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A chitalishte (Bulgarian: читалище, pronounced [t͡ʃiˈtaliʃtɛ]) is a typical Bulgarian public institution and building which fulfills several functions at once, such as a community centre, library and a theatre. It is also used as an educational institution, where people of all ages can enroll in foreign language, dance, music and other courses. In this function they could be compared to the Folk High Schools of Northern Europe. Some larger urban chitalishta (plural) are not unlike 92nd Street Y in New York City.
The term chitalishte is a compound noun, originating from the Bulgarian Slavic root, chital- (reading); and the suffix -ishte (place where preceding verb happens).
The chitalishta (plural term) of the 19th and early 20th century had a crucial role in preserving and developing Bulgarian culture and thus played an important role during the Bulgarian National Revival. The word chitalishte in translation means "reading room," a place where books are kept for public use. The first institutions of this kind emerged in the 1850s, towards the end of the Ottoman era, more specifically in 1856 in the towns of Shumen, Lom and Svishtov. Later, the chitalishte became an important multi-purpose institution in villages and smaller towns. Today, chitalishta are less widely spread and have decreasingly critical roles, mostly due to lack of funding. They are evolving and adapting to host public events, house cinema halls, and other modern organisations.
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