Mirëseardhje! Si e ke emrin? Nga jeni? (Welcome! What is your name? Where are you from? – from Albanian) – this is how the kind old women sitting in the pub of the Ivaylovgrad village of Mandritsa would greet you. With this Albanian dialect, which has remained in the local dialect since the beginning of the 17th century, they speak to every newcomer. With them is Ivanka Petrova, a bartender in the pub, who has been talking to her regular customers for years, and here and there a misguided tourist comes to see the only Albanian village in Bulgaria, to diversify her daily life.
The restaurant is full of old photos of local people who have been photographed in their backyards, mounted on carts, some are immortalized in costumes, and others carry baskets of beetle seeds – once a traditional livelihood of the villagers. The only Albanian village in Bulgaria has a rich history. According to some sources, the first settlers came here before the fall of Constantinople. The history of the village is described in a book by the former railway inspector Apostolos A. Maikidis. In it, he writes that the village was founded in the middle of the 16th century by Greek Orthodox Christians who, in addition to the Hellenic language, also spoke “Arvanitika” – an Arnaut dialect based on Albanian-Latin, which was preserved until their exile in 1913. Although the history is not definite on this issue, most sources point to 1636 as the year the village was founded. It is proved by an inscription on a stone near the cemetery church “Holy Sunday”. According to an ancient legend, the name of the village comes from three Albanian Christian brothers from Northern Epirus, who were “mandradjii” (dairy people). They agreed to supply the army of the Turks with food, and for each slaughtered sheep received one gold coin.
Bey decided to give them land in gratitude. In addition, they issued a decree by which the sultan exempted the future village from taxes and settlement with Turks. This is how the village is believed to have originated. A year later, the brothers returned to their native places to take their families with them to settle in Mandritsa. It is believed that the main part of the Albanian population who settled in Mandritsa is from the area of Korca and Suli. It is interesting that the locals kept the Suliot costumes until the end of the 19th century, when the skirt was replaced by Thracian poturi. No changes were made to the Albanian women’s costume until the mass emigration to Greece in 1913.
The Constantinople edition “Ethnography of the Provinces of Adrianople, Monastir and Thessaloniki” shows that in 1873 there were 250 households and 1,080 Albanian men in Mandaritsa. However, Turkish records from 1908 show that 3,500 people lived in the village. At that time, Mandritsa was quite well developed in terms of infrastructure. There was a boys’ and women’s school, a kindergarten, a gynecological clinic, a cooper’s shop, a paint shop, stills for brandy and mastic, 4 mills, 22 sesame oil grinders, a brick mill, a bell foundry, manufactories for carbonated drinks, weapons and cars, including At the same time, 20 manufactories for the production of beetle seeds, intended mainly for the foreign market, were located on the territory around the village.
But in 1913, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of White Sea Thrace were forced to leave their native places. This includes the population of the village of Mandritsa. Only 40 families remain, and the rest have been exiled and deported to Greece. The former 480 families from the village were scattered, 100 of them settled in the village of Hambarkoy, which was later renamed “Mandres” in honor of “Mandritsa”. Another 60 moved to Sedes (Termi), 47 to Suroti, 60 to Zagliveri, 50 to Mushteni, Kavalsko and Osmanitsa (Kalos Agros), Dramsko, 32 people from a total of 8 families were moved to Sana’a, Halkidiki, 6 families to Urli (Turio), Dimotishko, and all the others in Soflu (Soufli), Bashklis (Protoclisis) and Karaklis (Mavroklisi) in Western Thrace.
Bulgarian authorities are accommodating refugees from Macedonia and Thrace in Mandritsa. During the Greek army’s attacks on Western Thrace in 1919, most of the displaced Mandridians returned to the Dimotika area because they thought their village would enter the Greek borders, but due to changes in the Treaty of Neuilly, it remained Bulgarian territory. Then the inhabitants decided to move to Macedonia. Despite the division, their heirs, second, third and fourth generation decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the division of the village. Thus, the meeting took place on October 12, 2013 with a solemn liturgy and a program of amateur groups. Then everyone goes to the local cemetery church “Saint Nedelya”.
One of the oldest churches in the Eastern Rhodopes, dating from 1708, is located in the area. It is interesting that the crafts of the deceased are painted on the tombstones. With sadness in their hearts, most locals remember the time when Mandritsa flourished, the times when sesame was grown here and tahini, tobacco and beetle seeds were produced. Architecturally, most houses are suitable for breeding silkworms. They have three floors, the first level is for raising livestock, the second for breeding beetles, and the third floor is suitable for people. Nowadays, Mandritsa quietly goes out by the border. Most of the houses are half-destroyed, and the locals are few and far between. But even though the place is not overflowing with life, efforts are being made to preserve its history.
Locals say that the Albanian dialect is still spoken by the older inhabitants of the village and it has even been suggested that a phrasebook with the specific dialect of the village be issued. Another interesting incident from the already slightly distant 2004 are the shooting of the Bulgarian film “Mila from Mars”. They are carried out on the territory of Mandritsa and the neighboring Matochina and Siv Kladenets.