< Traditional Arts
Birds as a symbol
in the aprons of the Bulgarian women

Animalistic symbols encoded in the aprons of the Bulgarian women

Images of animals drawn in the caves were the first manifestation of artistic flair in the primitive human. The hunter started with sketching creatures with rough lines, which later, with the evolution of culture turned into stylized drawings of beautiful animals or the so-called animal ornaments.
In the textiles of the East and especially of the Byzantium Empire, animals and birds constitute a whole storyline that yield characters as on a stage. Usually it is a representation of animal hunt as a part of the story of the "sacred tree" with a pair of animals or birds on both sides.
The symbolic significance of animal ornamentation on textiles comes partly from the fact that for a long time the fabrics served as only suitable coating to preserve the relics, moved over from the holy lands.

Animal ornaments have been brought to the Bulgarian land from the northern and western shores of the Black Sea under the direct influence of the southern culture through trade and colonization. Thracian-Scythian animalistic decorative style formed in the Thracian period (10 cent. BC – 2 cent. AD). Later it was passed down the generations and survived for many centuries in the folk art. Due to the earlier extinct of the pure mythical-religious ideas and symbols, images of animals took decorative meaning; they were turned into decorative ornaments, which over the time were transferred in the fine embroidery.

In the scientific literature the existence of such ornaments is described to appear mostly at the front of male or female shirts and the in women's skirts. In the collection of the Ethnographic exposition in Burgas we have found and preserved several aprons richly decorated with animal / bird embroidery ornaments. The decorative representation of a cock dominates among them, preferred are colourful birds such as peacock, parrot and others. The symbols, even though faded in the peoples mind, are deeply encoded. Once the peacock was poultry in the country and was closely linked with people's beliefs and songs. The wide-open tail of the peacock has been considered the epitome of the whole starry sky and symbolized abundance, fertility, wisdom, immortality and wealth. Since the peacock breads rapidly all around the year, as well as the frequent moulting, it is considered a symbol of fertility and rebirth, a symbol of spring. Its feathers are used not only for decoration but also against witchcraft and evil eyes, although in some places because of the similarity of the peacock feather with an eye it is also believed that it has "bad" look and brings misfortune. Probably this is the reason why the peacock on the apron from the village of Zagortsi, Sredets is with closed tail. In a sense, symbolism overlaps with that of the rooster. His image, perceived as a symbol of the sun in the east was first used for decoration of fabrics around the 5 century in Egypt but as a birthplace of the rooster is considered India. In Persia it was believed to be the sacred bird of the sun god Mithra, represented as a white cock. In the complex system of mythical ideas of the sun, it existed as a day and night emanation, worshiping the white and black rooster with a red-orange feathers on the wings and tail. In this double meaning, as a sacred bird, the cock appeared in Greece during the Persian Wars, where from it was brought over to the Balkan Peninsula. The cock as a harbinger of sunrise is naturally to be perceived as a solar symbol. In addition to that, he was used as a "clock" and a wake-up alarm. In the Bulgarian folk beliefs the crowing rooster was said to have the power to chase away the evil spirits of the night - goblins, bogy, and various demons. The rooster is seen as a carrier of the male - potency and female - fertility. That is why it is an integral part of the traditional wedding ceremony. It is also presented in a number of rituals as a sacred animal - funerals, births, or as a sacrifice at the commencement of construction of a house or at its completion. So people still believe that house or hut without a rooster will be attacked by the evil spirits and then deserted. Where the rooster crows, there resides the good.

Another typical embroidery motif that is found throughout the skirts of women from Burgas region is the dove. Since ancient times, it is a symbol of the Mother Goddess, the female fertility and its ability to create life. With the adoption of Christianity the dove becomes a symbol of spiritual purity and sincerity. Most often it is embroidered above the Tree of Life or as a secondary motive for the Mother Goddess. Knowing that each motif has a special function and place in the clothing, it is not surprising that animal / bird motifs can be found on aprons. The apron is part of the women's traditional clothing and placed on the abdomen. Following the reasoning above these motifs generally symbolize feminine, relationship with the Mother Goddess, fertility and the birth of a new life.

Plamena Kirova
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