Early life, education and monkhood
Vasil Levski was born Vasil Ivanov Kunchev on 18 July [O.S. 6 July] 1837 in the town of Karlovo, within the Ottoman Empire's European province Rumelia. He was the namesake of his maternal uncle, Archimandrite (superior abbot) Basil (Василий, Vasiliy). Levski's parents, Ivan Kunchev and Gina Kuncheva (née Karaivanova), came from a family of clergy and craftsmen and represented the emerging Bulgarian middle class. An eminent but struggling local craftsman, Kunchev died in 1844. Levski had two younger brothers, Hristo and Petar, and an older sister, Yana; another sister, Maria, died during childhood. Entrance to Levski's native house in Karlovo. Built in the 18th century and reconstructed in 1933, it has been a museum since 1937.
Fellow revolutionary Panayot Hitov later described the adult Levski as being of medium height and having an agile, wiry appearance—with light, greyish-blue eyes, blond hair, and a small moustache. He added that Levski abstained from smoking and drinking. Hitov's memories of Levski's appearance are supported by Levski's contemporaries, revolutionary and writer Lyuben Karavelov and teacher Ivan Furnadzhiev. The only differences are that Karavelov claimed Levski was tall rather than of medium height, while Furnadzhiev noted that his moustache was light brown and his eyes appeared hazel.
Levski began his education at a school in Karlovo, studying homespun tailoring as a local craftsman's apprentice. In 1855, Levski's uncle Basil—archimandrite and envoy of the Hilandar monastery—took him to Stara Zagora, where he attended school and worked as Basil's servant. Afterward, Levski joined a clerical training course. On 7 December 1858, he became an Orthodox monk in the Sopot monastery under the religious name Ignatius (Игнатий, Ignatiy) and was promoted in 1859 to hierodeacon, which later inspired one of Levski's informal nicknames, The Deacon (Дякона, Dyakona). First Bulgarian Legion and educational work
Inspired by Georgi Sava Rakovski's revolutionary ideas, Levski left for the Serbian capital Belgrade during the spring of 1862. In Belgrade, Rakovski had been assembling the First Bulgarian Legion, a military detachment formed by Bulgarian volunteers and revolutionary workers seeking the overthrow of Ottoman rule. Abandoning his service as a monk, Levski enlisted as a volunteer. At the time, relations between the Serbs and their Ottoman suzerains were tense. Militant conflicts in Belgrade were eventually resolved diplomatically, and the First Bulgarian Legion was disbanded under Ottoman pressure on 12 September 1862. His courage during training and fighting earned him his nickname Levski ("Leonine"). After the legion's disbandment, Levski joined Ilyo Voyvoda's detachment at Kragujevac, but returned to Rakovski in Belgrade after discovering that Ilyo's plans to invade Bulgaria had failed. Levski in a First Bulgarian Legion uniform
In the spring of 1863, Levski returned to Bulgarian lands after a brief stay in Romania. His uncle Basil reported him as a rebel to the Ottoman authorities, and Levski was imprisoned in Plovdiv for three months, later released due to the help of the doctor R. Petrov and the Russian vice-consul Nayden Gerov. On Easter 1864, Levski officially relinquished his religious office. From May 1864 until March 1866, he worked as a teacher in Voynyagovo near Karlovo; while there, he supported and gave shelter to persecuted Bulgarians and organised patriotic companies among the population. As his activity caused suspicion among the Ottoman authorities, he was forced to move, and from the spring of 1866 to the spring of 1867 he taught in Enikyoy and Kongas, two Northern Dobruja villages near Tulcea. Hitov's detachment and Second Bulgarian Legion
In November 1866, Levski visited Rakovski in Iaşi. Two revolutionary bands led by...