The Bulgarian community in Hungary

Bulgarians are one of the thirteen officially recognized nationalities of Hungary. The Bulgarians living here are usually identified with the Bulgarian gardeners, although their traders were also well represented. Until the middle of the last century, a metropolitan market was almost unthinkable without the presence of Bulgarian gardeners. In fact, they revolutionized our horticulture by laying the foundation stones for modern vegetable growing. This week, we pay tribute to the Bulgarian community living in Hungary.

Rulers of vegetable growing

KF_2007_96_2.jpgThe first Bulgarian settlers arrived in Hungary in the 15th century, fleeing from the Ottomans. Gardeners who came to work here after the Compromise were primarily attracted to Hungary by the economic recovery. They settled mainly in the area of the capital Budapest, Szeged and Miskolc. At first, the Bulgarians who appeared in Hungary went home every autumn, only later they brought their family members with them; and marriageable men chose their mates from their homeland for a long time. In fact, they lived an “amphibious” life. Bulgarian gardeners and migrant workers, mainly from the villages around Veliko Tarnovo, could not be assimilated, as they had a close relationship with their homeland. According to an article dated 1912, gardeners returned to Bulgaria at the end of the season as a significant proportion of young men were called to war. The year was not accidental either; it was the beginning of the first Balkan War.


But why could they play a decisive role in the Hungarian vegetable production for almost a hundred years with their activities? It is indisputable that this was based on an irrigation technique unknown to us. The essence of their gardening method was that the seedlings, forced to sprout in a high, manure-heated garden frame, were planted in a field densely furrowed with irrigation ditches, and the irrigation water was delivered there with the help of the Bulgarian wheel “doláp”. It is no wonder that Hungarian peasants, who grew vegetables without irrigation on their traditional vegetable-producing areas, could not compete with the high-quality products of gardeners.

They worked in work communities, ate, lived and worked together during the year. They were out in the fields all day and even took care of the garden frames all night. Then the profit was distributed according to a rate decided at the end of the season. Their vegetable-producing monopoly disappeared after the Balkan Wars and World War I, and by then Hungarians – who worked with them as seasonal labourers – had observed and developed further their method. This is how they developed for example the famous firstling growing districts in Szentes, Békés, Gyula and Hódmezővásárhely.

Bulgarian communities from Halásztelek to Ferencváros

Bulgarians in Hungary still live scattered in the country, from Halásztelek on Csepel Island, through Szigetszentmiklós to Pécs, but in large numbers near the capital. The Association of Bulgarians in Hungary (MBE) was founded in 1914 by Bulgarian gardeners living in Hungary. An interesting addition connected to Ferencváros is that Dimitar Dimitrov, the host of the association, handed over his apartment in Lónyay Street for the purposes of the association club. 1916 became another notable year for the Bulgarian minority - still in Lónyay Street -, the Bulgarian congregation was formed and their first Orthodox chapel was consecrated. As the chapel proved increasingly small for the growing community, the association began to urge the construction of a church. The plan was also supported by the capital. The courtesy was certainly related to the gesture of the Bulgarian government, because in 1925, a plot of land was provided in Sofia for the construction of the new Hungarian embassy. 


In 1930, Budapest donated a plot of land to the Bulgarians to achieve their goals. The designer of the church was the famous architect of the turn of the century, Aladár Árkay. Árkay designed a three-nave, Byzantine-style, domed house of worship, such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral built in Sofia in 1912. The Orthodox Church of St. Cyril and St. Methodius is related to the Bulgarian basilica primarily in its main façade and tower design, but not in it size.
The church was named after Cyril and Methodius, missionaries of Greek descent, who created the Glagolitic alphabet by writing liturgical texts translated from Greek into Slavonic. The main goal of the brothers, the creation of a separate Moravian church, could not be achieved. Nevertheless, their activities were decisive for Slavic culture, especially for writing. Owing to their Bible translation, Slavic-speaking believers were able to study the Bible as early as in the 9th century.



Returning to the construction, the foundation stone was laid on 24 May, 1931, and then construction was completed by the end of the year. The costs were covered entirely by the Bulgarians in Hungary. Seventy-thousand pengős were collected from their donations. Originally, not only the church but also a two-storey school building would have been built on the site, but this plan was not executed, due to the lack of resources and the architect's death.

The Bulgarian community started a fundraising again in 1953, with the goal of building their own house of culture. The institution was opened in 1957 and was complemented with a hotel in the 1970s. Perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that with the construction of the Orthodox Church – the westernmost gate of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – and the Bulgarian Cultural Centre built opposite the church, Central Ferencváros has become the cultural and spiritual centre of the Bulgarian minority. Of course, we must not forget about another important centre of the Bulgarian community, the Bosnyák Square market in Zugló; a group of statues was built there commemorating Bulgarian gardeners a few years ago. A real curiosity is the vegetable shop in Krisztinaváros, at 8 Mészáros Street, which was founded in 1935 and the inscription on its sign board is “vegetables and fruits vending place of Ruska Jordanova, the successor of Jordan Ivanov”. The shop was founded by Bulgarian gardener Jordan Ivanov, and was owned by the family until the 1970s. It has been operated by others since then, but due to its high-quality goods, its popularity is unbroken.

Nowadays, with the support of the Bulgarian and Hungarian governments, the Bulgarian House of Culture has been renovated. Another goal is to build a new Bulgarian educational and cultural centre on the empty plot next to the previously renovated Bulgarian Orthodox Church of St. Cyril and St. Methodius.

Translated by Zita Aknai



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