[Geography] [History] [Practical Information]
Long a crossroads of civilizations (archaeological finds date back to 4600 B.C.), Bulgaria
was recognized as an independent state in AD 681 - one of the few independent states in
Europe in that time. The first Bulgarian ruler was Khan Asparuh. The new state was an
ethnic mixture of native Thracian tribes, Slavonic tribes who occupied the area in the 5th
century and proto-Bulgarians. Each ethnic group contributed to form the Bulgarian nation
in a different way. The Thracians - many of them assimilated during the Helenic invasions
- left many toponyms, pagan rituals and popular believes. One of the most valuable
archeological sights and gold treasures in Europe belong to their culture. The Slavs came
from the present territories of Polland and formed the Southern Slavonic branch. They were
the most numerous group and featured the physical appearance and the language of the
Bulgarians. The proto-Bulgarians, coming from the Caspian Sea area, imposed their
political and military system of government and of course, the name of the new country.
During the 9th century Bulgaria became one of the most
powerful states in Europe, the biggest rival of the Byzantine Empire. In order to
consolidate the state and avoid internal ethnical and religious conflicts, the Bulgarian
prince Boris I converted people to Christianity in 864-866. After that a new Slavonic
alphabet, created by the brothers Cyril and Methodius in 855, was adopted as official. The
early 10th century, characterized by political, economical, territorial and cultural
flowering, is known as the First Golden Age. More than 150 years Bulgaria suffered the
The Second Bulgarian Kingdom was established in 1185 and
quickly gained its former splendor. The capital was moved from Pliska to Veliko Tirnovo.
In 1204 Tzar Kaloyan defeated the army of the Fourth Crusaders. The Second Golden
Bulgarian Age was under the reign of Tzar Ivan Assen II when Bulgaria expanded its
territories to three seas - the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
Although Bulgaria resisted for long, it was conquered by
the Turks in 1396 and the development of the state was stopped for almost five centuries.
The Russian-Turkish Wars and the national liberation movements resulted in the
independence of Bulgaria in 1878. The new state became a monarchy boasting with one of the
most democratic constitutions of that time.
In the early 20th century, in an effort to gain back
Macedonian and other territories, Bulgaria was engaged in two Balkan wars and become
allied with Germany during World War I. It suffered a national catastrophe as a result.
The interwar period was dominated by economic and political instability. In World War II,
Bulgaria officially allied again with Germany but protected its Jewish population of some
50,000 from the Holocaust. When Tzar Boris III died in 1943, political uncertainty raised
again. Bulgaria tried to avoid open conflict with the Soviet Union during the war, but the
U.S.S.R. invaded in 1944 and placed the Fatherland Front in control of government.
The Communist Party exiled young Prince Simeon II, and
rigged elections to consolidate power. In 1946, after a referendum, the monarchy was
abolished and Bulgaria was declared a people's republic. In an election the next year, the
Fatherland Front won 70% of the vote and Communist Party leader Georgi Dimitrov became
Prime Minister. In 1947, the Allied military left Bulgaria, and the government declared
the country a communist state. The Communist Party ruled for 42 years. All democratic
opposition was crushed, agriculture and industry were nationalized, and Bulgaria became
the closest of the Soviet Union's allies. Unlike other countries of the Warsaw Pact,
however, Bulgaria did not have Soviet troops stationed on its territory.
Bulgaria has been a parliamentary democracy since 1990,
like most East European countries which broke with the totalitarian regime. The country is
still in process of political, economic and social changes.