by George Boyadjiev; photography by Anthony Georgieff

With a little insight into the Cyrillic, in Sofia you will discover some familiar street names

lincoln street sofia.jpg

When walking around Sofia you might have noticed that some of the streets, boulevards and neighbourhoods are named after foreigners. Every so often, you come across American and British names. In fact, there are 21 individuals of American, British and Irish origin commemorated in this way in Sofia. Almost all of these played a part in Bulgarian history in one way or another during the period between the April Uprising of 1876 and the end of the Second World War, supporting the country and its people. If incorrect transliteration or lack of information has prevented you from delving in the stories behind the names, then just follow our guide.

Floyd Black Lane, Mladost-2

Why is the road leading to the American College of Sofia named Floyd Black Lane? It is not just because Dr Floyd Henson Black (1888-1983) was its first director. He was so popular amongst the students that, when he and his family left Bulgaria in 1942, he was sent off by scores of alumni, singing in English the College song and other American songs. The graduates were waiting for them on the platform of a suburban Sofia railway station, where their train paused on its way to Constantinople. The expulsion of Dr Black had been demanded by the Nazi Commander in Sofia.

Floyd Black was born in the United States in 1888. Between 1911 and 1925 he taught at Robert College in Constantinople. In the summer of 1926 Black moved with his Bulgarian wife, Zarafinka Kirova, and their young son Cyril to take up the position of President of the newly founded American College of Sofia. Established by American missionaries of the Congregational Church in Bulgaria, the college was originally two separate schools, for boys and for girls, but eventually merged into one.

James Bourchier Boulevard, Lozenets

The Irish journalist and political activist James David Bourchier (1850-1920) worked for The Times as its Balkan correspondent and lived in Sofia from 1892 to 1915. He was a firm supporter of Bulgarian nationalism and expressed his sympathies numerous times in his publications in the British press and in his social and private correspondence.

In his writings, Bourchier criticised certain clauses in the Treaty of Bucharest, after the Second Balkan War in 1913, which led to the loss of the southern part of Dobrudzha, which was annexed by Romania, and part of Macedonia. He deemed this to be unfair to Bulgaria, and further demonstrated his compassion for the country by standing with it during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919- 1920, after the First World War. The Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, produced by the conference, was the peace agreement between the Allies and Bulgaria. The terms of the treaty were harsh on Bulgaria, as she was required to cede Southern Dobrudzha to Romania, along with further territories to other neighbouring countries.

Because of his support, James Bourchier was made an honorary member of the Sofia Journalists' Society and after his death was buried near Rila Monastery in southwestern Bulgaria – an honour which has been given to no other foreigner.

Buxton Brothers Boulevard

The brothers Charles Roden Buxton (1875-1942) and Noel Edward Noel- Buxton (1869-1948) were prominent English politicians and advocates for Bulgaria during and after the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and World War I (1914-1918). Many times they voiced their opinion that the Macedonian Slavic population was, in fact, Bulgarian and thus Macedonia should be a part of Bulgaria. For this reason the Buxton brothers supported Bulgaria during the peace talks which produced the Treaty of Bucharest, and at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I.

This earned Noel and Charles the respect and gratitude of the Bulgarians, whose goal was to restore the borders of Medieval Bulgaria, before the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This would include Macedonia, which was disputed by the surrounding countries.

Carnegie Street, Sredets

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the American millionaire and philanthropist of Scottish origin, was a supporter of Bulgaria and opposed the way the Great Powers treated the country during the Balkan Wars and World War I. It was his idea to organise and fund an International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars in 1913. The commission's report, known widely as the Carnegie Report, aimed to prove that the population of Macedonia and Thrace was Bulgarian and so those territories should be part of Bulgaria. The report made Carnegie very popular in the country.

Charles Darwin Street, Iztok

Everyone knows Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) as the British naturalist who formulated the theory of evolution and the main process behind it, natural selection. His importance to Bulgaria, however, comes from his position on the April Uprising of 1876. The Bulgarians rebelled against the Ottoman Empire's rule over their territories, hoping to achieve independence, or at least gain the attention of the Great Powers. The rebellion ended violently with the murder of over 10,000 civilians at the hands of Ottoman irregular soldiers. When details about the revolt became known in Europe, Charles Darwin was outraged and publicly condemned the Ottoman actions in suppressing the rebellion. He backed William Gladstone's opposition to the government's support for the Ottomans, which led to British neutrality in the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878).

Edison Street, Geo Milev

Edison Street, named after Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) is right next to Ludwig van Beethoven Street and close to Nicolaus Copernicus Street. Such illustrious company is fitting for the extraordinary American scientist and inventor, whose inventions such as the electric light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera, have shaped our world. Edison also introduced innovations into our way of life with his work on telecommunications and the concept and implementation of electric power generation and distribution, helping to develop the modern industrialised world. His first power plant was on Manhattan Island, New York.

James Harvey Gaul Square, Slatina

The Neolithic Period in Bulgaria: Early Food-Producing Cultures in Europe by Lt Dr James Harvey Gaul (1911-1945) is the first comprehensive and detailed anthropological treatment of the Neolithic period in Bulgaria and the surrounding region in English, and the reason why a square in the Bulgarian Academy of Science complex in Slatina is named after him. The Pennsylvania born Harvard graduate finished and presented his dissertation in 1940, but was unable to take his studies any further. In 1941 Dr James Gaul joined the US Navy Reserve and three years later was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. In the autumn of 1944 he was sent to Slovakia to help the local resistance against the Nazi occupation and at the end of the same year was captured. Lt Dr Gaul was executed by a firing squad as a spy at the end of January 1945. The Neolithic Period in Bulgaria was published in 1948.

William Gladstone Street, Central Sofia

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) was a Liberal statesman who served as prime minister of Great Britain four times. He first proved himself as a Bulgarian supporter in 1876, on learning of the April Uprising and the massacres that followed from the publications of Eugene Schuyler and Januarius MacGahan. This information prompted William Gladstone to publish a pamphlet called Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, in which he condemned the Ottoman Empire for its atrocities against the Bulgarians and attacked the government of Benjamin Disraeli for its dismissal of and indifference to the actions of the Ottomans. This leaflet played a great part in influencing public opinion about the Ottoman Empire, resulting in Britain not backing the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish War. Gladstone defended Bulgaria's Tarnovo Constitution between 1881 and 1883, when the Great Powers were inclined to reject it. He was against its revocation, deeming the Bulgarians politically mature and capable of democratic rule. In 1885 Gladstone supported the unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, and warned the governments of neighbouring countries not to oppose it. In a letter in 1897 Gladstone stated his opinion that the population of Macedonia should be allowed to determine its own future and achieve autonomy, something that the Bulgarian populace of the region and the VMORO, or Internal Macedonian-Edirne Revolutionary Organisation, greatly desired.

William Gladstone was also a principal investor in the British company which won the contract to build the first railway in Bulgaria between Ruse and Varna, which was finished in 1866.

John Lennon Street, Studentski grad

John Lennon (1940-1980) needs little introduction. The Beatles conquered the hearts of people worldwide in the 1960s, while in Communist Bulgaria it was forbidden to listen to their music, which was labelled bourgeois, and their fans were persecuted. In the 1970s the prohibitions become less strict and so many people came to love the Beatles that the day after John Lennon was murdered in 1980 the wall behind the Sofia Notary Office was covered with flowers, obituaries and graffiti. This came as a shock to the government, which started questioning, arresting and locking up potential troublemakers and their associates, many of whom were university students.

John Lennon became a symbol in Bulgaria for many intellectuals and university students who desired to change the Communist system. This is why it comes as no surprise that John Lennon Street is situated in Sofia’s student district, Studentski grad. What is surprising, however, is that the Communist government sent 100 rose bushes to be planted in Strawberry Fields, the 10,000 sq. m memorial corner dedicated to John Lennon. Bulgaria is listed as one of the 31 countries which contributed to the building of the memorial, but to this day no one knows why and on whose authority the rose bushes were sent.

President Lincoln Street, Ovcha Kupel-1

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the 16th President of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He led the country through the American Civil War (1861-1865) and ended slavery in the United States.

Dr Albert Long Street, Hadzhi Dimitar

Not much is known of the early life of Dr Albert Limerick Long (1832-1901), but what is certain is that the American travelled to Bulgaria in 1857 as a Methodist Episcopalian missionary. He was one of the translators of the Holy Bible into Bulgarian, along with Dr Elias Riggs and Bulgarians Petko Slaveykov, Konstantin Fotinov and Hristodul Kostovich Sichan-Nikolov. The translation took 12 years from 1859 to 1871, when the "Protestant Bible" was printed in Constantinople.

His work on the Bible was not all Dr Long did to earn a street in his name in Sofia. In 1872 he became a professor of Natural Science in Robert College, Constantinople. It was there in 1876 that he learned of the savage repression of the April Uprising by the Ottomans. Appalled, Professor Long worked to publicise these terrible events, helped by Dr George Washburn, the president of Robert College. They succeeded with the help of William Gladstone, Eugene Schuyler and Januarius MacGahan. The actions of these men helped to form a casus belli for the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), which led to Bulgarian independence.

Apart from the street, there is also a church named after Dr Long. The Dr Long United Methodist Church is located at 86 Rakovski St and was in use from 1925 to 1944 and reopened in 1989.

MacGahan Street, Hadzhi Dimitar

"I had never imagined anything so horrible. We all turned away sick and faint, and staggered out of the fearful pest house glad to get into the street again." These are the words Irish-American journalist Januarius Aloysius MacGahan (1844-1878) used to describe what he saw in the Bulgarian village of Batak and its church after the brutal suppression of the April Uprising by the Ottoman irregulars in 1876. At the time MacGahan was investigating the aftermath of the rebellion at the invitation of his friend Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul General in Constantinople. MacGahan had been in the Ottoman capital covering the armed conflicts between the Serbs and the Ottomans for the London Daily News and met Schuyler there by chance.

Together, MacGahan and Schuyler established that 58 villages and five monasteries in Bulgaria had been destroyed and 15,000 Bulgarians, mostly civilians, had been killed by the bashibozouk, or irregulars, during the suppression of the April Uprising. The articles the journalist wrote about his findings created public outrage in Europe.

In 1877 Januarius MacGahan joined the Russian Army and took part in every major battle. He died on June 9, 1878 near Constantinople, three days before he would have turned 34.

Murphy Street, Poduyane

The American statesman Dominic I. Murphy (1847-1930) was the first American diplomat resident in Bulgaria. He was posted as the US Consul-General in Sofia from 1915 to 1917. While serving in Bulgaria, Murphy conducted official visits to inspect prison camps in the country. He distributed funds to needy Allied prisoners of war and worked to improve their facilities, especially with regard to the easing of administrative restrictions. Dominic Murphy helped the Bulgarian government maintain good relations with the United States during World War I, even though they were on opposing sides.

Pierce O'Mahony Square, Triaditsa and Pierce O'Mahony Street, Lagera

The Irish aristocrat, politician and philanthropist Pierce Charles de Lacy O'Mahony (1850-1930) first learnt of the Bulgarians and the violent events of the April Uprising from his friend in parliament, William Gladstone. Shocked by the stories, O'Mahony took the Bulgarian cause to heart and defended it in the British parliament.

When Pierce O'Mahony heard of the brutal quelling by the Ottomans in 1903 of the Ilindensko- Preobrazhensko Vastanie, or Ilinden- Transfiguration Uprising, he was appalled. The rebellion had been organised by Bulgarians from Macedonia and Thrace against the Ottoman rule of these regions. Inflamed with the desire to help, O'Mahony travelled to Bulgaria to undertake relief work among the orphans who had fled from the massacres. In 1904 he opened St Patrick’s Orphanage in Sofia and adopted all of the children in it, giving them his last name and ensuring that they received a thorough education.

During the outbreak of World War I Pierce O'Mahony unsuccessfully tried to prevent Bulgaria from entering into an alliance with Germany. Unable to accept the decision of King Ferdinand I, the philanthropist left Bulgaria, never to return. In spite of this disagreement O'Mahony argued that Bulgaria should be exempted from reparations after the war. In 1915 he had been awarded the Order of Civil Merit by King Ferdinand I.

Sir Steven Runciman Street, Oborishte

Sir James Cochran Stevenson Runciman (1903-2000) was a British historian known for his extensive work on the Middle Ages. He visited Bulgaria numerous times, even serving as a press attaché in the British Embassy from 1934 to 1940. Runciman was believed to have been a spy at that time, but he always denied it.

In 1930 he published A History of the First Bulgarian Empire, a detailed and comprehensive insight into the origins and early history of Bulgaria. In 1941 Bulgaria, being an ally of Nazi Germany, declared war on the United States and the UK. Runciman was forced to leave Sofia and was evacuated to the Pera Palace Hotel in Constantinople. There, he narrowly escaped death when a bomb exploded in the hotel. The device, concealed in the embassy luggage, had been set to explode aboard the train from Sofia. The train, however, reached Constantinople an hour early. The bomb killed eight people in the lobby as Runciman was inspecting his room.

Runciman knew Bulgarian, Russian and Turkish, as well as Greek, Latin and French. His best known work is his three volume A History of the Crusades (1951-1954).

Academician Sanders Street, Vitosha

The American sociologist Irwin Taylor Sanders (1909-2005) was born in Millersburg, Kentucky. A Balkans specialist, he studied village communes in Bulgaria and Greece from the 1930s to the 1950s. During the 1930s he taught Western history and culture at the American College in Sofia. Dr Sanders remained a trustee of the school and was elected a visiting member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, or BAN, in recognition of his expertise on the Balkans.

Schuyler Street, Hadzhi Dimitar

The US Consul General in Constantinople Eugene Schuyler (1840-1890) played a key role in publicising Ottoman atrocities in Bulgaria during the April Uprising.

The news of the events surrounding the rebellion first reached Dr Long and Dr Washburn in Robert College. They collected more information and sent it to the British Minister to the Ottoman Empire. Getting no result, they sent their reports to the British press, causing a public sensation and prompting a debate in the British Parliament. The pro-Ottoman government of Benjamin Disraeli agreed to investigate the reports. Fearing a cover-up, however, the Robert College faculty members asked the American Minister to the Ottoman Empire to conduct his own investigation. The Minister gave the task to Schuyler, who invited his friend Januarius MacGahan to go with him.

They spent three weeks documenting the atrocities which had taken place in the southern Bulgarian villages during the uprising. "It is very difficult to estimate the number of Bulgarians who were killed during the few days that the disturbances lasted, but I am inclined to put 15,000 for the districts that I have named," Schuyler stated in his report.

Schuyler and MacGahan's eyewitness accounts inspired William Gladstone to publish his pamphlet Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, which changed public opinion in Europe, prompting Russia to declare war on the Ottoman Empire and insuring that Britain wouldn't back the Ottomans in the conflict.

Stephenson Street, Nadezhda

Can it be a coincidence that the name of the street on which the Nadezhda train station is located and alongside which the railway runs is named Stephenson? Hardly, since the name, even though incorrectly transliterated, is that of the British engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848). He built the first public railway line to use steam locomotives, and he is renowned as being the "Father of Railways." Also, more than half of the world’s railway tracks are built to Stephenson's gauge of 1,435 mm, including those of the Bulgarian railway and metro.

Major Thompson Street, Lozenets

Major William Frank Thompson (1920- 1944) was a British officer who acted as a liaison between the British Army and the Bulgarian Communist partisans during World War II. He was born in India to a British family and joined the British Army as a volunteer. Thompson became part of the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, a World War II military organisation tasked with covert operations behind enemy lines.

In 1944 the SOE parachuted Major Thompson and three other commandos into Bulgaria to establish a link with the partisans. They made contact with the partisans and joined up with them. Later that year Thompson took part in the battle between the Bulgarian Gendarmerie and the partisans at the village of Batuliya in the Iskar Gorge. He was wounded, captured and executed by firing squad in the nearby village of Litakovo.

After the war the Communist government in Bulgaria merged the nearby villages of Livage, Lipata, Tsarevi Stragi, Malak Babul, Babul and Zavoya and renamed them Thompson in honour of the British officer. In 2007 a monument to Major Thompson was unveiled in front of the mayor's office. There is also a train station named after him.

Washburn Street, Hadzhi Dimitar

The American Dr George Washburn (1877-1903), along with Dr Albert Long, was one of the first to bring the April Uprising to the public notice. As the president of Robert College in Constantinople Dr Washburn received news of the revolt shortly after it was over from his Bulgarian students. He and Dr Long gathered more information and sent it to the British Minister to the Ottoman Empire and to the press. The reports resulted in a debate in parliament and it was decided that the government would conduct an investigation. Aware of the pro-Ottoman policy of Disraeli, Dr Washburn and Dr Long feared a cover-up of the atrocities, which is why they asked the American Minister to the Ottoman Empire to conduct his own investigation. This led to the report of the shocking discoveries of Eugene Schuyler and Januarius MacGahan.

George Washington Street, Vazrazhdane

Locating George Washington Street can be a little difficult, even though it is situated in the centre of Sofia, right beside Halite and the Synagogue. The reason? The name of America's first president (1732-1799) is misspelled as Georg Vashington. It is noteworthy that on this street or in close proximity to it are located the main buildings of three different religions – the Sofia Synagogue, which is the third largest synagogue in Europe, Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, the Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church and the Banya Bashi mosque. The street runs from the Saint Sofia monument to Zhenski Pazar, or the Women's Market, one of the largest and oldest markets in Sofia.

America for Bulgaria FoundationHigh 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.


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