For its 107 years of history, Stara Zagora Historical Museum has strengthened its positions as a prestigious, cultural and scientific institution not only within the city, but in the country and abroad, too. The beginning of the organised museum movement in Stara Zagora was established on 28th May/10th June 1907. On this day a group of patriotic citizens, public and cultural figures founded Augusta Trayana Archaeological Association.
Five years later, for a very short time period, a special premise was built, which was especially for the needs of the museum and the city library. In the following years the museum cause in Stara Zagora was based on sound theoretical and scientific principles. Archaeological excavations of tombs, mosaics, and fortified walls were carried out. At the same time there began activities of preservation and popularisation of the cultural valuables which revealed the diverse past of both the city and the region. The main driving forces of the development of the museum were its curators – Atanas Kozhuharov and Hristo Raykov. Due to their efforts, the discovered artefacts were correctly processed, conserved and preserved; the existing museum funds were expanded; the first scientific publications were written.
The museum attracted a variety of visitors contributing in that way for strengthening the position of Stara Zagora as an important cultural centre in South Bulgaria – a role that the museum has kept even nowadays. The museum was also an attraction for the royalties of the time – Tsaritsa Eleonora visited it in 1916. Many ministers, MPs, and renowned scientists from different European countries visited it, too.
After September 9th, 1944 and the volte-face in all aspects of public life in Bulgaria, the legislation concerning museums and their activities was changed. In 1949 the museum of Stara Zagora was nationalized and converted into a municipal museum, and in 1953 was transformed into District Historical Museum and is under direct administrative and organizational subordination of the City People's Council. The departments of Archaeology, Ethnography, Renaissance (nowadays - History of Bulgaria XV - XIX century), Capitalism and workers' revolutionary movement (nowadays New History) and socialist construction (nowadays Newest History) were established. Later, Archaeology was divided into several sections: Prehistory, Ancient Archaeology, Medieval Archaeology and Numismatics. In 1959 the museum was placed into a new building on 42 Ruski Blvd, where it remained until 1986.
There was displayed the permanent exhibition of the museum and temporary exhibitions were arranged. Systematic and rescue excavations of sites were carried out. Many of them - Azmashkata settlement mound, the Thracian villa next to Chatalka lake, the chalcolithic copper mines in Mechi kladenetz countryside, and many others – achieved international fame. As a result of these explorations, the Museum of Stara Zagora is in possession of the largest prehistoric collection in Europe, a rich collection of antique glass and antique bronze, valuable numismatic collection, a large amount of Thracian chariots and many others. There were started intensive explorations in the ancient city of Augusta Trayana. Through them significant parts of the fortress walls, streets, public and private buildings, many mosaics, necropolis and many others were found. As a result of these explorations, with Decree № 94 of the Council of Ministers, in September 27, 1977 (Official Gazette 82/1977) and the subsequent Regulation No14 (Official Gazette 43/1978), the territory of the ancient and medieval city of Augusta Trayana – Vereya, was declared an archaeological reserve.
From 1986 to 2007 the museum resides in the west wing of the Construction Technical High School (nowadays Professional High School of Construction, Architecture and Geodesy Lubor Bayer). In 1995 began the construction of the new museum building, designed by the architects Petko Kirjakov, Georgi Chernev and Nikolay Vutev. The building was constructed between 1995 and 2007. Architecturally and functionally, it is unique and adds colour and glamor in a modern style in the very center of Stara Zagora. According to Decree No 153/28 July 2000 of the Council of Ministers, the District Historical Museum - Stara Zagora was transformed into the Regional History Museum - Stara Zagora. In August-September 2007, the museum was relocated in the new special museum building on 43 Ruski Str. The permanent exhibition was opened on March 3, 2009. There the visitors are shown the most attractive cultural values, presenting the historical development of Stara Zagora from the early Neolithic (VII - VI millennium BC.) to the Resurrection in 1879 of the destructed city by the flames of the Russian -Turkish war.
Of a significant importance for the history of the museum history are the research and publishing activities. There are published hundreds of scientific press articles, museum publications, regional, national and international symposiums. There are issued anniversary newspapers devoted to notable anniversaries in the history of Stara Zagora and the region. In 1975 began the publication of the series Bulletins of the museums from South-East Bulgaria, and in 2002 – the Bulletin of the Stara Zagora Historical Museum. The museum initiated the creation of the rubric Our past, with printed materials on various regional topics. In its history, the museum has implemented nearly 150 various publications, including reference books, catalogues, brochures and other advertising and promotional materials. The Regional Museum of History - Stara Zagora works quite a long time on the programme The museum and the School together with educational institutions from the city. The museum arranged hundreds of temporary and visiting exhibitions in the city as well as in the country, during its rich history, on historical, archaeological, artistic and museology themes. The most attractive Stara Zagora movable cultural valuables are also shown abroad - in USA, USSR, Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic and others.
In the past as well as nowadays the museum maintains international relations with many museums, libraries, universities in France, Russia, Germany, UK, Romania, Austria, Macedonia, Greece, Hungary and others. Two of the directors of the museum, Dimitar Nikolov and Christo Buyukliev, are members of the International Organization of Museums, which is under the auspices of UNESCO. In 1984, the museum is hosting the prestigious scientific forum - VIII International Symposium on antique bronze with the participation of specialists from 30 countries.
Stara Zagora Museum participated in the publication of corpus of ancient mosaics and frescoes from Bulgaria in Vienna. The museum organized and co-organized international, national or regional scientific conferences, symposia, colloquia and roundtables. The last international conference was held in October 2012 on topic about 100 years of the Balkan Wars (retrospections and projections), dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the Balkan War in Stara Zagora. The museum participated in the preparation and development of the BBC documentary The Birth of Europe, dedicated to the unique prehistoric cultural heritage of Stara Zagora Region. In it there is demonstrated the technology for production of copper in V - IV millennium BC. The preserved in situ Neolithic dwellings from VI millennium BC are shown, as well as the prehistoric mound at the Regional Hospital.
The Regional Museum of History - Stara Zagora has about 100 000 units of movable cultural valuables from the Prehistory to modern times. Unique and of world significance are the following exhibits: Bone idol and a marble anthropomorphic figurine of V century BC.; helmet-mask, Sarmatian sword, golden necklace, lanterns, golden phial, glass phial with dancing woman, marble statuette group of Orpheus, votive tablet of the Thracian Horseman from the second century, glass container modulus, coins of Augusta Trayana, a stone slab of lioness with lion cub - Coat of Arms of Stara Zagora, copy of Paisius Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya from 1837, the seal of the Archaeological Society "Augusta Trayana" and others.
ithin the city of Stara Zagora there are several museum objects that are subordinate to the Regional Museum of History - Stara Zagora.
These are: Neolithic dwellings Museum, Museum of religions Architectural complex, Antique Forum Complex of Augusta Trayana – Beroe, Urban Life XIX century House – Museum, Stara Zagora Crafts at the end of XIX - beginning of XX century House-museum, Hilendar Cloister Museum object, Late antiquity mosaic of a private Roman home, IV century Museum object and others.
The diverse traditions in the museum work, the professional experience of the employees of the Regional Museum of History - Stara Zagora, the richness of museum funds and the existing museum objects in the city as well as the immovable cultural property, determine its leading role in the establishment of Stara Zagora as a major tourist centre - attractive target for Bulgarian and foreign visitors.
Angel Dinev, PhD