chapter 1

INTRODUCING WORDS

In memory of my parents,
to whom I owe the best in myself

Usually, people in our post-war generation often feel sorry for the „good old days“. But, in fact, behind their nostalgia lies uncluttered rapt thoughts about the „good young days“. In this context of thought, the famous Spanish philosopher and writer Miguel de Unamuno makes an impressive judgment: „I return to you, my childhood as Antey returns to the ground to find his strength again.“ When I read this book, the heads of my neighbours from Batalova Vodenitsa will inevitably sound the voices of dozens of people who are no longer among us. An exciting impulse, because memories always accompany our lives and never fade away. This is why I dedicate this reading to my childhood friends, and to all those who, in one way or another, are connected to „Batalova Vodenitsa“ neighbourhood. Because we should not forget the twilight years in which we grew up and spent our happiest days on the streets and courtyards of the neighborhood.
The tradition of describing the history of Sofia and of the different areas of the capital has existed for decades. In most cases, the authors of the publications are contemporaries of the events and issue them in the form of memoirs. Others present separate parts of the life of old Sofia citizens. Typically, the subject of their research is the central part of the metropolitan city or prestigious neighborhoods. Somehow, although not on purpose, the poorer hamlets in which the famous politicians, public figures, military and cultural figures did not live stay aside. But even then, the greatest attention is paid to „Yuchbunar“ („Three wells“) and „Konyovitsa“. And that’s understandable. They arise immediately after the Liberation and are closely related to the shaping of Sofia as a capital city. „Batalova Vodenitsa“ is briefly mentioned or not at all. For this reason, the research is insignificant and unfortunately its history is not well known.
This state of affairs made me ambitious and I took up the modest task of tracing the separation, the historical development, the social and living peculiarities of the neighborhood in its more than half-century existence. My wish has its emotionally justified justification. I was born in „Batalova Vodenitsa“. Here I spent my childhood and teenage years. The neighbourhood connects me with dear memories – friendly and sentimental. I had the opportunity to live in joy and woes with interesting and original people. Together we breathed the atmosphere of the neighborhood. My memory is forever reserved for them.
How was the idea of the book born? We often gathered old friends from the neighborhood into the beautiful „Borsalino“ Pub. It is located just next to the 67th elementary school and only a few meters away from the school fence and the experimental field where we all made our first work steps. We drank the grape rakia, accompanied with delicious appetizers, and gave ourselves to old memories. Once, it was in the summer of 2015, someone threw the question if there was someone to write the story of the neighborhood. Explaining the looks of everyone turned to the General – as they have been called me since childhood, because I am a professional historian and I am still working at the Regional History Museum – Sofia. At first I responded evasively without making a final commitment. Two weeks later a new meeting followed. Two of our companions, who have been emigrants for more than 40 years in the United States, were present there. They were impressed by the idea and urged me to restore the historical past of Batalova Vodenitsa. They even offered financial support for the publication of the book, which I proudly dismissed. In that situation, I could not pull myself and refuse, and the idea was more obsessive to me. I had no choice but to deal with this difficult mission, for which I was treated from my friends.
Our next occupation was to invent the title of the book. There were a lot of ideas, but none of us liked it. The pub owner listened carefully and silently responded. He left the saloon for a while and walked behind the bar to change the music. The popular song of the famous Serbian performer Shaban Shaulic, „Lepi dani mog dětinstva“, translated into „The Good Days of My Childhood“, sounded in the next moment. There is a touching refrain in it: „Malo hleba ali gladan ni sam ostalo“ („Little bread but hungry I have not stayed“). We liked the name of the song, but we decided to paraphrase it. This is how we came to the final text „The Happy Days of Our Childhood“.
In the book, I try to reveal various aspects of the history of „Batalova Vodenitsa“ in a multilayered and systematic manner, to present its diverse social and multiethnic characteristics. The saved sources are not much and somewhere in the writing you may find missing or disproportionate. In many places, the narrative logically goes beyond the narrow boundaries of the particular subject, affecting objects and events from the neighboring capital districts and the general demographic, economic and cultural development of Sofia. The facts and details are derived from a variety of sources. Among them are the archive documents from the Central State Archives and the State Archives – Sofia, nove-biographies and memories, encyclopedic reference books, periodical press data, etc. I also include dozens of photos that give an even better visual impression of time and events.
The emergence of the manuscript would not have been possible without the invaluable support of the old neighbour mates. With their stories they brought extra shades and provided me with a variety of pictorial material. Thus complemented the information about the neighborhood’s past. The book is a historical study and, in general, the writer of these lines remains faithful to the professional historian’s scientific approach. But since I’m emotionally connected to „Batalova Vodenitsa“, I have added personal memories and impressions in it. I hope it does not sound like bragging, but I am alured to think that by writing of this modest book I contribute to the preservation of the neighborhood memory and to the satisfaction of the curiosity of the other living neighbours and their heirs. The author’s cherished desire is to be welcomed by both the old generation and the young people who are interested in the history of Sofia.

Dr. Alexander Mirkov – The GENERAL

CHAPTER ONE

DEFINITION AND EXTENSION OF „BATALOVA VODENITSA“

The defeat of Bulgaria in the First World War led to the second national catastrophe. With the signing of the Neuilly-sur-Seine Peace Treaty (27 November 1919), significant territories with predominantly Bulgarian population were joined to the neighboring countries. Our national desires are collapsing, and the possibilities for unification of the nation are wasted. Hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians from Dobrudja, Thrace, Macedonia and the Western outskirts leave their homes and head to the borders of „Mother Bulgaria“. Our country is flooded with a refugee wave that has not yet been known. Most of our compatriots are right heading to the capital. Here they expect to realize their hope of shelter and livelihood. Along with them many settlers from other regions of Bulgaria arrive in the town. They are all pushed by the instinctive pursuit of a prosperous life. And the perspectives offered by Sofia convince them of their final resettlement.
All this leads to a huge demographic boom. The statistics are indicative in this respect. From the censuses it is clear that in 1910 the city had 102 812 inhabitants, in 1920 they were already 154 025, in 1926 – 213 002, in 1934 – 287 095. After World War I there were years in which the population of the capital increased by 9000-10 000. In fact, those born in it are only 31,5%. The rapid demographic growth also provoked a territorial expansion of Sofia. By 1912, the city’s territory was nearly 9 square kilometers, and in 1927 it increased to 28 sq. Km. The construction area of the capital is expanding. In 1926 it was 24,9 square kilometers, 1934. – 29,9 sq. Km, and in 1939 together with the connected villages is already about 45 sq. Km. From 1919 to 1926, 19 other suburban neighborhoods, including „Batalova Vodenitsa“, were built.
The extraordinary expansion of the city sharply changed its face and appearance. Even large cities in Central and Western Europe can not compare to our capital by the above indicators. The popular Shoppe phrase „There is nothing larger than Sofia“ acquires a contemporary sound. Here is what a contemporary states on this occasion: „There is nothing left of the building boundaries of Sofia. Levels and meadows just around the city were bought and parceled … It has expanded in all directions. „There occures the particular social category of the homeless, which has seized the municipal parcels and erected barracks. New quarters – „Dolni and Gorni Lozenets“, „Ivan Vazov“, „Banishora“, „Kriva reka“, „Hipodruma“, „Dobrudzhanski“ and others are constantly growing. They are without any system and planning and cause many problems related to the plotting, the public works, the street network and others. This forces the Sofia Municipality to adopt a series of regulatory plans for the utilization of the new terrains. Among them is „Batalova Vodenitsa“, which has the advantage that it is not very distant from the central parts of the city.
First of all, where does the name of the neighborhood come from. It appears freely and is related to the personality of Dobri Batolov (in some documentary sources his family name is also written as Batalov). He was born in 1847 in Sopot. He belonged to that generation of Bulgarians, for whom the education is a cult, and national ideals – a goal in life. In close relation with the characters of the April uprising Georgi Benkovski and Todor Kableshkov. He occupied an appropriate place in the local fur coat craft. After the Liberation, he was summoned to Sofia by his party boss Petko Karavelov and took part in the construction of the new administration. In 1890 he left the civil service and became a lawyer. Then a new metamorphosis emerged in the life of Batolov and he devoted himself to the trade and construction of mills. Among the initiators was the formation of the Bulgarian Economic Society (1894). He died on 21 September 1925 in Sofia.
Even before the Liberation from the Vladayska River, a mill was drained under the „Lagera“ area. It passes through the future „Batalova Vodenitsa“ neighborhood, then through the modern square „Vazrazhdane“ and on „Dragoman“ street (now „Stefan Stambolov“ boulevard), it flows again into the river over the „Lion Bridge“. On this drain worked some dozen mills, most of which were owned by the Batolov family. Around them were only meadows, gardens and swamps. Under the 1910 urban plan of Sofia, they were alienated and destroyed. The riverside has been removed and the water was taken to its bed. The stream dried up and the swamps were drained. In the mid-1930s there were remains of only two mills on the street „Neznainiyat Voin“ opposite the newly built „Vassil Drumev“ School and „Batalova Vodenitsa“ Str. They served as homes for poor families.
The first houses appeared in the region during the Balkan and Inter-alliance War (1912-1913), but they are rare. They are one-storey with a typical residential character. The terrain is not very attractive, but the settlement in the neighborhood has grown considerably since the end of the First World War and the number of its inhabitants has increased rapidly. The newly settled are mainly refugees from Macedonia and the Western outskirts, as well as poor peasants from Tran and Northern Bulgaria. The area is not regulated yet, and it is common practice for the homeless to seize deserted places. In most cases it is built without permissions and plans. For 24 hour, they builт small frame-built wooden houses covered fast with whatever they had and the family fall into the new dwelling. In the beginning, the settlers in Batalova Vodenitsa have no lighting, water and sanitation but have a roof over their heads. From now on there will be long administrative trips to the legalization of the new home. Ultimately, most often, the Cadastre Department Committee signs contracts for sale or rent for a very long term.
The most accurate idea of how to settle and shape the neighborhood give us the minutes of the meetings of the Sofia Municipal Council. At the beginning, „Batalova Vodenitsa“ is still mentioned as an area. In January 1919, residents living there asked the municipal authorities to make their way to their houses. It is clear from the facts that ten years ago they bought the places and built homes. Then there was a road link to these properties. During the First World War it was interrupted by the the military authorities. The Ministry of War issued an order to destroy the municipal meadows that lie between the „Batalova Vodenitsa“ and „Vazrazhdane“ Square, and in their place to create vegetable gardens. In this regard, the inhabitants of the forming district insist before the mayor, Dr. Georgi Kalinkov, to order the military units and the private persons who have hired to develop the municipal meadow to free up a place for the road to the neighborhood. According to the mayor’s oral order, specialists carry out the necessary investigation of the terrain in the „Gerena“ area. They find that the vegetables produced there largely alleviate the supply of the capital. The Mayor’s final opinion is to leave the petition uninterrupted. Alternatively, it is proposed to run a road along the Vladayska river.

Even before the Liberation from the Vladayska River, a mill was drained under the „Lagera“ area. It passes through the future „Batalova Vodenitsa“ neighborhood, then through the modern square „Vazrazhdane“ and on „Dragoman“ street (now „Stefan Stambolov“ boulevard), it flows again into the river over the „Lion Bridge“. On this drain worked some dozen mills, most of which were owned by the Batolov family. Around them were only meadows, gardens and swamps. Under the 1910 urban plan of Sofia, they were alienated and destroyed. The riverside has been removed and the water was taken to its bed. The stream dried up and the swamps were drained. In the mid-1930s there were remains of only two mills on the street „Neznainiyat Voin“ opposite the newly built „Vassil Drumev“ School and „Batalova Vodenitsa“ Str. They served as homes for poor families.
The first houses appeared in the region during the Balkan and Inter-alliance War (1912-1913), but they are rare. They are one-storey with a typical residential character. The terrain is not very attractive, but the settlement in the neighborhood has grown considerably since the end of the First World War and the number of its inhabitants has increased rapidly. The newly settled are mainly refugees from Macedonia and the Western outskirts, as well as poor peasants from Tran and Northern Bulgaria. The area is not regulated yet, and it is common practice for the homeless to seize deserted places. In most cases it is built without permissions and plans. For 24 hour, they builт small frame-built wooden houses covered fast with whatever they had and the family fall into the new dwelling. In the beginning, the settlers in Batalova Vodenitsa have no lighting, water and sanitation but have a roof over their heads. From now on there will be long administrative trips to the legalization of the new home. Ultimately, most often, the Cadastre Department Committee signs contracts for sale or rent for a very long term.
The most accurate idea of how to settle and shape the neighborhood give us the minutes of the meetings of the Sofia Municipal Council. At the beginning, „Batalova Vodenitsa“ is still mentioned as an area. In January 1919, residents living there asked the municipal authorities to make their way to their houses. It is clear from the facts that ten years ago they bought the places and built homes. Then there was a road link to these properties. During the First World War it was interrupted by the the military authorities. The Ministry of War issued an order to destroy the municipal meadows that lie between the „Batalova Vodenitsa“ and „Vazrazhdane“ Square, and in their place to create vegetable gardens. In this regard, the inhabitants of the forming district insist before the mayor, Dr. Georgi Kalinkov, to order the military units and the private persons who have hired to develop the municipal meadow to free up a place for the road to the neighborhood. According to the mayor’s oral order, specialists carry out the necessary investigation of the terrain in the „Gerena“ area. They find that the vegetables produced there largely alleviate the supply of the capital. The Mayor’s final opinion is to leave the petition uninterrupted. Alternatively, it is proposed to run a road along the Vladayska river.

After the crossing of the Vladaya River and „Konstantin Velichkov“ Blvd. enters the neighboring district of „Razsadnika“. It is very popular among the shoemakers for several reasons. Here is the church „St. Apostles Peter and Paul „. The construction of the temple began in 1929. The main stone is laid by Sofia’s Metropolitan Stefan, the Prime Minister Andrei Lyapchev, Atanas Burov, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Attorney, and Sofia Mayor General Vladimir Vazov. The church was sanctified on April 1, 1934. Until then, the worship services took place in a small chapel with the same name. The congregation of „Batalova Vodenitsa“ regularly visit the temple on various occasions and during religious holidays. They are also attracted by the 57 sports school „St. Naum Ohridski „, around which there is a football field and a playground. However, this will be discussed later. In „Razsadnika“ there is also one of the „sights“ of Sofia – „Tatarli“ Street. It is inhabited exclusively by gypsies. It is difficult to determine their number, which in the years ranges from 700 to 1200 people. By the middle of the 20th century, there are attractive pubs that attract the inhabitants of „Batalova Vodenitsa“. In the 1980s, a project was launched to liquidate the Gypsy neighborhood and to build its place at the largest sports hall in Sofia. The fall of Todor Zhivkov from power and the end of socialism frustrate the realization of this idea. And nowadays, „Tatarli“‘s Roma population continue their existence in a closed community with their inherent lifestyle and culture.
To the south and east „Batalova Vodenitsa“ is limited by the Sofia Ring Railway Road. Its construction is closely related to the expansion of the capital and the transport needs of the army. Its main purpose is to facilitate the capital’s population in the transport of goods and passengers. That is why, in the far 1908, a project was launched to set up a railway to travel around the city. The issue is urgently raised by the military authorities, who want to link the Army Arsenal, the Bomb Burials and the Fortress Battalion with a railway network. The part of the line linking these three sites was completed in 1911. During the Balkan and Inter-Allied War, the construction of the Pioneer Barracks and the Engineering Workshop with deviations for Perlovets (Railway School), Alexandrovska and Divisional Hospitals continued. These sections were opened for operation on November 11, 1915. During the First World War, measures were taken to build a second part of the ring road between „Zaharna Fabrika“ Station and the Pioneer Barracks. The construction was carried out in the difficult post-war years of the country, and the section was officially launched in November 1930. It reaches almost to the center of Sofia close to „Kniaginia Clementina“ Blvd. (today Alexander Stamboliiski Blvd.).
At the same time and in the following years, new sections of the Sofia Ring Road were built, of which the most important part of the Poduene railway station was acquired through „Slatina“ to the „Seminary“ station with a length of 7460 meters. Unfortunately, the individual sections remain unconnected. It forms an irregular circle around Sofia with a total length of 33 710 meters and is mainly used for the transport of goods and on a limited scale of passengers. There are 12 stations on it. Although unfinished, the line played an important role in supplying the capital with raw materials, fuels and food and serving the citizens. Virtually all construction materials for the construction of Sofia are delivered through the points of the ring railway. Wood and charcoal, cement and lime, timber, grain and fodder, ballast, stones and bricks, coal and coke, iron and metal products, vegetables and fruits, etc., are most often used. Meanwhile, there are also loaded and transported by train to the production of a number of companies. After the Second World War, the ring road was used for busy transport activities related to Sofia’s rebuilding from the bombings. In the coming decades, with the incredible expansion of the city, its functions also change. New residential areas and industrial plants grew there. From a circle around the capital, it is located deep within the city itself and loses its most important purpose – serving the individual city districts. That is why, since 1964, it began to phase out its exploitation and later to remove the railways.
In the history of „Batalova Vodenitsa“, the branch of the ring road from „Zaharna Fabrika“ Station to „Serdika Station“ is a definite place. It has a total length of 5,200 meters, of which about a third travel around the neighborhood. Previously, it passed the neighborhoods of „Gevgeliyski“, „Zapaden Park“, „Ilinden“, „Krasna Polyana“. Close to the „Septemvri“ Stadium there is a diversion to the „Zemlyane“ thermal power plant and the former six-stroke factory. The line crosses the „Vladaya“ River along an iron bridge under the „Lagera“ neighborhood and is close to „Batalova Vodenitsa“. Immediately after the non-existent „September 9th“ Oblivion plant there is a new deviation, which goes past the Military Engineering Workshop (later the factory „12“ and Sredets), under the road Sofia – Knyazhevo and ends at the Brickworks Factory (South Park). Today along this route is the new Sofia boulevard „Acad. Ivan Evstratiev Geshov“. The line connects to the industrial enterprises of „Batalova Vodenitsa“ and ends at the „Serdika“ freight station under the former bridge on „Opalchenska“ Str. It is closest to the central part of Sofia compared to all other Sofia stations. Nowadays, most of the rails are preserved, overgrown in grass and weeds. When one of the old mates walks on them, pleasant memories of the exciting days of cour hildhood invade his head.
The only neighborhood with which the „Batalova Vodenitsa“ is actually bordered is the „Jewish heather“. It was also formed after the wars (1912-1918) in the low and unattractive place between „Serdika“ Station, „Princess Clementina“ Blvd. and the Vladaya River. It mainly houses clerks and craftsmen. Among them are many Jews. Here are the buildings of the Municipal Technical Workshop and the Municipal Department „Cleanness“. What is the street that divides „Batalova Vodenitsa“ and „Jewish heather“? Some specialists mention „Kamen Andreev“. But I think this is „Parteniy Nishavsky“. Perhaps the real boundary is somewhere between them.
This is how the „Batalova Vodenitsa“ was created and grew. It was a quarter of Sofia’s poverty. The poorness is noticed everywhere – from the simple houses built, through the modest clothes of the people to the cheap and scarce food that is consumed. The rural element is predominant in the countryside and the appearance of the neighborhood. But gradually, under the influence of the city center, its inhabitants rebuilt themselves and began to copy Old-Sofia people in their behavior, dress and speech. Many household, social and health problems have arisen since the beginning. But in the following decades, the suburbanists with perseverance and diligence struggled to solve them by seeking the help of state and municipal institutions. Despite serious misfortunes, they lived together and cohesive with their own distinctive spirit and color. They strictly adhered to the accepted human rules of cohabitation, help in the construction of housing, if necessary, and illnesses.
„Batalova Vodenitsa“ was a quarter of Sofia’s poverty. The poorness is noticed everywhere – from the simple houses built, through the modest clothes of the people to the cheap and scarce food that is consumed. The rural element is predominant in the countryside and the appearance of the neighborhood. But gradually, under the influence of the city center, its inhabitants rebuilt themselves and began to copy Old-Sofia people in their behavior, dress and speech. Many household, social and health problems have arisen since the beginning. But in the following decades, the suburbanists with perseverance and diligence struggled to solve them by seeking the help of state and municipal institutions. Despite serious misfortunes, they lived together and cohesive with their own distinctive spirit and color. They strictly adhered to the accepted human rules of cohabitation, help in the construction of housing, if necessary, and illnesses.