is empty and there's no one around.

The central path leading from the oak gate towards the house is also paved with large round stones, on which I step lightly. Near it there are lanterns, which in dark days point to the correct direction of a late guest or visitor.

The green grass is carefully groomed and soothes my gaze, which meets beauty wherever it looks.

Old green trees, probably peers of the old family, cast shadows on the many benches tucked under them. I choose one and sit down.

I inhale deeply and exhale with satisfaction.

It is an early and cool morning - barely past 9 o'clock. He has just arrived, and here I am - running to this secret corner of Samokov, known to few.

I am not in a hurry. I hope the museum is open and I have the honor and pleasure of visiting it.


Water still flows from the old stone fountain. I hold out my hand - it's cold, even icy.

I imagine how someone from the Arie family also got their hands and face wet here, in this place, like I am now.

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

The old stone fountain is right in front of the house - the smallest and most modest of the five palaces of Arieh, with an area of 380 square meters and although with a more intimate, residential character, it is the brightest representative of the so-called. urban symmetrical or Plovdiv house.

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

Later I learned, and now I share with you, that the largest white palace of the family was incredible - a magnificent two-story palace with a built-up area of 600 square meters and a living area of 1200 square meters.

Notice - the light of day flooded this majestic home through 101 windows and filled its ten rooms with life, joy and gaiety.

Magnificent wooden ceilings, built-in and decorated in the most artful way cupboards and fireplaces, soft colored carpets, huge white curtains - charm for a miracle and a fairy tale.

The bathroom supplied the kitchen with hot water, and the rooms with warmth and coziness.

A lovely home, a masterpiece of Bulgarian Revival architecture, the result of the craftsmanship of self-taught Samokov craftsmen, which unfortunately no longer exists today.

I stretch out my hands and open the closed doors of the Saraf House.

I'm coming in!

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov


I did not expect this!

The wooden stairs of the vestibule bring me into the middle of a huge spacious lounge.

And in front of me and above me – the Star of David* woven into a gorgeous, magnificent, inspiring carved ceiling of wonder and wonder!

*The Star of David (Hebrew: מָגֵן דָּוִד‎ - Magen David, or Shield of David; in Yiddish pronounced mogendovid) is a widespread ancient symbol that since the 19th century has been considered associated with Jewish identity and Judaism. It represents a six-pointed star, which in turn is obtained by superimposing two equilateral triangles on top of each other, with the upper one rotated 180°.

The Star of David is depicted on the flag of the State of Israel.

There are many legends about the origin and meaning of this symbol. One of them claims that King David's soldiers carried shields of this shape, another claims that it is King Solomon's seal.

A giant chandelier hangs from its center, casting soft light on the luxurious Persian carpets my feet sink into.

I am amazed for sure!

It's so nice to step on this opulence.


The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

Amazed, I stand in the middle of this beauty - I must have been silent for minutes, absorbing everything.

I don't stop taking pictures.

There is one floor. The rooms are six large and three smaller - additional and more like booths, located around the lobby, probably corners for special guests.

It is said that of all the magnificence, only the unique wood-carved ceilings and also some decorative pictorial decorations in the vast salon have been preserved in their original form.

Look at him! Feel it!

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

The furniture was collected for the purposes of the restored house and is characteristic of the last quarter of the 19th century.

It is difficult to judge how similar it is to what it was then, but it partly reflects the spirit and tastes of the era - an amazing combination of carved ceilings and frescoes, booths with minstrels and European furniture, alafranga niches and yukluks (wall wardrobes), Persian, i.e. . oriental type carpets and porcelain.

In the house there is a preserved hammam (home Turkish bath), typical of Samokov homes, which was heated by a jamal stove**.

**The fireplace is a masonry and tiled stove with an open or glass-enclosed hearth, used and intended primarily for heating homes. Instead of tiles, bricks, glass or stone can be used.

In the past in Bulgaria, the home hearth as a primitive fireplace was used for heating, cooking and lighting. In the evening, the whole family gathered around him. It was the main symbol of family life and domestic culture.

Several symmetrically placed doors successively lead me from room to room.

The cabinet

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

In the corner, a huge free-standing pendulum clock still keeps accurate time.

Did you count the windows? The light pouring in from the outside is simply magical – it streams in waves and it is day inside.

The desk is centrally located, and if I look at its four corners it seems as if at any moment I will hear the mighty roar of each of the four carved lion heads - probably a symbol associated with the family name.

On the table to my left, bound in a red folder, lies the chronicle of the Arie family.

I look at her in amazement! I study it with interest.

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

The ladies room

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

Here, a wide and soft bed, covered with a magnificent royal canopy, makes a huge impression.

Elegant furniture, sculpted bedside tables on either side of the bed and incredibly soft carpets that you sink into.

The bath

Next to this room is the hammam - the Turkish-style bath, from the hot floor of which hot steam rose.

The guest room

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

Here, every element speaks of the benevolence and hospitality of the hosts. Wide and comfortable sofas with cushions invite you to sit down. Green light from the garden outside streams through the wide windows.

And above all this shines the ceiling!

Did you see the ceiling?

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

Absolute luxury! How is that even possible?

Fine, finer, finer ornaments in the shape of a giant sun - as if the Sun himself had come down from the sky and settled above me.

I'm sitting by the window, I look at the suns outside and inside and I'm wild.

The second guest room

In the smaller drawing room, close friendly gatherings probably took place.

I observe the beautiful paintings placed on the exquisite furniture. I look at the inscription placed in the lower left corner - the author is Hilda Arieh (Dormont).

The Saraf house of the Arie family in the town of Samokov

After the Liberation, Arie left Samokov, and the houses were sold or abandoned. Subsequently, the premises were used for various purposes - school buildings, tobacco warehouses, etc.

The library of the Arieh family, for which a special room was allocated in one of the houses, was handed over in 1896 to the central synagogue in Sofia. The original chronicle of the family, written in Spanish, was also found there.

Currently, the Saraf House has been largely restored and operates as a museum.

It is managed by the "Thirteen Centuries Bulgaria" Fund.

In 1972, the Saraf House was declared a cultural monument of national importance.

With a scent of germandre

Germandre (Teucrium chamaedrys) is the French name for the well-known in our country the sedge (also known as: sedge, red sedge, sedge, bitter savory, sedge, sedge, snake licorice, winter grass, sedge, sedge, sedge podobnice, podobnice, podobnice, podobnice).

Red gorse is a perennial herbaceous and honeydew plant.

This member of the Lamiaceae family is distributed in Western Asia, North Africa and Europe. The species is widespread in our country and in the Mediterranean.

Why am I telling you this?

Because in 1873, two French brothers - Emile and Mignot Bouchet founded a company in Paris, France.

The company is called "Germaindre" and deals with the production and distribution of perfumery products - powders, creams, shampoos and soaps.

The fragrance that comes from all of them is of germandre - the French name of our Bulgarian poddabniche, which I presented to you above.

Germaindre also grows in Alsace, where the Boucher brothers are from.

According to the accounts of French historians, the name germandre is also an expression of patriotism and comes from the time of signing one of the treaties at the end of the First World War - the Treaty of Versailles.

The Treaty of Versailles ended the war between Germany and the Entente.

It was signed in Versailles, France on June 28, 1919 – exactly 5 years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that started the war.

One of the clauses in this treaty obliges Germany to return the regions of Alsace and Lorraine to France.

At that turbulent time, the French derisively called the German settlers in their places german instead of allemand.

The perfect choice of a subtle and exquisite aroma, carried by all products, of a mountain flower is not accidental at all!

But everything is in order.

Let me first introduce you to the atmosphere of the new era - the coming 20th century.

XX century - the beginning

The stormy 20th century enters with full steam.

Masquerade balls and parties began in November and ended in March, abundantly topped with wine, drinks, dancing, laughter and social conversation. The waltz, the quadrille, the can-can, dances such as the polka, shotish, gallop, Pa d'Espan were in fashion.

Fashionable European parties were introduced into Bulgarian society on the model of Western Europe. From the very beginning it was accepted to distinguish female from male pastimes. Then women in bourgeois circles began to organize the so-called jurfixes or women's gatherings, which were held on a specific day and time. At these gatherings, the ladies usually went with needlework, and the hostess entertained them with home-made sweets.

In certain clubs in the capital, as well as in larger cities, fife-a-clock gatherings began to be organized. The women's charities organized dances, served tea, and in the evening bridge was played.

At the same time, men had much more choice in their entertainment, which varied from the traditional ziyafet (from Turkish - feast, feast, revelry) to cafes and casinos - mainly male territory.

I can't help but mention the elegance, glamour, and solemnity of officers' balls. Their organization was cumbersome and complicated and took weeks. There was a special dress code - a uniform of a certain type. The menu and music were also pre-selected.

The ladies were especially excited because months before the event, elaborate and long ball gowns, glittering diamonds and pearls, silver, gold and precious stones were prepared.

The intention for Bulgaria to be part of the cultural space of Europe excited the Bulgarians so much during this period. Embracing fashion trends is a drive for new beginnings, change and development. The fashion trends of the Bulgarians are a mirror of the clothing of the Western society, to which the country is integrating.

The Bulgarian is an elegant woman, beautiful and dignified, looking for communication.

At that time, the French school of fashion was dominant - Paris is a proven capital of glamour, luxury and beauty. The first fashion dictator - Paul Poiret, creator of the woman of the new era, is the undisputed leader in the world of haute couture. Poiret used magnificent fabrics in brilliant colors.

Urban culture is growing and new social communities are rapidly emerging - doctors, lawyers, clerks, teachers.

The new urban fashion appears and is established - the elegant daily wear of the city, combining business and everyday style.

The style that prevails is neo-Empire, mainly in the silhouette of the dress.

Picturesque capes are worn over hairstyles in the spirit of Madame Pompadour. Dresses inspired by antiquity and the Orient are also an example.

Ladies need both the heavy fragrance for the evening salons and the light fragrances for their social interactions during the day.

So the choice of the delicate smell of the mountain flower is not at all accidental for the era. The scent of germandre became comfortable and appropriate, both for high society, and for clerks and even for workers, who gradually discovered the advantages of women's cosmetics.

The Boucher brothers create a revolutionary cosmetic product – the colored face powder, which will gradually become today's foundation.

Their work went crazy first in France, and then all of Europe.

But Emil died and Mignot was killed at the front and the company was sold to three ambitious Bulgarian brothers - Isak, Jacques and Leon Arieh. Avram Arie founded a branch of the company in Bucharest.

The brothers complete the fragrances with rich Bulgarian aromas - rose, lavender and mint.

Success is guaranteed and lightning fast!

The company is booming!

It employs nearly 1,300 workers in three cities, and the central factory is located at 58 Maria Luisa Boulevard in the capital, next to the Savoy Hotel, famous in the 1940s.

Arieh became the most authoritative perfume company in the Balkans, they were even called the Rothschild* of the Balkans.

*Rothschild (German: Rothschild) – a banking dynasty of European Jews operating in Europe from the end of the 18th century until today. The representatives of the family are prominent philanthropists, public figures and philanthropists.

The Arieh family is numerous and cooperative. They are extensively involved in charity work.

At the time, L'Oréal only had a few branches in France and a small factory that produced cheap shampoos and hair dyes.

With the beginning of the Second World War, the fairy tale ends.

The National Defense Act, passed by Parliament in December 1940 and signed by Tsar Boris III on January 20, 1941, and the whole series of laws and regulations that followed it, first brought under control and then completely liquidate Jewish businesses, property and civil rights.

August 1942 came and the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs.

Black lists followed, "Jewish production", special distinguishing marks - the Star of David on a blue background in the packaging were just some of the measures of the Nazi attack on the owners.

First the influential and rich Jews, then everyone!

First an economic holocaust, then a physical one.

In a short period of time, about 6,000 Jewish enterprises were destroyed, 226 of which were large companies. Their owners are first imposed a one-time tax, which is so prohibitively high that in many cases it amounts to a de facto confiscation. Their bank accounts are blocked and access to them is so restricted that it condemns the owners to misery.

Savings have been seized.

In the autumn of 1942, one of the brothers - 56-year-old Leon Raphael Arieh (owner of "Germaindre"), together with his nephew - 36-year-old Raphael Isaac Arieh (the manager of the placement and son of the other owner) were arrested.

On April 15 of the following year at 6:00 a.m. in the courtyard of the Sofia prison, the two were hanged without the presence of lawyers and without warning their relatives.

An entire prosperous family, which left traces in social, economic and cultural life, was destroyed.

During the next two years, the large family finally fell apart, several of the closest people died of natural causes, others perished, and others fled, driven in different directions of the world.

How do you get to the town of Samokov?

Samokov is a city in Southwestern Bulgaria. It is located in Sofia region.

The city is the largest in the district and is the administrative center of Samokov Municipality.

Samokov stands at:

  • 60 kilometers (about an hour by car) from the capital

  • 130 kilometers (about 1 hour and 45 minutes by car) from the city of Plovdiv

  • 490 kilometers (about 5 hours and 48 minutes by car) from the city of Varna

  • 368 kilometers (about 3 hours and 55 minutes by car) from the city of Burgas

  • 98 kilometers (about 12 minutes by car) from Borovets resort

How do you get to the Saraf House?

It is located at 11 "Knyaz Dondukov" Street and about 900 meters (about 11 minutes' walk) north of Krayiskarets Park.

What can be visited nearby?

The walk around the town of Samokov is extremely pleasant and I highly recommend it!

The center of the city of Samokov
The center of the city of Samokov

Be sure to take the time to visit the Assumption Church.

Church of the Assumption (Metropolitan Church)
Church of the Assumption (Metropolitan Church)

The incredibly beautiful temple "St. Nicholas the Wonderworker" in Samokov is a must-see.

Church "St. Nicholas the Wonderworker"
Church "St. Nicholas the Wonderworker"

When you get tired of walking in this extremely beautiful Bulgarian city, take a proper rest by the feathered lake in Kraiiskarets Park.

Park "Kraiiskrets"
Park "Kraiiskrets"

Borovets resort is located 10 kilometers from Samokov (12 minutes by car). The path to the Black Rock starts from here.

The Black Rock
The Black Rock

In the Borovets resort, visit the Transfiguration Church - a unique wooden church of its kind in Bulgaria, which you will find in the Borovets resort.

The Transfiguration Wooden Church
The Transfiguration Wooden Church

2.5 kilometers from "Borovets" (about 6 minutes by car) you will find Tsarska Bistritsa - a palace of the rulers of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom (1878 - 1947).

Tsarska Bistrica
Tsarska Bistrica

20 kilometers from Samokov (about 25 minutes by car) you will find the charming village of Raduil, tucked away on the slopes of Rila.

Raduil's Wooden Eagle
Raduil's Wooden Eagle

In the village, explore the beautiful Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Raduil
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Raduil

4 kilometers from Samokov (about 5 minutes by car) you will find the charming village of Dospey, where you can see the Paisius monument.

Monument to Paisius Hilendarsky in the village of Dospey
Monument to Paisius Hilendarsky in the village of Dospey

12 kilometers from Samokov (about 15 minutes by car) you will find Govedartsi. A must visit to the fountain of love!

The fountain of love
The fountain of love

8 kilometers from Samokov (only about 9 minutes by car) you will find the beginning of the "Beli Iskar" eco-trail.

Ecopath "Beli Iskar"
Ecopath "Beli Iskar"

40 kilometers from Samokov (about 45 minutes by car) is the green village of Kostenets.

Kostenets village
Kostenets village

At the end of the village, on the northern slopes of Rila, you can visit the charming and full of water throughout the year Kostenski waterfall.

Kostensky waterfall
Kostensky waterfall

And as a finale, my dear friends,

you shouldn't miss a look

the special album with photo moments –

discovered, experienced, captured and shared with you!

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