Human activity in the land that is Bulgaria was present during the Paleolithic era. Animal bones carved with man-made markings have been discovered in the Korarnika cave that are assumed to be some of the earliest examples of humans’ symbolic behavior. The Hamangia, Vinča, Varna cultures were all prehistoric societies organized and living in Bulgarian lands.
The Varna invented gold working and were some of the first gold smelters. They produced the jewelry, coins and weapons of what is now known as the Varna Necropolis treasure found among 290 graves. This treasure is the oldest golden one in the world and is over 6,000 years old.
Bulgaria is one of the oldest countries in Europe and even pre-dates the Roman Empire. Founded as the Republic of Bulgaria in the 7th century, it lies at the intersection of two important trade routes — one from eastern and northern Europe to the Mediterranean Basin and one from central and western Europe to the Middle East. People and trade goods from Greece, Rome and Byzantium often traveled through Bulgaria throughout its history. The new state established the First Bulgarian Empire.
Paganism was abolished, the Cyrillic alphabet was adopted and a cultural golden age took place during the First Bulgarian Empire. Ended by Byzantine conquest in 1018, Boris II’s reign prevented discontent and revolts by retaining the local nobility’s rule and easing their tax burdens. Later Ivan Asen I and Peter IV led an uprising in 1185 and re-established a Bulgarian state, laying the foundations of the Second Bulgarian Empire with Tarnovo was its capital.
For 23 years culture and commerce flourished, then internal conflicts and outside raids diminished the empire until it ended in 1396 when it came under Ottoman rule for the next five centuries. THE Ottoman Turks eliminated the nobility and enserfed the Bulgarian people. The Enlightenment period taking place in Western Europe in the 18th century influenced the initiation of the National Awakening movement of Bulgaria. With a restored national consciousness feeding their liberation struggle, the people fought in the 1876 April Uprising. The resulting massacre of 30,000 Bulgarians led to the Constantinople Conference by the Great Powers in 1876, to whose decisions the Ottomans would not agree. Russia declared war (1877-78) and with the help of the Bulgarians, defeated the Ottomans, leading to the formation of the Third Bulgarian Empire.
Conflicts with its neighboring countries prompted Bulgaria to be Germany’s ally during both world wars. Bulgaria sustained territorial losses in World War I and, though aligned with the Axis powers during WWII, refused to send its Jewish population to concentration camps and saved them instead. (They were only one of two countries who did; the other was Denmark.)
They failed to achieve peace with the Allies and wouldn’t expel German forces when asked to by the Soviets. Consequently they were invaded by the USSR and Bulgaria became a socialist state in the Eastern Bloc.
Bulgaria remained a communist country until the fall of those governments in eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The era of post-communism led to a difficult transition into a democracy with a market-based economy.
Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO. It is a founding state member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It has also three times taken a seat at the UN Security Council.
Bulgaria is the only country in the Europe whose name has not changed since the original establishment of the country (in 681 AD).
The official language of the Bulgarian people of all ethnicities is Bulgarian and all ethnic groups speak it, either as a first or second language. It is the oldest written Slavic language and is written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Bulgarians have freedom of religion; there is no official state religion. The majority of religious Bulgarians are members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Religious minorities include Muslims, Christians, Jews and Gregorian Armenians.
The State provides education for all children in primary (1-8) and secondary (9-12) public schools. High schools students study for a technical, general, vocational or specialized discipline education before higher education. The national literacy rate is estimated at over 98 percent.
The food in Bulgaria has a strong Greek and Turkish influence with dishes like baklava and Shopska salad; a cucumber, onion, tomato, white cheese and pepper dish that reminds one of a Greek salad. Popular and well-known local dishes include lukanka, lyutenitsa, banitsa, and kozunak. Some Asian dishes such as gyuvech and moussaka are also popular. Because of the popularity of a wide variety of salads, meat consumption is lower in Bulgaria than the European average. Rakia is a traditional brandy and Muskat and Mavrud are two of the country’s wines. There are also many excellent varieties of local cheeses. Yogurt originated in Bulgaria and is the national food.
Bulgarian folk music is a highly developed traditional art in this country. A fushion of Eastern and Western influences, it achieves distinctive sounds with the use of a wide variety of traditional Bulgarian instruments, including the gadulka, the tupan, the kaval, and the gaida (bagpipe). The extended rhythmical time in Bulgarian folk music is its most distinguishing feature. It has no equal anywhere in Europe. Written musical compositions date back to the Middle Ages and the State Television Female Vocal Choice received a Grammy Award in 1990 for performing their native music.
The national instrument is the bagpipes, called the gaida in Bulgaria. There are only three nations in the world that employ the bagpipes in their traditional music. They are Scotland, Ireland, and Bulgaria.
One of the oldest Bulgarian folk traditions is the rite of fire dancing. It was practiced eons ago by the Thracians near the White Sea. Today it is still performed in only a few mountain villages of the Strandzha region. It is included as a UNESCO legacy of non-material culture. Today it is connected with celebrations for the patron saints Constantine and Elena and though done throughout the year, it is most closely practiced on June 3rd when those two saints are honored. The saints’ icons are clothed and the village processes with them to the holy spring of Saint Constantine, where their carry handles are washed. The fire is laid in a circle so everyone can observe the dance. The fire dancers go to the saints’ chapel, where they breathe incense and prepare with prayer. Musicians play three special melodies and the fire dancers enter the fiery circle after the first dancer crosses the coals in the pattern of a cross. Their dance movements are intricate and their bare feet are not burned.
The oldest golden treasure in the world was found from the Eneolithic period in a necropolis (graveyard) near Varna in 1972. Over 6,000 years old, it attracted the attention of scientists from all over the world. At present, 294 graves have been explored and documented and within them 3,000 golden items found. There is great diversity among them: 38 different types of items made with gold as well as copper articles and flint items, stone, silver and clay articles. These artifacts are on display in the Archaeological Museum in Varna and are frequently shown in other museums in the country and even abroad.