A true Bulgarian sanctuary

The lands of Batak region have been inhabited since ancient times. Professor Yosif Shopov found in 1958, in Kremenete locality a find dating from the old stone age and only several years later - another find in Slancheva Polyana locality.

These lands either inhabited or passed by Thracians, Romans, Slavs, Proto-Bulgarians, Ottomans and Bulgarians still preserve the heritage of their civilizations. There are 20 Thracian, Thracian-Roman, Byzantium and Slav fortresses as well as more than 10 churches and monasteries and many Thracian tumuli, Roman bridges, mines, mills and other archaeological findings registered in Batak region.

Until the 1st century BC when the Romans conquered the Balkan Peninsular the Northern Thrace and Western Rhodopes were inhabited by the warlike Thracian tribe Bessae. According to the father of history – Herodotus the Bessae possessed the well-known sanctuary of God Dionysus. The holy place of the Bessae became famous when Alexander the Great and the father of the great Roman emperor Octavian Augustus – Gaius Octavianus passed by.

During the Slav invasion Byzantine Empire lost the stable direct control over the Western Rhodopi though the strategic roads in the northern and southern mountain foot (from Salonika through the Aegean Sea to Constantinople) were in its hands.

When the Ottoman Empire strengthened its positions, the mountainous villages like Batak attracted many Bulgarians with rebellious temper who settled here in order to preserve their Christian faith. This led to material and spiritual development of the village. The home crafts and especially timbering, wood-processing and trade flourished. About 280 wood-processing workshops were registered here in 1871. The wood was of high quality and the Empire used it for ship building. The merchants from Batak went about all market places. These relations of Batak people with the world bred the freedom loving spirit of its inhabitants.

During the Bulgarian Renaissance many prominent spiritual figures as the abbot archimandrite Yosif  who restored the Rila Monastery to its present form; the abbots Kiril and Nikifor, the author of the remarkable Bulgarian ABC Book (printed in 1814), Georgi Busilin and the publisher Dragan Manchov rose here.

The name of the town is related most of all to the April Uprising. On 21 April 1876 its inhabitants announced the beginning of the uprising. Like everywhere else the initial enthusiasm and exultation were followed by an utter defeat but the defeat in Batak was more than terrible and reckless! Five thousand people died, the doom of the 2 thousand men, women and children who found their death in the small St. Nedelya Church, which turned out to be their last stronghold, hope and... tomb, too, being exceptionally dramatic and tragic. The stories of unparalleled heroism, self-sacrifice and inexorability told by the few people who survived this sanguinary Bacchanalia added up to dozens.

The brightest intellects of mankind raised a voice of protest and indignation in answer to this outrageous occurrence - Victor Hugo, William Gladstone, Makgahan, Dostoevski, Lev Tolstoy. Zakhary Stoyanov wrote: “Kneel, kind readers, hats off! Batak with its ruins is in front of us. I summon everyone who is thoroughly Bulgarian, everyone who is honourable and homeland loving, to be with us here at this Bulgarian sanctuary, at this sacrificial altar to our Freedom, where, the blood of thousands of martyrs, saints, of about a hundred little children, of countless innocent lasses and lads was shed. Batak, glorious and unfortunate Batak! Should a Bulgarian heart be ever found not to palpitate at the sole pronunciation of your own name? I am standing in awe before your magnificence, History shall pay reverence to you, too.” The people's poet Ivan Vazov added: “The Cheops Pyramid would be insufficient as a memorial to Batak.”

These horrors might never have touched the conscience of the civilized world had it not been for the courage and enterprise of Januarius Aloysius MacGahan, an American (b. in Perry County, Ohio, 12 June, 1844, d. at Constantinople, 9 June, 1878). As correspondent of the London "Daily News ", and accompanied by Eugene Schuyler, Commissioner of the United States Government, MacGahan was the only journalist to visit the devastated districts; he obtained the evidence of eyewitnesses and, supplementing this with his own observation, published a mass of facts which aroused among the English-speaking peoples a lively sympathy for the Bulgarian Christians. A conference of the European powers demanded of Turkey the erection of an autonomous Bulgarian province. Little was known of Bulgaria at this time in either the United States or the British Empire. MacGahan's report struck like a thunderbolt.

"As we approached the church ... the sight was more dreadful. There these remains were more frequent, and the ground was literally covered with skeletons, skulls, and putrefying bodies in clothing. The whole churchyard for three feet deep was festering with dead bodies partly covered - hands, legs, arms, and heads projected in ghastly confusion. The church was still worse. I have never imagined anything so fearful ... I saw many little hands, heads, and feet of children of three years of age, and girls, with heads covered with beautiful hair...
All over the place horror, horror, only horror!

The town had 8,000 or 9,000 inhabitants. There now remains 1,200."

From the report of MacGahan, American military correspondent of the English newspaper "Daily News", 1876.

Those who remained alive in Batak welcomed the Russian Army of Liberation on 20th January 1878.






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