COUNTRY GUIDE

 
Maps of Bulgaria
 
Physical Map (467K)
Tourist Map (4,482M)
Golf Map (1,04M)
 
Places you must see in Bulgaria
 
The UNESCO World Heritage List
Bulgaria has seven cultural and two natural sites included in the UNESCO List of the World Natural and Cultural Heritage. They are: The Madara Horseman (the only rock relief from medieval times in Europe); the Kazanlak and Sveshtari Thracian Tombs (4th and 3rd Century BC); The Rila Monastery; The Boyana Church near Sofia; The Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo (dug out of the limestone cliffs and inhabited until the 17th century); and the ancient city of Nessebar on the Black Sea Coast. UNESCO recognizes also Pirin National Park and Srebarna biosphere reserve for their incredible biodiversity.
10 must see historical sites
There is much to be seen in small Bulgaria. The sights listed below are the historical highlights in the country. They combine heritage from different periods and nature.


Ancient Bulgaria:
 

The Kazanlak Thracian Tomb
4th century BC, walls decorated with murals

The Sveshtari Thracian Tomb
3rd century BC, polychrome half-human, half-plant caryatids

Perperikon

Thracian sanctuary of Dionysus, unique scenery

The Ancient City of Nessebar
6th century fortification walls, 40 medieval churches

Plovdiv Old Town
2nd century Roman theatre, 17th and 19th centuries colorful buildings

Medieval Bulgaria:
 
 

The Rila Monastery
the biggest Bulgarian monastery, architecture and art

The Madara Horseman
8th century rock relief carved in a cliff

The Boyana Church

Sofia suburbs, exceptional murals from 1259

The Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo
12th century complex of churches, great nature

Veliko Tarnovo – Medieval Tsarevets Fortress
18th – 19th century Old Town
 
 
Natural landmarks blanket Bulgarian lands and surely there is much to be seen. During a trip in Bulgaria 10 natural highlights should be included.


The Valley of Roses

thousand of roses blossom in May and June

Srebarna Lake
180 protected bird species on a tiny area

Mount Vihren

a 2914 m high marble pyramid, Pirin National Park


Ropotamo River

on the South Black Sea Coast, rare flora and fauna

Belogradchik Rocks
remarkable rock formations, 200 million years old

Melnik
sandstone pyramids touching the sky


Raysko Praskalo Waterfall
a 124 m waterfall

North Black Sea Coast
the steppe reaches the sea, cliffs and rare birds

Seven Rila Lakes
located in National Park Rila Mountains

Yagodina Cave
remarkable rock formations and cave pearls

 
 
History
Bulgaria is a country of 110,993 sq. km in south-eastern Europe and, clockwise from the south borders Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Romania. To the east the country’s natural border is the Black Sea.
Bulgaria is a fascinating destination for summer and winter tourism. Mild climate, beautiful and diverse nature and azure, sandy beaches on the coast attract tourists from all over the world. Modern hotels and holiday resorts add to a memorable vacation. Go further and enjoy winter holiday skiing on the slopes of Bansko, Borovets, Pamporovo and many other winter resorts.
Bulgaria is a natural gift. Rivers, lakes, golden sand beaches, vast plains, high mountains and evergreen forests create a diversity rarely seen on a single country’s territory. Numerous mineral waters throughout the country provide excellent conditions for spa and wellness. The mountains reveal a colourful world of forests, pastures, rock formations, villages and history. A good option for discovering the outdoors of Bulgaria is hiking, cycling, horseback riding or maybe taking a multi-activity trip. Bulgaria is a
top destination for ornithological and botany tours. Protected areas cover nearly 6% of the state’s territory.
Historically Bulgaria is one of the first countries in Europe, recognized in 681. Glorious past and historic evidence of various civilizations that have been on Bulgarian territories are seen everywhere. Golden treasures, architectural ensembles, rock relieves, and numerous monasteries narrate history, faith, beliefs, and fights of the people who have lived on these ancient lands since the days of yore. The country has a 4000 year long wine producing history. Bulgaria is the land of roses. The preserved identity of Bulgarian villages incorporates their traditions, colours and rhythms, delicious homemade food and warm hospitality.

Over the centuries, many people have traversed these lands on the Balkan Peninsula. Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Slavs and Ottoman Turks have all left their mark, their culture, knowledge and wisdom. Bulgaria has always been at the crossroads of continents – the gateway between Asia and Europe.

Early Settlements

Bulgaria is thought to be one of Europe’s earliest inhabited areas. The discoveries of the Bulgarian- French expedition in Kozarnika Cave proved this hypothesis. The newfound artefacts date from the Early Palaeolithic period – more than one million years BC. Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis could serve as irrefutable proof that the new society reached its zenith in the 4th millennium BC when an extraordinary civilisation developed along the Black Sea Coast. The funeral offerings of pure massive gold from this Necropolis show that this is the oldest collection of gold artefacts in the world. It can be seen at the Archaeological Museum in Varna.

Thraciants

By the end of the 2nd millennium BC, migrant tribes in the region were coalescing into the ethnic group that became known as Thracians. They inhabited most of present-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, European Turkey and part of Asia Minor. Thracians practised a polytheistic religion and the leader of their pantheon was the goddess Mother-Earth. Among Thracian deities, the one held in the highest esteem was the mythical musician Orpheus. Another deity that the Thracians worshipped was Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility of nature. A famous Thracian was Spartacus – the fearless gladiator. he managed to
escape and lead a slave revolt against the Romans, but was killed. Thracians believed in life after dead. They placed the dead bodies in tomb together with weapons, jewellery and horses.

Sensational Thracian Archaeology
While having no alphabet, Thracian culture has left a big impact on modern Bulgaria. The world has recognised many of the Thracian cultural and historical achievements. The Thracian Tombs at Sveshtari and Kazanlak are on the UNESCO List and can be visited.

The valley between the Balkan Range and Sredna Gora Mountains in the south is named the Valley of the Thracian Kings. It is there that in 2004 sensational findings were discovered. Archaeologists uncovered a previously unknown and still intact tomb from the 5th century BC near Kazanlak. The most impressive find was a 2400-year-old golden mask of a human face. It weighs 680 grams solid gold and is without parallel in archaeology. The same expedition team unearthed two more tombs and a 22-pound bronze head resembling a king’s face. In 2000, near Starosel village, an enormous Thracian Temple was discovered and today it is already open to the public. Other Thracian dome tombs are discovered in Strandzha Mountains, also near Mezek and Aleksandrovo villages. Hundreds of Thracian sanctuaries are scattered in the Bulgarian mountains. The most famous one is Perperikon. It is believed to have been the great temple of Dionysus where he had an oracle. One of the largest golden mines of the Antiquity was located near Perperikon. In 2004 archaeologists found the sanctuary of Orpheus, which is some 30 km south of Perperikon and near Tatul village. The world famous Thracian golden treasures are exhibited in the National History Museum in Sofia.

Slavs and Proto Bulgarian
Nowadays Bulgarians descend from Thracians, Slavs, and Proto Bulgarians. Slavs began to invade the Balkan Peninsula in the late 5th century. They were democratic people who lived by agriculture. The Proto Bulgarians initially inhabited the Central Asian Pamir-Himalaya region. There they had a highly developed civilization and their calendar, based on the sun cycles, is recognized as one of the most accurate ancient calendars. They moved towards Europe during the Great Migration and the army of Khan Asparuh reached today’s north-eastern Bulgaria. These Proto Bulgarians established contacts with the Slavonic tribes and very soon led a victorious battle against the great Byzantine army.

In 681 AD the 1st Bulgarian Kingdom was established.

First Bulgarian Kingdom
In 865 Khan Boris I converted to Christianity and in 870 Orthodox Christianity became the official religion. Some years later the brother monks Cyril and Methodius devised the Slavonic alphabet, which was introduced in the country and replaced the Greek one. The 1st Bulgarian Kingdom (681-1018) had a huge territory, which expanded from the Carpathians in the north, to Mount Olympus in the south, and from the Black Sea and the Danube Delta to the Aegean and Ionian Seas. In 716-718 under the command of Khan Tervel the Bulgarian army together with the Byzantines defeated the great Arab army at Constantinople. This successful battle stopped the penetration of Arabs in the European continent. In the beginning of the 11th century Bulgaria was defeated by Byzantium and remained a vassal state for nearly 170 years.
Second Bulgarian Kingdom

In 1186 in Veliko Tarnovo an uprising led by the Assen brothers liberated Bulgaria. Assen was given thetitle of Tsar of Bulgaria in 1187. The town became the capital of the 2nd Bulgarian Kingdom (1186-1396). In 1204 Tsar Kaloyan negotiated a union with the Catholic Church in the hope that the Pope would support the Bulgarian expansion. With this political act the authority of Kaloyan was recognised by the Pope. Under the rule of Tsar Ivan Assen II Bulgaria became the most powerful state in south-eastern Europe. The territory of the Bulgarian state comprised almost the whole of the Balkan Peninsula. In the middle 14th century, the Ottoman Turks began to invade and occupy areas of the Balkan Peninsula

Ottomans
Bulgaria remained under Ottoman rule from the late 14th century till the late 19th century. During this time, conservative Ottoman systems prevented all the Balkan population from economic and political development. Many churches were burned down and people were made to change their religion.

National Revival Period
In the middle 18th century the Ottoman decline led to significant changes in Bulgarian life. They marked the beginning of a new period in the Bulgarian history, called National Revival Period. It was a time of national and cultural identification. This resulted in parallel struggles for religious and political independence.
The key figure of the Bulgarian revolutionary movement was Vasil Levski (1837-1873). He managed to create a vast network of local revolutionary committees but was later captured and hanged. The Revolution was launched with the April 1876 Uprising. It was suppressed with a ferocity that shocked the world, more than 30,000 people were massacred. Having failed to find a solution at the 1876 Constantinople Conference, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1877. Over 200,000 Russian, Finnish and Romanian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers lost their lives. Bulgaria became an autonomous principality in 1878. Fear of Russian expansion motivated the Congress of Berlin (1878) to limit the size of the newly created state. During the next 70 years Bulgaria was involved in five wars, in attempts to unify all the territories inhabited by Bulgarians.

Contemporary History
In the early 20th century Bulgaria became the leading Balkan economic and military power, and in 1908 was finally proclaimed an independent state. During WW II, the last Bulgarian king, Boris III, was forced to join the Axis in 1941, but clearly refused to send troops to the Eastern front or Bulgarian Jews to Nazi concentration camps. This act saved the lives of more than 50,000 Bulgarian Jews.
At the end of the war, Bulgaria became a republican satellite of the Soviet Union as per the Yalta Allied agreements. The Communist Party ruled until 1990, when a democratic government came to office.
Since 1990, Bulgaria has been going through the difficult process of privatising state-owned companies, upgrading infrastructure, encouraging investments, and re-training individuals and companies to be privately competitive. The country has made significant progress. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 and is well on target for accession to the EU in 2007. In 2001 the son of the last Bulgarian King – Simeon II was involved in Bulgarian politics. He created his own political party and was elected prime minister.
 
Religion
In Bulgaria there are numerous religious communities such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism that coexist peacefully.

Orthodox Christianity became official religion in 865. The common religion strengthened the Bulgarian Kingdom by unifying the various peoples. In 343 BC Serdika (Sofia) brought together the heads of the Church in an ecumenical council. During the long Ottoman occupation, the Orthodox Church provided crucial support for the national and cultural resistance, guarding memories of Bulgaria’s glorious past. Today nearly 90 percent of all Bulgarians are Orthodox Christians.

Islam was brought in Bulgaria during the Ottoman occupation (14th – 19th centuries). Many Bulgarians and especially Slavs were violently forced to convert to the new religion. Islam in the Balkans has been influenced by the local Christian culture and is a unique mix of Islamic, Christian, and Bulgarian beliefs. The most famous Bulgarian mosques are: Banya Bashi mosque in
Sofia (1576), the Tomboul mosque in Shoumen (1744), and the Imaret mosque in Plovdiv. About 13 percent of all Bulgarians are Muslims.

Judaism has about 5000 followers in Bulgaria. The country has a small, but active Jewish community. Many of the Jews who resettled in Bulgaria and in the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century were Spanish Sepharadic Jews fleeing the Inquisition. The impressive domed Sofia Synagogue is the largest
Sephardic synagogue in Europe.

Catholicism was introduced to Bulgaria after the fall of the Ottoman rule, mostly through traders and Saxon miners. A few of the numerous Catholic temples in Bulgaria today include St. Josef and St. Francis Monastery in Sofia, St. Ludovik in Plovdiv, and the Monastery in the village of Tsarev Brod. In 1918 the Bulgarian theologian Peter Danov introduced a religious mystic belief structure focusing on reincarnation and spirituality of objects. It was called Danovism and nowadays has followers in many European countries. Each August they gather in Rila Mountains, at the Seven Lakes. There they
worship the sun with ritual dances.

Monasteries are spread round the country. They had a key role in the preservation of the Bulgarian national spirit and culture. As principle centres of education and art they have preserved magnificent architectural ensembles, ancient icons, superb woodcarvings, and murals. Rila Monastery (UNESCO) is known worldwide, and is the biggest sanctuary in the country.
Some of the 160 monasteries offer comfortable facilities for overnight stay, and beverages.
 
 
Architecture
Many of Bulgaria's villages have timber-built houses. Heritage villages from the National Revival

Period (18th – 19th centuries) such as Koprivshtitsa, Bozhentsi, Kovachevitsa, Shiroka Laka and Zheravna have wonderfully preserved and restored houses. They feature graceful curved bay windows and ornate wooden ceilings, along with hand painted murals that show influences from Western Europe. Narrow cobbled streets and stone homes with slate roofs are a distinctive feature of many Rhodopes and Stara Planina villages.

Old Roman and Turkish bridges and merchant roads are found throughout the country. In several big and small towns there are architectural ensembles: Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi, Bansko and Melnik are proud of their preserved traditional Bulgarian architecture.
 
 
Traditional Festivals
Some old rituals and customs are still practiced today. Bulgarian culture contains elements of Bulgaria's pre- Christian roots. There are many rituals, which derive from Thracian times. One of them is called "Nestinari" and is related with fire dancing. You can experience it in early June in Gramatikovo and Balgari villages in Strandzha Mountains. Another lively Thracian ritual is named "Kukeri". It is a ritual for fertility during which the performers dance with masks and bells. Every March 1st, Bulgarians exchange "Martenitsa", red and white yarn "charms", which symbolize the approaching spring. Every summer folklore festivals are held all round the country. The most famous are those in Veliko Tarnovo, in Koprivshtitsa, at Predela mountain pass, at Rozhen mountain pass.
 
 
Art and Handcrafts
Throughout the ages, Bulgarian art has created rich and diverse treasures. During the 9th – 11th centuries, miniatures were made in the Byzantine manuscript style. On display at the British Library is the "Four Gospels" of Tsar Ivan Alexander from the 14th century. Its 366 miniature coloured paintings make this the most richly decorated Bulgarian manuscript.

The Boyana Church, in the outskirts of Sofia, contains murals from 1259 that are thought to be some of the earliest pre-renaissance murals. The famous Zahari Zograph (1810-1853) painted magnificent frescos in churches, including those of Rila, Troyan, and Bachkovo monasteries. Intricate hand carved wooden iconostasis can be admired in many churches.

Bulgaria's modern art is unique and inspiring. The art of Vladimir Dimitrov explores the beauty and serenity of Bulgarian peasant life. Dimitar Kazakov was one of the few artists to have had his work displayed during his lifetime at the Louvre in Paris.

Bulgarian crafts include woven rugs and cloth, handmade lace, woodcarvings, pottery and ceramics. Designs and colours for cloths and rugs are regionspecific and have remarkable similarity to those made in mountain villages in the Himalaya region and in Central American countries. Fibres include handspun wool, goat hair, and cotton. Kilim (a type of hand-loomed rug) from the village of Chiprovtsi is world-renown and its quality and artistic richness can be compared to that from Kashmir and Persia.
 
 
State system of Bulgaria
State system of Bulgaria: Parliamentary Republic
Capital: Sofia (1.2 mil. Inhabitants)
Official language: Bulgarian, alphabet – Cyrillic
Religion: Orthodox (85%), Muslim (8%), others (7%)
Time zone: GMT (London) + 2 hours, East-European time (Germany) + 1 hour
Electricity: 220 V, 50 Hz
Entrance in the country: Foreign citizens enter Bulgaria with their nter-national passport, which shall be valid for at least three more months.
Custom’s formalities and limitations: Upon crossing the state border of the
Republic of Bulgaria passengers may import and export commodities that
in type, quantities, and value are not of a commercial nature. These do not
include objects the passenger carry for personal use and consumption objects.
Passengers have the right to import at no custom duty or import fees the objects necessary to the foreign individuals for their stay in the country, which in their type and quantity correspond to both purpose and the duration of their stay, as well as consumption objects:
- tobacco products (passengers over 16 years of age) - cigarettes - 200 items, or other tobacco products - 250 gr.; - alcoholic beverages (passengers over 16 years of age) - wine - 2 litres, and alcoholic liquors - 1 litre; - other drinks: coffee - 500 g. or coffee extract - 200g. tea - 100 g. or tea extract - 40 g.; - perfumes - 50 ml. and toilet water- 250 ml.
Passengers who are under full 16 years of age are not entitled to duty-free import of the commodities listed above, except for medications.
Money exchange: The Bulgarian Lev is pegged to the Euro. 1 EUR = 1.955 BGN. You may exchange money in banks and in any of the numerous exchange offices. Some of those offices are opened during the holidays. Euro-checks may be cashed on a lot of banks.
Credit cards: Most of the biggest hotels work with VISA or Master Card. American Express is less widespread.
Medical service: Foreign citizens entering the Republic of Bulgaria are not required to have compulsory immunizations.
Taxi-cabs: In towns and resorts there are taxi-cabs situated in the respective taxi ranks.
Urban transport: In towns there is urban transport: buses and mini-buses. In Sofia there are trams, trolley busses and underground. Tickets are usually bought before getting on the vehicle.
Post offices and telecommunication: Working time of post offices is from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Postage stamps and postcards may be bought from the desks in the post office or from pavilions selling newspapers. There are a lot of internetcafes from which you may talk cheap or send e-mails and use internet (most of them work night and day).
Important phones:
Dialling code for Bulgaria from abroad +359
Fire-brigade 160
First aid 150
Police 166
Traffic police – car accidents
+359 2/ 982 72 823, 866 50 60
Road aid +359 2/ 962 54 12, 962 52 99
Airport +359 2/ 937 22 13
Central railway station in Sofia
+359 2/ 9311111
International airport +359 2/ 952 50 04

text from: © www.bulgariatravel.org