In the spring of 1869, under the guidance of teacher Simeon Podbalkanski, the leaders and teachers of Vratsa laid the foundation of the community centre in the Saint Ascension Church. Its official name was Bulgarian Community Centre of Vratsa. To meet the needs of out-of-school education, the local leaders fitted the centre with a library and started a Sunday school to spread literacy among people of all ages. The library and the reading room were inaugurated in 1869. A total 15,000 grosh were donated and used to purchase magazines, newspapers and 112 volumes of books.
We first read about the community centre in the Macedonia newspaper (issue 25 of 17th May 1869) edited by Petko Rachov Slaveykov.
The name was later changed to Progress (1871), then to the Success Society for Fellows of Education (1879) and finally to Development (1884), the last name reflecting the ambitions of the centre’s management and members of transforming it into a place of ‘moral and intellectual development’, with a sense of duty to the future generations.
In response to the increasing demand, the community centre gradually enlarged the scope of its activities. At the end of 1884, the people’s university was set up by Vasil Kanchov with the noble task of providing further education, which was continued in the decades to follow.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a young teacher named Vasil Ivanov put together the first theatre performance group. In 1932 the children’s theatre was created, followed by the Dramatic Theatre, which performed in the building until 1978.
The musical society formed in 1909 was a treat for the music fans. The symphony orchestra of 1931 was initially managed by Nikola Ivanov. In 1937, the musical school opened its doors. The State Philharmonic of Vratsa became the successor of the orchestra in the following years. The peak of the musical life was reached in 1953, when the Vratsa Amateur Opera was founded. It performed Traviata for the first time on 2nd May 1954. Then, for a period of 15 years, it entertained the local audience by staging 18 operas and operettas for adults and 2 children’s operettas. The mixed chorus Orpheus and Symphonietta Vratsa continue the fine traditions of the musical society to this day.
A committee of three led by engineer Vladimir Orozov opened the community centre cinema on 1st January 1924. The cinema was active until 1948 when it was nationalised. An archaeological society was also founded at the centre to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of Vratsa. The museum collection was inaugurated in 1941.
The children’s school of arts was created in December 1950 initially focusing on music, later on adding ballet and foreign languages to its portfolio.
1959 saw the creation of the folk song singing and dancing group Vratitsa. More than 600 amateur performers led by 30 creative directors made Vratsa famous throughout Europe, Asia and South America.
The wind band was created in 1962 as a successor of the fine traditions of the regional military bands and Diko Iliev. More than 120 musicians with 7 conductors were the delight of audiences in Bulgaria and in Europe.
The quartet Lotos was created in 1980, a much awarded retro urban songs group, which unfortunately stopped performing in 2015.
From the very beginning until today, the Development Community Centre has been the initiator of a number of activities turned into traditional festive days, such as the Days of Botev and the Ottoman Liberation Commemoration Day. The centre leaders were the first to give the idea of building a monument at Hristo Botev’s place of death, later erected at Peak Okoltchitsa.
Today, looking at the past fills us with pride and self-esteem, while our hopes for the future are nurtured by the achievements of the current library, Orpheus Chorus, the wind band, the children’s school of arts, Vratitsa.
The Vratsa musical society idea goes back to 1909, sparked by Anto Boyadzhiev, Nevena Boyadzhieva and Nikola Mankov. Finally all local music lovers would have their space in the community centre. The first elected chair of the new society, named Orpheus, was Metodi Mazhdrakov. Music life in Vratsa marked its heyday when the local Amateur Opera was created in 1953 at the initiative of Angel Angelov, Donagan Andreev, Petar Todorov, Zhana Novkirishka, Dimitar Shonev. A chorus of 60 was conducted by Ivan Yonchev.
The chorus was recognised as early as 1974 for the quality of its performance by being granted the representative chorus title. The laureate of a number of Republican Amateur Festivals, it is much beloved locally for its participation in concerts on various occasions (Easter, the Day of Slavic Culture and Literacy, Christmas) and co-performances with other choruses from Bulgaria and abroad.
The children’s school of music initially gave lessons in violin, accordion and piano in the community centre. The first director was Peko Todorov succeeded by Donagan Andreev, who initiated the preparation and drafting of the By-law on Children’s School Activities in Bulgaria. In 1957 the school offer expanded to teaching foreign languages and ballet.
In 1975/76 the schoolchildren playing an instrument started taking part in concerts with the symphony orchestra. In 1976 all school units merged in a children’s art school having on its staff a number of eminent teachers such as Lyubomir and Lilyana Kadiev, Svetoslav Mankov, Sinilga and Tsanko Bozaynikov, Lyudmil Braykov, Asen Gavrilov, Dimitar Spasov. Thanks to them more than 100 alumni found their professional vocation as symphony orchestra performers, musicologists, composers, teachers and conductors.
The wind band was created in 1962 by Dimitar (Didi) Asenov, one of the most talented students of Diko Iliev, and has attracted generations of community centre activists and music aficionados for more than 50 years. Over 120 musicians enthusiastically contributed to the development of the band, especially hard-working conductors Dimitar Panov, Petar Ganev, Venelin Georgiev, Miroslav Hafuzov, Stoyan Stoyanov. Since 2002 it has been led by the Prize of Vratsa awardee and honorary citizen Boycho Dimov. The 21 members provide for a well-balanced and complete band demonstrating a creative maturity with its rich and varied repertoire including baroque, classical music, romanticism, pop and dance music, jazz, movie soundtracks, Bulgarian and Balkan folklore music, including the eternal horo dances and marches of Diko Iliev. The open-air concerts in front of the centre in the spring and autumn are extremely popular.
The Vratitsa ensemble was founded in 1959 by three enthusiasts led by prominent Bulgarian choreographer Ivan Todorov. Its repertoire is based on the variety and riches of Bulgarian folklore from all regions of the country. It was awarded the title of representative ensemble for the first time in 1974 and last in 2011 by the International Council of Folklore Festivals Organizations.
More than 500 professionals and amateurs work and receive training in the centre. Among its recent awards are the Prize of Vratsa (2009) and Golden Book Badge (2011) by the European Scientific and Cultural Society for contributions to Bulgarian culture.
Generations of locals keep a fond memory of the Development Community Centre, which to this very day plays a pivotal role in the town’s spiritual advancement. This is a unique centre for art and culture, a forum for talents, a stimulator for contacts with literature and aesthetic pleasure, an unparallelled repository of the Bulgarian national traditions and spirit.