The Library of Cyril and Methodius in Bulgaria: history, collections, manuscripts

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The Library of Cyril and Methodius in Bulgaria: history, collections, manuscripts
The Library of Cyril and Methodius in Bulgaria: history, collections, manuscripts

National Library of Bulgaria. St. Cyril and Methodius (NBKM), located in Sofia, has one of the richest archives in terms of number of items and variety of materials. Founded in 1878, the NBKM was greatly expanded in 1931 after acquiring millions of documents from the Ottoman period. Today, the collection of the Eastern Department of the NBKM (Kolektsiya na Orientalski Otdel) contains more than 1000 registers, more than a million individual documents from all the provinces of the Ottoman Empire, dating back to the period between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition, there is a valuable collection of manuscripts in Persian, Arabic and Turkish. In addition to the Eastern Department, the Bulgarian Historical Archive (Bŭlgarski istoricheski arkhiv) holds material dating mainly from the nineteenth century and written in both Ottoman Turkish and Bulgarian. In this sense, the NBKM is a hidden gem for scholars in the Middle East and the Balkans.

commemorative coin with the image of the NBKM

Creation and development

The history of the library of Cyril and Methodius is quite long. It was founded in 1878 and received the name of Sofia Public. However, it quickly became the National Library (1879). During the 1870s and 1880s, NBKM staff collected various materials from the Ottoman period in libraries throughout Bulgaria and delivered them to the Eastern Department of the NBKM.

In 1944, due to the war, the entire building was destroyed. Although some materials were irreparably damaged, much was saved. All this was transferred to local storage facilities to protect against further destruction. In the late 1940s, all this was returned to the main building of the NBKM, also called the Central Scientific Library of Bulgaria.

The current premises were officially opened in 1953. The library got its name from Saints Cyril and Methodius, who invented the Cyrillic alphabet at the end of the ninth century. The monument to two brothers holding the Cyrillic alphabet stands in front of the building and is also one of the sights of the city.

Saints Cyril and Methodius

Saving documents

In 1931, as part of their political program based on the rejection of the Ottoman past, the Turkish government sold a huge amount of Ottoman archival documents to a paper mill in Bulgaria for use as recycled waste paper. This event became known as the vagonlar olayı (wagon incident) because the documents were transported in railway wagons, and when the events became known in Turkey, thiscaused heated debate among scientists and politicians of the time. As soon as the Bulgarian customs officers realized that the materials were in fact Ottoman state documents and not waste, they were deposited in the library of Cyril and Methodius. Today, these documents make up more than 70% of the entire Eastern Department of the NBKM, which continues its work on cataloging and preserving them.


NBKM has eleven collections - from Slavic and foreign handwritten books to the Collection of Oriental Faculty.

The Oriental Department Collection has two main archives: the Ottoman Archive and the Oriental Manuscript Collection. The Bulgarian Historical Archive is also located in the Eastern Department, as it includes many documents in Ottoman and Bulgarian.

hall of the National Library of Bulgaria

Sijill Collection

Sijill is an incoming-outgoing register organized by a qadi (judge) or his deputy in a particular settlement. It also includes copies of documents written by the qadi. There are over 190 pieces in this collection from the sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. They are cataloged by region such as Sofia, Rousse, Vidin, etc. Most of the documents have card index entries in Turkish either in Latin or Ottoman. The earliest document from Sofia dates from 1550, while the vast majority is from the eighteenth century. Most of them are from Vidin and Sofia. Most of the collection has been digitized and is available on the official websitelibraries of Cyril and Methodius.

Waqf registers

In Islamic law, a waqf (waqf) is property that a private person or the state donated for religious or charitable purposes. There are over 470 individual waqf registers in this collection (from the 15th to the 20th centuries). In addition, some other waqf registers can be found in the sijill collection. They are written mostly in Ottoman and some of them in Arabic. The earliest waqf register dates back to 1455 and the latest is from 1886.

Persian manuscript from NBKM

Miscellaneous funds

This collection includes the rest of the Ottoman documents in the eastern section. Many cadastral surveys (timar, zeamet and icmal) can be found in this collection. There are also various other types of ledgers and ledgers (ruznamce). In addition, these funds contain all individual documents, such as fermans, buruldu, arzukhals, ilams and various individual correspondence and materials.

Most of these Ottoman materials in this collection are cataloged according to the region they belong to, and each region has a separate collection with a different number.

Most of the entries in the Cyril and Methodius library collection numbers are dated, and some of them include keywords such as "military", "church", "taxation", timar, giving some basic information about the type of document. Unfortunately, there is no other information available to the researcher about the documents from the catalog. However, there are some publications, mainlywritten by the staff of the Eastern Department, such as listings and catalogs of selected collections of Ottoman documents, which will be useful. The number of documents in this collection exceeds 1,000,000, and none of them have been digitized. Their dates range from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries.

book history room

Collection of Oriental handwritten books

It has about 3800 volumes in Arabic, Turkish and Persian. The earliest manuscript is a copy of the hadith collection of Muhammad al-Bukhari al-Jami al-Sahih (810–870). One of the most valuable manuscripts of this collection is a copy of the work of the 12th-century Arab geographer Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Idrisi, Nujat al-Mushtaq, Ihtirak al-afak (“Entertainment of the weary in wandering through the regions”). There are partial catalogs of this collection in English, Arabic and Bulgarian.

Foreign and Slavic manuscripts

This collection is represented by medieval and late medieval documents and has a total of about 1700 items. Basically, these are handwritten books of religious and dogmatic content, intended for liturgical use and the daily needs of monastic life: gospels, ps alters, apostles, ordinals, liturgics, missals, various types of collections, a calendar of moral instructions, collections mixed in content, including often various apocryphal works, collections of hymnographies, collections of secular laws and church prescriptions (nomocanons), liturgical books, beadrolls, etc. They also contain secular andscientific literature: translated and original works, including works from antiquity, the Middle Ages, examples of European scientific thought, the Bulgarian revival (Alexander's novel, the parable of the "Trojan Horse", historical writings, letters, textbooks, dictionaries, various treatises, etc.).

NBKM reading room

The collection of Slavic handwritten books contains literary monuments from Bulgaria, Serbia, Wallachia, Moldavia and Russia. It presents rich historical materials of written culture during the late Middle Ages, the era of Ottoman rule and the Bulgarian national revival.

Among the signed manuscripts you can see the names of writers, such as the priest Dobreisho, the priest John, the priest Gerasim, the monk-copier of Rila Mardariy, the monk Spiridon, the priest Visarion Debara, Peter Grammatik, the priest Daniil Etropolsky, the school teacher Nedyalko and his son Philip, Joseph Bradati, Nikifor Rilsky, priest Pamvo Kalofer, Peter Tsarsky, priest Pancho, Sofrony Vratsky and others. The collection of Greek manuscripts, most of which were created for the needs of the liturgy, reflects the relationship of the Bulgarians with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. These books continue the Byzantine cultural tradition.

A valuable part of the Cyril and Methodius library collection is the Cantica Ecclesiastica (18-19th century). This book contains 34 hymns - anastasimatarions, katabasiai, heirmologions, etc., most of which are written in Bulgarian and decorated with decorative ornaments.

Foreign literature and periodicals

The collection of foreign books has 767,239 volumes, and periodicals - more than 10,000 titles in 726,272 volumes. The acquisition of classical works in foreign languages ​​in the field of science, culture and literature has the highest priority, including books that have received authoritative international and national awards; scientific reports from congresses and symposiums; collections Bulgarica, Balkanika and Slavica, the first editions of works by classical and contemporary authors. Foreign publications are collected in one copy in the original language. Purchased publications are presented in the most common languages: English, German, Russian, French, languages ​​of the Balkan and Slavic peoples. Publications in a rare language are translated into one of the European languages.

Priority directions for the acquisition of foreign books and periodicals of the library of Cyril and Methodius are: mathematics, philosophy, social sciences, law, economics, politics, sociology, international relations, history, culture, science, librarianship, bibliographic research and scientific research, regional studies, art history, linguistics, literary criticism and fiction. Considerable attention is paid to interdisciplinary scientific fields such as sociolinguistics, cognitive sciences, anthropology, politics, etc.

premises of the NBKM

National Archives

Different types of documents produced in this country are collected in the Archives of Bulgarian Literature. It contains all kinds of printed works,photographic papers, phonograms, dissertations and abbreviations, as well as since 2000 (when the new legal deposit law was adopted) and electronic documents. Books with a circulation of less than 100 copies, Braille publications, documents published abroad and ordered by Bulgarian individuals or legal entities, as well as printed works in Bulgarian or related to Bulgaria imported for distribution in the country are subject to storage. The holdings of this archival collection of the National Library of Saints Cyril and Methodius amount to 1,600,000 bibliographic items.

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