Only exceptional buildings are worthy of becoming legend. One such building is in the village of Mogilitsa in the Rhodope.
Between 1825 and 1842, the local Muslim lord Aguş Aga built a sumptuous konak, or residence, for himself and his three sons. High whitewashed walls protected the aga's greatest treasures: his peace, his money and his family.
The building and its three yards, 221 windows, 86 doors and 24 chimneys occupied an acre of land by the Arda River.
The villagers could only imagine the luxury inside. They could only conjure up pictures of the women in the harem, doomed never to leave the magnificent konak, who served food and drinks to Aguş Aga's guests by handing them through small rotating doors in the walls. They dreamed of the fires burning in the fireplaces in the master's chambers and tried to calculate the value of the treasures the aga kept in his home.
Both then and now, the most impressive part of the residence was the tower. Decorated with murals of distant and not-so-distant places, it rises at one end of the yard, overlooking the romantic Rhodope scenery and the Arda River. The aga built it for one of his sons. An illness had brought his career as a captain in the Ottoman fleet to an end, so he returned to his father's house.
Soon after the konak rose in the meadow by the river, rumours started. They said that Aguş Aga had cut off the right hand of the master builder who constructed the manor so that he could not create another building as beautiful as this. However, this deed did not prevent him from ordering another, smaller konak, which served as a summer residence, in the nearby village of Chereshevo. Unlike the mansion at Mogilitsa, the one at Chereshevo was not a single fortified building, but several scattered houses that were not protected by a defensive wall. Thousands of sheep and goats used to graze the land around in the summer months.
Agushev Konak has gone through many changes over the years. The family lost its wealth. The abandoned houses began to fall apart. In the mid-20th century, the Communist authorities nationalised the building and initiated an extensive restoration in 1964. The residence became an ethnographic museum and the rooms were restored to their previous appearance. In the 1980s, the mansion was used as the stage set for Vreme Razdelno, or A Time of Parting, a propaganda film ordered by the government to justify to the masses the forcible name-changing campaign of Bulgarian Muslims.
Landscapes of imagined and real places adorn the outer walls of the mansion, one of them depicts the Agushev Konak itself
In the 1990s, Aguş Aga's heirs recovered possession of the property, but due to the legal claims of the state for compensation and disagreements over who should reimburse the money spent on the restoration, the konak remained locked for years – and began to crumble again.
You can now visit Agushev Konak – the caretakers' telephone numbers hang on the door. However, nobody can cross the threshold of the aga's summer residence in Chereshevo anymore. That building had become a ruin by 2011.
The Agushev Konak has an intricate interior plan, reflecting the structure of the extended family that used to live there, but its numerous rooms are mostly empty of the sumptuous furniture and fabrics that used to adorn them.
Happily, at least the mansion's library has survived the changes of time. Established at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries by a grandson of Aguş Aga, it is a true treasure of 400 books and 94 manuscripts and documents, letters, contracts and more. The collection is now kept in the Plovdiv National Library.
Even at the best of times, the mansion was sparely furnished, as was the Ottoman fashion. Built-in chests and wardrobes (above) were used for keeping most of the household's items, while the rooms were clutter-free (below), furnished with the colourful local rugs, low beds and cushions
Each family had its own quarter, which in itself was divided to men's and women's parts
The numerous chimneys, now long cold, are a poignant reminder of the extended family that used to call the Agushev Konak "home"
High Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.