2-day wedding highlights unique Bulgarian culture

Story highlights

  • Boryana Katsarova photographed a two-day Muslim wedding in Ribnovo, Bulgaria
  • The wedding traditions are very special to the small community there

(CNN)Fatme Robova and Refat Atipov are married amid a festival of colors and gifts in Ribnovo, a small village situated atop the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria.

The community is inhabited by a few thousand Pomaks, or Bulgarian-speaking Muslims, that share a richly unique culture.
Boryana Katsarova photographed the marriage, a two-day ceremony that devotes a day each to the families of the bride and groom.
    Robova is dressed in traditional garments and elaborate face paint called "gelina." Only three other communities practice this ritual, according to Katsarova, and this design is specific to Ribnovo.
    "Everyone is waiting for this moment," Katsarova said. "She is the heart of the ceremony."
    Photographer Boryana Katsarova
    The face-painting process, a symbol of the bride's purity, can take up to two hours. It is considered a specialized art.
    "There are only a few women in this village who know how to paint brides," Katsarova said.
    Wedding season in Ribnovo is during the winter. During the spring, fall and summer, the people work.
    "Their main income is from harvesting. They work in fields all day every day," Katsarova said.
    Sometimes as many as 10 weddings take place during the winter months. As snow falls, the families celebrate.
    The first day of the wedding belongs to the bride's family. They will present gifts, or the dowry -- items curated throughout Robova's lifetime to place in the couple's new home. Blankets, dishes and other items are put on display outside the bride's home as a symbol of the family's worth.

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    "The mother is to prepare everything herself," Katsarova said.
    The families gather for eating and dancing the "horo," a Balkan folk dance performed in a circle.
    Sometimes marriages here are arranged, but not in this case. Katsarova said Robova and Atipov, both 20, "chose each other."
    During the second day of the wedding, the bride is presented to her groom.
    His family leads a parade of presents and music in the streets to escort her to her new home in the village. Colorful boards are covered in money and handmade flags.
    The wedding traditions here are very special to the community. As the young women explained to Katsarova: "We love the clothes. We feel like a woman on the inside."