Pordim, Bulgaria and the Steel King of Romania

A house-museum His Royal Highness Carol I (source: sufletdeturist.ro)

The visit of a Romanian woman to the house-museum built by the Bulgarians as a sign of gratitude for the great help they received from the Romanian army led by His Royal Highness Karol I

Elvira Bogos, sufletdeturist.ro, November 28, 2019

We travel the world far and wide, visiting museums, historical sites and admiring the way people honour their heroes. They also honour the heroes of the nations that have helped their countries to prosper. And for this I like to lose myself in the lands of our Bulgarian neighbours. And when these places touch my heart, my Romanian soul, I appreciate even more the inhabitants of today’s South Danube.

For a long time we had proposed that on one of our trips through northern Bulgaria we should make a stop in Pordim but the weather has always been inimical, not in 2017 when, coming from Sofia at lunchtime, we chose to detour from the road home to see the little town. So from the E83 we turned off onto local road 3402, a narrow road full of lorries (we were to get the idea that full of grain) and after about 7 km we found ourselves in front of the railway barrier, the entry point to the commune or perhaps the small town of Pordim. After a short time we managed to carefully cross the tracks, a place not very well arranged and then, led by the much too talkative Sofia we arrived in the “centre”, trying to find a mehana, a terrace something where we could satisfy our hunger first. No way! Two small food places were tightly closed, a nice empty police car was acting as a scarecrow and if we saw 3 locals around there were too many. So we negotiated with Sofia to take us to one of the two house museums, a futile negotiation as Pordim is so small that even without a guide you reach the gates of places few tourists stray from the main E83 road for. For this small village, apparently raised to the status of a town even though it is far from one, was once, in the 17th century, a town of the same name. It was once a military campaign house for a Russian emperor and a future king of Romania.

House Museum His Royal Highness Karol I or how man sanctifies place

Karol I of Romania

His Royal Highness Karol I House Museum is located on Ivan Bozhinov ulitsa or local road 3501. On the way there we realise it is Monday, a day when museums are usually closed but we hope maybe anyway. Arriving in front of the large fenced courtyard facing two streets, we see the gate open and rejoice in vain. Walking to the cottage to the right of the entrance gate, where the door was open, we are greeted by a desolate sight, an interior full of tools, baskets of wicker and a worker we get on well enough with though. From him we learn that he can’t give us any information about the museum, closed at that time, but that we can stay as long as we want in the park. Apparently he was the man who looked after the yard. And who, in fact, had the storeroom right in the original house that was the home and central command post of the Romanian army of King Carol I of Romania, then just ruler (because before obtaining independce the Romanian state didn’t have the statute of kingdom, but one of lower vassal level of state – note of the translator). The house in which the Carol I museum is now located (there on the plaque is Karol I), was built between 1904-1907 specifically due to collections donated by the Romanian army or from other local sources. Apparently, of the items on display inside that we didn’t get to see, the only thing that belonged to King Carol I was the campaign bed on which he slept for 26 weeks at a time.

The courtyard of the house is, as I said, large and quite well kept. Here are 4 cannons left over from the war and in front of the museum, the house with the chardak (some kind of veranda – note of the translator), someone has written in coloured stones the initials K.I. (Carol I), glory to the heroes… and others that we couldn’t make out although they are in Latin letters. Facing the house-museum are two busts, Major Gh. Șonțu and post-mortem sergeant Ion Grigore Alucăi.

Major Gh. Șonțu

Major Gh. Șonțu is a hero’s name so well known since my school days. He was the commander of the Romanian battalion that had the difficult mission of conquering the Grivița redoubt from the hands of the Turkish army led by Osman Pasa. The victory of that battle where many Romanians fell was the last day of life for Major Șonțu, he was always in the front line, as an example, at the head of his soldiers. “The children of the Carpathians fought like lions!”, noted a Romanian newspaper, announcing the death of Major Șonțu along with many soldiers under his command.

Post-mortem sergeant Grigore Ion Alucăi

Bust of Sergeant Grigore Ion Alucăi (source: sufletdeturist.ro)

The second bust is apparently of the post-mortem sergeant Grigore Ion Alucăi, said to have raised the Romanian flag on the Grivița redoubt before being killed by the Turks. The legend of the second bust is longer, it seems that there were two soldiers Grigore Ion, the second called of Buriașului (which could be literally translated as “the keg” – note of the translator), the one who together with his colleagues of the II Vânători (Hunters) battalion also captured the Turkish flag on the redoubt. In order to avoid useless discussions it was agreed that Ion Alucăi should represent the heroism of the Romanian infantry and hunters who fell in these places.

Through the mist of the history of a war

The two original busts from 1907 were stolen in 1990 but the Romanian state restored them in 2016 and they were unveiled in the presence of the then (and now) president of our country Klaus Iohannis at a ceremony organised by the Bulgarian government. The bust of King Carol I was originally located here, but after 1990, for safety reasons, it was moved by the Bulgarian state to Pleven. Hopefully another statue will be restored or erected here in Pordim for our king who accepted Russia’s request to spare it from a shameful military defeat, declared the country’s independence on 9/21 May 1877. A visionary and excellent military man, Karol I redistributed the tribute to the High Porte towards the rapid arming of the Romanian army at the head of which, in his legal role as commander, he crossed the Danube. And it was really he who changed the fate of the Russo-Turkish War.

Here it is worth remembering that the Russians initially refused the Romanian army’s help, wanting to achieve victory on their own, but they ran up against Osman Pasha’s powerful and numerous army. A coded telegram, with French addresser, from Grand Duke Nioklay Nikolayevich the Great, brother of Tsar Alexander II to Prince Charles I is enlightening:

Prince Charles de Roumanie à l’endroit où se trouvera:

The Turks, gathering the largest masses of troops at Plevna, are crushing us. I beg you to make a merger, a demonstration and, if possible, to cross the Danube with your army as you wish. Between Jiu and Corabia this demonstration is necessarily necessary for the facilitation of my movements. Nikolai

Photo taken from here

The Russian commander is thus obliged to ask for help from the Romanians, a fact foreseen by Carol who set and supported harsh conditions, finally accepted by the Russians. Among them was a single Romanian command on a separate front sector and as the Prince of Hochenzollern could not be under the command of a general, from whatever army he was, part of the Russian troops came under the command of our king. The detailed and very interesting history for us is easy to read on the net and really worth the effort. What is particularly important is also the course of this historical telegram on the basis of which Karol I entered the Russo-Turkish war and somehow saved the Tsar’s army. Find out on the net how much the Soviets wanted this telegram and how much they searched for it after 1945 through our archives. But it was well bricked up along with part of the treasury.

Led with determination and the outstanding military skill of Prussian Karol, at that time Prince Karol, our army was to bring fame to Romania, independence from the High Porte and to realise the dream of the future king, the acquisition of Northern Dobruja with its wide outlet to the Black Sea. An achievement still envied by the inhabitants of the region.

If you want to know more about those dramatic moments, I recommend you to read on this blog.

Even though we couldn’t get into the museum, just seeing the nameplates of our king on foreign soil, of the hero Gh. Șonțu, the metal fence of the park with Carol I’s initials on the gates, the feeling that somewhere in our history we were so important, made us thankful that we got here.

We only passed by the Grand Duke Nikolay Nikolayevich’s house, we didn’t stop as it was also closed. So was the village church, a beautiful building rebuilt after the 1877-1878 war with Russian and Romanian support. It has 6 bells donated by Tsar Alexander II in 1879 along with Russian icons, liturgical objects and priestly vestments as a sign of gratitude for the help received from the local population. Also with Russian money the new bell tower was built and King Charles I gave the church two large lanterns as a gift.

Pordim, through history

Pordim, today’s small town, has a long history in antiquity, proven by traces found in the ground but the first written evidence is from the 16th century, when it also had the names Rupcha and Pordam, names abandoned. Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, like the Bulgarian territory as a whole, Pordim had its moment of glory during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878 when, in October 1877 in two houses in the village, the command post of the Russian and Romanian armies was established, namely Grand Duke Nikolay, for a short time also Tsar Alexander II and His Royal Highness Carol I, the future first King of Romania. If for the Tsar the house was only made of beaten earth, the house in which Carol I lived was on a stone foundation. Here, in the two houses, important war councils were held, here the treaty signed at San Stefano was conceived, here too there was an important field hospital – more in the Tsar’s house – and later a place of triage for Romanian and Russian soldiers who were seriously wounded and had to cross the Danube. And not unimportantly, after the conquest of Pleven, the first telegraph in Bulgaria was installed, first for military use and then for civilian use.

After the liberation of Bulgaria at the beginning of the 20th century, the first civil war was fought. At the beginning of the 20th century, on the initiative of Bulgarian locals, the Committee of Tsar Alexander II the Liberator was set up, when the municipality bought the two houses in which the Russian Tsar and Charles I had lived, as well as the surrounding properties. The two museums were set up and on 3 September 1907, in the presence of Ferdinand I, the future King of Romania, and members of the Russian Imperial Court, the two museums in Pordim, Grand Duke Nikolay Nikolayevich, named after the commander of the Russian army, and the house of His Royal Highness Karol I, were inaugurated. Since then, the two museums have been open free of charge, as a tribute to the heroes who died in this terrible war and to remind future generations of the heroism and dedication of the local population alongside the Russian and Romanian soldiers.

We followed some local roads outside Pordim, other than the one we had come on, hoping to visit the historical monuments in the area and one of the village churches painted by a Romanian. The roads were bad, the villages are Turkish Roma so my husband, a great lover of authentic Bulgaria, didn’t stop until the main road.

Knowing the history, the heroes, the tradition….

Pordim, the humble corner from which Bulgaria’s freedom was born, as the poet Ivan Vazov said, is a place that deserves to be on the list of short stops on our holidays because, as N.Iorga wrote,

….knowing the history, the heroes, the tradition, makes us more altruistic, more fond of people and life.

Carol I, the King of Steel, together with the Romanian soldiers who fought at Pleven, Grivitsa and in all that war, was a hero honoured by our Bulgarian neighbours. Through him, so are we Romanians.

Pordim is 15-20 km away from Plevna, 132 km from Ruse and 70 km from the Romanian town of Turnu Măgurele, so it is easy to visit especially for those who stop longer in the beautiful Lovech region. From the junction with the E83 to the museum, depending on which way you choose, is about 5 – 8 km one way.

Museum opening hours, posted at the door, are 8 -12 and 13 – 17 Monday to Friday. That they don’t comply is evidence that we were and they were closed. There is a phone number on the door but no one answered the call. I don’t even know if they would know any language other than Bulgarian.

I recommend you without hesitation to take a short detour from your travels to Greece, stop for a few minutes in the courtyard of this house and remember that it is the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the commander of the Romanian army who, along with the soldiers, brought the country out from under the Ottoman yoke. And I hope you find what I’ve recounted here helpful. If you have any additions, I look forward to them.

Photo: This cannon guards the Karol I house-museum in Pordim (source: sufletdeturist.ro)

Read in Romanian language!

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