Bulgaria is located in Southeast Europe, in the northeast part of the Balkan Peninsula. Its territory is located between 44°13’ and 41°14’ north latitude, 22°22’ and 28°37’ east longitude. It is a European, Balkan, Black Sea and Danube country. This geographic location places it on the crossroad between Europe, Asia and Africa.
Bulgaria is situated closer to the Equator than the pole. It falls within the southern part of the temperate climate zone with subtropical influence. Its location on the transition line between two climate zones influences the climate, soils, vegetation and animal species. All of them are characterized by great diversity. The country’s geographic position also determines the relatively wide angle of sunlight that falls on the country, making the country predominantly sunny. The official time in Bulgaria is Eastern European Time, which is two hours ahead of Greenwich Time. The Black and the Aegean Sea also influence the country’s climate. The influence of the Mediterranean is extensive for the climate in the southern parts of the country, while the Black Sea influences the climate over an area extending some 40 km inland, supporting diverse flora and fauna. The Danube River is important for the country, both with regard to water resources and for species diversity. Bulgaria’s favorable geographic location creates excellent preconditions for the development of tourism.
Bulgaria is also a transport crossroad, affording access to Western Europe, the Near East and the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. A series of major European transport corridors pass through Bulgaria. These corridors include the international highways that connect Western and Central Europe the Near East and the Middle East (through Beograd to Sofia and Svilengrad), including connections to Baghdad and Basra on the Persian Bay; from the Baltic Sea to the Aegean Sea (from Moscow to Kiev, Bucharest, Ruse, and Stara Zagora to Thessaloniki) and to the Adriatic Sea (from Sofia through Skopje to Drach). Another important transport route is the road from Constanta to Varna, Burgas, Tsarevo, Malko Tarnovo and Istanbul. Bulgaria is also connected to the Trans-European networks that lead from Berlin to Prague, Budapest, Sofia, Thessaloniki, and Istanbul and from Durres to Tirana, Skopje, and Sofia to the Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas. These transport corridors are also serviced by rail. Bulgaria’s Black Sea ports connect with all other countries that border the Black Sea countries, offering particularly excellent opportunities for the development of transport through the large bays that front Burgas and Varna. Along the Danube River the country connects with the transport corridor that leads to the Rhine and the network of waterways that crisscross Western Europe.
The total length of Bulgaria’s borders is 2,245 km. Of these borders, 1,181 km are on land, 686 km are on rivers, and 378 km are on the sea. Bulgaria borders to the north with Romania, to the east with the Black Sea, to the south with Turkey and Greece, and to the west with Macedonia1 and Serbia. The distances between Sofia and the capitals of the neighboring Balkan states are: Skopje – 239 km, Beograd – 374 km, Bucharest – 395 km, Athens – 837 km, Ankara – 1,012 km. The following checkpoints (BCCP) operate on Bulgaria’s borders – along the Bulgaria-Serbia border – BCCP Bregovo, BCCP Vrashka Chuka, BCCP Kalotina, BCCP Strezimirovtsi, BCCP Oltomantsi; along the Bulgaria-Macedonia border – BCCP Gyueshevo, BCCP Stanke Lisichkovo, BCCP Zlatarevo; along the Bulgaria-Turkey border – BCCP Malko Tarnovo, BCCP Lesovo, BCCP Kapitan Andreevo; along the Bulgaria-Greek border – BCCP Kulata, BCCP Ilinden, BCCP Kapitan Petko Voyvoda, BCCP Ivaylovgrad, BCCP Zlatograd; along the Bulgaria-Romania border – BCCP Vidin (by ferry), BCCP Oryahovo (by ferry), BCCP Ruse – the Danube bridge, BCCP Silistra, BCCP Kardam, BCCP Durankulak; on the river ports – BCCP Vidin, BCCP Lom, BCCP Somovit – Nikopol, BCCP Svishtov, BCCP Ruse, BCCP Tutrakan, BCCP Silistra; at the sea ports – BCCP Balchik, BCCP Varna, BCCP Burgas, BCCP Tsarevo, and at the airports – BCCP Sofia Airport, BCCP Plovdiv Airport, BCCP Gorna Oryahovitsa Airport, BCCP Varna Airport, and BCCP Burgas Airport.
Bulgarian cuisine is exceptionally diverse and delicious, consisting of various salads, breadstuffs, stews, and other local dishes. Many of the dishes are prepared according to traditional recipes handed down from generation to generation over the centuries.
The most products for which Bulgaria is internationally known are yogurt and white brine (feta) cheese. These are almost always present on Bulgarian tables in one form or another.
One of the most famous and most popular breakfast items in the country is banitsa. It is a made of dough with various fillings, such as cheese, spinach, rice, and meat.
Other popular breakfasts dishes include pancakes, buhtas (fritters), mekitsas (fried dough pieces), and fried bread slices. All of these are particularly delicious when served with jam, marmalade, honey or Bulgarian yogurt.
People in rural areas grow vegetables that are exceptionally tasty, which is why salads occupy a central place in our culinary tradition. The most popular Bulgarian salad is the Shopska Salad, but there are also other salads worth trying – Shepherd’s Salad, Harvest Salad, Snezhanka, Monk’s Salad, Dobrudzha Salad, Roasted Peppers Salad, and many others.
One of the most popular appetizers is Tarator (cold Cucumber Soup). It is prepared with yogurt, cucumbers, dill, crushed walnuts and spices.
Soups and broths are also popular in the countryside – particularly delicious bean soups are served in the region of the village Smilyan, in the Rhodope Mountain. Excellent fish soups are served in the regions of the Black Sea and the Danube River.
Some of the most popular Bulgarian dishes are grilled – meat balls, kebapches, grilled meat pieces, grilled sausages, and others. Various stews and dishes in clay pots are also a regular part of the Bulgaria cuisine (hotchpotch and casseroles). These include Chomlek, Kavarma, and Kapama (in the Bansko region).
Another favorite Bulgarian dish is prepared with stuffed cabbage or vine leaves – the leaves used may be either small or broad. The dish, which is prepared by wrapping the filling in the leaves, is very popular in the Thracian region.
One of the trademarks of the Bulgarian cuisine is Cheverme – an entire lamb roasted on a spit. This dish is typical for the Rhodope region, but it is also served throughout the country.
Potatoes are a main ingredient in many Bulgarian recipes. The most popular potato dishes include Ogreten (au gratin), Patatnik (in the Rhodope region), potato stew, and fried potatoes.
Bulgaria’s cuisine also consists of various cold cuts and other meat delicacies. Flat sausage is the most famous of thewse. It is prepared all over the country, but it has the longest tradition in the city of Gorna Oryahovitsa. Another popular delicacy is the Banski Starets (the “Bansko Old Man”). As the name suggests, it is served in Bansko. In Elena and the region known as the Elena Balkans, a specialty is the Elena Pork Leg, prepared with salted pork.
Such delicacies are usually accompanied with a Bulgarian wine, since Bulgaria is justly famous for its wines. Thanks to the country’s unique climate and soils, a variety of grapes thrive here – Gamza (North Bulgaria), the Wide Melnik Vine (in the region of Melnik and Sandanski), Dimyat (in the regions of Varna, Shumen and Stara Zagora), Mavrud (Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Asenovgrad), Red Misket (Straldzha and Sungurlare), Ruby (Plovdiv and Septemvri) and Pamid (Pazardzhik, Pamidovo and Plovdiv).
Another very popular Bulgarian spirit is Rakia. It is made of grapes or other fruits – plums (in the region of the town of Troyan, Teteven), apricots (in the region of Tutrakan, Silistra, Dobrich), figs, pears, and others. A rose rakia is distilled in the Valley of Roses (in the region of Karlovo and Kazanlak), since this is the home of Bulgaria’s oil-yielding roses.
This brief introduction only touches on the diverse Bulgarian dishes and drinks. To fully know the culinary magic of the country, it is necessary to visit all of the regions where the traditional recipes are proudly maintained and culinary delights are constantly on offer.
The territory of Bulgaria has been inhabited since antiquity, as the country’s many ancient settlements and burial mounds attest. Present-day Bulgaria was a cradle of some of the earliest civilizations in Europe – the oldest gold ornament ever discovered, unearthed in the Chalcholite necropolis near Varna, is evidence of that. From the age of Ancient Thrace we have inherited valuable cultural monuments, including tombs (such as the Kazanlak tomb, the Aleksandrovska tomb, and the Sveshtarska tomb); treasures (the Panagyursko, Rogozensko, and Valchitransko teasures, among others); and sanctuaries and temples (at Perperikon, Starosel, Kozi Gramadi, Begliktash, and elsewhere).
The cultural interaction between the Thracians and the Hellenistic civilization were particularly dynamic. Many cities and towns heavily influenced by Greek culture were established between 6th-2nd century BC in Thrace, Misia and along the shores of the Black Sea. In the middle of the 1st century AD, all Bulgarian lands became a part of the Roman Empire. Many architectural and archaeological monuments have been preserved from this period, such as the Ancient Theater and the Roman Stadium in Plovdiv, and remains of the Roman cities Ulpia Escus, Nove, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Nikopolis ad Nestum, Augusta Trayana, and Abritus.
After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the present Bulgarian lands came under the control of the East Roman Empire, later called Byzantium by historians. In the second half of the 7th century, the proto-Bulgarians settled in what is now Northeast Bulgaria. They united with the Slavs to form the Bulgarian state, recognized by Byzantium in 681. The head of the state was the leader of proto-Bulgarians Han Asparuh, and the city of Pliska was declared the state’s capital.
During the reign Han Krum (803-814), to the west Bulgaria bordered on the empire of Karl the Great, and to the east the Bulgarian armies reached the gates of the Byzantium capital, Constantinople. In 864, during the reign of Prince Boris I (852-889), Bulgarians adopted Christianity as its official religion, which makes Bulgaria one of the oldest Christian states in Europe.
At the end of the 9th century, the brothers Cyril and Methodius created and disseminated the Slavonic alphabet. Ohrid and Veliki Preslav became centers of the Bulgarian and Slavonic culture. From Bulgaria, the Slavonic alphabet spread to other Slavonic states as well. To the present day, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Macedonia and Belarus still use the Cyrillic alphabet, with rules of orthography established by the students of Cyril and Methodius and their followers in the Bulgarian capital Preslav. The reign of Tsar Simeon the First (893 – 927) is famous as the Golden Age of Bulgarian Culture, and the borders of the country at that time reached to the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
In 1018, after protracted warfare, Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium. In 1186, the uprising led by the boyar brothers Asen and Peter, freed Bulgaria from Byzantine rule, establishing the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, with Tarnovo as its capital.
The former might of Bulgaria was restored during the rule of their youngest brother Kaloyan (who ruled from 1197-1207), and during the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen the Second (1218-1241), the Second Bulgarian Kingdom reached its zenith, achieving political hegemony in Southeast Europe. It expanded its borders to the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea, and greatly developed its economy and culture. Some of the most important monuments preserved from that time are the wall paintings in the Boyana church, the churches in Veliko Tarnovo, the Zemenski Monastery, the Ivanovski Rock Churches, the miniatures that illuminate the London Gospel, and the Manasiy Chronicle.
At the end of the 14th century, the country was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. In the first years of Ottoman rule there were scattered attempts to liberate the country. Later the Hayduk movement created the preconditions for an organized national liberation movement.
The Bulgarian Revival began at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Bulgarian church, educational institutions, and culture were re-established. The beginning of the organized national liberation movement to throw off the Ottoman yoke is marked by the activities of Georgi Rakovski (1821-1867), and key figures in the liberation movement are Vasil Levski (1837-1873), Lyuben Karavelov (1834-1879), Hristo Botev (1848-1876), among others.
In April 1876, the April Uprising took place. This was the largest and the best organized attempt to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman domination. The uprising was brutally suppressed, but it placed the struggle for Bulgarian sovereignty at the center of international political discussions.
In 1878, with the Russian defeat of Turkey, the Bulgarian state was restored. The Berlin Congress (1878) divided the former Bulgarian territories into three parts – the Principality of Bulgaria, ruled by a prince, Eastern Rumelia, with a Christian governor appointed by the sultan, with Thrace and Macedonia remaining under Ottoman control. Alexander Battenberg was selected as the first prince of the Bulgarian Principality.
Bulgaria’s first constitution was adopted in 1879, and was one of the most democratic constitutions of its time. In 1885, the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia united. In 1908, the Bulgarian Prince Ferdinand Sachsen-Coburg-und-Gotha proclaimed Bulgaria’s independence from Turkey, and he was then declared Tsar of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom.
Bulgaria was victorious in the Balkan War of 1912, when together with Serbia and Greece the country gained the independence of Thrace and Macedonia. However, discord among the former allies led to the outbreak of the First Balkan War (1913), in which Bulgaria was defeated. As a result, territories predominantly inhabited by Bulgarians were cut off from the state. The participation of Bulgaria in the First World War on the side of the so called Allied Powers ended in national catastrophe. The Neuilly Peace Treaty (1919) imposed strict sanctions on Bulgaria, and the country lost much of its territory. In the Beginning of the 1940s, Bulgaria’s foreign policy reflected the interests of Germany and the Axis powers. In 1941, Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Axis, but the Bulgarian army did not participate in the battles on the Eastern Front. During this time, Tsar Boris the Third, representing the general consensus, refused to deport some 50,000 Bulgarian Jews. Of all European countries, only Denmark and Bulgaria managed to save their Jewish populations from the Nazi gas chambers. In the autumn of 1944, Bulgaria joined the Allied Forces and actively participated in expelling the German forces from Southern and Central Europe.
After the Second World War, Bulgaria came under the political and economic influence of the USSR. In 1946 the country was declared a republic and the Bulgarian Communist Party came to power. All political parties except for the so-called Fatherland Front (Otechestven Front) were forbidden, the economy and the banks were nationalized, and the agricultural land was organized as collectives.
The democratic changes in Bulgaria started at the end of 1989, when multi-party elections were held and a new constitution was adopted. At this time Bulgaria began its transition to democratic development and a market economy. Its foreign policy was redirected towards rapprochement with European institutions. Since 1991, Bulgaria has been a member of the Council of Europe, and in 2004 Bulgaria became a member of NATO. In 1995, it filed an application to join the European Union, with negotiations commencing in 1999. On 25 April 2005, the Accession Treaty granting the Republic of Bulgaria the right to join the European Union was signed in Luxemburg. On 1 January 2007, after fulfilling all membership criteria, Bulgaria became of full-fl in Luxemburg was signed edged member of the European Union.
The natural landscape of Bulgaria is diverse, consisting of lowlands, plains, foothills and plateaus, river valleys, basins, and mountains of varying elevations. About 70% of the country’s territory is hilly land and 30% is mountainous. The average elevation of the country’s territory is 467 m, generally decreasing from south to north and from west to east.
In the central part of the country lies the Balkan Mountain Range, where the highest peak is Botev (2,376 m). From south to north, its western area is crossed by the Iskar River, which forms a picturesque gorge more than 70 km long. The northern arm of the Balkan Mountains is mainly karst. The highest peak in this range is Vasilyov (1,490 m).
To the south of the Balkan Mountains are the western Balkan valleys and the Srednogorie (central mountainous region). The largest valley in the southern arm of the Balkans is the Sofia valley, the location of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. The mountains in the Srednogorie are the Zavalsko-Planska Range, the Ihtimansko Srednogorie, the Sashtinska Sredna Gora, and the Sarnena Gora.
Between the northern arm of the Balkans and the Danube River lies the Danube valley, with an area of roughly 31,000 square meters. Its eastern part consists of plateaus – the Dobrudzha plateau, the Plovadia plateau, the Lilyak plateau, and the Shumen plateau, among others. To the north lie the Trans-Danube lowlands, which occupy the terraces of the Danube river.
To the south of the capital Sofia rises the mountain Vitosha, whose highest peak is Cherni Vrah (2,290 m). Its foothills extend to the middle part of western Bulgaria, where low-lying and medium-elevation mountains alternate, such as Ruy, Milevska, Zemenska, Konyavska, Verila, and others. West of the Struma River valley and south of Kraishteto is the Osogovo-Belasishka mountain range, which includes the peaks of Osogovska (Mount Ruen, 2,251 m), Vlahinska, Maleshevska, Ograzhden and Belasitsa (Mount Radomir, 2,029 m).
The highest Bulgarian mountains are in the Rila and Pirin ranges, situated to the east of the Struma River valley. The average elevation of these mountains is 1,258 m, and 60% of their area is higher than 1,000 m. In Rila there are 31 peaks with an altitude of over 2,600 m. The highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula, Musala (2,925 m), is located there.
There are two peaks of over 2,600 m elevation in the Pirin range. One is Mount Vihren (2,914 m) – the second highest peak in Bulgaria and the third highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula. Beautiful alpine glacial lakes have formed in the circuses of these peaks.
The Rhodope Mountains are located to the east of the Mesta River valley and Rila. There are 11 peaks with an elevation of over 2,000 m there, the highest of which is Golyam Perelik (2,191 m). The many natural landmarks – caves, waterfalls, and alpine lakes – attract scores of tourists every year.
Between the Srednogorie, Rila, Rhodope and Black Sea are the Gornotrakiyska Lowlands, the Haskovo Foothills, the middle Tundzha river valley, the Burgas Lowlands and the Strandzha and Sakar mountain ranges. The eastern parts of the country border on the Black Sea, where beaches covering hundreds of kilometers attract Bulgarian and foreign tourists.
Bulgaria has a wide variety of minerals. According to the national records detailing the reserves and resources of Bulgaria’s mineral deposits, 163 types of minerals have been found in the country, 7 types of which are fuel and energy resources, 14 types are ore, 75 types are non-ferrous, and 67 types are viable as rock covering and construction material.
Bulgaria is located in the temperate continental latitudes, and its climate is favorable for the development of various types of tourism. The average annual amount of sunshine for the territory amounts to about 2,500 hours. The climate of Bulgaria is influenced by atmospheric associated with the Icelandic minimum, the Azores maximum, and the Eastern European maximum. Arctic and tropical air currents pass through the country in significantly rare cases. The average annual temperature in the country is between 10° and 14°С, with a predominant temperature between 11° and 12°С. This figure is greatly dependent on altitude. In the mountains, at higher elevations thermal conditions are influenced by the thinner atmosphere, so that over 2,300 meters above sea level the average annual temperature is below zero (Mount Musala – 2.9°С). In the lowlands and foothills Northern Bulgaria the lowest average monthly temperature is in January (-1.4° and -2.0° С), and in Southern Bulgaria (excluding the plains) the average January temperature is between 0° and 1-2°С. In the mountainous regions (1,000 – 1,200 m) and the plains, the average January temperatures are between –2° and –4°С. In the higher elevations, the lowest temperatures are recorded in February; the average monthly February temperatures are between -8° and -10°С. During this month Musala ha an average temperature of -11.6°С. Along the Black Sea coast, the average monthly temperatures in January and February are above zero. Along the country’s northern coastline, they are 0.8° – 2°С, and along the southern coastline they are 2.4 – 3.2°С. The highest average monthly temperatures are typically for the months of July and August. They range from 21 – 24°С. The regions outside the mountains to the north of the Balkans have an annual July temperature of about 22°С, and in the lowlands and foothills to the south temperatures range between 23° – 24°С. In the mountain regions (1,000 – 2,000 m) temperatures vary from 12° – 16°С, and over 2,300 meters, from – 5 – 8°С.
Rainfall is unevenly distributed throughout the country. There is a considerable deviation in average annual rainfall – from 500-550 mm in the Danube valley and the Gornotrakiyska lowland to 1,000-1,400 mm in the alpine regions. The annual snow cover in Bulgaria is unstable, and shows significant deviations both with regard to elevation and geographical location. In the lower parts of the country, the snow cover lasts from December to March, while along the Black Sea coast and in the territory south of the Balkan Mountains it remains for only a month, from January to February. Snow occasionally falls during other times of the year (in November or April, for example). But in these regions there is almost no permanent snow cover. Due to the frequent warming of air temperature to more than 0° С, the snow melts a number of times during the winter. Continuous and thick snow cover forms in the mountainous alpine regions. At an altitude of 1,000-1,500 meters, the snow lasts for 4-5 months, and over 2,000 meters – from 7 to 9 months.
The country climate can be divided into five distinct zones – temperate-continental, continental-Mediterranean, transitional, the Black Sea zone and a mountain zone. The favorable preconditions for winter tourism in our mountains include the substantial snow cover and the lower temperatures, allowing the snow to last longer. The development of recreational activity along the Black Sea coast is favored by the few rainy days during the active tourist season, abundant sunshine, moderate temperatures, the relatively high temperature of the sea water, and the lack of blustery winds. What’s more, the bracing mountain air and the coastal air saturated with iodine vapors are both beneficial. Our country is also rich in mineral water. Depending on the thermal level, the mineral springs are divided into cool springs (hypothermal with temperature of up to 20°С); warm springs (up to 20-37°С); and hot springs (hyperthermal with temperature of over 37°С). The cool springs are distributed throughout the country, in such locations as Narechen (Asenovgrad region), Shipkovo (Troyan region), Ovcha Kupel (Sofia), Smochan (Lovech region), Voneshta Voda (Gabrovo region), Merichleri (Simeonovgrad region), and other locationss. Thermal waters constitute the majority of mineral waters in Bulgaria. The spring with the highest temperature is the mineral spring in Sapareva Banya, the only geyser fountain in Bulgaria and in all of continental Europe (103ºС). The most famous thermal springs in the Balkan Mountain are in Varshets, Barziya, Montana, Lakatnik, Opletnya; in the Sofia region there are Bankya, Gorna Banya, Knyazhevo, Ovcha Kupel, Sofia, Pancharevo, and others; in the Srednogorie are Strelcha (40°С), Hisarya (49.5°С), Bankya (51.1°С), Pavel Banya (54.6°С), Starozagorski Bani (45.8°С); along the valley of the Struma River – Blagoevgrad, Simitli, Sandanski, Levunovo and Marikostinovo; along the valley of the Mesta River – Banya (56°С), Dobrinishte (43°С) and in the village of Eleshnitsa (56°С). In Bulgaria the most widespread kind of mineral water are the nitrogen-rich thermal waters, found at such places as Sapareva Banya, Simitli, Narechen, and Momin Prohod. Carbonated acidic waters are those flowing from the springs in Mihaylovo, Slivenski Mineralni Bani, and Stefan Karadzhovo; waters of high hydrogen-sulfide content are found in the Sofia valley. Half of the thermal waters show relatively high radioactivity, surpassing 15 emans/l – such as the Klisura spring (200 emans/l), the Strelcha spring (250 emans/l), and others. Particularly high radioactivity has been registered in the springs of Momina Banya (560 emans/l) and at one of the springs in Narechenski Bani (1,300 emans/l).
The small territorial range of Bulgaria and its close proximity to the Danube River and the Black Sea, together with the location of the Balkan Mountains and its proximity to the Aegean Sea are preconditions for short river arteries and small river systems. The Iskar River is the longest river in Bulgaria (368 km), which empties into the Danube River and has its headwaters in the Rila Mountains. Other large rivers that empty into the Danube river are the Lom, the Ogosta, the Vit, the Osam, and the Yantra. The rivers directly flowing into the Black Sea collect their waters from the easternmost parts of the Danube valley, the northern arm of the Balkans, the Balkan Mountains and Strandzha. These are the Batovska, the Devnya, the Provadiyska, the Kamchia, the Dvoynitsa, the Fakiyska, the Izvorska, the the Ropotamo, the Dyavolska, the Karaagach, the Veleka and the Rezovska Rivers. The largest Bulgarian river within the Aegean drainage basin is the Maritsa (321 km long, with an area of 21,084 square km). Other large rivers are the Arda, the Tundzha, the Mesta, and the Struma.
Bulgaria’s natural lakes (coastal, glacial, karst, landslide, by-river and tectonic) are concentrated along the Black Sea coast and the Danube, and in the alpine regions of the Rila and Pirin ranges. With reference to their location and hydrographic charecteristics, the coastal lakes are divided into three groups: the Dobrudzha lakes (Durankulak Lake, Ezerets Lake, Shabla Lake, Shabla Tuzla, Nanevo Tuzla and Balchik Tuzla); the Varna lakes (the Varna and Beloslav Lakes); and the Burgas lakes (Burgas Lake, Atanasovsko Lake, Mandrensko Lake and Pomorie Lake, Alepu, Arkutino and Stomoplo). The glacial lakes have formed as a result of the glacial activity during the Quaternary period in the Rila and Pirin ranges. There are roughly 260 such lakes. They occupy the bottoms of the circuses, circus terraces, and trough valleys, and they are located at an altitude of 2,000-2,600 meters. The highest is the Gorno Polezhansko Lake in the Pirin (2,710 meters above sea level), and the lowest is Lokvata Lake (1,858 meters above sea level). The longest is Gorno Ribno Lake in the Rila range (801 m). More than half of the lakes have areas of less than 10 hectares, while the largest is the Smradlivo Lake in the Rila range, at 212 hectares; the largest lake in the Pirins is Popovsko Lake, measuring some 112 hectares). Most of these lakes have a maximum depth of 2-5 m, while the deepest the Lake Okoto in the Rila range, at 37 m. The most famous lakes in the Rila Mountains are the Seven Rila Lakes, the Marichini Lakes, the Urdini Lakes, the Ribni Lakes, etc.; and the most famous ones in Pirin include the Vasilashki lakes, the Popovi lakes, the Vlahinski lakes, and the Banderishki lakes. The most important tectonic lakes are the Skalensko Lake (in the Stidovski section of the Eastern Balkan Mountains), the Kupensko lake (in the central region of the Balkan Mountains), Panichishte (in the Northern part of Rila Mountains) and Rabishko Lake, which has been dammed. The only relatively important lake among the coastal lakes and wetlands is Srebarna (a UNESCO natural heritage site). Typical landslide lakes are to be found along the Black Sea coast north of Varna and near the Aladzha Monastery. The Smolyan lakes are located in a vast landslip area north of the city, and consist of three larger and a few smaller lakes.
Medicinal mud deposits are located near the Shabla Tuzla, the Tuzlata, Varna Lake, Pomorie, Atanasovsko Lake, and the Mandra dam. There are turf deposits near the Batak dam in the Rhodopes, in the village of Baykalovo in the Konyavska Mountains), in the town of Straldzha, in the central region of the Tundzha River valley), near Varna Lake, and in the village of Sadovo, in the Gornotrakiyska lowlands). There are deposits of curative mud in the springs of Marikostinovo village in the Sandanski-Petrich valley; in the city of Banya in the Karlovo valley; in the canals at Ovcha Kupel in Sofia; in the cities of Velingrad and Asenovgrad; at Slivenski Bani, Starozagorski Bani, and Haskovski Bani; in the cities of Sapareva Banya, Blagoevgrad, Hisarya, Pavel Banya, Pomorie, and Primorsko; and at the resort complexes Albena and Sunny Beach; in the city of Burgas; and elsewhere.
The country’s favorable climate and natural attractions provide the basis for the development of its 142 resorts, of which 26 are marine resorts, 56 mountain resorts, and 58 are balneological resorts, not counting the numerous balneological and spa centers.
The soil diversity in the country is great. There are black soils, gray forest soils, maroon forest soils, vertisols, yellow soils, brown forest soils, mountain meadow soils, alluvial meadow soils, swamp soils, salty soils and humus carbonate soils. The territory of Bulgaria is divided into three regions with regard to is soils – northern Bulgaria, southern Bulgaria, and the mountainous zones.
Bulgaria is the second most biologically diverse nation in Europe. There are more than 12,360 plant species, 3,700 of which are higher species. Of these, 763 are included in the Red Book of Bulgaria, which lists rare or endangered species. About 750 plant types have been registered as medicinal, and 70% of these are economically valuable. The country exports about 15,000 tons of herbs each year. The forested areas amount to about four million hectares, which is 36.85% of the territory of the country. Of the deciduous broad-leaved forests, the most widespread are oak and beech. The oak forests are in areas up to an elevation of 1,000 meters, and the beech forests are mainly in the country’s central mountain ranges. Dense forests have developed at the lower reaches of the rivers Batova, Kamchiya, Ropotamo and Veleka. Natural coniferous forests are found in areas up to 2,200 meters above sea level, and are the most widely spread in the Rhodope Mountains. They mainly consist of spruce, fir and white pine. Black fir grows in the Slavyanka and Pirin Mountains, and white fir grows in the Central Balkans, the West Rhodope, the Middle Pirin, Rila, and Vitosha.
There are 27,000 species of invertebrate fauna in Bulgaria, and more than 750 species of vertebrates. Of these, 397 are birds, 207 are fresh-water and Black Sea fish, 94 are mammals, and 52 are amphibians and reptiles. Seven zoological regions are recognized throughout the country, four of which are in the Mediterranean climatic zone. Bulgaria is home to European, Euro-Siberian and Mediterranean flora and fauna, and the Mediterranean climate has strongly influenced the development of many species. The cave fauna in Bulgaria consists of more than 100 species. The Black Sea fish populations attract both sport and industrial fishing.
Three national parks have been established in the country: Pirin National Park (a UNESCO natural heritage site), Rila National Park, and the Central Balkans National Park. There are also 11 nature reserves – Belasitsa, Balgarka, Vratsa Balkan, Golden Sands, Persina, Rila Monastery, Rusenski Lom, Sinite Kamani, Strandzha and the Shumen Plateau.
Lifestyle and Culture
Lifestyles and cultures in what is now Bulgaria have developed over thousands of years. The country is located at the crossroad between Europe and Asia, and the lands of Bulgaria have been populated since antiquity. The Slavs and proto-Bulgarians were greatly influenced by the cultures of the Thracians, Illyrians and Greeks, and all peoples who resided on these lands – Thracians, Romans, Slavs, and Bulgarians – have contributed to the world’s cultural heritage. It is no accident that the earliest European civilization grew up here. Some of the most famous treasures in the world were discovered at the Varna necropolis, including the worlds oldest golden ornaments; There are Thracian tombs and sanctuaries in Kazanlak, Sveshtari, Starosel, Aleksandrovo, Perperikon, and Tatul. A large number of other golden artifacts have been found, in the Panagyurishte, Valchitran, Rogozen, and elsewhere. The remains of the Thracian, Hellenistic and Roman culture are many and varied. In the dozens of Thracians tombs that have been discovered, there are unique remains attesting to the high material and spiritual culture of antiquity. Entire city complexes had been found – Augusta Trayana, Trimontium, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Pautalia, Akre, Mesemvria, Apolonia, Serdika and many others. The traditions, festivals, customs, and rituals preserved by Bulgarians through the ages are evidence of the country’s profound spirituality and its dynamic lifestyle and culture.
Bulgarian customs are rooted in antiquity and are closely tied to the country’s history and particular expression of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Dancing on live coals is an ancient Bulgarian ritual still practiced in a few villages in the Balkan Mountains. The ritual in its authentic form is performed on the name day of Saints Konstantin and Helena – 21 May or (3 June according to the old calendar. Fire dancers prepare for their dance by spending hours locked in a chapel, venerating the icons of these two saints while listening to the beating of drums and the music of gaidas (Bulgarian bagpipes), which is a special melody associated with fire dancing, after which they often fall into trance. In the evening they perform their special dance on live coals. During their dance they always hold aloft in both hands an icon of Saint Konstantin and Saint Helena. Amazingly, they never get hurt or burn their feet.
“Mummers” is another local tradition that also found in other societies in the world. The Mummer games are special customs and rituals conducted most often on New Year’s Eve and at Shrovetide. They are only performed by men, who wear special masks and costumes that have been made for the occasion by each of the participants. The mummers’ ritual dances are said to chase away bad spirits and demons at the beginning of every year, so as to greet the new year cleansed and charged with positive energy.
“Laduvane” is another interesting ritual thatis performed on the New Year’s Eve, George’s Day, Midsummer’s Eve and St. Lazar’s Day. At this ritual young women predict their future in marriage and the men they will marry. They address Lada, the goddess of love and family life, to ask her about their future husbands.
“Lazaruvane” is a ritual related to coming of spring. It is conducted on St. Lazar’s Day, eight days before Easter. The date of the celebration varies, but it is always on the Saturday before the celebration of Palm Sunday. On this day willow branches are picked and used to decorate the doors of houses on the following day. Then the young maidens in the villages pick flowers to shape as garlands on Palm Sunday. On Saturday maidens gather in the home of one of their number and dress in festive clothes decorated with flowers and sprigs. Then they walk through the village from house to house, offering blessings for good health and rich harvests. They are invited in and given small gifts. Probably the most important symbol of Bulgaria is the ritual of making and giving martenitsas for health and happiness at the beginning of March. For Bulgarians this is a symbol of the year’s renewal, again intended to promote health and successful harvests.
Especially well-respected in Bulgaria are traditions related to the circle of life – birth, christening, wedding, and funeral. Saints’ name days are also highly respected in the country, the most famous ones being St. John’s day, St. George’s Day, and St. Dimitar’s Day.
The holidays that are most honored by Bulgarians are undoubtedly Christmas and Easter – when the generations all celebrate together, united by the feeling of belonging to the harmonious Bulgarian family. Also especially highly honored are the first Sunday before Lent, the second Sunday before Lent, Mother’s Day, All Soul’s Day, and Lent.
While traveling around the country, tourists will become acquainted with various rituals and customs, many of which are typical only for specific regions in Bulgaria.
The Rose is the symbol of Bulgaria. Rose picking, one of the oldest and traditional customs of Bulgarians, has become primarily a tourist attraction. Carpets from the time of the Bulgarian Revival are now highly valued works of art. The major centers of carpet weaving are Kotel, Chiprovtsi and Samokov. Along with traditional handicrafts, Bulgaria’s people have also preserved a wide range of traditional popular customs and songs.
There are a number of architectural reserves in the country that preserve the unique Bulgarian architecture from the age of the Revival (18th – 19th centuries) – Koprivshtitsa, Tryavna, Bozhentsi, Zheravna, Bansko, and Melnik, among others. In some of the ethnographic complexes, such as Etara, Zlatograd, and Old Dobrich, tourists can appreciate first-hand Bulgarian customs and handicrafts, since residents continue to make articles according to old techniques passed down from generation to generation.
During the Bulgarian Revival, the monasteries served as centers of artistic and educational activity. There are still many working monasteries in the country – Rila Monastery, Bachkovo Monastery, Troyan Monastery, Zemen Monastery, Glozhene Monastery, Kilifarevo Monastery, Shipchenski Monastery, and others. Our country is also famous for its well-established national traditions of icon painting and wood carving. The best known icons and carvings are from Samokov, Tryavna and Bansko.
The Bulgarian national costume is an intrinsic part of Bulgarian lifestyle and culture. Over the ages, folk costume designs have been influenced by Thracian, Slavonic and ancient Bulgarian motives. The basic article of clothing is a white shirt with long sleeves, worn under vests and coats of various shapes, materials and decorations. There are four types of national female costumes: the single apron, the double apron, the tunic, and the sayana, and there are two types of national male costumes: white-shirt and black-shirt. Each ethnographic area (Dobrich, Pirin, Rhodope, Northern, Thracian and Sofia) has its own typical workday, holiday and wedding costumes.
An important part Bulgarian culture is folk music and national dances, such as the horo. Instruments typically used to perform Bulgarian national music are the fiddle, the mandolin, the kaval (flute), the gaida (bagpipe), the pipe, the dvoyanka (double pipe), the drum and the taranbuka, another percussion instrument. Bulgarian folksongs are handed down orally from one generation to the next. The ensembles “Cosmic Voices”, “The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices” and the folklore ensemble “Pirin” are internationally famous. Bulgarian traditional dances are exceptionally vivid forms of artistic expression. Most often they are performed by a group of people touching palms in a closed or open circle, semicircle, serpentine pattern, or in a straight line. Participants perform similar movements in unison, along with gestures and steps to a specific melody (the horo). Depending on the rhythm and the steps, there are a number of horo types: the standard horo, the rachenitsa, the paydushko horo and the improvised horo.
Bulgaria’s museums preserve valuable collections of domestic, cultural and military articles; statues, burial steles and monuments; masks, mosaics, and small statuettes of ancient gods; and many other precious exhibits.
Bulgarians have developed their culture and enriched it over the millennia, and they preserve it and continue to develop it to the present day. In more recent times, Bulgarians have also had reason to take pride in their literature, arts, music, and architecture. A proof of ongoing involvement is Bulgaria’s rich cultural calendar of national and international festivals for young and old alike, as well as other gatherings, cultural events, and expositions.
State Structure and Economy
According to its Constitution, Bulgaria is a Parliamentary Republic, a unified state with local self-government. The official language in the republic is Bulgarian, and the religion of most Bulgarians is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The national state emblem of the Republic of Bulgaria is an upright golden lion on a dark red, shield-shaped background. The national emblem of Republic of Bulgaria is depicted on its state seal. The flag of the Republic of Bulgaria consists of three colors: white, green and red, laid horizontally from top to bottom. The country’s national anthem is the song Mila Rodino (Dear Motherland). Bulgaria’s capital is Sofia. All citizens are equal before the law. No limitations on rights or privileges are allowed because of race, citizenship, ethnicity, sex, national origin, religion, education, beliefs, political affiliations, personal or social position, or property status. The state authority is divided into the legislative, executive and legal branches. The political life of Bulgaria is based on the principle of political pluralism.
The basis of the Bulgarian economy is free economic initiative. The state creates conditions for the free development of science, education, and the arts and provides support for them. The state also makes provisions to preserve the country’s historical and cultural heritage. According to the Constitution, the basic institutions of the state include the National Assembly (Parliament); the President; the Council of Ministers; legal bodies such as the courts, the prosecutor’s office, and the office of investigation; the Constitutional Court; the Higher Court Council; and other organs of local self-government. The National Assembly is vested with legislative authority and exercises parliamentary supervision. The President is the head of the state, embodying the unity of the nation and representing the Republic of Bulgaria internationally. The Council of Ministers is in charge of and enacts the external and internal policies of the country, in conformity with the Constitution and the laws of the land. The legal authorities defend the rights and the legal interests of citizens, of juridical persons, and of the state. Since the country’s liberation in 1878, Bulgaria has been governed by governments led by 50 Prime Ministers. The territory of the Republic of Bulgaria is divided into municipalities and counties. At the moment, there are 264 municipalities (LAU 1), 28 administrative areas (NUTS 3) and 6 planning regions (NUTS 2).
The economy of Bulgaria is an open market economy with a developed private sector and a limited number of state enterprises. Bulgaria has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1 December 1996. Since 1 January 2007, Bulgaria has also been a member of the EU. The Bulgarian economy is characterized by economic, political and financial stability. The country has a strategic geographic location, liberal access to markets consisting of more than 560 million consumers, and the lowest corporate tax in EU – 10%. Investments in municipalities with high levels of unemployment enjoy tax-free status. There are also increased amortization norms (of 50%) for investments in new machinery, manufacturing equipment and other apparatus, computers, peripheral computing devices, and software. Bulgaria offers tax credits in accordance with special provisions for VAT assessment for the import of material related to investment projects amounting to more than 10 million BGN. There are also provisions for a 5% tax upon dividends and a 10% “flat rate” tax on the incomes of physical persons. Bulgaria enjoys the lowest operating costs in the EU. The level of national indebtedness and the state deficit for 2011 is also among the lowest in the EU. Bulgaria is one of three countries in the EU that has not changed tax rates as a result of the financial crisis. As of 1 January 2011, the country has the lowest tax burden for households and businesses in all of the entire European Union. Its farsighted fiscal policy and stable business environment make Bulgaria one of the most stable countries in the EU.
Bulgaria has a population of 7,351,234 as of 01.02.2011, with 72.9% of its people living in either cities or villages. The country is justly famous for its yoghurt and other dairy products, for its rose oil products, and for its wines and brandies. One of Bulgaria’s preeminent industries is tourism.