The little palace of Angelo Kuyumdjiyski

Splendid salons with delicate carvings and marble fireplaces, a portrait of Leander Lege along with the mysterious story of Angelo Kuyumdjiyski – we can find all this at the residence of the Ambassador of France on 27 Oborishte Street. Thanks to the hospitality of Her Excellency Ambassador Florence Robine and the kind reception of Embassy of France in Bulgaria we have the opportunity to visit one of Sofia most aristocratic houses.

The residence of the Ambassador of France on 27 Oborishte Street

The first owner of the building was the mysterious Angelo Kuyumdjiyski who left colorful legends, a few different names but not a single photo of himself. His story began in Samokov, where he was born by the name Rahamim at the end of the 19th century. Still a little child he hinted his business future when started selling roasted pumpkin seeds on the streets of his hometown. Over the coming decades, already known as Angelo or Angel, he multiplied this initial capital in such a way that he became one of the richest Bulgarians before World War II.

Тhe main entrance of the building

After graduating in law at the Sorbonne in Paris, Kuyumdjiyski became a shareholder in different enterprises, a tobacco trader (there are speculations that he was a prototype of Boris Morev from the famous Bulgarian novel Tobacco) and a banker. His relations with France remained strong as his bank was named French-Belgian Bank for Bulgaria (later French-Belgian Bank and Balkan Bank, and finally French-Bulgarian Bank), and its representative building still can be seen on 17 Lege Street. He also created a Foundation for Supporting Poor Students with a remarkable capital of BGN 7,000,000. Whether he financed the Communists in Bulgaria, whether he was trading with Nazi companies from Germany, or whether he was a reconnaissance officer to the US government are only a few of the the mysteries of his spectacular life.

The vast vestibule in four frames

And with all the stories and legends, it is no surprise that Kuyumdjiyski had his rivals too. In 1931, he even published a special edition to challenge, as he called them, “the most unworthy of teases … of lovers of anonymous dirt.” He responded with specific documents to a series of “all those slanders and insinuations,” including that he was speculating with the Bulgarian lev after World War I, he was looting businesses and even planned the liquidation of the famous Sofia Bank. On the cover of this publication, the author himself simply referred as A. Kuyumdjiyski…

A view from the vestibule to one of the large salons

His small palace on Oborishte Street was completed in 1929 by the design of architects Todor Zlatev and Dimitar Koev. For Angelo’s house, they relied on classic design. From the street we can see a symmetrical facade with a solid cornice and a stylish mansard with metal cladding. The main entrance is from the east and beams even more classicism because of the twin columns on either side of the wooden gate. From here, we can enter a large anteroom, which prepares us for the impressive vestibule.

The passage between the anteroom and the vestibule

Details from the spiral staircase

There are the twisted staircase to the second floor, large mirrors on the walls and descending crystal chandeliers like we are in a French chateau. The wood on the floor and on the walls contrasts with the plaster ornaments on the ceiling, while the interior is enriched by the first marble fireplace in the house. One of the walls reveals the portrait of the distinguished French protector of Sofia – the Vice-Consul Leander Lege, who, on the eve of the Liberation in 1878, served in Sofia. From November 1878 to the present day one street in Sofia bears his name, because Lege strongly opposed the Ottoman authorities for their intention to burn the city prior they leave it.

One of the two large salons

To the left of the main entrance there are two large salons, with two more fireplaces and many carvings with exquisite floral or geometric ornaments, varnished or painted white. The dining room with three large arched windows is located on the other side of the vestibule. Here, on February 19, 1989, the famous breakfast between French President Francois Mitterrand, future Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev, and other opponents of the communist regime was held. From the dining room we can move into another small parlor with yet another fireplace and an exit to the terrace with its beautiful mosaic and balustrade railing.

Detail from the door between the two large salons

One of the fireplaces in the house

The mysterious owner, whether because his beautiful wife Nastia and his friends criticized the classic style of the building as a demode, or because it was too big and difficult to keep and heat (despite all the fireplaces), decided to build his new house on Veliko Tarnovo Street just a few years later.

The dining room

The small salon next to the dining room

This time the architecture was entirely in the style of modernism from the 1930s with simple facades, rational layout and best possible amenities. The Kuyumdjiyski family moved there in 1936 and stayed until their emigration to the United States during World War II – today it is the residence of the US ambassador. The vacated building on Oborishte Street, in turn, found its second owner – the French state. Thanks to the the French Embassy, today the building is among the best protected cultural heritage sites in Sofia with all its elegance carefully protected. And as for Kuyumdjiyski, he is the man we can never be sure when his story ends and starts to be a legend. And vice versa.

The article was prepared with the kind assistance of the French Embassy in Bulgaria