In Bulgaria, you will have the opportunity to experience one of the oldest European civilizations and cultures.

The earliest permanent (human) residents are thought to have been Palaeolithic cave dwellers living in the South of the country around 40,000BC. In the sixth millennium BC, the Balkans hosted the Neolithic revolution (what do we want? settled agrarian communities when do we want them? by 4500 BC), which saw stone-age hunters being replaced by agricultural settlements. Tsarevets Hill in Veliko Turnovo was settled at this time.

Bulgaria has had a troubled history, being dominated by various neighbouring empires, including the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, for much of its history. The 500 year Ottoman period in particular is so deeply etched in Bulgarian national consciousness that it is difficult to travel anywhere without finding a monument to the struggle against it.

The Bulgarian state was founded in 681 AD by Asparuh Khan, leader of the fearsome Bulgars, who arrived in the area from central Asia. Eventually, the Bulgars were assimilated by the agrarian and peaceable Slavs, and the state converted to Christianity under Tsar Boris I. Bulgaria flourished at this time, becoming the most powerful European power. Brought down by the Byzantines in 1014, but resurrected in 1185 as the (imaginatively named) Second Bulgarian Empire, with Veliko Turnovo as the capital. This prosperous time concluded with the invasion of Ottoman forces, completed by 1396. The Ottomans dismantled the Bulgarian state, which more or less ceased to exist in its own right for several centuries. Towards the end of the Ottoman period, Bulgarian national consciousness began to grow again, in the National Revival Period, a time of renewed wealth, trade and arts. Various battles were fought with the declining but still powerful Ottoman empire, until eventually a decisive victory was won in 1878 by the Russian army, which had come to the aid of its Bulgarian neighbour.

The modern Bulgarian state could be said to date from 1879, when the first Bulgarian National Assembly was convened in Veliko Turnovo to adopt a constitution. This is where it would be nice to say and they all lived happily ever after, but sadly things did not go so smoothly, and a very complex series of wars, treaties and interventions in the area by outside powers took things up to WWII, when Bulgaria was left with no choice but to form an alliance with Germany in 1941. Despite being a rather half hearted ally, refusing to declare war on the old ally Russia, or deport its Jewish population (actions which it is popularly believed resulted in the death of Tsar Boris III in mysterious circumstances a week after returning from a meeting with Hitler in 1943), Bulgaria suffered heavy damage from Allied air raids. After the Yalta conference, Bulgaria fell firmly under Soviet domination, and remained there until 1989, after which a few tumultuous years have now given way to the emergence of the beginnings of a stable and prosperous democracy.

Some of the most significant dates and events in the history of Bulgaria:
885 - the brothers St.Cyril and St.Methodius invented the Slavonic script (the Cyrillic alphabet named after Cyril).
864 - 866 - Bulgaria adopted Christianity
863 - 927 - Cultural and economic revival of the country under the rule of Tsar Simeon
1018- 1185 - Bulgaria fell within the limits of the Byzantine Empire and Rule
1185 - the brothers Peter and Assen led a rebellion and fought for the country's liberation.
Restoration of the Bulgarian state.
1396 - 1878 - Bulgaria was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire
1878 - 1944 - Bulgaria was a constitutional monarchy
1944 - 1989 - Bulgaria was a people?s republic, governed by the communist party
Since 10 th November 1989 Bulgaria has been a parliamentary republic.

History of Veliko Turnovo
The old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Turnovo, residence of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1187-1393), the city in which 22 tsars in succession bore the sceptre of authority, was situated on three hills: Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora. Read more about Tsarevets on the Places to Visit page. Trapezitsa hill rises on the opposite bank of the Yantra River. Here were the boyars' (noblemen) homes and some public buildings, churches above all. Seventeen of these have been unearthed. At the foot of the two hills, outside the fortress walls, several mediaeval churches from the Second Bulgarian Kingdom have been preserved: St. Dimiter of Salonika, Holy Forty Martyrs, Sts. Peter and Paul. Between the 12th and the 14th century Sveta Gora Hill was the centre of Bulgaria's religious and cultural life. It is the Turnovo literary and painting school that has given the world the Manasses' Chronicle and King Ivan Alexander's Four Gospels. It exerted a significant and lasting influence throughout South-East Europe. The Veliko Turnovo University is today situated on Sveta Gora Hill.

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