Book review: Voyvodovo – an unknown Czech village in Bulgaria

After kashkaval tourist released one of its most successful articles, 6 places you would not believe are in Bulgaria, I was contacted by Czech scholar Marek Jakoubek who has been researching the unique village of Voyvodovo in northwestern Bulgaria. Marek Jakoubek is currently a professor of anthropology at the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň.

Jakoubek visits the village at least twice a year and is the author of a number of publications detailing the village’s curious history. One of his latest works is the book Voyvodovo – an unknown Czech village in Bulgaria (published in Czech and Bulgarian), which is a multi-faceted collection of seven articles and studies, complete with a fascinating personal foreword and a neat timeline of Voyvodovo’s history.

To this day, Voyvodovo boasts an architectural style more akin to that of the Czech lands and Central Europe rather than the Balkans

To this day, Voyvodovo boasts an architectural style more akin to that of the Czech lands and Central Europe rather than the Balkans

What makes Voyvodovo so special is that it was founded by ethnic Czech settlers in 1900 and to this day boasts an architectural style more akin to that of the Czech lands and Central Europe rather than the Balkans. Though the Czech community was resettled to Czechoslovakia by the 1950s, its architectural (and to some extent cultural) heritage is still largely intact – however, efforts to preserve this jewel must be undertaken.

Jakoubek’s book focuses on many important aspect of this small but vibrant Czech community in Bulgaria’s history and daily life. It was enchanting for me to learn how hundreds of Czech colonists transported all of their belongings on hand-made rafts on the Danube all the way from the Banat in what is today western Romania!

"Voyvodovo - an unknown Czech village in Bulgaria" is an excellent source, written with great attention to detail and rich in information

“Voyvodovo – an unknown Czech village in Bulgaria” is an excellent source, written with great attention to detail and rich in information

It was also curious to learn that the Czechs in Voyvodovo, while they dominated the village in numbers, shared it with Slovaks, Banat Bulgarians, Serbs and other nationalities, most of whom colonists from Austria-Hungary. Voyvodovo did not quite form a miniature melting pot, however. The Czechs were zealous Evangelicals who largely stayed within their own community and even kept their ties with urban Czech settlers in Bulgaria (of which there were many at the turn of the century) to a minimum.

In fact, one of their few form of secular entertainment was to go to the train station after Sunday’s church service, wearing their exotically foreign folk costumes and colourful dresses. There, they would sing in Czech for the entertainment of the stunned train passengers, who would often ask the engine driver to delay the departure for just one more song!

If you want to learn more about this tiny piece of the Czech Republic in the forgotten Bulgarian Northwest (and you speak Bulgarian or Czech), Jakoubek’s Voyvodovo – an unknown Czech village in Bulgaria is an excellent source, written with great attention to detail and rich in information. In Bulgaria, the book is available from the Paradigma publishing house.

Update: In the time between this article’s writing and its publication, a large flood has destroyed many homes in the town of Mizia, very close to Voyvodovo, and taken the lives of two people. My thoughts are with the population of the town and its surroundings that are suffering from this terrible natural event.

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