The Inn of the Old Throne City
The list of sights to be seen by the tourists visiting the Old Capital of Bulgaria – Veliko Tarnovo – is long enough. Some of them are more than must-sees: the historical hills of Tsarevets and Trapezitsa; the churches turned into cultural memorials; the monuments of Mother Bulgaria and the kings from the Assen dynasty (commonly known as Assenevtsi); the rich of precious exhibits museums; as well as the very new and unique for Bulgaria and the entire Balkan region museum of the waxwork reproducing fragments of the history, culture and style of life of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396). But visiting Veliko Tarnovo without going to the famous Samovodska Charshia – the street of the arts, crafts, traditional culinary delights, and the sincere national hospitality wafting from each door – is somehow unthinkable. And once you walk down the cobblestone street there is no way that you will not arrive at one of the modern symbols of the city – the reborn to a new life architectural masterpiece Hadji Nikoli Inn.
The inn is the only of the seventy buildings of this kind in Veliko Tarnovo which has survived over the time. Today it is a centre of several well-matched elements of the culture – historical heritage, fine arts, wine culture, and gastronomy.
Its story interweaves epochs and eminent personalities and carries with itself a strong message to all who call themselves true patriots. It is worthwhile telling it, for this story can be taken as a valuable and convincing example today.
Back in 1858 the genius Bulgarian Renaissance architect and builder Nikola Fichev (a.k.a. master Kolyu Ficheto) begins the construction of a large commercial building in the style of the Turkish inns on a hilly street nearby the Samovodska market-place. The principal of the building is the rich local merchant Hadji Nikoli h.Dimov Minchoglu. The construction work takes about four years and when the building is finished it really fascinates with its imposing three-storied figure, stone columns strengthening classy baroque balconies, commodious inner courtyard, and overall elegant outlook not at the expense of the functionality. This building remains one of the most significant works of the legendary master Kolyu Ficheto to this day.
The owner of the inn – the merchant Hadji Nikoli – is a person with a great reputation at his time, who has left a bright mark in the Bulgarian Renaissance and the struggle for religious independence of the Bulgarians from the Greek Patriarchate. Born in 1826 in the family of the fur merchant Hadji Dimo, the little Nikola was early left an orphan. Another distinguished figure in the town – Hadji Mincho – gave him a shelter, as well as an excellent education, and became his true mentor.
Later on Hadji Mincho made Nikola his trade partner and even let the young man marry his daughter. Hadji Nikoli quickly managed to grow successfully the trade with imported and exported manufacture goods, established several commercial desks in the neighboring and more distant to Bulgaria countries but he never stopped worrying about the troubles of his countrymen in the declining in power at that time Ottoman Empire. What was making him most upset was the huge influence of the Greek clergy over the Bulgarian Orthodox religion.
Namely the struggle for religious independence became the real meaning of the second part of the life of Hadji Nikoli. The patriotic Bulgarian spent his entire capital of 500,000 golden levs made from the trade to chase out of Bulgaria the Greek clergy. This mission turned eventually successful but it also broke the once wealthy merchant who died in absolute misery in 1892.
Meanwhile, the beautiful inn where Hadji Nikoli used to store the goods of his trading, and offer accommodation for travelers and seasonal workers, was turned into a tobacco factory.
The fate of the impressive building in the years after the Liberation from the Ottoman yoke is full of twists and turns. In 1929 the southwestern wing of the inn was realigned in a way to leave a space for a larger-sized street on the opposite side of which the old post office of Veliko Tarnovo was built later on. In the time of the socialist regime the building was nationalized (in 1947), partially reconstructed (in the period 1967-69), and utilized as an ethnographical museum (in the period 1970-87). After the political changes the inn was restituted to the heirs of Hadji Nikoli. However, more than a decade the building remained locked up and crumbling down because they didn’t have the means to manage it properly.
The crucial moment came in the summer of 2005 when the former colonel in the US Army and current entrepreneur in the field of real estate – the Texan Edmund Beck – went to visit Veliko Tarnovo while holidaying in Bulgaria. Beck was impressed by the attractive Samovodska Charshia and the deserted but still majestic inn quickly grabbed his attention.
In the picture: Vassil Nikoliev (left), a grandson of Hadji Nikoli, and the Beck family – Jutta and Edmund.
The American got in touch with local real estate specialists who helped in the preparation of a deal for the acquisition of the building which took place in the next year. Some four years of precise work on strengthening and restoration of the inn followed where the maximal similarity to the authentic view of the building was primarily sought after. As Edmund Beck explains in a later interview, the most difficult task in that period has been to make the things as perfect as the master Kolyu Ficheto would have made them.
The renovated building opened doors in the end of March 2010 with its brilliance and the ambitious vocation to be an original cultural centre for the citizens of Veliko Tarnovo and the guests of the city. Hadji Nikoli Inn today combines an authentic view with the necessary convenience of the modern times in a unique compound consisting of museum, art gallery, elegant restaurant with four variously decorated halls, summer garden, wine bar, café, and a wine shop. Quite reasonably the inn received two special prizes in the prestigious contest Building of the Year 2010: the Award for preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of Bulgaria, as well as the Award of the Public.
The museum and the gallery host on a year-round basis various visiting exhibitions of state and private collections as well as works of contemporary Bulgarian painters. The famous Panagyurishte Treasure and the collections of the First Private Numismatic Museum in Bulgaria are just a few of the exhibits presented here. Many talented painters have shown their works in the art gallery of the inn including the prominent global artist with Bulgarian origin Christo Javacheff (a.k.a. Christo).
The wine accent in the new identity of Hadji Nikoli Inn merits special attention. Edmund Beck says that this accent is absolutely natural for such a place since the good wine is like an endowment to Bulgaria.
The wine bar impresses with an exquisite comfort in old urban style while in the wine shop one can find quality wines from leading Bulgarian winemakers as well as traditional products such as rose jam and herbal bee honey.
Hadji Nikoli Inn offers also its own brand of wines which can be tasted in pair with a wonderful food at the restaurant or bought at the wine shop.
The wines of the own brand are made in the not so distant to Veliko Tarnovo winery Lovico Suhindol from selected grapes. The set of wines includes white varietals from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, red varietals from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a rosé from Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a special blend from the popular French varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in combination with the Bulgarian indigenous Gamza and Rubin.
Particularly impressive is the restaurant’s wine list. It is very rare to find in a Bulgarian dining place – even at the high-end level – such a well structured, easily directing, and truly useful list of carefully chosen wines which complement in a superb way the exuberance of a tasty food.
The wine list is prepared by the oenologist Dimitar Dimov who currently works with a boutique winery in Turkey.
The menu list of Hadji Nikoli Inn deserves sincere applauses for the excellent combining of traditional Bulgarian cuisine with some notable international specialities. The service is on a high level and this undoubtedly contributes to the overall pleasant experience of the visiting clients.
Enjoying every moment spent in the comfort of Hadji Nikoli Inn, admiring the genius of the master builder, and thinking about the dignified life of its initial owner a question naturally comes into our minds – what would have been the fate of this exceptional building now had the Texan Edmund Beck not dropped by the Samovodska Charshia on that summer day in 2005… Another successful project of the experienced entrepreneur or an object lesson of respect to the ancestry given to all Bulgarians by an American? Everyone can find his answer with a glass of wine in the unique atmosphere of the Old Throne City inn.
© 2013 "VinoZona" (some of the pictures were kindly provided by Bul Beck Ltd.)