As Seen in…
Places to visit in Bulgaria and on our Bulgaria tours
Why visit Bulgaria?
The peaceful rolling mountain slopes, green gorges, sultry pine forests and idyllic Black Sea shores all speak of a land where languor and warm hospitality have always been the order of the day. Indeed, Bulgaria is, above all a land which oozes space, where its 7¼ million inhabitants are scattered sparingly across the fertile plains and highlands – over 40% of the nation is mountainous.
And yet it has been coveted and invaded by an endless tide of hostility, from its very earliest times as the tribal heartlands of the Thracian peoples. Gold, copper and bronze created early trade and such grave goods adorn burials from 6,000 years ago. This early culture gave birth to hugely significant sites like the 4th century B.C. Valley of the Thracian Kings near Kazanlâk and its 1,000 royal tombs. Inevitably, wealth brought rivals and the Greek settlements around the Black Sea, Bulgaria’s first democracies, were precursors to the arrival of Philip of Macedon in 335 B.C..
Having conquered the region, he established Philipopolis as his new capital at modern-day Plovdiv: today’s city on seven hills boasts evidence of the next aggressors, the Romans who left an aqueduct, stadium and the acoustic marvel of the iconic amphitheatre on its spectacular perch above the city. In the 1st century A.D. the Romans moved the capital to Sofia. With Christianity came churches – the delightful Sveti Georgi Rotunda Sofia dates to this period. When the empire fractured, Bulgaria went with Byzantium’s eastern half and the practices of orthodoxy became entrenched, raising churches like Sveta Sofia, the capital’s eponymous saint.
Turkic Bulgar nomadic horsemen ranged down from Central Asia, settling and dominate the region by 632 A.D., establishing an astoundingly enduring Bulgarian Empire until the 11th century. The Khans constantly feuded with the Byzantines, but by 870 had adopted Orthodox Christianity and established the hugely powerful monasteries, such as at Rila: amidst the mountains, a fiercely independent religious order flourished. Their fresco and icon painting knew little parallel and it was here and at such as Rozen and Bachkovo that Bulgarian culture survived during the Ottoman period of lowland Christian oppression. From 1362 the Bulgarians were subject to Ottoman rule, bringing their brand of Islamic religion with its superb building skills, but a powerful intolerance of infidels: a period of persecution, characterised by ecclesiaclasm and the murder or enslavement of 50% of ethnic Bulgarians followed which only truly subsided with the nationalistic uprisings of the 1800s.
In the meantime, cities like Sofia and Plovdiv had thrived in monetary terms, evidenced in their opulent, colourful, wooden-fronted townhouses. With Russian and Ukrainian support, independence was won in 1878 – the Golden Church of Shipka commemorates the appalling losses that won this prize. The modern, independent Bulgaria has seen Princes, Kings, Tsars and then soviet-style dictatorships come and go, leading to the current democracy, but beneath all this, a proud and vibrant culture imbues everything.
It is a land which has so many tales to tell and so many willing hearts to relate them.