This intriguing, large-format map was printed for the Bulgarian government and specifically details the country’s international boundaries and its border patrol systems. It was printed in Sofia, in 1904, by the Cartographic Institute of Bulgaria, the official civilian map printing house, when the country’s government was trying to assert its authority during a tense period leading up to Bulgaria’s official declaration of independence (1908) and a series of major wars, from 1912 to 1918, which had a transformative impact upon the region.
The colourful and beautifully designed map embraces the entirely of Bulgaria, and while the locations of major cities and rivers are noted throughout the country, the coverage of the interior regions is intentionally sparing, as the focus of the map is on the nation’s frontiers. Bulgaria is shown bordered by four nations by land (or river), including Romania, Serbia, Greece and the Ottoman Empire, while it possessed a long coastline along the Black Sea.
During this period, smuggling contraband and arms was a major problem in Bulgaria, and the region generally, and this was posing a major drag upon the national economy and undermining domestic security. Smuggling was carried out by seasoned criminal gangs, as well as local amateurs, sometimes aided by corrupt customs officials. Border security was made more difficult by the fact that the frontier often crossed difficult terrain, such as rugged mountains and swampy river lands, which were difficult to patrol even in the best of circumstances. Government ministers in Sofia, as well as honest border guards, sought to clamp down on smuggling and corruption, usually with mixed results. The present map was intended to be a tool for them to execute what must have often been a thankless task.
The table of signs, in the lower-right corner, details the symbols used throughout the map. From top to bottom: the thick green lines delineate Bulgaria’s international boundaries; the thinner green lines note Bulgaria’s internal divisions, between its provinces; the Roman numerals mark the provinces; the Latin numbers dispersed along the international boundary (corresponding to different colours), denote different border patrol zones; the cross-chequered boxes topped with a flag mark the locations of border patrol district headquarters; the encircled red dots note major border patrol posts; while the red dots topped with a tick mark common border posts.
The present map appeared during a transformative period in Bulgaria’s history, and that of the entire Balkan region in general. Bulgaria had been during the medieval times an important Christian empire but was conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14th Century. For almost 500 years, Bulgaria remained a Turkish vassal, although a nationalist renaissance had been brewing since the 18th Century.
During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, Russia throttled the Ottomans, and made many demands upon Istanbul during the resulting Treaty of San Stefano (March 3, 1878). The Bulgarians were ancient ethnic brethren of the Russians, and Czar Alexander II demanded that Bulgaria be given its independence with expansive boundaries (including a coastline along the Aegean Sea). However, Britain and France rejected the notion of ‘Greater Bulgaria’, as they did not want a Russian client-state to possess direct access to the Mediterranean. Consequently, the Treaty of Berlin (July 3, 1878) dramatically reduced Bulgaria’s circumstances, yet fulfilled its basic dreams of nationhood. Bulgaria was to become a Kingdom, and while it was to remain a de jure part of the Ottoman Empire, it was to be, for all practical purposes, an independent state. Critically, the kingdom was to consist of only the western and northern parts of the today’s Bulgaria, while south-eastern Bulgaria, the so-called Territory of Eastern Rumelia, was to remain a semi-autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire. However, in 1885, Bulgaria seized the initiative, and in a virtually bloodless action, seized control over Eastern Rumelia, giving her the international boundaries that are shown on the present map (and which are essentially the same as today’s borders).
By 1904, when the present map was issued, Bulgaria had become even more self-confident in its ambitions. It declared its complete and official independence from the Ottoman Empire in
1908, and during the First Balkan War (1912-3), Bulgaria joined in alliance with Greece, Serbia and Montenegro to defeat the Ottomans. Bulgaria thus secured enlarged borders, including a coastline along the Aegean Sea. However, dissatisfied with its gains, Bulgaria, in 1913, during the Second Balkan War, turned against all its neighbours. This conflict did not go well for Bulgaria, and it lost all its gains from the year previous.
During World War I (1914-8), Bulgaria sided with the Central Powers, and for a time regained its extended boundaries, while its armies scored some impressive victories. However, in 1918, Bulgaria found itself on the losing side and was consequently reduced to the borders shown on the present map (which are essentially the same as those of today). Unfortunately for Bulgaria, it had fought three wars in close succession to only end up in the same place it started, and at a terrible cost in blood and treasure!
A Note on Rarity
The present map is extremely rare, and it seems that was published in only a very small print run, as the map was reserved exclusively for select official use. We have not been able to trace the whereabouts of any other examples, although surely at least a handful of examples can be found in Bulgarian institutions.