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History of Bulgaria

Carevetc Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo
Carevetc Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

The Republic of Bulgaria is situated in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula on a busy crossroad of different cultures. According to the statistics the country ranks third only after Greece and Italy for the number of its archaeological monuments. During the Palaeolithic Age different tribes inhabited the territory of present day Bulgaria. The Karanovska mound near the town of Nova Zagora reveals exceptionally interesting findings from that period. We can distinguish cultural layers dating back almost 40 000 years - from the Late Palaeolithic and Early Neolithic Age. Traces from the Glacial Epoch have been preserved in many caves, the most interesting of which can be found in the Magura Cave. It is famous for its cave drawings depicting hunting scenes, dances, animistic, totemic, and pantheistic cult figures. The world-famous culture of the Thracians developed on the territory of today's Bulgaria during pre-historic and ancient times. The oldest gold in the world, dated 8 000 years back, is of Thracian origin. It was skillfully wrought and was meant to be used by aristocrats and for priests' rituals.

The period after 3 000 B.C. is very rich in archaeological findings. The culture of the Thracians thrived at the same time as the culture of the Ancient Egyptian Kingdom. The Thracians also made a profound impact on world culture due to their contacts with the civilizations of Ancient Greece. Herodotus mentioned the Thracians as the second biggest tribe in the Ancient world. Homer describes them as allies of the Trojans during the 8th century B.C. Eschilles, Euripides and Aristophanes also wrote about the ancient Thracians. The most people born in ancient Thrace were Orpheus and Spartacus. Orpheus is known to have lived a little before the Trojan War. He was born near today's village of Guela in the Rhodope Mountains and took part in the quest of the Argonauts together with Jason and Heracles. Some of the hymns sung by Orpheus have reached us through their translations into Old Greek and the short descriptions of Orpheus' mysteries. The ancient esoteric societies of the Mediterranean used them to initiate their young members. There are three most famous legends about Orpheus. According to the first one he was the greatest singer of all time and even the wild animals stopped to listen to his music. The second one tells the story of how he went down to hell to look for his deceased wife Euridice and how he broke his vow not to look at her while they were in the nether world and eventually completely lost her. The third legend tells about his death caused by the entranced Bachantes who tore him into pieces. It is considered that Spartacus was born on the territory of present day town Sandanski, at the foot of the Pirin Mountain. As an adolescent they sold him into slavery in Rome. There he became a gladiator and later a leader of the biggest slave uprising in Antiquity.

The Thracians have left us numerous historical monuments. The most well known of these are the tombs in the town of Kazanlak and near the village of Sveshtari; the sanctuary of Orpheus and a multitude of gold and silver treasures often exhibited in the biggest museums of the world.

The Thracians were polytheists and later the Greeks borrowed part of their pantheon. Their cult of Dionissius is very interesting from a cultural point of view, since it simultaneously contradicts and intertwines with the cult to Orpheus.

The Thracians waged constant wars with neighboring Greece to the south and Persia to the southeast. In times of peace they traded with their ex-enemies, the Dacians to the North and the Macedonians and the Ilyrians to the west. In 346 B.C. Thrace was conquered and for a period of 50 years was the possession of Philip of Macedonia and Alexander the Great. It became part of the Roman Empire in 46 A.D. after continuous wars. Antiquity is considered to have come to an end in the territory of contemporary Bulgaria at the end of 3rd century A.D. with the establishment of the Byzantine Empire as an independent state, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire. Numerous remains have been preserved from that period, among which ruins of whole cities, amphitheatres, foundations of public and religious buildings, magnificent mosaics, sculptures and objects from the everyday and cultural life.

The ancient Bulgarians were the basic ethnic components in the structure of the Medieval Bulgarian State. Their original homeland was in Central Asia, in the mountainous region of Pamir and Hindukush. In Antiquity the ancient Bulgars founded two famous states called BULGAR and BULHARA according to some sources. As a highly developed civilization, the Bulgars had culturally dominated the territories of Central Asia for a long time. They have left the world a rich cultural heritage in the field of the philosophic understanding of the world as well as in state administration, social structure, military art, writing, linguistic culture, construction, astronomy and mathematics.

Eloquent proof of this is their calendar based on the sun cycles, which is perfect from astronomical and mathematical point of view. Its structure consists of an original 12 months calendar and an excellent 12-year cycle calendar. The constellations in this masterpiece of ancient Bulgarians' thought bear the names of animals. UNESCO has recognized it as one of the most accurate ancient calendars known so far.

The "Name List of the Bulgarian Khans" dated back in 165 A.D. shows signs of the European presence in the state structure of the ancient Bulgars. Their powerful state union, known to history under the name of Great Old Bulgaria, existed until the middle of the 7-th century when it broke down into new states - Volga Bulgaria and Danubean Bulgaria. One of the main contributions of the Bulgarians is their resisting and stopping the invasion of Europe by the Muslim Armies, of the Arabs, the Tatars, and the Mongolian tribes as well as the Ottoman Turks. Defending Europe many Bulgars sacrificed their lives. The mighty Bulgarian Empire with Khan Asparuh at its head united the ancient Thracian nation and the Slavic tribes. This is how the Third Empire in Europe appeared, the so-called Danubean Bulgaria, on the crossroad with Asia and Africa. Its capital was called Pliska.

Khan Tervel (700-721) was at the head of the powerful Bulgarian Empire and stopped the Arabian Invasion thus saving Europe from the Islamic armies advancing from the southeast. Khan Krum (802-814) passed a new type of legislature establishing Bulgaria as an organized and modern state for that time. Byzantium attacked the Bulgarian Empire in 811 and burned down the capital Pliska. The Bulgarians immediately counterattacked - the warriors of Khan Krum, also called "the Horrible", and defeated the Byzantine Army. Emperor Nikiphorus I was killed in the battle. Khan Boris I (852-889) converted the Bulgarians to Christianity after long diplomatic negotiations, almost two centuries after the foundation of the Bulgarian Empire on the Balkans. He used to call himself "knyaz" which was derived from the ancient Bulgarian word "kanas" (meaning "khan"), and accepted the canonic name of Mikhail. Bulgaria has been considered a Christian Orthodox country since 865. The creation and the establishment of the Bulgarian - Slavic writing by Cyril and Methodius - two monk brothers of Bulgarian origin - is especially important in both cultural and historic terms. Pope John Paul II announced them patrons of civilized Europe. The alphabet created by them was adopted by other nations through the Christian religion. Nowadays it is used in Russia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Belarus, Yugoslavia, and Mongolia.

Tsar Simeon (893-927) inherited the throne from his father Boris Mikhail. Simeon received a brilliant education in Constantinople and had the talent of a writer and the exceptional qualities of a statesman. He organized the translation of a number of Christian Orthodox books from Greek into Bulgarian and is considered o be the father of literary language. He moved the capital from Pliska to Preslav and expanded almost twofold the territory of Bulgaria. A connoisseur of the Byzantine culture, he transformed the Bulgarian Empire into a mighty power with a great impact on the then existing world. The period of his reign is known as the First Golden Age. Bulgaria bordered four seas - the Adriatic, the Aegean, the Marble, and the Black Sea. The rise of the Bogomil heresy is an interesting issue in both social and religious aspect. It is believed that Bogomil was a priest who was the first to spread the dualistic heresy of the faith in the Good Lord and the rejection of the sinful nature of the visible world. The Bogomils hoped that "the younger Son of God - Jesus Christ" would save the people from the clergy, the holy secrets, the icons, and the cross, which contradicted the original status of God's goodness. The Bogomil heresy conveyed the pathos of its resistance far to the west. As early as the 12th century their teaching penetrated Serbia, Croatia, and even the mountains of Bosnia where the local church was inclined to follow it. At the same time Bogomil heresy started to influence the movements, their principles and the secret organizations of the Catars, Albigoyians, and Bugres in Italy and Southern France. From cultural and human point of view, however, they were the heralds of the European Renaissance.

During the reign of Tsar Samuil (997-1014) the capital of Bulgaria was moved to Ohrid, in present day Macedonia. In 1014 the troops of Samuil were defeated and the Byzantine emperor Basil II captured 15,000 Bulgarian soldiers. He ordered that 99 out of 100 be blinded and leave the 100th one-eyed so that he could lead them. Such was the barbarism and the national catastrophe that put an end to the first period in the history of Danubean Bulgaria. Bulgaria fell under the Byzantine oppression for almost 170 years. In 1185, after a number of more or less powerful uprisings, the noble brothers Asen and Peter managed to unite the Bulgarians and to gain back the independence of their country from Byzantium. Veliko Turnovo became the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

The reign of Tsar Kaloyan (1197-1207) and that of Ivan Asen II (1218-1241), who were great army leaders and exceptionally good diplomats, was a very fruitful period for the Bulgarian nation. They made a multitude of brilliant moves, striking war actions, and tactful peace treaties, which eventually expanded the boundaries of Bulgaria and brought permanent peace and welfare to the Bulgarians.

Tsar Ivan Asen II's reign was called "The Second Golden Age". Bulgaria became a world power for the second time during the reign of Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). The Bulgarian arts and culture from that period were akin to the pre-Renaissance in Western Europe. The Tarnovo School had a strong civilizing influence on the whole Slavic world.

But the days of the free Bulgarian Empire were numbered because of the advancement of the Muslim wave from the southeast. In 1396 Bulgaria fell under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. The Turkish Ottoman Empire conducted a policy of assimilation during those hard times for the Bulgarian nation. An expression of the Bulgarian spirit for liberty and independence were over 400 mutinies and uprisings.

As a result of the Ottoman Turkish invasion many mosques were built, the Arabic alphabet was introduced for official and religious documents and many Orthodox Christian sanctuaries were demolished and turned into Muslim shrines. Many Turks, mainly soldiers, who observed the rules of the Empire and later some civilians, settled on the territory of contemporary Bulgaria. The Bulgarians suffered heavy taxes, duties, and the so-called "blood tax". Blood tax required that a boy from the family be taken to Asia Minor where he would be converted into the Islam religion and was trained for a janissar - a warrior with no knowledge of parents and fatherland. These very janissars as well as the Turkish civil army - the bashibozuk - were the real ruthless masters in command in Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian population started to organize self-defense movements. First appeared the hajduti (outlaw rebels) who protected the Orthodox Christian population. They united in "cheti" (detachments), which later on grew into organized movement for the liberation of Bulgaria.

The new Bulgarian National Revival began in the middle of the 18th century. The struggle for independent church and freedom of religious belonging, the publishing of books, and later of Bulgarian press release, the establishment of Bulgarian secular schools as well as the official establishment of the Bulgarian language and culture, were some of the steps taken towards the revival of the nation.

The writing of the History of the Bulgarians by Father Paisii of Hilendar and its later spreading in manuscript form marks an important moment in our history. Some cultural centers ("chitalishta") were created in the aims of preserving and elating the national spirit and giving the chance to many young Bulgarians to get in touch with the treasures of the European culture. Bulgaria was also strongly influenced by the Russo-Turkish wars waged in the 19th century. The myth about Grandpa Ivan was created then - it was the story about the strong Russian hero who would come from the north and would liberate his Christian Orthodox brothers living on the Balkans. Russia also nurtured this faith because of its expansion interests for permanent influence on the Balkan Peninsula. Some Bulgarian volunteers also took part in those wars, especially in the Crimean war during the 1853-1866, which for the Russians was a good cause for declaring a war. So they started planning and organizing the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Turks.

The situation on the Balkans was more than favorable for that. Romania, Serbia and Greece had managed to overthrow the Ottoman domination. In 1862 Georgi Sava Rakovski, the ideologist of the Bulgarian National Revolution, organized the First Bulgarian Armed Legion in Belgrade. Young people were trained in the military art in the aims of organizing an uprising. A great number of Bulgarian emigrants received an excellent military education abroad, while some others took prominent positions in the Ottoman Empire and were seeking diplomatic ways for achieving the independence of Bulgaria. The Central Bulgarian Revolutionary Committee was started in Romania, from where Bulgarian revolutionaries in exile organized the preparation for the uprising. A key figure among them was Vasil Levski (1837-1873). He managed to create an intricate network of secret revolutionary committees in Bulgaria and to train a lot of his assistants and followers. Eventually he was captured by the Turks, tried and hanged in Sofia. The Bulgarian people worship him and consider him to be a saint and the dearest victim of Bulgaria. The April Uprising from 1876 was a turning point in the movement for the national liberation of Bulgaria. Numberless innocent people as well as revolutionaries fell victim of it, including the poet Hristo Botev. All the European countries and Russia voiced their protest in defense of Bulgaria. The Russia Emperor Alexander II declared war on Turkey in 1877. Some Finns, Romanians and numerous Bulgarian volunteers also took part in it. After cruel and epical battles fought for about a year, Turkey was forced to sign the San Stefano peace treaty in front of the walls of Istanbul. That was how Bulgaria gained back its independence on March 3, 1878. In July of 1878 the Berlin Congress revised the San Stefano peace treaty and European Powers divided the Bulgarian country into two parts. An independent Principality of Bulgaria subject to the Sultan was established on the territory north of the Balkan Mountains, including the region of Sofia. Southern Bulgaria became Eastern Rumelia under the political and military domination of the Turkish Government even though it had administrative independence. Macedonia and the region of Odrin remained a Turkish possession; Northern Dobrudha was given to Romania and the Moravian region to Serbia.

The first Prince of liberated Bulgaria was Alexander Ist of Batenberg (1879-1886). He ruled the people who managed on their own to unite the two separate territories of Bulgaria in 1885 against the will of all the Great Powers. The next to rule the country was Stefan Stambolov (1887-1894). A prominent politician and statesman, he was called "the Bulgarian Bismark". During his regency Bulgaria was recognized as a European country, its international recognition being supported by the King's institution.

King Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1887-1918) and his son Boris III (1918-1943) were monarchs whose names are associated with the battles won and lost in the first half of the 20th century. After them the territory of Bulgaria was reduced to its present state. Both of them made successful efforts to modernize all the branches of the national economy, to support scientific research as well as the education and the arts. They also attempted to revive the diplomatic alliance of Bulgaria.

The heroism of the Bulgarian army was in vain after several futile battles to liberate Macedonia and join it to Bulgaria. The national catastrophe deepened after concluding a treaty in one of the suburbs of Paris - Neouin 1919. Alexander Stamboliiski (1919-1923) was the Prime Minister at the time and an ideological leader of the Bulgarian Agrarian Union. He proved to be a brilliant statesman when after the war he passed some reforms and stabilized the national economy and army.

The name of King Boris III (1918-1943) is traditionally connected with the unprecedented salvation of the Bulgarian Jews from the German concentration camps during World War II. 50,000 Jews were saved then and did not leave the country to die in Germany. Thanks to his perspicacity Bulgaria didn't send any troops to the East Front to fight as an ally of the Fascist Germans.

Georgi Dimitrov, also known as "the victor of the trial of the 20th century", was accused by the Germans with three more Bulgarians of burning of the Reichstag and returned to the country as a victor in 1945 from Moscow. He was elected Prime Minister by the National Assembly and was at the same time Secretary General of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The period, when at the head of the Bulgarian state was Vulko Chervenkov (1950-1956), was marked by the so-called "cult of personality", which is another name for dictatorship. The long period of totalitarism during the administration of Todor Zhivkov (1950-1989) was the time when political government and party interests completely merged. The national economy stabilized during the 70s but was soon after that on the decline due to the exhausted resources of the socialism of communist character.

Bulgaria has finally entered the period of democracy after a long and painful waiting. In the new situation of real parliamentary democracy, the Bulgarian people have chosen their leaders - Presidents Zhelyo Zhelev, Peter Stoyanov and Georgi Purvanov, and Prime Ministers Andrey Loukanov, Dimitar Popov, Philip Dimitrov. Lyuben Berov, Zhan Videnov, Ivan Kostov and Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, son of King Boris III. There are historical and cultural grounds for the leaders of the Bulgarian democracy to meet with dignity and worldly wisdom the challenges of the future.

Alexander Ivanchev
Khan Krum passed a new type of legislature establishing Bulgaria as an organized and modern state for that time. Byzantium attacked the Bulgarian Empire in 811 and burned down the capital Pliska.

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