In collaboration with Lyuben Karavelov Regional Library
After the Liberation from Turkish rule Rousse became the biggest and most dynamically developing city with a population of over 25,000 people in the Principality of Bulgaria. The Danube provided easy access to Rousse from abroad which attracted not only foreign entrepreneurs whose businesses in the city thrived in the following decades, but also famous cultural figures who, along with many talented Bulgarian artists, created their masterpieces in Rousse. One of the greatest achievements this mutual cultural and artistic pursuit accomplished was the remarkable architecture because of which Rousse became known as The Small Vienna.
Though, unfortunately, the beauty of some of these incredible buildings is now neglected or, even worse, lost forever, the characteristic architectural techniques and the flair of the foreign and Bulgarian masters from that time are absolutely irrefutable. Some of the European most famous architects such as France Gyunanger, Nino Rossetti, Hermann Maier, Edward Winter, Janovic and many, many others showcased their genius in Rousse.
Today, however, our article is about a mysterious and self-taught architect who, although not born in Rousse, left his unique artistic fingerprint and absolutely unmistakable style that added up to the architectural splendour of the city. It is a pity indeed we know awfully little about Nigos Bedrosian. The materials for this article were kindly provided by the Regional Library in Rousse as I was not able to find a single detail about his life online. Not to waste more time, here’s what I found out in the newspaper articles the Library sent over to me…
Armenian Nigos Bedrosian came to Rousse from Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) two years after the Liberation – in 1880. In the city, he was happy to join the huge local Armenian community of about 1,000 people who, for centuries, had had their Orthodox church and had lived in rapport with the other religious and ethnic communities in Rousse. At the time of his arrival, Nigos Bedrosian had no professional qualification and began work as a regular builder at the city sewing system. He was known as Nigos the Apprentice.
In early 1893 the Municipality assigned to engineer Charles Guillon the making of a draft of a project for a city pier. To help achieve this purpose and according to the contract, the regional government had to provide for 60 borehole drillings – 30 on the shore and 30 in the river. It was believed that the only professional builder who ad the competency to handle the challenging task was Franz Brox. Both Charles Guillon and Franz Brox researched new possibilities for delivering drinking water because at the time it was acquired from the Batmish area located outside the city. Charles Guillon planned for a filtration system of the river water similar to the ones people had in Braila and Galati, while Brox looked for options in making artesian wells.
Given that the only potential candidate, Franz Brox, the Municipality did not announce a tender for the borehole drilling. His bid for the project, however, turned out to be higher than the planned BGN 15,000 from the state. The Municipal Council then held a meeting to discuss how to deal with this stalemate situation. During the meetup, one of its members suggested that besides Brox there was a Nigos Bedrosian who was also able to accomplish the project if the Municipality agreed to open a tender so that both Brox and Bedrosian could possibly take part in it. Even though at the tender Bedrosian was the only candidate, the Municipality approved his offer of BGN 12,000 for the same project duration of 3 months.
On April 12 at the session of the City Municipal Council, the Mayor of Rousse Mr. Peter Vinarov declared his support for issuing a document of professional qualification for Nigos Bedrosian on the basis of an application received by the latter. The practical skills and knowledge of the architect were supported by the testimonies of notable citizens whose houses he had designed and built. Nevertheless, the District Engineer transferred Bedrosian’s request to the Directorate of Public Buildings on the grounds that he was not familiar with the qualities of the builder. Eventually, after a public debate and backup from the Mayor, the Municipal Council fulfilled the request for professional qualification and issued a “license of professional competency to the citizen from Rousse, Nigos Bedrosian”.
In 1901 the architect left Rousse and no trace remained indicating his further fate. Nor do we have information about the exact number of buildings he designed and built during the two decades he spent in the city. Of them all, however, 14 are currently declared monuments of cultural heritage. Two of these 14 were built in 1895 and are proclaimed cultural heritage of national importance.
The first one is the commercial building of the brothers Ivanitsa and Stefan Simeonovi who were among the best-known bankers in Bulgaria at that time. They took part in the establishment of the first insurance company in the country with offices in London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Chicago. Now the building is a DSK Bank office, has been restored and its maintained beauty is absolutely dazzling.
The second one is the house that belonged to one of the brothers Simeonovi, Ivanitsa. Currently, it is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Nikopol. It is situated in a large courtyard, its main entrance represents a terrace with a stone staircase and appears to be in a very good condition.
Ever since its construction, one of Bedrosian’s houses has been associated with an urban legend. Mariam Bedrosian’s house was built in 1897 as a wedding gift from Nigos to his beloved one, Mariam.
It is alleged that in the construction of the building the architect invested all the money he had earned two years before from the brothers Simeonovi for building their bank. Until their departure from the city in 1901, the Bedrosians lived in this house. After that it became a Turkish consulate, later a private clinic, a hat factory, and in 1948 – a student dormitory. In 1977 the house was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1989 it was scorched by a fire which only left its façade surviving. Then it was permanently abandoned for a long time until a few years ago when the owners of Darik Radio bought and restored it, and brought its elegance back to life.
Nigos Bedrosian designed and built the house of the Kouyoumdjian family whose son, Dikran Kouyoumdjian, later settled in America and became a world-famous writer under his American name Michael Arlen. Read more about him on https://insiderguide.me/en/blog/2016/06/04/michael-arlen-en/.
Among the masterpieces of Nigos Bedrosian is the Policar-Canetti Merchant House. It belonged to the Canettis – the family of the first and so far the only Nobel laureate of Bulgarian origin, Elias Canetti. Read more about him on https://insiderguide.me/en/blog/2016/06/11/elias-canetti-en/.
1. Newspaper articles by Hachik Lebikian, provided by Lyuben Karavelov Regional Library in Rousse.
2. Manager Magazine
3. Buildings – the European Cultural Heritage of Rousse (in print)
Disclaimer: The photos in the article are not owned by this website.