Professor Marazov, the exhibition Thracian Gold from Bulgaria. The Legends Come to Life is due to be opened in just three weeks. What legends have been revived in the exhibits?
This is a splendid cultural event. There is hardly another period that focuses interest in Bulgaria better than the cultural heritage of the Thracians. That heritage also belongs to us, Bulgarians. The actual gold has given rise to hundreds of myths: let us recall the Golden Touch of the Phrygian king Midas. Moreover, the countless precious objects found in the Bulgarian lands very often feature myths or epic legends. The concept of the exhibition in itself suggest the dramatism of the exhibits: visitors will become familiar with the Thracian heroes – warriors or priests, with the images of deities like Dionysos or the Kabeiroi, and of heroes like Orpheus. They will have the unique chance to take the path leading to immortality and they will be able to imagine the feasts of the Thracian dynasts.
How is the Thrace Foundation involved in this exhibition?
It became a good practice to include exhibits from private collections in national exhibitions. It is known that the Vassil Bojkov Collection is perhaps the richest in the world. It is already known to the citizens of Moscow from the exhibition that we organised at the Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow in 2009. Naturally, this exhibition contains also totally new works of the art of goldsmiths, e.g., a rhyton with the protome of a centaur. A total of 50 exhibits have been borrowed from the Collection, and I am convinced that they will evoke enormous interest. Visitors will see the images of Orpheus, of unknown Thracian heroes, and will encounter mythological figures from the tragedy The Wise Melanippe by Euripides, etc. More than twenty rhytons, as well as three kantharoi and three kylices – all of which made of silver with gilt – will travel to the Russian capital. Knowing the reviews of our first exhibition in Moscow, I have no doubts whatsoever that this exhibition will be highly successful as well.
There is no doubt that you will meet colleagues in Moscow and you will discuss common problems. Indeed, the Thracians and the Scythians were not only neighbours, they had shared beliefs as well?
I hope that this time there will be many discussions next to the actual exhibits in the showcases. The Catalogue also contains an article by two colleagues from the State Museum of History on Thracian monuments exhibited in their museum. This is a unique chance to contribute to the cultural interactions of the two nations. I have been working on these issues for a long time, and other Bulgarian researchers – notably A. Minchev and T. Shalgamova – also wrote excellent studies. Yes, indeed, there are many common features in both arts. Let us take as an example the so-called “animal style” featuring animals that are used not merely for decoration, but for conveying coded messages as well. Another example: the role of Greek artists and craftsmen. Many masterpieces of ancient toreutics have been found in Scythian and in Thracian tumuli. The ways in which the “barbarians” perceived them and the ways in which they deciphered the messages hidden in them have been among the topics for joint research for decades. I am interested in the poetry of Thracian art, but remarkable Russian scholars are working in that field as well. Yes, there is a lot to talk about with the colleagues. And who knows, maybe a new project will be born.
What is the state of the relations between Thracian studies in Bulgaria and Scythian studies?
Frankly speaking, the contacts are not at institutional level. The Russians preserved their research institutes and educational programmes, while we destroyed them. Don’t ask me why, the question ought to be addressed to the “smart guys” from the early years of the transition. It is a big problem now to obtain Russian academic literature. In our sphere this leads to ignorance, not to mention that young Bulgarians are no longer able to read books in Russian! Urgent measures are needed for the revival of Thracology – in the early 1970s we rapidly turned it into a real international academic discipline. And half a century later, we are hopelessly lagging behind!
The Thrace Foundation is sponsoring the MA programme Thrace and the Culture of the Ancient World at the New Bulgarian University, isn’t it?
Thank God that Mr Bojkov is interested in the prospects before our academic domain and he offered his financial assistance for covering the tuition fee. And now we have our first students, most of whom are encouragingly good. One of the students will probably opt for Ph.D. studies as well. We are working in very close contacts with the students. We help them with literature, with consultations on concrete issues, or with their term papers or dissertations. They became familiar with the original objects in the Collection. Therefore, let’s hope for a better future and that there would be people capable of assessing its academic value and of researching it. I think that if all goes well, around this time next year we shall publish a collection of studies by the MA students on various issues raised by the Collection.
Let’s go back to the exhibition in Moscow. What are your expectations for its role in enhancing the links with Russian culture?
The exhibition is an important step. I expect that the Minister of Culture will come for its opening and that the Russian minister will also be present next to his guest. The very fact that the exhibition is being organised in such an important museum – at 1, Red Square – demonstrates the attitude of the hosts and their appreciation of the exhibition’s importance. With the risk of being accused of being retrograde, I have never stopped claiming that Bulgarian culture is at a great disadvantage as a result of the severed links with Russian culture, and we are losing an incredibly erudite audience. I would like to emphasise again that restoring contacts is of prime importance to Thracology, especially in our sphere. We are showing the best of our heritage. Let us hope that Scythian treasures will pay a visit to the Thracian lands as well.