In the summer of 2015 a new monument appeared in the center of Sofia. Usually, citizens are very happy and excited when an occasion like this one occurs. It is good to remember people and events that somehow contributed and were important for the development of our city, country, and nation. But it was not the case when this memorial was erected. Its construction was accompanied by arguments and controversies between historians, politicians, and ordinary citizens. They were concerned mainly about the appearance and the location of the monument as well as one very interesting part of its design. The polemics has never stopped and the memorial still has its numerous supporters and opponents.
The monument is situated in the historical part of Sofia, just among three other main landmarks – the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the St. Sofia Basilica and the building of the Holy Synod. This situation of the memorial has been a matter of controversies. Many people consider it inappropriate to have such a statue surrounded by these buildings. The advocates of the current location, however, remind that the statue is facing the memorial of Samuil’s warriors across the street. Anyways, the landmark is very accessible and easy for tourists to find. It is mainly made of bronze and pictures the ruler with a crown on his head, holding a scepter and a sword. According to the author, all these symbolize power and dignity. On the other hand, some people think that the king’s face looks too fierce and weird. And…look him in the eyes. Yes, they are made of different materials and they glow! This has been the major question discussed in relation to the monument. Some people find it attractive and interesting, some people find it creepy, and some people don’t even see it. I remember how hundreds of citizens of Sofia started coming by near the monument at night just to see whether his eyes glow. In my opinion, they do.
Who is Tsar Samuil?
Samuil was the last ruler of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. He inherited the throne during times of continuous wars and fights for territory. Bulgarian lands at this time included many territories that seemed attractive to the Byzantine Empire and other tribes and nations close to the Kingdom. Therefore, Bulgarian rulers struggled to defend their conquests all the time. Moreover, the majority of them had ambitions to expand the borders of Bulgaria, including even the Byzantine capital city. Tsar Samuil devoted his skills and efforts to defend the interests of the nation. He did not even hesitate to kill his own brother who was suspected in conspiracy against the Bulgarian Kingdom.
Samuil took the power alone in the year 997 when all peace treaties with the Byzantines had already been ended. All the efforts of the Emperor were put against the Bulgarians with the aim of conquering the Bulgarian Kingdom and destroying it. The beginning of the 11th century was marked by the progressive loss of territories by the Bulgarians. The Byzantines found allies and were gaining more and more power. The story has an unfortunate end for the Kingdom. In 1014 it was attacked and sieged by the army of the Byzantines. Many Bulgarians were killed and many were captured after this battle. Even Samuil could hardly escape and save his life. However, the Byzantine emperor was famous for his cruelty and anger towards the Bulgarians. He blinded all the captured Bulgarian soldiers (around 15,000). Only 1 out of every 100 was left one-eyed so that he can show the rest the way home. Tsar Samuil was still alive but when he saw his fighters he got a heart attack and died.
1000 years later we can see his new monument erected in Sofia. Despite all the arguments about its design and location, I am open-minded and find them appropriate. This is how the authors understand and interpret the power and the magnificence of the ruler. Regarding his eyes, I suggest that everybody decides for themselves. Whenever you walk nearby, just stop in front of it and see if you can notice the glow in his eyes. Creepy?
Photo: By Ttaanya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons