Many ancient civilizations have molded the 1300 year-old history of the state of Bulgaria. Khan Asparouh founded the first Bulgarian Kingdom in 681. This Kingdom consisted of peoples from the ancient Bulgarian state that was situated on the Volga River, as well as the Slavs from the Byzantium Empire. This initial kingdom was located at modern-day northeast Bulgaria.
In 863, two brothers, Cyril and Methodius created the Slavonic alphabet. This, in combination with the establishment of Christianity (East Orthodox) as a
state religion in 864, greatly contributed to the development of Bulgarian
nationality and created an environment primed for literature and culture to flourish. During Bulgaria travel today, visitors will still observe a rich local culture. Bulgaria remained in the Byzantium Empire from 1018 until 1185. In 1185 the Second Bulgarian Kingdom was declared after the end of Byzantium rule and oppression. After a long war and fierce resistance, the country fell under Turkish control in 1393.
At first the Turks oppression was substantial, but by the 18th century hostility and resentment began to grow with the burden of unsuccessful Turkish wars against the Austrians and the Russians. The Turks began introducing reforms attempting to assimilate the Bulgarians, but it was too late. In the early 19th century popular customs and folklore blossomed in the National Revival, while underground revolutionaries plotted against the Turks. The Turks suppressed a premature revolt that broke out in April 1876 at Koprivshtitsa, with severe brutality. In addition, the Turks spread the work throughout Europe of 'Bulgarian atrocities'. Outraged European allies, primarily Russia, came to Bulgaria's rescue in the late 1870s. When the Russian army had advanced to within 50km (31mi) of Istanbul, Turkey ceded 60% of the Balkan Peninsula to Bulgaria.
Bulgaria has a strong culture and rich traditions. Many of the traditional customs are displayed in the holiday calendar, which is diverse and complex. The majority of the Bulgarian people practices Christianity, eighty-five percent of the population belonging to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The traditional religion is considered to be Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The country also has a significant Muslim minority (13 %) and a small Jewish community.
One of the country’s most mysterious traditions is called fire dancing, which consists of barefooted dancers performing on burning embers. The dance is believed to banish illness, and encourage good health and fertility. Typically, Bulgarian folklore exhibits colorful displays of costume, dance and spirit. The folk festivals "Pirin Sings" and "Rozhen Sings" are the best-known Bulgarian folklore festivals. Last year alone, approximately 150,000 visitors from both Bulgaria and abroad gathered to watch the 4,000 festival performers.
Travelers enjoying a Bulgaria cruise during the first week of June can witness the celebration known as The Festival of Roses, which is held in the Rose Valley near the town of Kazanluk. The Bulgarian oleaginous rose yields seventy percent of the world’s rose extract, which is used as an essential component in many perfumes. The unique properties of Bulgarian roses and rose oil are due to the local climate and rich soil. The temperatures in February, when roses bud, are ideal, as is the humidity in May and June when the blossoms are picked.
Bulgarian is the official language of the country and uses the Cyrillic alphabet. During your Bulgaria tour you may also hear Turkish and Macedonian, but English, German, French and Russian are spoken in major tourist resorts and hotels.
Particularly exquisite crafts of Bulgarian artists include embroidery, vibrantly colored rugs and carpets, hand-painted ceramics, and finely detailed jewelry. A cruise to Bulgaria should include a visit to one of the country’s cultural museums or markets. The Samovodene Market in Veliko Turnovo, the Permanent National Exhibition of Folk Art in Oreshak near Troyan and the Etura architectural and ethnographic complex near Gabrovo all display spectacular examples of Bulgarian handicrafts.
Bulgaria’s extensive 1300-year history along with the presence of migrating tribes has made the cuisine of Bulgaria extremely diverse. Many of the daily meals include traditional dishes and customs.
Historically, Bulgarians have flavored stews, roasts, and boiled fresh vegetables with lots of garlic, onions, oils and spices in terracotta cookware. Roasting food on charcoal embers is also common, which leaves the meat tender and moist. During a Bulgaria cruise you will notice that many of the local meals almost always include meat, potatoes and cheese. Food tends to be spicy, filling and tasty. A wide variety of national dishes, such as cold yogurt soup with cucumbers, peppers or aubergines stuffed with meat, or kebabcheta (small, spicy, minced meat rolls) are popular. And many dishes also include influences of the neighboring countries of Turkey and Greece. Visitors will also find fruit is particularly delicious and inexpensive throughout the year.
There are plenty of places to try the local cuisine while on a trip to Bulgaria, with many attractive restaurants and cafes throughout the country. The main meal is eaten in the middle of the day. Dinner is a social occasion, with dancing enjoyed before and after the meal. A salad and a rakia (Bulgarian spirit/schnapps, usually made from grapes) traditionally precede a meal at a leisurely pace, lasting up to an hour. Desserts are not a strong focal point of Bulgarian cuisine, although cafes usually have a wide selection of pastries and cakes. Most restaurants offer only pancakes or crème caramel.
Ayran, a beverage of yogurt and water, is drunk by Bulgarians on a daily basis. Heavily sweetened coffee is also particularly popular. Many drinks are also made from infusions of mountain herbs and dried leaves, particularly lime.
Bulgaria offers excellent, world-famous red and white wines that are not only superb but inexpensive as well. Sample the large variety of wines during your Bulgaria cruise. White wines include Evksinograde, Karlouski Misket and Tamianka. Heavy red wines include Mavroud and Trakia. Liquors include the rather potent mastika and rakia (grape or brandy). Bulgarian beers have recently gained popularity and are much cheaper than imported beers.
The country of Bulgaria is situated on the west coast of the Black Sea, with Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south, and Yugoslavia to the west. Visitors on a tour of Bulgaria will enjoy the varying landscape, which includes plains, plateaus, hills, mountains, basins, gorges and deep river valleys.
Natural terrain defines most of Bulgaria’s boundaries. Bulgaria has a total border of about 2,264 kilometers. Rivers account for approximately 680 kilometers, the Black Sea coast for 400 kilometers, and mountainous ridges define the southern and western borders. The western and northern boundaries are shared with Yugoslavia and Romania, respectively, and the Black Sea coastline constitutes the entire eastern border. The majority of the Romanian border follows the Danube River. The Danube, with steep bluffs on the Bulgarian side and a wide area of swamps and marshes on the Romanian side, is one of the most effective river boundaries in Europe. The line through Dobruja was redrawn several times according to international treaties. In that process, most inhabitants with strong national preferences resettled in the country of their choice. A Bulgaria tour can also easily include a visit to Turkey and Greece, which boarder to the south.
Learning a little more about the country’s modern history can enhance your experiences while on a Bulgaria tour. Detailed, complicated, and ever-changing, Bulgaria’s future is just as exciting as its past.
Following an unsuccessful revolution in 1876, Bulgaria finally won its freedom in the Russian-Turkish Liberation War (1877-1878). The Berlin Conference in 1878 separated the state into three parts. Under Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria's leader from 1954 to 1989, the country thrived and became one of the most prosperous in Eastern Europe. Industrial growth in particular flourished, eventually contributing to over half the gross national product.
Bulgaria peacefully transitioned from autocratic communist rule to a democratic system in 1989. This change was unprecedented, and after the first free election in 50 years, a new Parliament was elected in 1990. Elected President, Zhelyu Zhelev, led this new Parliament in making a new constitution. This constitution is said to be one of the most democratic in Europe, and the first among former socialist countries. The two primary concerns of Bulgaria's foreign policy became the membership in NATO and the European Union. Pre-accession negotiations started on February 15, 2000 in Brussels. On December 1, 2000, the Council of Ministers of Justice, and Home Affairs of the European Union decided to remove Bulgaria from the negative visa list.
The Bulgarian monarchy made an extraordinary comeback in June 2001, when former King Simeon II was elected prime minister. The country's Turkish minority was represented in this election for the first time following the President’s encouragement for Bulgarians to be more tolerant of Turkish-Bulgarians. Those on a tour of Bulgaria may observe that the state is currently experiencing some challenges such as inflation and high unemployment. Progress, however, continues under President Georgi Parvanov. The country is in the line-up for entry into the EU in 2007, and membership of NATO was granted in 2004.
Until 1989 Bulgaria (The People's Republic of Bulgaria) was a member of the Soviet bloc. It has been a Democratic Republic, the Republic of Bulgaria, since 1990.
The president is the head of state elected by the people for a five-year term. The current president, Georgi Parvanov, was elected in 2002 and is a Socialist. The political party that ruled from June 2000 till June 2005 was the party of Bulgaria's former king, Simeon II. He is a grandson of Ferdinand I and a son of Boris III, and happens also to be a cousin of Queen Elizabeth.
During Bulgaria travel, visitors will see the national flag. The flag is recognizable by its three colors -- white, green and red. Deriving from ancient traditions, the Bulgaria's state coat of arms includes representations of lions. The official logo is a stylized rose.
Bulgaria’s climate consists of four distinct seasons; each season has something different to offer travelers. Summer is long and pleasantly hot (around 25º - 30º C), while winter is cold and snowy (temperatures stand around 0º C). Spring and autumn temperatures are pleasant and moderate.
The coastal climate is moderated by the Black Sea, but extreme winds and storms occur often during the winter. Along the Danube River winters are bitterly cold, but in the southern region along the Greek and Turkish borders, sheltered valleys allow for mild temperatures, similar to those along the Mediterranean or Aegean coasts. Rainy days occur more frequently in summer.
The Balkan Mountains mark the southern boundary of the area in which continental air openly circulates. The Rhodope Mountains mark the northern limits of a predominantly Mediterranean weather system. A combination of the two systems make up the climate of the area in-between, which includes the Thracian Plain. This results in a plains climate similar to that of the Corn Belt in the United States, with long summers and high humidity. The conditions of this area widely vary, resulting in unpredictable and highly variable temperatures and precipitation from one year to the next.
Bulgaria has an average precipitation of approximately 630 millimeters per year. The northeast, the Black Sea coastal area, and parts of the Thracian Plain usually receive less than 500 millimeters. The rest of the Thracian Plain as well as the Danubian Plateau get less than the country average. Higher elevations receive the most rainfall in the county and average over 2,540 millimeters per year.
From the Danube in the north, the Black Sea to the east, and the mountains of the central Balkan and Rila national parks, Bulgaria ranks among the most biologically diverse countries in Europe. During a cruise to Bulgaria be sure to visit some of the country’s 3 national parks, 11 natural parks, 89 natural reserves, and 2234 natural sites. The environment supports 94 species of mammals, 36 reptiles, 16 amphibians, 207 Black Sea and freshwater fishes, an estimated 27,000 insects and other invertebrate species, between 3,550 and 3,750 species of vascular plants, and more than 6500 nonvascular plants and fungi. Bulgaria is also one of the best places for bird watching in Europe, offering more than 400 bird species.
A Bulgaria trip should include a tour of some of the regions 40,000 historical sites, seven of which are a part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. These sites originate from various eras throughout the country’s history. Areas of interest include prehistoric sites, Thracian and Bulgarian monuments, Greek and Roman ruins, and more than 120 scenic monasteries and architectural reserves.
Bulgaria’s three National State Parks, Pirin, Rila and Central Balkan, make up more than one-third of all protected areas in Bulgaria. The parks are public and are managed and administered by the Ministry of Environment and Waters. These national parks are identified by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Category II protected areas. The Management Plans for Rila and Central Balkan are the first modern conservation management documents of their kind in the Balkans.
Particularly important to Bulgaria are the various renewable resources that provide a source of revenue and cultural value for people living in close proximity. There are also vital links between sustainable non-timber resource harvesting and economic development opportunities for the country.