OVERVIEW Bulgaria occupies the central parts of the Balkan Peninsula and shares the eastern boundaries of the European cultural centre and the Orient. It has been determined by its location between Asia and Europe, by its proximity to powerful states competing for land and influence at the junction of trade routes and strategic military positions. A land where races have perpetually overlapped and frontiers have been seldom natural and never permanent. A country in the middle of the ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria has seen many twists and turns in its long and fascinating history. On its land came into existence, flourished and felt five differed civilizations leaving an undeniable trace on Bulgarian people, culture and heritage.

THE THRACIANS were first inhabitants of Bulgaria to enter recorded history and one of the three primary ancestral groups of modern Bulgarians. Their existence can be dated from about 3500 BC, when semi-nomadic tribes from the Eurasian steppes moved southwest to settle in the Balkan Peninsula. Although politically fragmented, Thracian society is considered to have been comparable to that of Greece in the arts and economics. Numerous traces of this magnificent civilization are found all over present day Bulgaria. The Thracians lived in separate tribes and often fought among themselves until King Teres united most of them at around 500 BC in the Odrysian Kingdom. The tribe, called Serdi, occupied the south-west of Bulgaria establishing Serdica (which is now the capital of Sofia). Thereafter, the Macedonian Empire incorporated the Thracian Kingdom and became an inalienable component in the extra-continental expeditions of both Philip II and Alexander the Great. In 188 BC the Romans invaded Thrace. Warfare continued until the year 45 AD when Rome finally conquered the region.

Thracian tomb frescoes / Kazanlak    Thracian tomb of Sveshtari
   Panagyurishte treasure 4th BC - Photo By Sitomon

THE ROMANS made their first appearance in the Balkans in the 2nd century BC although they didn’t fully conquer this area until the first century AD. After conquering the Thracians, they founded two provinces and a number of towns. Roman domination brought orderly administration and the establishment of Serdica (now known as Sofia) as a major trading centre in the Balkans. In 395 AD, the Roman Empire was divided into two parts - the Western Roman Empire with its centre in Rome and Eastern Roman Empire with its base in Constantinople. Bulgarian lands remained in the Eastern Roman Empire which became known as the Byzantium Empire. From the 4th century AD onwards, the Goths and after that the Huns devastated the northern parts of the empire. In the 6th century, the Byzantium emperor, Justinian, rebuilt most of what had been destroyed and restored the Empire to a certain extent. He had a vast line of fortifications constructed and had many public buildings erected. A large part of the Byzantium remains in Bulgaria are from that period.

The Anciant Theatre - Plovdiv   Ruins Of Roman fortifications - Hisarya   Roman Thereme - Varna

THE SLAVS AND THE BULGARS Waves of Huns, Goths, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths invaded and plundered the Balkans beginning in the third century AD. None of these invaders permanently occupied any territory. Small Slavic groups began settling outlying regions in the fifth century, and by the seventh century had overcome Byzantine resistance and settled in most of the Balkans. The Slavs brought a more stable culture, retained their own language, and substantially changed the existing Roman and Byzantine social system. The immigration of the first Bulgars overlapped that of the Slavs in the seventh century. The Bulgars were warriors who had migrated from a region between the Urals and the Volga to the steppes north of the Caspian Sea, then across the Danube into the Balkans. Besides a formidable reputation as military horsemen, the Bulgars had strong political organization based on their khan (prince). Chasing the Byzantines, the Bulgarian Khan, Asparuh, crossed the Danube and settled in present-day North East Bulgaria. A union between the Slav tribes and the Bulgarians laid the foundation for the First Bulgarian empire. The new state combined a Bulgarian political structure with Slavic linguistic and cultural institutions. The First Bulgarian Empire was able to defeat the Byzantine Empire and expand its territory eastward to the Black Sea, south to include Macedonia, and northwest to present-day Belgrade. The kingdom reached its greatest size under Tsar Simeon (893-927AD), who presided over a Golden Age of artistic and commercial expansion. In 865 AD, Bulgaria accepted Orthodox Christianity and an autocephalous Bulgarian Church was established. After reaching its peak under Simeon, the First Bulgarian Empire declined in the middle of the tenth century. By 1018, all of Bulgaria was under Byzantine control. For nearly two centuries, the Byzantines ruled harshly, using taxes and the political power of the church to crush opposition. The first and second Crusades passed through Bulgaria in this period, devastating the land. By 1185, the power of the Byzantine Empire again waned because of external conflicts. The noble brothers Asen and Petar led a revolt that forced Byzantine recognition of an autonomous Second Bulgarian Empire, centred at Tarnovo. In 1202, Tsar Kaloian (1197-1207) made his final peace with Byzantium, which gave Bulgaria full independence. Kaloyan also signed a treaty with Rome that consolidated Bulgaria's western border by recognising the authority of the Pope. By the middle of the thirteenth century, during the rule of Ivan Asen II (1218-1241), Bulgaria again ruled from the Black Sea to the Adriatic. Access to the sea greatly increased trade, especially with the Italian Peninsula. Tarnovo became the centre of Bulgarian culture and one of the most important cities in Europe. The reign of Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) however, marked a great development in art but politically ended disastrously. His two sons divided Bulgaria which facilitated the powerful Ottoman Turks to occupy Tarnovo. After a three-month siege the Second Bulgarian Empire was brought to an end.

Tsarevets Fortress - Veliko Turnovo
  Madara Rider
  Asen's Fortress near Asenovgrad

THE OTTOMAN RULE This is the darkest period in Bulgarian history. In the second half of the 14th century, Bulgaria was invaded by the Ottoman Turks, and in 1396 the last vestiges of independence were lost. During the five centuries of Ottoman rule (1396-1878) the Bulgarian nobility was destroyed and the peasantry was enserfed by Turkish slave-owners. It is a period of political enslavement and religious oppression. The Bulgarian Patriarchate was abolished and the Bulgarian church was brought under the authority of the Greek Patriarch. Turkish authorities destroyed most of the medieval Bulgarian fortresses to prevent rebellions. Forced individual or mass islamisation was carried out in a number of places. Large towns and the areas where Ottoman power predominated became severely depopulated. Bulgarian culture became isolated from Europe, its achievements being destroyed, and the educated clergy fled to other countries. Throughout the nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule, the Bulgarian people responded to the oppression by strengthening the haydut ("outlaw") tradition and attempted to re-establish their state by organising several revolts.

THE NATIONAL UPRISING From the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th centuries, it was a period of great change in the economic social life of Bulgarians . The economic relations within the country, the influence of the advanced free nations, and the interests of the newly created social class revived national awareness and the political nationalism of the Bulgarians. In April 1876 the Bulgarians revolted in the April Uprising. It was cruelly crushed by the Ottomans, who also brought corrupt Ottoman troops from other regions. Countless villages were pillaged and tens of thousands of people were massacred. This aroused a broad public reaction and launched an international campaign against the Ottoman Empire. The strongest reaction, however, came from Russia. The enormous public outcry which the April Uprising had caused in Europe provoked the 1876-77 Constantinople Conference of the Great Powers, and Turkey's refusal to implement the conference’s decisions was followed by Russian declaration of war on the Ottomans in 1877. The Bulgarians also fought alongside the advancing Russians. The Coalition was able to inflict a decisive defeat on the Ottomans and by 1878, much of the Bulgarian territory was liberated. After the Treaty of Berlin which caused Bulgaria to lose territory and a harsh war with Serbia, Bulgaria was recognized as an independent country in 1908.

Rila Monastery in Autumn
  Shipka Monument - Photo By Jeroen Kransen  
Koprivshtitsa house

THE TWO WORLD WARS The Ottoman rulers were pushed out of Macedonia and Adrianople Thrace not by means of a democratic revolution but through Bulgaria's, Serbia's, Greece's and Montenegro's military might in 1912. In the division of the liberated territories, however, Bulgaria found itself all alone against its neighbours. The Second Balkan War of 1913 reduced to a minimum Bulgaria's territorial gains. This is known as the first national disaster in Bulgarian history. With even more catastrophic consequences for Bulgaria was its involvement in the First World War (1915-1918). After having fought on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary), it was stripped of more territories and was forced to pay reparations to the tune of thousands of millions of gold francs. Tens of thousands of Bulgarian soldiers died in the war and 40 per cent of the country's transport was deemed unfit for use. Famine and disease also took a heavy toll during and after the war. The Balkans became known as 'the smoking peninsula', which at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries frequently shook with armed conflicts and hostilities. The loss in material resources and human life would have sufficed, in terms of cost, to gild the disputed territories. In the four decades after the liberation from Ottoman domination, Bulgaria attained no more than a mean level of capitalist development. The Russian Revolution (1917) had a great effect in Bulgaria, spreading anti-war and anti-monarchist sentiment among the troops and in the cities. Sections of the Bulgarian society which had formerly been sceptical to revolutionary and Marxist propaganda became susceptible to socialist ideas. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, the government of the Kingdom of Bulgaria declared a position of neutrality, hoping for bloodless territorial gains. Bulgaria succeeded in negotiating a territorial recovery which reinforced its hopes for solving territorial problems without direct involvement. However, it was forced to join the Axis powers in 1941, when German troops that were preparing to invade Greece from Romania reached the Bulgarian borders and demanded permission to pass through Bulgarian territory. Threatened by direct military confrontation, Tsar Boris III had no choice but to join the fascist block. In September 1944, Soviet troops reached Bulgaria and the country then changed sides and joined the Allies.

PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF BULGARIA Between 1944 and 1989, the country was known as the "People's Republic of Bulgaria" and was ruled by the Bulgarian Communist Party. During the 1960s, The Party's leader Todor Zivkov initiated reforms and passed some market-oriented policies on an experimental level. By the mid 1950s, standards of living rose significantly, and in 1957, collective farm workers benefitted from the first agricultural pension and welfare system in Eastern Europe. By the time the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program in the Soviet Union was felt in Bulgaria in the late 1980s, the Communists, like their leader, had grown too feeble to resist the demand for change for long.

 G. Dimitrov's Mausoleum - Sofia
   The Largo - Sofia
   The National Library - Sofia

REPUBLIC OF BULGARIA In November 1989 demonstrations about ecological issues were staged in Sofia and these soon broadened into a general campaign for political reform. In 1990, the first free elections since 1931 were held, won by the Bulgarian Socialist Party. In July 1991, a new Constitution was adopted, in which the system of government was fixed as parliamentary republic with a directly elected President and a Prime Minister accountable to the legislature. The anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces took office and between 1992 and 1994 carried through the privatisation of land and industry through the issuing of shares in government enterprises to all citizens, but these were accompanied by massive unemployment as uncompetitive industries failed and the backward state of Bulgaria's industry and infrastructure were revealed. On 17 June 2001, Simeon II, the son of Tsar Boris III and himself the former Head of state, won a narrow victory in the elections. The Tsar's party  popularity declined quickly during his four-year rule as Prime Minister and the Socialist Party won the elections again in 2005, but could not form a single-party government and had to seek a coalition. In the parliamentary elections in July 2009, Boyko Borisov's centre-right party GERB won nearly 40% of the votes. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 and of the European Union in 2007. The party GERB won again the elections in 2011 and started its new strategy for economic reform.

source: www.wikipedia.org