During the times of the Ottoman occupation, in the 17th to 18th centuries, there were a number of relocations of Bulgarians (both Catholic and Orthodox) to regions north of the Danube. Some relocated further west into the then Hapsburg Banat region, and some subsequently relocated again to modern Bulgaria.
During the following centuries the Bulgarians living in a few villages in Romanian and Serbian Banat have maintained their Bulgarian identity whilst those that returned to northern Bulgaria took with them elements of their specific Banat-Bulgarian identity in their costumes, customs, music and dance.
There are two locations of origin, two time periods and two histories of the Banat Bulgarians: the Catholics from the town of Chiprovitsi in north western Bulgaria, and the Catholics (previously Paulician/Pavlikeni) from the villages of north central Bulgaria, although these two histories have become intertwined.
Chiprovtsi Bulgarian Catholics
The area around Chiprovtsi (Chiprovtsi and the villages of Kopilovtsi, Zhelezna, Klisura and Kutlovitsa ) has been an ore mining region since antiquity. In the early 14th century Saxon miners arrived in the town and were granted special privileges. The miners adopted the Bulgarian language, but continued their Catholic religion. The town and some surrounding villages became a centre for trade with connections into the wider trading networks of the west Balkans and a centre for the Catholic faith (see also the local Chiprovtsi museum).
Following problems with their privileges during Ottoman times there was an unsuccessful uprising in 1688 against the Ottoman rulers. After the destruction of their town some 2000 Catholics moved across the Danube into southern Romania. They initially settled in Oltenia around the cities of Craiova, Râmnicu Vâlcea and Brădiceni with their rights endorsed by Constantin Brâncoveanu the Prince of Wallachia.
From 1690 some moved to south-western Transylvania (Vințu de Jos and Deva) receiving privileges such as civil rights and tax exemption from the Habsburg authorities. Vințu de Jos was a prominent town based on the salt trade dating back to before medieval times. The town and surroundings have a long history of multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition as various changes in ownership and waves of people arrived. In 1711 the Bulgarians formed a Bulgarian community and in 1726 a Franciscan monastery was built in Vințu de Jos. Subsequently many of the around 500 families of Bulgarians moved on to Sibiu, Deva and Banat (predominantly the village of Vinga) that was resettled by around 125 families of Bulgarians originating from Chiprovitsi in 1741. A Franciscan monastery was also built in Vinga that is currently the mayor’s office.
Catholic “Paulicians” from north Bulgaria
There were a number of Paulician villages (a Christian sect dating from the 7th century) in Bulgaria at the time of the start of the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 15th century. Some locations converted to Catholicism in the early 17th century, some people later converted to the Muslim faith.
Nicola Stanislavich, based at Craiova and the Catholic bishop of Nikopol, organised the passage of Catholics (around 300 families) between 1726 and 1730 from locations in northern Bulgaria to Oltenia (which was at that time under Habsburg rule), until the Ottoman rule blocked further passage. In Ramnic (Râmnicu Vâlcea) these Bulgarian “Paulician” arrivals built a new church, but following the Hapsburgs withdrawal from Oltenia in 1737 this was destroyed by an Ottoman invasion in 1738. Subsequently in 1741 a number of Bulgarian “Paulician” moved westwards from Râmnicu Vâlcea into villages on the Banat Plain within the Habsburg Empire including Stár Bišnov (Dudeştii Vechi) in 1738 and Theresiopolis (Vinga).
In the 19th century some of these Bulgarians also moved into other villages and towns in the Banat region and south of the Danube into Vojvodina.
The village of Cioplea (near Bucharest) was founded in 1812 under Russian protection and the bishop of Nikopol arranged for Bulgarian “Paulician” from northern Bulgaria to move there during the Russian-Ottoman war. In 1828, also during the Russian-Ottoman war, he negotiated in Bucharest for about 20 to 30 Catholic families from Beleni, Orash, and Tranchovitsa in northern Bulgaria to cross the Danube who founded the commune of Popesti Leordeni (near Bucharest).
After Bulgaria was liberated from the Turks in 1878 many of the Bulgarians living in the Banat region decided to return to north Bulgaria. They settled in the area around Pleven and Vratsa.
Main villages of Banat Bulgarians
Dating from the early 18th century there are a number of villages in the Banat region (at that time part of the Hapsburg Empire but now divided between Romania and Serbia) where these two groups of Bulgarian relocated. From the late 19th century there are a number of villages in central northern Bulgaria that were repopulated by some of the Chiprovitsi and Paulican Bulgarians following the Ottoman defeat.
Now in Romania
|Dudeștii Vechi -Stár Bišnov (formerly Beșenova Veche)||1738||The comuna of Dudeștii Vechi comprises three villages: Dudeștii-Vechi, Cheglevici and Colonia Bulgară. The village of Cheglevic was first mentioned in documents dating from around 1000, and by 1238 this area belonged to the citadel of Cenad. Dudeștii-Vechi (Stár Bišnov) was founded in 1738 and was inhabited by 3,200 Bulgarians. Dudeștii Vechi is the modern cultural centre of the Banat Bulgarians.|
|Vinga (formally Theresiopolis)||1741||The village of Vinga was first recorded in 1231. It was destroyed by the Turks around 1737 and was subsequently resettled by around 125 families of Bulgarians from Chiprovitsi in 1741. Vinga was given the status of town on 1st August 1744. After the First World War many of the Bulgarian families moved to the towns of Arad or Timișoara, and since the Second World War there has been more migration to the nearby towns, while others emigrated to the US so subsequently Vinga lost its town status.|
|Colonia Bulgară (formaly Telepa)||1845||Colonia Bulgară was first settled in 1845.|
|Sânnicolau Mare – Smikluš||Sânnicolau Mare became an administrative area in 1724, and was settled by Germans (Swabians), Banat Bulgarians, and Hungarians.|
|Breștea – Bréšca||1842||The village of Brestea was founded in 1842. It was inhabited by around 110 families of Bulgarians, who moved from the village of Dudești Vechi. Many returned to Bulgaria in the 1880s to found the village of Bardanski Geren in northern Bulgaria.|
|Denta – Denta||1842||The Ottomans withdrew from Denta in 1716, and the village came under the Austro-Hungarians. The first German (Swabian) colonists arrived in 1720, and the Banat Bulgarians in 1842.|
Now in Serbia
|Ivanovo||1867||Ivanovo was first settled by Banat Bulgarians (Paulicians), and fifteen years later by Germans and Hungarians (Székelys of Bukovina).|
|Konak (Kanak)||1820||No trace of Bulgarians nowadays|
|Jaša Tomić – Modoš||1779||Very few Bulgarians|
|Skorenovac (Gjurgevo)||1866||The majority of the original settlers were Székely Hungarians from Bucovina, but also some German families from Plandište and Pločice and Bulgarian families from Dudeştii Vechi.|
|Belo Blato||1883||Belo Blato was settled in 1883 by Slovak people from the village of Padina (in south Banat). Later Hungarian and Bulgarian settlers arrived in Belo Blato.|
Banat Bulgarians in Bulgaria
|Asenovo, Nikopol district||1892||The village of Asenovo (Nikopol district, Pleven region) was founded in 1892. It was settled by 203 households of Bulgarians who moved back to Bulgaria manly from the Banat village of Vinga, but also some from Dudești Vechi, Konak and Breștea. The houses they built were in the style typical of the Banat Plain (Guide-Bulgaria, 2006).|
|Dragomirovo, Svishtov Municipality||1878||The village of Dragomirovo (Svishtov Municipality) was founded in 1878. It was settled by 141 households of Catholoic Bulgarians from the village of Dudeștii Vechi and one from Breștea. They were joined by a further group of Catholic Bulgarians known as “Bucharesters” who moved from the villages of Cioplea and Popești-Leordeni close to Bucharest. The village was divided into three sectors called the “Banatian”, the “Bucharestian” (both Catholic) and the “Vlach” (Orthodox).|
Dolna Mitropolia Municipality
|1889||In the village of Gostilya (Dolna Mitropolia Municipality, Pleven district) 133 families were joined by several families of Banat Swabians|
Dolna Mitropolia Municipality
|1889||83 families settled in Bregare (Dolna Mitropolia Municipality, Pleven district)|
|Bardarski Geran, Byala Slatina muncipality||1887||The village of Bardarski Geran (municipality of Byala Slatina, Vratsa region) was founded in 1887. It was settled by 185 families who moved from the Banat village of Dudești Vechi. They were joined in 1893 by 7 families of Banat Swabians, then later by 83 more Swabian families.The Swabians left in the 1940s and their church was deserted (Bozhinov, 2018).|
|Voyvodovo, Mizia district||1900||The village of Voyvodovo (Mizia district, Vratsa region) was founded in 1900. It was settled by a mix of Banat Bulgarians, Banat Swabians, Slovaks and Evangelical Czechs. Following the First World War conditions in Bulgaria led to some of these people returning to Banat.|
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- Kalcsov, Constantin (2006) Catolicismul în Bulgaria. In: Ronkov, A, Parvan, M, Mirkovics, A & Kalcsov, C (eds.) Monografia Comunei Dudestii Vechi, Judetul Timis, pages 69–126.
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- Călin, Claudiu Sergiu & Oanța, Marius (2014) Nicola Stanislavich - Episcopde Nicopolis ad Hystrum și Eposcop de Cenad (1725-1739/1739-1750). Banatica, 24, pages 327–342.
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