Romeo and Juliet from Ledenik village

The Tower of Shemshi Bey keeps the memory of a 17th century tragic story

The Tower of Shemshi Bey still stands tall in the west end of the Ledenik village.

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet from Verona. But hardly anyone knows about the Bulgarian tragic couple who, legend has it, lived in the 17th century in the village of Ledenik, situated some 2km west of Veliko Tarnovo on the north bank of the Yantra River.

The Tower of Shemshi Bey, an ancient building which still stands tall in the west end of the village, is connected to that legend. In the middle of the 17th century, Shemshi Bey inherited a piece of land in the area and decided to build himself a sumptuous home and live in the village.

According to the legend, his only son fell in love with a beautiful local girl named Neda, but her parents did not want her to marry a Turk. Worried about what might happen to their daughter, they turned to a local medicine-woman for help. She gave the girl some herbs that induced such a deep sleep that Neda looked like she was dead. When the rumour of Neda's death reached Shemshi Bey's son, he went straight to his beloved's home. At the sight of her lifeless body laid in a coffin, the young man pulled out a gun and shot himself in the heart.

Soon after that, Shemshi Bey arrived in Neda's house but instead of exacting revenge on her parents for the death of his son, he gave them money to pay for the girl's funeral and retreated to his seraglio to mourn the death of his child. That same evening Neda woke up, as the medicine-woman had promised, and fled to Veliko Tarnovo with her brother. But one of the villagers spotted them as they were leaving and told the rest of the people in the village that the girl had risen from the dead.

The rumour quickly reached Shemshi Bey and he ordered for the girl's grave to be opened. The coffin was found to be full of stones and the deception was revealed. In his wrath, the master had all of Neda's relatives slaughtered. When the girl's brother found out about his family's tragedy, he gathered a group of his loyal friends and headed back to Ledenik to seek revenge but could not find his former master who had moved to Veliko Tarnovo to escape the memory of his dead son. The legend says nothing about Neda's fate, but the Tower of Shemshi Bey stands tall to this day, keeping the story of what happened in the 17th century alive.

Today, the building functions as an ethnographic museum. There are two huge rooms on the ground floor which used to be wine-cellars and now display traditional costumes and instruments from the daily routines of the local people. The most impressive room on the second, residential, floor is the bedroom, which is preceded by a sitting room decorated in the typical Arab style where the Bey's wives spent a lot of their time. There is a bathroom next to the bedroom, which was rare for the houses of that time.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the tower are the miniature recesses in the wall - seven in total, resembling a raised glazed terrace with the floor arranged like a bed. From that spot, the masters used to watch the farmhands work in the yard or simply lounged to pass the time.

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