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Galina Nalbantova


Writing about the town one has lived and experienced for the most of one’s life is a challenge. Writing about a small Balkan town while staying in a city like London provides the needed distance to see it in a new way. Especially when this small town has been the scene for adventures, sorrows and loves, that shape one’s memories. It is like evaluation of the place, of the people, of the life itself. The emotional connection is still present. However, the look of an outsider changes the perspective and also gives new meaning to the way one has experienced the town.

Being aware of these traps and challenges, I will write about my town Veliko Turnovo1. The objects of my investigation will be four of the central public places in the town. By using mainly the work of Lyn Lofland ‘The Social Realm. Exploring the Quintessential Social Territory’, I will talk about the existence of public realm and some of its characteristics. The goal of my work is to examine the presence of city pleasures, displayed and experienced at the chosen places in Turnovo. Lyn Lofland lists several ‘city delights’, which are the source of aesthetic and interactional pleasure for the citizens. However, she opposes the pleasure-thinking about the city to the long-lasting Anglo-American tradition of antiurbanism. The consequences in the contemporary American society from this form of fear and hatred to the urban settings are emergence of privatism and the transformation of the public places into ‘Disneyworlds’, where the presence of diversity, the manifestation of frivolity and playfulness is controlled by various means. However, I consider that the urban situation in Veliko Turnovo is slightly different. The type of control, about which Lofland writes, is not that strong presented in this town. Moreover, one of the functions of the public places and realms is to provide pleasure to the participants in their settings. One of the reasons for absence of state or government control over the life of the public realms2 may be the rejection of the totalitarian communist system and therefore, rejection of the types of control, connected with it. Apart from this, another reason is also the Balkan city life tradition, which is fairly well presented in Turnovo. The Balkan city has its own forms of public regulation, which not necessarily forbid the experience of pleasure to those who take part in the public realm. I will try to show that in fact, some of the ‘delights’, described by Lofland, are intrinsic to the city life in Turnovo. For example, receiving pleasure is one of the aims of going to the public places in the town3.

The reasons to choose Veliko Turnovo for my research topic are several. First of all, this is the urban setting I know best, as I have spent most of my life there. Apart from that, I have studied its history and urban structure, so my knowledge about it is not based only on personal experience. At the same time, Turnovo has always been an urban settlement, or at least for the past 800 years. The urbanity of the place is one of its main features. It has changed throughout the centuries and several historical periods can be traced only by examining the different architectural styles presented within the town. Social changes have also occurred, the most significant of which is probably the migration in and out of the city. Town’s rich history and beautiful appearance make Turnovo popular and attractive tourist spot, which also help shaping some of its urban characteristics.

City, Public Places, Public Realm, ‘City Delights’

Probably the first question that every scholar studying the city asks is ‘What is a city? What makes it different from the other human settlements?’ The given answers are various: from Schpengler’s philosophical observation that ‘...what distinguish a town from a village is not size, but the presence of a soul...’ (Sennet 1969: 66) to explanations which are focused on the economic and social-psychological differences or on the purely physical or demographic dimensions of the settlements4. Despite the different approaches and definitions, most of the explorers unite around the idea that the city represents a unique milieu because it is ‘a place of strangers’ (Madanipour 2003: 116). This notion underlines the existence of various types of relationships between the city dwellers, as well as the presence of heterogeneous categories of people, who may not communicate in another environment. Also, the urban relationships are subordinated to the existent places of public interaction. Every settlement possesses public places which are believed ‘to be more accessible (physically and visually) than the private places’ (Lofland 1998: 9). These public places are ‘the theatre stage’ where masks are displayed (Madanipour 2003: 135), they can be part of the public realm and play the role of background for shaping the specific relationships between the ‘strangers’. But also, public places may be predominated by relations characterizing a parochial realm and despite being accessible for everyone, the ‘outsiders’ to be considered as unwelcome intruders into the community.

The existence of the city, as embodiment of diversity and personal freedom, is interpreted negatively and positively in the long tradition of urban exploration and description. One of the characteristics of the urbanity, which provoke the negative feelings towards it, is the fact that there are a lot of ‘forms of pleasure’, which find ‘especially favourable environment’ (Lofland 1998: 77) in the public realm. Lyn Lofland lists two major types of pleasure: aesthetic and interactional. Broadly explained, the aesthetic pleasures are connected with the ‘experience of enjoyment occasioned by certain (mostly) visual qualities of the built environment’ (Lofland 1998: 78). As it is obvious by their name, the interactional pleasures are connected mainly with the people’s behaviour in the public places. The sources of the both types of pleasure are also displayed by Lofland, but I will introduce them in the course of analysis of the chosen Turnovo public places.

The four places of Turnovo, which I chose for my analysis, are Gurko Street, the Open-Air Market, the Central Post Office and the Monument of the Assens. I choose them, because each of these spots is an important place of the town map, representing specific feature of the city life pleasures and at the same time connected with various categories of citizens.

Gurko Street5

It is one of the most beautiful places in Turnovo, because of its own image and because of the view towards the river meanders and the Monument of the Assens. Gurko Street is situated on the left bank of river Yantra and it is one of the streets that connect the town centre with the area around the town library and cathedral. The street is narrow and stone paved and most of the houses, which are still inhabited, represent the 19th century house architecture. This is a place, where different categories of people develop various types of relationships between themselves and the place. On the one hand, Gurko Street is a living area with many features of a parochial realm - close relations between neighbours, stimulated as well by the closeness of the houses; the street itself is a playground and a socializing place for the neighbourhood inhabitants. It is a usual sight to be seen there, old women sitting on benches in front of their houses, chatting and examining the passing by people with uncovered curiosity. Therefore, the place provides them with pleasurable activities, which according to Lofland are usually intrinsic to the public realm. In that case, the place gives them the pleasure of people-watching and public sociability.

On the other hand, Gurko Street is one of the main tourist attractions and also a route for many of the citizens in their everyday activities. Thus, the presence of many outsiders, intensify the relational web characteristic for a public realm. The first pleasure that the outsiders feel on that spot, is the enjoyment from the built environment. In the terms of pleasures, this is one of the places - sources of aesthetic pleasure. There are narrow steep passages and stairs, which lead to most of the houses, and hidden backyards, from which could be glimpsed small bites. Lyn Lofland calls this ‘pleasure, that arises from glimpsing a small piece of the built environment; a glimpse that suggests that an interesting, exotic, weird, enticing, possibly enchanting social world exists just outside one’s range of vision’ a ‘perpetual innuendo’(Lofland 1998: 80). The unexpectedness of the view, provoked by the curves of the street and by the different perspectives to the river’s meanders and opposite bank, also contributes to the feeling of excitement that emerges there.

The Central Post Office

It is situated in the town centre and it is one of the most popular spots of the town. The imposing white building has a central position between three of the central streets, near the Town Hall and opposite the Faculty of Arts. Apart from being a post office, this building is the most popular place for having an appointment. The reasons many people to prefer to meet their friends there are several. As being in the very centre, it is convenient for everyone to reach it by foot, by bus or by car. Also, most of the cafes, restaurants and shopping centres are in its immediate vicinity. And the last very important condition - the stairs and the entrance of the building are covered, so the waiting people are protected by the weather. Staying there, waiting for a friend, is one of the most interesting occupations. It is inevitable that for the time one spends there, will meet a few acquaintances, will examine the passing by people and the people, sitting at the cafes around the Faculty of Arts and the Town Hall. Thus, the place provides the conditions for experiencing the ‘public sociability’ and the ‘people-watching’ types of pleasure. This place is also an embodiment of the principle ‘to see and be seen’, or as explained by Lyn Lofland, ‘the social occasion known as the promenade’ (Lofland 1998: 91). This principle has always been very important feature of the public life in Turnovo, as it can be concluded by descriptions of the town in memoirs of its citizens and visitors6. The public opinion has been a major way of regulation of the citizens’ life and activities, although nowadays one may see the gradual fading of its importance. Thus, the place of the Post Office in the town’s life is very important in terms of sociability and public appraisal.

The Monument of the Assens

The Monument of the Assens, known by everyone as Konete (The Horses), represents four horsemen, the four kings from the Assens dynasty7. The monument and the surrounding area have been turned to its contemporary image in 1985 for the anniversary of the Uprising of the brothers Peter and Assen. Nowadays it is one of the most visited and popular places among the young people - high school and university students. Its situation, between two of the meanders of the river, makes it separate and at the same time easily accessible place with a beautiful view towards the old part of the city. In terms of the public realm, this place embraces most of the pleasures provided by this social territory. The view to the old part of the town is amazingly beautiful, providing to the visitors the aesthetic pleasure of admiring the environment. People go there also to experience the pleasure of crowding and stimulating diversity - especially in the summer evenings and nights when a lot of parties take place below the grandiose figures of the heroic Bulgarian kings. It is, as well, one of the favourite places for couples, who take advantage of the remoteness and intimacy of the place, and who usually date on the marble parapets, which enclose the monument group. This place is also a source for most of the types of interactional pleasure - public solitude for those who come to enjoy the peacefulness of the spot, public sociability, playfulness and frivolity for the partying and courting people.

The Open-Air Market

Another public space in Turnovo, where the relationships between the people are heterogeneous, is the town open-air market, known to everyone as Pazara (The Market). The market is open every day of the week, all year round. It is a central place for the town and for the last few years it has been renovated. Its image has been changed by building nearby a shopping centre and a large supermarket8. However, the ‘spirit’ of the market is preserved and it is one of the main places where people go to do their shopping. This is a fruit, vegetables and flowers market, which supplies the town with fresh goods, either imported or grown at the surrounding village settings. Most of the stall keepers at the market, both men and women, make their living by this business, so the open-air market is their working place. They usually occupy the same stalls for many years, and the regular customers know their places, the quality and prices of the food they offer.

A market place owns all the features of a public realm. People from different strata and sexes mix there, developing various types of relationships. ‘Without a market, a town is inconceivable’, says Fernand Braudel (Braudel 1981: 501). And, indeed, without the town market, the city life in Turnovo would have missed one of its main stages. As an essential part of the public realm, where the existence of diversity is stimulated by the role of the place, Pazara is also a source of aesthetic and interactional pleasures. The abundance of goods and their exhibition on the stalls provoke enjoyment of the pure fact of beholding. As a market place, crowding is inevitable, and this is one of the urban pleasures, according to Lofland. The act of going to the market is usually connected with meeting friends and acquaintances, exchanging news, gossips and opinions. Thus, the pleasure of public sociability is strongly connected with this area.


The places I analyzed here are only a few spots on the interesting map of public spaces, which provide different kinds of pleasures to the citizens and visitors of Veliko Turnovo. Of course, their analysis could be more complete and detailed, embracing other features of their role in the public life of the town. Cor Wagenaar (Wagenaar 2004: 16) calls ‘happy’ places, which embodies the idea of brighter future in their architecture. These four places in Turnovo have not been designed with the idea of pursuing public happiness. However, their existence and the role they play in the citizens’ life make them bringing ‘happiness’ to the participants in the social interaction taking place there. The pleasures, described by Lyn Lofland, are easily found in those places, as being their major characteristics.

To the pleasures and happiness I have experienced there, do I dedicate this essay.




1. The name Veliko Turnovo means The Great Turnovo. The adjective ‘great’ is added to the name of the town in 1965, in order to underline its glorious history as a medieval capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. However, for its inhabitants and for most of the Bulgarians, it is known just as Turnovo. Thus, in the next pages I will use the both names. [back]

2. It does not mean that the local government does not take care of those places, it is just the fact that they are not controlled in the way Lofland describes the control over the public places in some American cities. [back]

3. I am aware that the city life on the Balkans has its specific features and that there also exists negative attitude to it. But it is a topic for another research. For my study here, I will underline the positive outlook to the pleasures, connected with the city life. [back]

4. For instance, most of the European towns in the pre-industrial era were physically separated from the surrounding area by city walls. Nowadays this differentiation is no more valid and the borders of every settlement are usually marked by signboards on the roads leading in and out of the place. [back]

5. The street is named by the Rusian general Gurko, who liberated the town during the Russian-Turkish War in 1877-1878. One of the most popular pictures of this moment represents the General on his horse, welcome by the citizens on the nowadays Gurko street. The houses painted there still can be seen on their spots. [back]

6. To name just few: Sava Russev, Dimo Kasazov, Kiro Tuleshkov. [back]

7. The Assenids rules the Second Bulgarian Kingdom between 1185 and 1396. The first representative of the dynasty, Assen I, pronounced Turnovo for a capital of the Kingdom. [back]

8. This shopping centre may be analyzed also as a way of control over the area of the market, introduced by the economic interests of the town. However, the place and the changes occurring there could be a base for a more detailed analysis of the relationship government-public realm. [back]




Braudel 1981: Braudel, F. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century. Volume I. The Structures of Everyday Life. The Limits of the Possible. London, 1981.

Kasuzov 1975: Kasuzov, D. Njakogashnite Nashi Gradove. (Our cities of one time). Sofia, 1975.

Lofland 1998: Lofland, L. H. The Public Realm. Exploring the Quintessential Social Territory. New York, 1998.

Madanipour 2003: Madanipour, A. Public and Private Spaces of the City. London, 2003.

Rusev 1985: Rusev, S. Spomeni i Anekdoti za Velikoturnovtsi. (Memoirs and Jokes for Veliko Turnovo citizens). Varna, 1985.

Sennet 1969: Sennett, R. Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities. New York, 1969.

Tuleshkov 1997: Tuleshkov, K. Moeto Chirakuvane v Zhivota (My Apprenticeship in Life). Compilation by Elena Nalbantova. V. Turnovo, 1997.

Wagenaar 2004: Wagenaar, C. (ed.). Happy: Cities and Happiness in Post-War Europe. Rotterdam, 2004.



© Galina Nalbantova
© E-magazine LiterNet, 11.02.2007, № 2 (87)