Bulgaria’s House of Funny

Welcome to Gabrovo, Bulgaria’s capital of humor. In this Central Bulgarian town, legends say that they cut the tails of cats so that the door closes faster after them. It’s such a prevalent story they erected a bronze cat sculpture that has been attracting visitors for two decades.

House of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo
Exhibition in House of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo. Photo: Rosina Pencheva

“It is common knowledge that the cat’s tail is cut off – of course only in the anecdotes – to keep the heat outside. We believe this is the first formulated anti-crisis measure to save energy,” says ethnologist Tatiana Tsankova, former director of the House of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo. This is one of the many jokes and cheeky traits – frugal spending included – the mountainous town is known for.

Gabrovo: sense of humor since 1300

According to historical records, in the 14th century, hammers and anvils banged from morning until night in the settlement at the foot of the Stara Planina Mountain. Leatherworkers, haberdashers, knifemakers, and others worked on their products before they boarded the carts and went down to the fields to sell their handcrafted goods – knives, axes, pots, fabrics, and whistles.

To get the trade going, these craftsmen and entrepreneurs made it their business to entertain their customers by playing pranks. But they also drove a hard bargain. This is how countless funny stories, most untrue, came to the rescue. The merchants’ wit appealed to the customers, and they opened their hearts and wallets.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, stories began to circulate in which the main character was the honest but calculating and thrifty Gabrovo mountaineer. Later, the nickname “Gabrovets” appeared, the essence of the Gabrovo character being “quick, resourceful, witty, able in the harsh conditions of the mountains to make something out of nothing.” Anecdotes spread by word of mouth, but in the 1930s, they took over such serious territories in newspapers and printed publications across the country until they became a national phenomenon.

Stop the clock and other lifehacks

Need some tips for today’s challenging times? Put a small pipe on an egg to drain as much as you need. That is to say, a whole egg is too much for soup, and it must be saved. At night, locals stop the clocks to keep the parts from rubbing. When they treat their guests to tea, the people of Gabrovo heat the knives so that their guests scoop up less of the melting butter with it.

These life hacks and many other jokes have entered the famous “Gabrovo Jokes” book, translated into 20 languages, and published in 43 editions.

Fifty years ago, Gabrovo’s gift to laugh at itself led to the creation of the House of Humour and Satire, which is believed to be still the only museum in the world dedicated to humor. In true Gabrovo fashion, the first sign visitors see says “Welcome and goodbye.” But please feel free to stay.

Sharing Gabrovo wisdom

Funded by the Ministry of Culture and the Gabrovo Municipality, the Museum continues to collect and promote the humor of the nations in the visual arts, literature, and folklore. The House of Humour and Satire has a collection of 37,500 works of art by over 9,000 artists from 173 countries around the world. The number of cartoons stands at an impressive 22 000, with another 3,000 satirical graphics being part of the collection.

To date, the Museum has organized more than 500 thematic, group, individual, and traveling exhibitions in Europe, Africa, North America, and the Middle East. Needless to say, the famous Gabrovo cat monument is also there.

“Visitors, especially those coming from abroad, often tell us they’re surprised to find the Museum here. It feels like a Western institution to many of them, only, interestingly enough, located in this Bulgarian town,” tells 3 Seas Europe Svetlana Mikhailova, who is in charge of the Museum’s PR.

Known for their frugality and financial savvy, the people of Gabrovo are happy to share their wisdom with everyone. The House of Humour and Satire motto was borrowed by the great Bulgarian dissident, poet, and satirist Radoy Ralin, and everyone is encouraged to follow it: “The world has survived because it laughed.”

Galina Ganeva

a journalist with experience working for some of the most influential Bulgarian publications. She mostly writes about the intersection of society and culture

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