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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

Hisarya's pearl

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

“Fatherland kind, how beautiful you are!

How wonderfully bluish your endlessly sky is!

How your paintings enchantingly changes!

At every glance new, newer beauties:

here merry valleys, there giants mountains,

the earth full of flowers, the sky full of diamonds ...

Dear fatherland, how beautiful you are! ”

Ivan Vazov

Hisarya, the Camels


Villa Momina

I will always remember my first walk in Hisarya - deeply impressed and captivated forever by the majestic ruins of the ancient city of Diocletian. Undoubtedly!

But one crumbling building, in the middle of a huge weedy garden, managed to grab me even harder.

I still shudder at the memory of it!

Years later, I didn't forget to go there again. To look at its proud posture, the spacious verandas, the panoramic windows, the declining facade, the crumbling yellow plaster, the wide rotten stairs ...

She was wonderfully beautiful at the time. Undoubtedly!

How I would like to see it in its youth, when it was newly built - new, modern, glamorous, sunny, fresh, smiling and ... alive!

To walk here ...

It has been compared to a palace!

Many years later, I still had no idea who lived here, why it continues to crumble, and most of all, what is the history of this more than impressive antiquity.

Only last year, coming across an old photo quite by accident, I learned a name from a comment below the photo.

Villa Momina was its name and it was known as "Hisarya's pearl"!

I rummaged through the web as I gathered every fact, as I carefully arranged and presented everything in this travel blog journey, because there are probably others, no less impressed by this building, who, like me, wondered "why".

And its story, as well as its proud posture, turned out to be exceptional!

My dear friends, this is the story of a Bulgarian general.

The General and his Angel

Major General Todor Markov was born on May 21, 1870 in the then picturesque mountain village of Kiseleri (also Hisar Kuseleri, later Momina Banya, and now a district of the town of Hisarya).

Todor's father - priest Marco, led and spiritually directed the construction of the famous church of the Assumption, built in 1883, which you will find today in Momina Banya neighborhood in our beloved Hisarya.

After primary school, the young Todor graduated with honors from Plovdiv High School in 1888, and in the autumn of the same year he enlisted in the army.

At the age of 21 he graduated from His Royal Highness's Military School in Sofia (now the National Military University).

In 1893, 23-year-old Todor graduated from topographic and cavalry school, and in the summer of the following year he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

Meanwhile, as a junior officer until the last years of the 19th century, he served in Sofia, in the First Cavalry Regiment.

At that time he met his great and only love - Maria.

Her full name is Maria Staykova Markova. She is from Karlovo.

From Todor's personal diary:

"July 19, 1898.

I got married yesterday.

How much bitterness I experienced in a day that people expect as the brightest in their lives…"

On Sunday, July 22, two years before the turn of the century, 28-year-old Todor married Maria, ten years younger, "my Mika," as he calls her.

They get married in Holy Mother of God church. Only the godmother Mima Mladenova was present at the event.

They both remain childless.

Todor's father, priest Marco, is against this love and does not want to go to Karlovo to honor Maria's parents.

The beginning of their family life together, which lasted over 50 years, is not easy.

He followed a senior officer's course and on November 1, 1900 Todor Markov was already a captain.

From Todor's personal diary:

"… But I love Mika very much and I can't let her fall victim to an environment where she will be unhappy…"

The two young men left for Russia, where in 1902 Todor graduated from the General Staff Academy in St. Petersburg.

Back in Bulgaria, in 1903 Captain Markov served as a junior adjutant officer in the Second Thracian Infantry Division. For some time he was also the head of the Bulgarian consulate in Thessaloniki.

On September 19, 1906, he was promoted to the rank of major. He and Mika live in an apartment in Sofia.

In the period 1906 - 1907 Major Markov held the post of Chief of Staff of the Second Brigade of the Second Thracian Infantry Division.

In 1908, Todor became head of the intelligence section at the Army Headquarters, and from 1910 to 1912 he was chief of staff of the Cavalry Inspectorate.

After the outbreak of the Balkan War (later known as the First Balkan War) on September 26, 1912, Lieutenant Colonel Markov was appointed Chief of Staff of the cavalry division with which he fought at the Thracian Military Theater (which turned out to be perhaps the most important theater of the military action).

While Todor took part in the bloodiest battle (with over 20,000 killed and wounded) during the war - Operation Luleburg-Bunarhisar, his Mika, this exceptional woman, is a Red Cross volunteer and heals the wounded at the Distribution Hospital in Sofia.

After the outbreak of the Second Balkan War, also known as the Inter-Allied War, in June of the following year, Lieutenant Colonel Markov was promoted to the rank of colonel and sent as a military attaché to Constantinople.

In the role of a Bulgarian diplomat fluent in several languages, the impression he makes in the capital of the Ottoman Empire is more than excellent.

But then came the Great War (which bore this name until 1939), later called the First World War, and after a year of hesitation Bulgaria was involved in it, joining the Central Powers, as only they guaranteed its immediate return to Vardar Macedonia promises to assist in obtaining the territories taken from Romania and Greece.

In the autumn of 1915, the Bulgarian troops, together with those of the allies, defeated the Serbian army in several battles. The Bulgarian army conquered Pomoravi, Nis and Macedonia.

Colonel Markov was called back and appointed commander of the Fifth Cavalry Brigade. He fought in Dobrudzha near Tutrakan and Silistra and for months did not get off the saddle, sharing the hardships of field life and the constant danger of death during the fighting, along with his fellow cavalry.

In the autumn of the following year, he was already Chief of Staff of the First Army, and was sent to fight against the Allied forces on the Macedonian front.

In the late autumn of 1916, the brave colonel and protagonist of our story is on the Southern Front and took part in a battle between the Bulgarian troops and those of the Entente, infamously known later in history as the Battle of Cherna.

Here, in this place, fourteen Bulgarian infantry regiments from four different divisions were brought "into the meat grinder".

The fighting is continuous and terribly fierce! The pressure of the Serbs is very strong!

The Bulgarians are exhausted, but somehow they manage to hold their ground.

The night of October 14, 1916 was the culmination of the Battle of Cherna. Then the Serbian troops undertook eight consecutive attacks, which were repulsed by one of the Bulgarian defenders!

For three full days after that, the Serbs did not attack, regaining strength.

The waters of the Cherna (means Black in Bulgarian language) River turned red, copiously taking the blood of the fallen soldiers.

Most victims are Bulgarians who find it difficult to dig in the rocky soil in the area, constantly experiencing a shortage of shells and ammunition.

The losses are horrible!

The memory of the Battle of Cherna's turn remains indelible in the Bulgarian military annals.

In 2010 the Battle of the Turn of Cherna is among the ten most significant Bulgarian military events of the twentieth century!

On August 15, 1917, after the end of the offensive on the Macedonian front, the fearless colonel was promoted to the rank of Major General.

Until the end of the First World War, the general was commander of the First Cavalry Division and Inspector of the Cavalry.

After the events that took place on the night of June 8-9, 1923 and the removal of the government of the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union (AUA), which went down in history as the June 9 coup, together with Dimitar Mihailov and Elia Arie, the general visited the Masonic lodge in Constantinople to try to protect the damaged authority of the new Bulgarian government.

His beloved Mika is constantly by his side.

Connoisseurs of beauty, elegance and aesthetes at heart, the two decided to settle permanently in the Kingdom of Bulgaria - in Hisarya - the birthplace of the general.

And here in our story appears villa Momina.

Built inside the remains of the ancient fortress, Momina was surrounded by a beautiful and well-kept garden.

Todor and Mika give it the name "Momina", a fond memory of his homeland.

The two invest an exceptional sense of splendor and style, furnishing their new home in the most modern way.

Villa Momina included two buildings that can still be seen today. Huge and spacious - on three floors, it had exclusive, bathed in sunlight, panoramic verandas.

Momina offered 25 cozy rooms to its guests.

It is said that at that time it was the only building in the city that had running water for the washbasins on each of the floors, as well as for watering in the garden. Drinking water was supplied directly from the Momina Banya hot water mineral spring.

Entering the stairs to the first floor, they were greeted by a huge, bright, music lounge, with piano and turntable, luxuriously furnished with the latest and most beautiful furniture.

If you are a fan of reading, then Momina greeted you with a wonderful, "huge beautiful library, in which all the books were leather-bound." Her shelves were always full of books, magazines and various readings.

Modernly equipped restaurant offered local Bulgarian and European cuisine to guests. Tradition dictated that in the afternoon at 15:00 tea should be served with sweets made by their own master confectioner.

General Georgi Vazov, a frequent guest of Villa Momina, expressed his admiration for his stay here in an article published in the Slovo newspaper in 1929:

"The villa looks from afar with its verandas and terraces of a castle or Venetian palace. In its European comfort and convenience, it rivals the Swiss and could serve as a model.

In the early 1930s, the Markovi family became passionately involved in various causes and took the most active part in public life, and not only in Hisarya.

Both are secret donors, giving money to those in need.

Mika is a member of the Society for the Protection of Children and works for the material and spiritual well-being of the students of Hisarya. It is said that whole classes visited her home. She encouraged the children to read books and served them sweets.

Todor is the founder of the city history museum in Hisarya.

In 1933 the Archaeological Society was founded in the city in order to preserve the cultural monuments in the city. Not anyone was elected its chairman, but the major general, who in the same year opened an archeological exhibition in Momina.

He was a passionate collector and possessed valuable artifacts - everything collected in the field of folk art, ethnography and weapons production. Years later, the general donated his entire collection to Hisarya.

In 1953, on the basis of the general collection, the Archaeological Museum was founded, which is today located opposite the Momina.

From an article by Todor about his beloved Hisarya:

"... Throw a basket of roses in Momina Banya, bathe in its life-giving water, take a walk around Hisarya, forget for a moment earthly worries, merge your soul with the young and cheerful soul of nature and you will feel the eternal bliss of paradise ... “

Villa Momina has witnessed prominent guests - politicians, prominent military figures, industrialists and the royal family.

In the spring of 1943, on the initiative of Tsar Boris III himself, a meeting with Atanas Burov was organized in Villa Momina, at that time one of the brightest figures on the Bulgarian political scene. Burov was once again on a family vacation here. He and the king had a private conversation for several hours while the young heir to the throne Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and his sister Maria Louise of Bulgaria played in the flower garden of the villa with the Burovi children.

Before leaving, the six-year-old boy and future king of Bulgaria (although only for three years in the period 1943 - 1946) Simeon II, collected a large bouquet of fragrant lilacs from the garden of Momina and presented it to the queen.

It is noteworthy that the general personally financed, organized and managed to strengthen the large and today preserved southern gate of Diocletian and currently the brightest symbol of Hisarya - the Camels.

At that time, the great arch of the gate was destroyed, so from a distance it looked like "two camels", hence its name.

For his exceptional services to Bulgaria on the battlefield, Major General Todor Markov became a cavalier of the Order of Courage 3rd and 4th degree, 2nd class, Order of St. Alexander 4th degree (with swords in the middle). ), 5th degree (without swords); Order of Military Merit 3rd degree, 5th class of ordinary ribbon and German Order of the Iron Cross 2nd degree.

The events of September 9, 1944 follow.

Todor Markov Markov died on October 17, 1950 in Hisarya, leaving behind a dignified life in the service of the homeland. He was buried in the cemetery of the Momina Banya district - once his home village.

His beloved Mika outlives him. He leaves quietly, not knowing when.

Over the years, Momina has become a health center for children with kidney and liver diseases, and both buildings and their adjoining garden have been adapted for this purpose.

For three decades, Momina has been known as a children's sanatorium. From its walls inside, along the winding stairs between the floors, Pippi Longstocking smiles, hugging her little monkey - Mr. Nilsson, Pinocchio and other children's characters.

The inscriptions "washing", "chlorination" and "rinsing" have appeared on the tiles of the washbasins.

The years go by, time flies and now nature is the master of everything.

Once tense, slender, beautiful and proud, today Momina has almost collapsed.

The big gate is half open. The garden, once colorful, is now unrecognizable and wild.

Its windows are broken and scratched by the black branches of time.

The yellow plaster falls off. The roof is gutted. Time is slowly and too inexorably destroying it.

Villa Momina is among the architectural landmarks of Hisarya, a cultural monument registered under number 51.

The personal archive of the general is kept in fund 02 in the State Military History Archive in Veliko Tarnovo. It consists of 66 archival units from the period 1898-1945.

It is unbelievable, but even today, passing by the garden of Momina, I do not know how I am greeted by the unique charm of lilacs, and smiling and cheerful flowers of camellias, roses, freesias, daffodils, tulips, irises and violets delight me through the fence.

And today, passing Villa Momina, I stop, smile at the general and his dear wife, who greet me from the spacious south porch on the first floor, embracing and happy in the eternity.

“You are heaven, yes; but who appreciates you?

Not even your children know you alone

and your holy name often embarrasses them!

What wonderful world remains hidden in you?

What secrets are dormant, riches, beauties

in your valleys, fields and heights?

You are heaven, yes; but who appreciates you?”

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