Mandritsa – the only Albanian village in Bulgaria

Mandritsa is known as the only Albanian village in Bulgaria. Today Mandritsa has a population of about 50 people, part of whom still speaks Albanian. 

A local legend says that the village was founded by three Orthodox Albanian brothers. They were obliged by Bey Ali Pasha to supply the Ottoman army with milk, meat, and other foodstuffs. For each sheep, they receive one coin. In gratitude for their faithful service, the military leader allowed them to tour the entire Edirne violet to find a suitable place to settle with their families and herds. He promised them as much land as they can walk around the packs from sunrise to sunset. Ali Pasha also issued a decree exempting them from taxes and ensuring that the Turks could not settle on their land. The brothers have built a dairy and determine the name of the village.

Over time, Mandritsa grew, with more and more Albanians emigrating from their homeland. They brought with them their language and culture. They built large adobe houses in the Greek style, in which the animals were housed on the first floor, the silkworms on the second, and the people lived on the third. They have been producing one of Bulgaria’s highest quality silk products, which they also exported.

Of course, they also grow tobacco and sesame, typical in this part of Bulgaria.

In 1708 in Mandritsa was built one of the first churches in the Rhodopes – “St. Sunday. It is a small single-nave building, which is part of the cemetery park to this day. The year of the founding of the village is inscribed on a stone slab. On the tombstones are carved the deceased’s crafts, a symbol of respect for work and contribution to the village. A century later, in 1835, the village church “St. Dimitar” was built. It is a three-aisled pseudo-basilica, made of masonry stone covered with a wooden roof. Eastern influences can be found in its iconostasis.

The settlement reached its heyday at the end of the 19th century with two schools, a kindergarten, 22 sesame oil grinders, and 20 silkworm manufactories. There is even a maternity hospital.

Albanians have preserved their Suliot costume over the years and continue to wear it, speaking Albanian. However, in 1913, they were forced to leave their homes due to persecution in White Sea Thrace (Belomorska Trakia). The Bulgarian government settled the village with Bulgarian refugees from Thrace and Macedonia. In 1929, a new wave of refugees, including Albanians, settled in the area again.

Today, along the Byala Reka (White River) gold-bearing meanders, you can see the typical large houses with carved ceilings. The archaic Albanian language is still preserved and spoken, which creates the feeling of another world.

Every year a fair is organized, which revives the otherwise ghostly village. The new houses are built of typical adobe bricks on the former masonry model, in which Greek and Thracian influences are found. In Bulgaria’s only Albanian village, you can see a unique architecture, combined with local speech, creating the feeling of travelling back in time.

Reference: https://bulgarianhistory.org

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Front view of a partially ruined, sericulture, brick house in the old village of Mandritsa, Eastern Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria

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