Vidin – A Bulgarian Town Between Three Countries

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Vidin’s location in the Northwestern part of Bulgaria sometimes makes it a bit hard to reach and that is probably the only reason why it is not a very popular destination for tourism. On one hand, it is a little sad, but on the other,  it creates a perfect off the beaten path town for a trip and gives you a chance to see its amazing monuments without having to share the space with a huge crowd of tourists. If you love to travel, I’m sure you know what a huge benefit that is. Always eager to explore unique places that are not overcrowded by hungry tourists I jumped on the chance to visit this historic town in Bulgaria.

Vidin and its surroundings provide a great opportunity for a weekend getaway. The warm sunny weather in early October was the perfect companion for a short walk exploring the city. The compact size of the town allows travelers to visit a lot of the main attractions for a day, as well as to have a relaxed walk along the Danube river and try traditional Bulgarian food. All of this makes Vidin a great destination for a day trip but the nature in the area will invite you to hike in one of the forests or visit the nearby villages and buy locally produced goods like homemade jam and yogurt. The amazing scenery in warm autumn colors first grabbed my attention on the way to the town and despite the numerous turns on the road, I could barely manage to take my eyes off the rapidly disappearing landscapes.

(Текстът на български можете да прочетете на втората страница.)

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I’d never thought about a cruise on the Danube river but I have to admit that I found the idea really interesting. It turns out that many cruise ships berth in Vidin as part of a European river adventure and the itinerary of some of them continue to the Black Sea and all the way to Turkey. As we walked around the famous “Baba Vida” fortress we met several groups of foreign tourists.

You may already be wondering how Vidin ended up between 3 countries? The newly built bridge connecting Bulgaria with Romania makes it possible to reach our Northern neighbor literally in minutes. Serbia, on the other hand, is only 50 km away. As the locals say – you can go from Bulgaria to Romania to have lunch and continue with an evening in Serbia. Sounds like an intense route for adventurous travellers just like us! If you are not yet convinced to visit the town then I am sure that the beautiful photos and the interesting places I will tell you about will surely change your opinion. Vidin may have a remote location in Bulgaria, but it also has a key place on the Balkans and the historical events that took place there.

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The medieval fortress “Baba Vida”

Undoubtedly the most visited cultural and historical site in Vidin is the “Baba Vida” fortress  which has become the symbol of the city and is the only fully preserved medieval fortress in Bulgaria.

The legend tells the story of three sisters, daughters of a prominent local nobleman – Vida, Kula and Gamza. After the death of their father, two of the sisters married, but their marriages was neither happy nor successful. Therefore the oldest sister Vida decided not to get married and instead she built a castle to help protect her subjects. There she lived to a ripe old age, successfully defending her lands and keeping her people happy and safe. In her memory, the fortress was named after her – “Baba Vida” or “Baba Vida towers”, honoring her bravery and dedication. Note: “Baba Vida” in Bulgarian translates as “Grandma Vida”.

Despite the sweet legend and the romantic aspects of it, I have to mention that although “Baba Vida” has been a regal castle, it actually existed as a defensive military fortress. “Baba Vida” was built on the foundations of an ancient Roman fortress but the Bulgarian construction dates back to the 10th century. Some of the towers are even built during the Austro-Hungarian period. The natural state of the castle is maintained throughout the turbulent history of wars and coups to this day when we can even take a walk to the dungeons of the medieval prison in the basement or go up to one of the towers.

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This spectacular fortress served as a movie stage to more than 50 productions, both Bulgarian and international. It is easy to imagine yourself as a royal in this medieval atmosphere that tells stories of brave knights and turbulent times. You have to climb a slippery cobbled tunnel to reach the higher levels of the fortress. In the past, it was used for transportation of the small caliber cannons and the combat guns part of which can be seen near the surrounding wall ready to fire and protect the fortress. The top of the fort offers spectacular views of the Danube and the nearest neighboring country Romania.

I had the pleasure to visit the conference room, which is located in the fortress. My first thought was that it looks like it came straight out of a scene of “Game of Thrones” or a similar TV show. In fact, the hall is used for a variety of events such as exhibitions and even weddings.
An open air stage is located on the side facing the river. It is renovated and used as a summer theater in the castle that provides a platform for local artists and often gathers Vidin’s residents for concerts, shows, and historical reenactments.

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Cathedral temple “Holy Martyr Dimitri”
(St.Demetrius of Thessaloniki)

The “Holy Martyr Dimitri” church in Vidin is the biggest one in Northwestern Bulgaria and second only to the “St.Alexander Nevsky” cathedral in Sofia.  Originally wooden, its construction followed the need of the residents to have a church outside of the Vidin fortress. Sadly, during the Ottoman Empire Bulgarian people had no right to live inside the fortified walls which left them without a religious building to gather at when the fortress was closed. Throughout the years the wooden building got worn out and it had to be demolished and built from scratch all over again. Funds for the construction were gathered from the people of the town, while gravestones from a nearby cemetery were used for the base construction that supports the building.

I was immediately impressed by the quiet park with lots of greenery around the church and the beautiful bright facade. The interior is gorgeous and consists of interesting murals, warm colors and an elaborate chandelier that makes a great addition to the dome and creates a divine view when you look up. Even Bulgarian national heroes and revolutionaries are depicted on the walls – quite interesting and unusual decision for a religious building, which probably cannot be seen anywhere else in Bulgaria.

The clock of the church is made in Munich and works flawlessly since 1900. Another distinctive feature is that “Holy Martyr Dimitri” is the only church in Bulgaria that has three altars.

 

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The abandoned Jewish Synagogue

The old synagogue was not on our original itinerary, but as it turns out the unexpected stops along the road are one of the most interesting. Our Sunday walk naturally led us to it and we all had to stop for a second breath taken by the remains of the once surely-majestic building. I have to mention that this is the second biggest synagogue in Bulgaria after the one located in Sofia. As far as I can imagine back in the days the Vidin Synagogue was even more awe-inspiring than the one still open in the capital of Bulgaria. The now-abandoned religious building was first built with funds from the people of the city because Vidin was home to a considerable Jewish population. The synagogue worked until 1950, and now, unfortunately, is sinking into ruin. Perhaps this makes it even more beautiful in a certain nostalgic and romantic way. We can only hope for it to be restored and converted into a cultural destination someday.

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“Osman Pazvantoglu” Mosque

The white tower (minaret) of the “Osman Pazvantoglu” mosque invites us from afar to go further in our exploration of Vidin in direction of the next monument with significant importance for the city. The main building of the mosque and its adjoining library are small and huddled together in a lovely garden with rose bushes. “The picturesque garden suits it quite well,” I think as I make the first steps inside. While the mosque is dedicated to the father of Osman Pazvantoglu, the Ottoman ruler decided to devote the library to his mother. More than 2664 books with religious and international value were kept there. Two thousands of them were returned to Turkey, while the remaining 664 are kept in the National Library in Sofia. The mosque is open for visits regardless of the religious preferences of the visitors.

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A walk along the Danube river

I’ve always loved cities that have a river flowing through them. In my humble opinion, it gives a special laid back atmosphere. I’d love to spend more time walking around the renovated green park close to the water. An alley with benches along the river entices you to have a relaxed walk or ride a bike with a great view of the Danube and the nearby Romania. My visit took place on a lovely Sunday afternoon when mothers with children were having a stroll and even people in bathing suits were taking advantage of the great October weather. In the central part of the park, you can find a restaurant in a boat berthed on the river, where you can taste some delicious traditional seafood. Follow the river or the shaded paths in the park and you will inevitably get to the most famous landmark – “Baba Vida” fortress.

The bridge connecting Northwestern Bulgaria with Romania can be seen in the distance. It was officially opened in 2013 and the price for cars passing through it is only 6 euro. What is even better –  you can cross it on foot or by bike completely free. Such a cool and convenient way to get from one country to another within minutes!

For seven years in a row, Vidin has been and continues to be a home of the youth festival called “The Bridge”, which takes place during the summer. Organized by young and passionate volunteers, the festival invites everyone interested in art and music to participate, especially small kids that can learn valuable skills. The numerous workshops, performances, events and artists create a unique vibe for the city full of positivity and laughter. If you are visiting Vidin in the summer, don’t forget to check the dates of the festival and take part in it!

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(Текстът на български можете да прочетете на втората страница.)

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