Culture of Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a unique historic and cultural treasury. Bulgarian culture is an unique mix of fairly advanced cultures – mostly of Thracian, Slavic and Bulgar cultures, but there are Byzantine, Turkish, Greek and other influences making numerous masterpieces of the world significance coming from the remote past of antiquity. The material evidence and historical sources prove that the Thracians had an advanced culture and that they were sophisticated art creators; also, that the Greek world was strongly influenced by the Thracian one, the Greeks borrowing traditions and deities from the Thracians. Concurrently, the excursion into the ancient Thracian-Geto-Dacian world will bring to you a close-up of the amazing gold and silver ancient treasures and the remarkable personalities of certain Thracian heroes that have remained deeply carved into humanity’s memory.

Archaeologists have discovered and continue finding numerous breathtaking Thracian tombs, sanctuaries and fortresses on annual basis. Most of the Thracian tombs and mounds were discovered in the region of Kazanluk. The place was named “The Valley of Thracian Kings” because of the big number of remains and artifacts discovered there. The richness of cultural and historical treasures makes Bulgaria a place suitable for all those who have interest in ancient cultures. Thracian Art Museum of the Eastern Rhodopes is one of the most well-equipped and representative museums in Bulgaria, and since 2011 it is included in the list of the One Hundred National Tourist Sights. Thracians – Hidden History

Bulgarian is a South Slavic language written in the Cyrillic alphabet and remains one of the strong bonding points between Bulgarians and Russians. Russian is the second language of older Bulgarians. Younger people are more likely to be interested in speaking a version of English peppered with classic rock lyrics and advertising slogans.

Bulgaria boasts of well maintained and picturesque hiking and horseback-riding trails, the magic and charm of the past and because of its rich history – nine amazing UNESCO sites : the Madara Rider, the Thracian tombs in Sveshtari and Kazanlak, the Boyana Church Sofia, the Rila Monastery, the Rock-hewn Churches in Ivanovo, Pirin National Park, Sreburna Nature Reserve and the ancient city of Nessebur. Martenitsa – Baba Marta – a ritual spring sign – an amulet for protection from evil spirits is the unique ancient custom of Bulgaria, is made out of red and white weaved threads in the form of necklace and bracelet or cute woolen dolls called Pijo and Penda, which was listed as a cultural cultural heritage by UNESCO as the Bulgarian representative of the elements of the intangible cultural heritage of mankind. The UNESCO candidature (The Bistritsa Babi – Archaic Polyphony, Dances and Ritual Practices from the Shoplouk Region) is dedicated to the archaic polyphony, dances and ritual practices that can be found in the Shoplouk region of Bulgaria, which are performed by a group of elderly women, the Bistritsa Babi. It encompasses diaphony, or what is known as shoppe polyphony, ancient forms of the horo chain dance and the ritual practice of lazarovane, an initiation ceremony for young women.

The tradition defines the Shopi people as very ancient peoples. One legend has it that when God was creating the wold, he created a single Shop on the first day and the second Sop on the second day and furthur in succession till the sixth day when the sixth Sop was created. Being tired, God decided to rest and on the seventh day he had made a pattern for creation of all the other people. Besides this legend, there is traditional belief that when God wishes to see how people live on the Earth, he comes to the Vidlich peak of the Balkan Mountain – Stara Planina Mountain above Zabrdje area near Caribrod.
Shopi or Shopovi are ancient people of the Helm and descendants of Stribals – Greek Tribals whom Kedrin counts into Serbs and Halkohondil defines them the Illyric Serbs who are the oldest people in the world. Shopi people are blood relatives of the Median Rascians, but  etymologically considered from the Thracian Sapeyi people, which is the name for an Aegean tribe which is only the form of the Rascian and ancient name of Sapai, today known under the name of Shopi or Shopovi which semantically comes from the corrupted form of So/r/bi, Sa/r/bi or Se/r/bi. Under this name in the Baltics exists the Serbian tribe of Sabi, while in the East in the Five-rivers area there are the Serbian Sobi people along which the whole India got its name of Sofir /Sobir as is recorded in the Holy Scripture.

Borders of the Shopluk /area where Shopi live/ are not clearly determined, but this name designates the common and pretty large area of predominantly mountainous character which spreads in the south from Atos in Greece along Plackovica and Males Mountains and further from the Bela Palanka-Vlasina-Pcinja spaces in the west to the Isker, Dupnitsa and Struma, indlucing the area of Sofia in the east, and further in the north along the mountainous range of the Balkan Mountain – Stara Planina Mountain to the South Carpathians and further to the north, ending with the Lusiatian Serbs. In spite of protests and the fact that the majority of the Slavic population of Macedonia and Old Serbia are of the Serb tribe and origin, after the assasination of Prince Mihajlo in 1868, the Shopi were in 1878 added to the Princedom of Bulgaria.

The oldest find of the bound book in Etruscan script is kept in the Bulgarian Historical Museum in Sofia. It was found some 60 years ago in the tomb by accident during excavations and digging of the channel along the Struma River in southwest of Bulgaria. This artifact contains six assembled book pages of 24-carat gold. The book is illustrated with depictions of a rider, a mermaid, a harp and a soldier. The book is dated to 600 BC and was donated by excavators who found it to the Museum. The authenticity of this artifact is attested by two scholars from Sofia and London. Those six golden book pages are regarded as the earliest complete example of a bound book with more pages. There are some thirty similar single pages found up to now in the world, but not bound into a book.

Etruscans are the most mysterious ancient European nation that is believed to have immigrated from that time Lidia in the present territory of Turkey and have established nearly 3000 years ago their territory in the northern and central Italy nearly. They were diminished by the Romans in the campaign in the 4th century BC and have left relatively pure written records of their language and script. Katarina Krstic

Madara Horseman UNESCO Site

This most significant piece of monumental art from the early Middle Ages is a 23 meter high rock relief cut into the Madara rocks on the northern slope of the Provadiisko Plateau. Madara Horseman is unique of its kind in European cultural history. The relief composition is cut at a height of about 75 m above the ground, in the almost vertical 100-metre cliffs of the Madara plateau near the village of Madara, Shoumen region, in north-eastern Bulgaria. The monument of the Madara Horseman (or Madara Rider) was carved at the beginning of the 8th century. It is situated in the vicinity of one of the most significant proto-Bulgarian pagan sanctuaries of that age. Madara Horseman is an early medieval carved rock relief depicting the life-size forms of a horseman and an eagle, trailed by a running dog and a speared lion caught beneath the crushing hooves of the horse. The composition symbolizes the victory over the enemy and triumphant scenes are reminiscent of the ancient Thracian artistic traditions.

Sveshtari Tomb is an eternal tomb of a Thracian ruler from the first half of the 3rd century BC discovered in 1982 under a large hill, 2,5 km to the southwest of Sveshtari village in northeast Bulgaria. The 3rd-century BC Thracian tomb reflects the fundamental structural principles of Thracian cult buildings and provides material support for the ancient writers’ claims that the Getae worshiped their kings. The Sveshtari Tomb is a remarkable reminder of the culture of the Getae, a Thracian tribe who were in contact with the Hellenistic and Hyperborean worlds, according to ancient geographers. The Sveshtari tomb features a unique stone architectural decor, with polychrome half-human, half-plant caryatids and painted murals. The 10 female figures carved in high relief on the walls of the central chamber and the decoration of the lunette in its vault are the only examples of this type found so far in the Thracian lands. The central burial chamber has exceptionally lavish decoration and impressive caryatids in high relief. Richly ornamented, the central Sveshtari tomb chamber was decorated as a facade of a temple with depicted horseman who takes a golden garland from the hands of a goddess with a religious procession following her. The skeletal remains of horses inside the Sveshtari tomb indicate the king’s mounts were ritually sacrificed to carry him once again on the other side. The three walls have high relief with 10 caryatids. The vault is a unique monument of the Thracian Hellenistic art, dating as far back as the first half of the third century B.C. It comprises a passageway and 3 almost square chambers, covered by semicircular vaults. In the central chamber 2 stone beds are to be seen and above the embossed ornaments, one could admire a scene of religious character, reproducing the act of deification of a distinguished Thracian. The lengthened proportions of the figures, as well as the composition and style can be paralleled with those found in the Thracian crypt nearby Kazanluck. The funeral ritual, as well as the construction, architecture and ornaments testify that a Thracian ruler has been buried there. The vault nearby Sveshtari is a memorable monument of significant historical and cultural importance and it attests to the Thracian great contribution to the world’s cultural heritage. Sveshtari tomb is situated 34 km away from Razgrad, close to the village of Sveshtari and was in 1986 declared the UNESCO cultural heritage site.

Kazanluk Tomb

The Kazanluk Valley constitutes one of the richest archaeological landscapes in Bulgaria. Its finds and remains document a remarkable heritage and variety of material culture produced by the local inhabitants across many centuries. Several prominent tombs, dozens of flat sites, hundreds of burial mounds, and countless isolated finds in Kazanluk area testify to the vibrant past of the valley. Kazanluk tomb represents a Thracian tomb dated to the late 4th-early 3rd century B.C. The murals in the Kazanluk burial chamber and in the corridor are of exclusive artistic value. The Kazanluk Tomb is located in the Tyulbeto Hill near the town of Kazanluk. The structure in Kazanluk consists of a lavishly painted entrance hall, a narrow corridor and a brick-wall beehive burial chamber. The outstanding methods applied in decorating the Kazanluk crypt are wet fresco and distemper techniques. Above the frieze of the Kazanluk tomb corridor is depicted a multi-figured battle scene. The images in the Kazanluk tomb are essential as a source for investigating the lifestyle, armaments, manner of dressing and outer appearance of the Thracians. The Kazanluk tomb can be considered one of the best preserved monuments of Thracian art in Bulgaria as well as one of the few kept for the present masterpieces of antique fine art.

Boyana Church Sofia

The Boyana Church is a Medieval Bulgarian Orthodox Church situated on the outskirts of Sofia, in the Boyana quarter, at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain. The east wing of the two-storey Boyana Church was originally constructed in the late 10th or the early 11th century, then the central wing was added in the 13th century under the Second Bulgarian Empire, the whole building being finished with a further expansion to the west in the middle of the 19th century. Sister of the Serbian King Vladislav /whose name was not recorded/, the daughter of the Serbian King Stefan Prvovencani – Stephen the First crowned, and grand daughter of Stefan Nemanja, was married to the Bulgarian sebastocrator Alexander, brother of Tsar Jovan Asen II. Her son, sebastocrator Kaloyan erected the Boyana Church in Sofia.

The Boyana Church in Sofia owes its world fame mainly to its frescoes from 1259. They form a second layer over the paintings from earlier centuries and represent one of the most complete and well-preserved monuments of the Eastern European Medieval art. A total of 89 scenes with 240 human images are depicted on the walls of the Boyana Church. The name of the painter is recently discovered during restoration. The inscription reads: “Zograph Vassilii from the village Subonosha, Sersko and his apprentice Dimitar”.  The inscription is done in black letters of some 2 cm, behind the portraits of  donors, in the first zone of the northern wall of the inner narthex, on the white background in 10 lines, on the rectangle space. The 18 fresco scenes in the narthex of the Boyana Church depict the life of Saint Nicholas. The painter here drew certain aspects of contemporary lifestyle. In The Miracle at Sea, the ship and the sailors’ hats recall the Venetian fleet. The portraits of the patrons of the Boyana church — Sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava, as well as those of the Bulgarian Tsar Constantine Tikh and Tsaritsa Irina, dressed in rich red and gold, jewel-encrusted clothes are thought to be among the most impressive and lifelike frescoes in the church, and are located on the north wall of the church. The Boyana Church patron inscription : “This immaculate temple of the Holy Christ’s hierarch Nicholas and of the Christ’s holy and most glorious martyr Panteleimon was erected from the ground and created with the funds, care and great love of Kaloyan, sebastokrator, cousin of the Tsar, grandson of Saint Stephen, King of Serbia. This was written in the Bulgarian Empire under the pious and devout Tsar Constantine Asen. Indictment 7 of the year 6767 [1259]”. Since 1979 Boyana Church is UNESCO Culture Heritage sight.

Ivanovo Rock Monastery

Ivanovo Rock Monastery is a natural museum of Bulgarian painting, with 20 medieval churches, chapels and monastic cells hewn into the craggy gorge of the Roussenski Lom river by the village of Ivanovo, near Rousse. In the Covered-up church one can see many inscriptions, portraits of saints, and other surviving items, among which the church-donor’s portrait – most likely the czar Ivan Asen II. Ivanovo Rock Monastery located in almost a cosmic landscape – rock massifs, enveloping the picturesque river valley near the city of Ruse-Rousse. As if striving to be closer to God, hermit monks settled here during the 11th – 14th century, digging cells, churches and chapels into the rocks. Talented artists painted them with realistic frescoes, exquisite in color and composition, and turned them into a treasure trove of Bulgarian medieval painting. Ivanovo Rock Churches are the Holy Archangel Michael rock monastery, with partially preserved churches. The murals in the Church of the Holy Virgin rank as some of the most significant achievements of the 14th century Bulgarian Medieval art. The churches are located about 20 km away from the city of Rouse, east of the village of Ivanovo, in the rocks of the Rousenski Lom Nature Park.

Srebarna Nature Reserve

The Srebarna Nature Reserve is a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha, 18 km west of the town of Silistra, North-eastern Bulgaria. It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered. Some 80 other bird species migrate and seek refuge in Sreburna Nature Reserve every winter. Among the most interesting bird species are the Dalmatian pelican, great egret, night heron, purple heron, glossy ibis and white spoonbill.

Nessebar, the old part of the town

Nessebar is the architectural, historical and archaeological reserve at the Black Sea coast with valuable archaeological relics from different periods, and original churches dating from the 5th to the 17th centuries. In 1983 Old Nesebar was included in the List of World Cultural Heritage Sites of UNESCO. Nessebar well proves its historical and cultural role of Bulgarian heritage, where numerous civilizations have left tangible traces in single homogeneous whole, harmoniously fitting in with nature which is preserved until present times in an aggregate living urban organism. Authentic National Revival Period houses of Nessebar make an endless ray of attractions for numerous visitors. The city of Nessebar is one of the treasure cities of cultural heritage along the Black Sea coastline, as well as a very welcoming sea resort attracting holidaymakers and tourists as an ambient and distinctive sea resort. Nessebar is encircled by the sea from all sides and is located on a small peninsula in the Black Sea which is linked with the land only by a long and narrow isthmus. It has existed for more than 9 000 years. It emerged as a fortified Thracian settlement; afterwards it was a Greek polis, then a Roman colony.

Nessebar has two parts – the Old Town and the New Town. Nessebar is best known for the old town (about 9 000 years) on the small picturesque peninsula. No one can say for sure whether the isthmus is natural or man-made. The largest number and best known buildings of Nessebar date from the 11th to the 14th centuries and almost all of the churches are built in the so called “picturesque” style: walls intersected by pilasters and arches, with stone, brick and ceramic ornaments and arches along the cornice. Most of the churches have stunningly beautiful facades and interiors and are among the best preserved ones in the Balkan Peninsula. The oldest one is the Sveti Iovan Krastitel – Saint John the Baptist, the 10th – 11th century. The 11th century Church of Saint Stefan in Nessebar deserves special attention, known in later times as the New Bishopric. The “St. Stefan” Church is one of the most valuable monuments on the territory of the Nessebar reserve. It is a three-aisle basilica, without overarching, with three apses on the eastern wall, built in the zenith of the Middle Ages 10-11th century. After a period of destruction, temple was restored and thoroughly reconstructed at the end of the 16th century. One should not miss also the Church of St Spas – Saint Savior Church. Nowadays some of the 12 churches on the Peninsula have been subject to conservation works, and continue service as galleries. One of them is the Church of St Sophia, or the Old Bishopric which became the city’s main place for organizing various cultural events and exhibitions. The Ethnographic Museum Nessebar is worth seeing, which is also known as the House of Moskoyani, built in 1840 and gives an insight to the life and habits of locals. Today the old part of the Nessebar town has regained its original romantic atmosphere: narrow cobblestone lanes, tiny squares, two-storied period houses with stone-built ground levels and wooden upper floors jutting above the streets and external staircases, gift shops, pubs, tavern and lovely flower gardens.

Bulgarian flag

The national flag of the Republic of Bulgaria is in three colors: white, green and red bands, following each other horizontally from top to bottom. A legend associates the origin of these three colors with the color symbols of the Old Bulgarian Army. Its left wing was set apart by white strips on the spears, the right one by red, while arranged in the center were the elite troops with a green strip, the traditional color of the ruler. The three-color flag had first been used by the First Bulgarian Legion of Georgi Raklovski /1861/. By force of the Turnovo Constitution /1879/, the three-color flag – white, green and red, was confirmed as Bulgaria’s national flag. The coat-of-arms of the Republic of Bulgaria is a rampant gold crowned lion against a dark-red background in the form of a shield. Above the shield there is a big crown, whose original shape was that of the crowns of medieval Bulgarian rulers, with five crosses and one other cross, separately, over the crown itself. Two golden crowned rampant lions, facing the shield from the left and right heraldic side, support the shield. They are standing on two crossed oak tree twigs with acorns. Inscribed in golden letters onto a white strip with a three-color edging, placed under the shield across the ends of the oak twigs, is Unity makes power.