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Dates of visit:
September 1 - 20, 2010

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Trip Highlights:
 Meeting Cousins
 Historic Bulgaria
 Roman Ruins
 Nature Reserves
 Rock Churches
 Black Sea Coast


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Bulgaria - Part 1 - Rock Curches, Rusenski Lom, Medieval City of Cherven
Bulgaria - Part 2 - Nove, Ulpia Eskus, Belogradchik Fortress, Vratsa
Bulgaria - Part 3 - Sofia, Rila Monastery, Trigrad, Shiroka Laka, Plovdid
Bulgaria - Part 4 - Nesebar, Balchik, Kaliarka, Yailata Reserve, Tsarevets Hills
Romania - Part 1 - Arges Monastery, Poenari Fortress, Alpine Pass
Romania - Part 2 - Sibiu, Fortified Churches of Biertan and Viscri
Exploring Bulgaria and Romania
Portrait of Bulgaria

A combination of stunning scenery and Mediterranean climate has made Bulgaria one of Europe's fastest-growing tourist destinations. Attention has focused on the Black Sea beaches and high-altitude winter resorts, but the sheer diversity of natural beauty spots, archaeological sites and picture postcard villages ensures that there is much more here to stir the traveler's imagination.

Heritage plays a highly visible role in Bulgarian society, with medieval churches and monasteries drawing a steady stream of pilgrims, and folk festivals retaining an important position in rural life. Such traditions provide a contrast with contemporary Bulgaria's rapid transformation into a modem European society. Recent decades have witnessed the end of Communism, the birth of a market economy, and the country's integration into the European Union. This roller coaster of social change makes today's Bulgaria one of Europe's most vibrant and invigorating destinations. Lined with long sandy beaches, Bulgaria's Black Sea coast is the country's most obviously captivating natural attribute -- with purpose-built resorts such as Sunny Beach and Golden Sands alternating with historic ports such as Nesebūr and Sozopol.

Inland, some two-thirds of Bulgaria's territory is made up of hills and mountains. This vast area of wilderness provides plenty of scope for active holidays, whether hiking in summer or skiing in winter. The natural beauty and geographical isolation of the highland regions is one reason why so many monasteries were founded here in the Middle Ages.

Rich in luminous icons and vibrant frescoes, monasteries such as Ella and Bachkovo shelter communities that preserve the spiritual heritage of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. In many mountain villages, a traditional way of life, often based on sheep- or goat-farming, also survives. Settlements in the Pirin and Rhodope mountains still boast a wealth of 19th-century houses built in wood or stone. Some of those have opened their doors to tourists as rustic bed-and-breakfast establishments, giving these once-isolated communities a new lease of life.


Bulgaria's key cities have very different personalities. Sofia, the capital, grew out of virtually nothing in the late 19th century, its boulevards laid out in imitation of the of Paris and Vienna. Vastly expanded during the Communist period, when huge housing estates were constructed for a growing population, Sofia is currently undergoing an even more dramatic metamorphosis into a metropolis of shopping malls, multiplex cinemas and glass-and-steel business hotels.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second city could not be more different, with a historic centre of cobbled alleys and the Oriental-flavored mansions of wealthy Balkan trading dynasties. Bulgaria's summer capital is Varna, a brash riviera town boasting a lively nightlife and a prestigious program of major cultural festivals. The centrally located city of Veliko Tūrnovo, with its dramatic castle ruins set above a river gorge, is a lasting monument to the glories of Bulgaria's medieval tsars. Ruse is perhaps Bulgaria's most individual city, a Danube port that grew wealthy in the 19th century and is still full of Austrianate architecture.


Wherever you are in the country you will find the remnants of former civilizations. The Thracian ruled the country until they were conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC. Thracian burial sites at Sveshtari, Kazanlūk and Starosel feature exquisite stone tombs, and deserve a place on every traveler's itinerary. Intricate Thracian jewellery also constitutes a major attraction of Bulgaria's museums.

The Thracians were superseded by the Romans, whose legacy is still visible in the ruined city of Nikopolis and Istrum, the bathhouse complex in Varna, and in many other locations. The arrival of the Bulgars in the 7th century led to the construction of huge fortresses at Pliska and Presley, whose ruins still make a dramatic Impression. The medieval Bulgarian fortresses at Veliko Tūrnovo, Shumen and Cherven are more awe-inspiring still.

Medieval Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who in their turn left a significant cultural and architectural imprint on the country. Surviving mosques in towns and cities such as Sofia, Shumen and Plovdiv are among the most beautiful in the Balkans. During nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule, Bulgarian culture and traditions were preserved in the monasteries. A 19th-century upsurge in traditional values known as the National Revival led to the renovation of the great monasteries such as Rila, Troyan and Bachkovo, each of which was covered in glorious frescoes. Merchants in prosperous trading towns like Bansko, Koprivshtitsa and Tryavna built beautiful mansions using traditional crafts. Many of these mansions are open to visitors today.


One of Bulgaria's immediately visible peculiarities is that, unlike the rest of Europe, locals shake their heads when they say "yes", and nod when they mean "no". Such body language is symbolic of the way in which the country has remained remarkably resilient to outside influences and has preserved much of its folk culture.

Although 21st-century Bulgaria is an urbanized, skilled society, modernity coexists with much that is traditional. Goatherds graze flocks beside highways; donkeys are a viable, efficient alternative to tractors; and traditional foodstuffs play an important part in the Bulgarian lifestyle. Most people still buy their fruit and vegetables from open-air markets, preserving a taste for fresh, local produce. Knowledge of natural medicine is still widespread, and herbal pharmacies a feature of every high street. Folk festivals still mark the social calendar, ensuring that traditional songs, dances and costumes remain firmly rooted in the contemporary cultural mainstream. Even Bulgarian pop music is more in tune with the melodies and rhythms of the Orient than with anything from the West.


Bulgaria has a population of just fewer than 7.5 million. The majority of its inhabitants are Christian Orthodox Bulgarians, descended from the Slav tribes who settled in the eastern Balkans in the 6th century. They speak a language related to Serbian, Croatian and Slovene, and more distantly to Czech, Polish and Russian.

Like other Orthodox Slav nations, they use the Cyrillic alphabet - although there are plenty of young Bulgarians who use Latin script for text messages or e-mails. Just over 12 per cent of the population is Muslim descendants of Turks who settled here in the late Middle Ages, or ethnic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under the Ottoman occupation. Bulgaria's Turks were persecuted in the 1980s, but now enjoy equal rights and representation in

Bulgaria is also home to between 350,000 and 500,000 Roma, or gypsies, who are split roughly half-and-half between the Christian and Islamic faiths.

The Roma have been largely excluded from the social mainstream, and the question of how to improve their social position is a recurring theme of Bulgarian politics.

A largely agricultural country, Bulgaria is a major producer of wine, tobacco, fruit, vegetables, and grain. It also supplies the world's cosmetics industry with rose oil, from plantations in the aptly-named Valley of Roses in central Bulgaria.

Recent decades have seen Bulgaria buffeted by social and economic change. Under the Communist regime, the Bulgarian people became accustomed to regular employment, low housing costs, free education and health care. The collapse of the Communist system in 1989 removed many of these certainties. Trade with Soviet Russia, the main export market, disappeared overnight. The conflicts in Yugoslavia disrupted transport routes to central Europe. Profitable industries were driven towards bankruptcy, and people lost their right to job security and adequate state pensions. Provincial towns suffered serious depopulation as young people left to find work in the cities. Between 1990 and 2005, an estimated 800,000 people, mostly young and well-qualified, went abroad in search of better jobs. These are people Bulgaria can ill afford to lose; its birth rate is among the lowest in Europe, and the population will decline further unless current demographic trends are reversed.


The last few years have witnessed dramatic changes in Bulgaria's political and economic fortunes Bulgaria's accession to the European Union in January 2007 led to a huge increase in foreign investment. Government corruption, a major issue in the 1990s, was brought under a measure of control. Most importantly, the fruits of economic growth began to trickle down to ordinary Bulgarians, whose standards of living finally began to rise.

One of these success stories has been the tourist Industry. The Bulgarian Black Sea coast was a big draw for Eastern European holidaymakers from the 1960s onwards, and the tourist industry has gone from strength to strength with Bulgaria's discovery by the rest of the world. Bulgaria's popularity as a holiday and second-home-owning destination has turned real estate into one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. While this has led to the construction of unattractive apartment blocks along the coast, it has also helped regenerate depopulated inland villages, where rustic houses are being restored and returned to life.

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History of Bulgaria

At the crossroads of Europe and the Orient, Bulgaria has come under the influence of many neighboring cultures, from Greek and Roman to Byzantine and Bulgar. Part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 500 years, Bulgaria gained independence in 1878, but became a Communist republic in 1946. Today, Bulgaria is a fully democratic state and a member of the European Union.

With a warm climate and fertile soil, the region that is now Bulgaria attracted human settlement horn ancient times. Archaeological discoveries at Stara Zagora show that, as early as 5500 BC, Neolithic people were living in the region, where they grew crops, raised animals and made vividly decorated pottery. By 4000 BC, metalworking techniques in the region had developed to become one of the most advanced in Europe, as the exquisite gold jewellery found near Varna shows so vividly.


By 1000 BC, southeastern Europe was falling under the power of a people known as the Thracians. Across a territory consisting of present-day Bulgaria, Romania and northern Greece, the Thracians formed tribal states. These were ruled by warrior-kings who may also have played a priestly role.

It is thought that the Thracians performed ecstatic religious rituals similar to the wine-fuelled Dyonisia riyualss of ancient Greece. The Thracians also believed in an afterlife, and it is likely that the cult of Orpheus, who journeyed to the Underworld in search of his wife Eurydice, originated in Thrace before it became established in Greece.

From the 7th century BC, Thracians and Greeks maintained close contact, with Greeks from Asia Minor establishing colonies on Thrace's Black Sea coast. Greek settlements such as Mesembria (present-day Nesebūr) and Apollonia (Sozopol) supplied Athens and other Greek cities with grain, honey and animal hides from the Thracian hinterland. After the 4th century BC, several Thracian tribes, notably the Odrysae in central Bulgaria and the Getae in the northeast, established powerful states. But, being disunited, the Thracians were unable to resist their more powerful neighbors. Philip II of Macedon invaded southern Thrace in the 4th century BC, founding the city of Philippopolis (present-day Plovdiv). In 335 BC, his son Alexander the Great, subdued Thracian tribes as far north as the Danube. As Macedonian influence grew, the Thracian tribes lost their independence, but this brought them into closer contact with Greek culture.


The Thracian first emerged as a distinct tribal culture in the second millennium BC, but they never developed a written language, so we know relatively little about them. It is not until the 5th century BC that any information appears. According to Herodotus, the Thracians were the most numerous people in Europe. Politically divided, they often fought among themselves. Archaeological evidence shows that in the 5th to 1st centuries BC, the Thracian established a thriving trading civilization in the Balkans, much influenced by the Greeks of Asia Minor. Despite brief periods of unity under individual warrior-chiefs, the constant warring left them open to the Roman conquest in the 1st century AD.


The Thracians' key religious beliefs Involved fertility, birth and death. They held a strong belief in life after death and it is likely that the cult of Orpheus began in Thrace before it won popularity Greece. It is also though that the Thracians practiced ecstatic religious rites similar to the wine-fuelled Dionysiac revels of ancient Greece. Another important deity was he fierce Thracian Rider or Hero.


Kazanlūk, in central Bulgaria, is the site of this richly decorated chieftain's tomb. Dating from around the 4th century BC, it consists of a domed burial chamber covered by a large mound of earth. The frescoes that adorn the tomb depict a funeral feast, with the deceased accompanied by one of his wives. The Thracians appear to have had a positive view of the afterlife, and the transition from this world to the next was the cause for celebrations as well as mourning.


To date, over 50 tomb complexes have been excavated in Bulgaria and many more are certain to be discovered. Believing in an afterlife, the Thracian built an eternal house for a dead king and filled it with weapons, jewellery and even horses or dogs. Animal sacrifice was an important part of the ritual, although whether this was for food or to accompany them is not known. These royal tombs became temples or sacred places.


Because of the lack of a writing system, most information about the Thracians has come from archaeological finds. It is clear that Thrace was greatly influenced by her neighbors. From Persia came the stylized depictions of mythical creatures that adorn Thracian gold and silver vessels. From Greece came more naturalistic portrayals, as in the frescoes in Thracian tombs.


Greek and Roman historians portrayed the Thracians as superior fighters - tough, mobile and with excellent cavalry. To the ancient Greeks, Thrace was a hostile and wild place, home of Ares, god of war. The Romans had a type of gladiator named after the Thracians - lightly armed with a curved sword and circular shield. Spartacus, the gladiator who started a revolt that neatly overthrew Rome, was Thracian.


From the 2nd century BC, the Romans gradually replaced the Macedonians as the main power in southeastern Europe. By AD 50, they had taken control of the region, obliterating the old Thracian kingdoms and creating the provinces of Moesia and Thrace in their place. The Romans also built roads, founded new cities, and turned existing towns such as Philippopolis and Serdika (modem Sofia) into great metropolises. In AD 330, Constantine the Great's establishment of a new imperial capital at Constantinople (Byzantium) boosted southeastern Europe's importance, bringing renewed vibrancy to the cities of Thrace.

However, the Roman world's prosperity was increasingly threatened by barbarian invasions. The Visigoths ravaged the Danube region in 378, and the Huns sacked Serdika in about 450. In many cases the Byzantine authorities had no choice but to allow these migrating tribes to settle. The main beneficiaries of this policy were the Slays, who came from northeastern Europe to the Balkans in the 6th century, and soon made up the majority of the rural population.


The Slays lived peacefully under Byzantine rule until the arrival of the Bulgars, a warlike Turkic tribe whose origins lay in central Asia. In 681, a group of Bulgars under the leadership of Khan Asparuh crossed the Danube into what was to become Bulgaria, The Bulgars established a capital at Pliska, and gradually extended their rule over the Slays already settled in the region. Unable to resist the Bulgars, Byzantium was forced to recognize their nascent state. Under Asparuh's successors, notably Khan Krum (803-14), Bulgaria's borders were extended southwards at Byzantium's expense.

The ruling Bulgar aristocracy adopted the language and culture of the Slays, and the two communities merged to form the Bulgarian nation. This was accelerated by Khan Boris's conversion to Christianity in 865. Boris invited the Alav-speaking monks Kliment and Naum to spread the faith, ensuring the primacy of the Slav language. In order to translate the gospels into the Slav tongue, Kliment and Naum developed a new alphabet, which they named Cyrillic in honor of their mentor, St Cyril. With the new script, Bulgaria became a major centre of manuscript production, and the new spiritual and intellectual centre of the Balkans.


Bulgarian power reached its peak under Tsar Simeon (393-927), who pushed the Byzantines back to Constantinople, and extended the country's borders to the Black Sea in the east and to the Aegean in the west. However, Byzantine resurgence then halted further Bulgarian expansion. Bulgarian society was also weakened by a rift between the Church and a breakaway group of heretical preachers known as the Bogomils. Squeezed by the Byzantines in the south and by Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev in the north, the Bulgarian kingdom fragmented in the late 10th century. A feeble Bulgarian state, under Tsar Samuil, survived in what is now Macedonia until 1019, when the Byzantine emperor Basil the Bulgar-Slayer destroyed Samuil's army at the Battle of Strumitsa. Four years later, Samull's capital, Ohrid, fell to the Byzantines.


Byzantine rule brought peace and stability to Bulgaria. However, heavy taxation, and the replacement of Bulgarian priests with Greek-speaking clergy, led to discontent. In 1185 Petur and Ivan Men led local boyars (nobles) in a revolt against Byzantine rule. After a struggle for independence, Ivan Asen was crowned tsar in 1187 and Veliko Tūrnovo became the capital of the reborn kingdom. The fall of Byzantium to the Crusaders in 1204 gave the Bulgarian kingdom the opportunity to consolidate and grow. Under Ivan Asen II (1218-41), Bulgaria's territorial expansion resumed but in 1240 the Mongols swept through the Balkans, pillaging as they went. A group of Mongols (later known as the Tatars) settled on the northern Black Sea coast. With the revival of the Byzantine Empire after 1261, Bulgaria was once again at the mercy of its neighbors.

To stay in power, Bulgarian tsars often needed the support of either the Byzantines or the Tatars. The rebel and mystic Ivano the Swineherd (1277-80) won the Bulgarian throne by promising to rid the country of Tatar influence, but in the end he fled to the Tatar court. Bulgaria's decline as a major Balkan power was sealed by the rise of Serbia. The Bulgarian emperor, Mihail Shishman, tried to take advantage of the Byzantine civil war and attacked Serbia, but was defeated in 1330. Under his nephew, Ivan Aleksandūr (1331-71) Macedonia was surrendered to the Serbs.


Anatolia in the early 14th century was made up of a patchwork of Turkish tribal states, the most successful being the Ottoman Turk. Gradually absorbing Byzantine territory, they established a foothold in Europe in 1354. The effective light cavalry of the Ottomans soon made inroads into the Bulgarian kingdom. Rather than outright conquest, the Ottomans made the Bulgarian tsars their vassals. Tsar Ivan Shishman's attempts to throw off this vassal status provoked a brutal response. In 1393 Sultan Bayezid sacked Veliko Tūmovo, killed Ivan Shishman, and effectively wiped Bulgaria from the map.

In the anti-Ottoman crusade of 1396, King Sigismund of Hungary sought to liberate Bulgaria but was defeated by Bayezid at Nikopol. Another crusade, led by King Wladyslaw Jagiello of Poland, met a similar fate at Varna in 1444. Nine years later, the fall of Constantinople, last outpost of the Byzantine Empire, left the Ottomans in control of the Balkans.


The Ottomans initially used cruel measures to assert their control of Bulgaria. Nobles were imprisoned or executed, and their subjects deported or enslaved. The Orthodox Church was allowed to carry on its activities, but the Ottoman legal system gave precedence to Muslims over Christians.

Under the Ottomans, cities such as Sofia, Plovdiv, Shumen and Varna emerged as major trade and administrative centers, endowed with fine mosques, covered bazaars, drinking fountains and prestigious public buildings. With a population that included Bulgarian artisans, Greek traders, merchants from Armenia and Dubrovnik, and civil servants from all over the Ottoman Empire, these cities became highly cosmopolitan. Some Bulgarian communities converted to Islam, perhaps to preserve their social status, Ottoman dervishes, who offered an accessible version of the Muslim faith, were key in making Islam attractive to potential converts, Those who adopted Islam were called Pomaks (Helpers) by their countrymen. Their descendants still inhabit the south of the country.

Ottoman bureaucracy was staffed almost entirely by slaves. These were usually collected under the devshirme system, by which the sultan's agents toured Christian villages, taking away an agreed proportion of boys aged between seven and 14. These were then forcibly converted to Islam, and educated in special schools before joining the army or the civil service. The brightest gained prestigious jobs. The Sultan's Grand Vezir (chief minister) was often a former devshirme boy. Cruel though it may have been, the devshirme system was broadly popular among Christian villagers because it offered their offspring an otherwise unimaginable degree of social mobility.

The Bulgarian nobility largely faded away, although a few rich landowners who cooperated with the regime retained their wealth. The inhabitants of highland villages, such as Kotel, Elena and Koprivshtitsa, also prospered. The Ottomans granted them privileges in return for keeping local mountain passes free of bandits and for supplying the Ottoman army with Balkan-reared sheep and wool.

By the late 18th century, central authority in the Ottoman Empire had started to weaken. Bandits known as kurdzhali roamed the Balkan region with impunity, attacking wealthy villages and sacking monasteries. By their failure to act, the authorities appeared to favor the bandits, and relations between Christian Bulgarians and their Muslim rulers deteriorated.

Long drawn-out wars with Austria and Russia had also weakened the Ottoman Empire. Educated Bulgarians began to look to the Russians, fellow Orthodox Christians who spoke a similar Slavic language, as their potential liberators from Ottoman rule. This coincided with a new Interest in Bulgarian history and culture. In 1762 the monk Paisii of Hilendar wrote his Slavo-Bulgarlan History, which opened Bulgarians eyes to their country's pre-Ottoman greatness. The authorities forbade the printing of Paisii's history, but it circulated in manuscript form and played a key role in awakening Bulgarian patriotism.


Bulgarian merchants who had grown rich from the wool trade began to fund patriotic cultural projects, such as the publication of books in the Bulgarian language, and to support schools where pupils were taught in Bulgarian. Funds were also raised for the refurbishment of historic monasteries such as Rila, Troyan and Bachkovo, and the best Bulgarian architects, icon painters and woodcarvers were commissioned to work on them.

This patriotic upsurge in education and the arts was later dubbed the National Revival. Many Bulgarian merchants built themselves lavish family houses that reflected the new taste for fine architecture and wood-carving. This gave rise to a National Revival style of domestic architecture. The patriotic spirit gradually spread from the cultural to the political sphere. From the earliest days of their rule, the Ottomans had placed the Orthodox Church in the hands of Greek-speaking priests and patriarchs. Bulgarian community leaders now pressed for the creation of a separate branch of the Church, a Bulgarian exarchate free of Greek control. The sultan conceded to these demands in 1872.

Frustrated by the slow pace of reform, Bulgarian intellectuals proposed more radical tactics. In 1871, patriots of the younger generation formed a proindependence organization from the safety of the Romanian capital, Bucharest. The revolutionary leader Vasil Levski (1837-73) set about organizing an underground anti-Ottoman movement in Bulgaria itself but was captured and executed in 1873. Meanwhile, young revolutionary ideologues like Lyuben Karavelov and Hristo Botev continued to pin their hopes on a mass uprising.


This was the April Rising, which began in 1876 in Koprivshtitsa, a mountain village at a safe distance from the Ottoman-controlled lowland towns. The Ottomans easily quashed the rebellion, but used undisciplined auxiliaries known as bashibazouks to restore order. Outraged by the indiscriminate massacres carried out by the bashibazouks, public opinion in Russia and western Europe fell solidly behind the Bulgarian cause. In April 1877 Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Despite Ottoman resistance, Russian forces soon overran Bulgaria and forced the sultan to accept defeat. In March 1878, under the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano, an independent Bulgarian state was created. Besides core Bulgarian territory, it included large pans of Thrace and Macedonia. Britain, Prance, Germany and other Western powers suspected that Russia would use the new Bulgarian state to increase its influence in the Balkans, In June 1878, at the hastily called Congress of Berlin, "Greater Bulgaria" was dismembered. A Principality of Bulgaria, still nominally subject to the Ottomans, was created north of the Balkans, with its capital at Sofia. Bulgaria south of the Balkans became a self-governing province of the Ottoman Empire, called Eastern Rumelia, with Plovdiv as its capital. Macedonia still remained a pan of the Ottoman Empire, without self-governing status. For staunch Bulgarian patriots, the Congress of Berlin represented a major defeat, and their dream of reuniting the territories assigned to Bulgaria at the Treaty of San Stefano became the dominant theme of Bulgarian politics for the next 70 years.


Having played a key part in the Liberation, Russia expected to have a guiding role in the new Bulgaria. The Bulgarian army and civil service also desperately needed an influx of Russian bureaucrats to help the fledgling state get on its feet. Alexander Batenberg, a German aristocrat who had served as a volunteer in the Russian army, was chosen to become the principality's new ruler. A natural autocrat, Prince Alexander had difficulty in dealing with Bulgaria's radical politicians, many of whom had been republican revolutionaries before the Liberation. He also had problems with Bulgaria's Russian masters.

In 1886 Bulgarian nationalists took control of Eastern Rumelia and unilaterally declared its union with the Principality of Bulgaria. The Russians, enraged that they had not been consulted, kidnapped Prince Alexandūr and tried to provoke a pro-Russian coup. Alexandūr was released, but was forced to abdicate. Another central European aristocrat, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, became the principality's new head, and Bulgaria's foreign policy was reoriented towards Germany and Austria-Hungary.


By the early 19th century, 400 years of Ottoman rule had forced Bulgarian culture into the background. Very few could read or write, and monasteries were the only places where scholarship lived on. However, a new generation of wealthy merchants wanted a Bulgarian-language education for their children, and raised money for teachers and schools. Before long, a cultural renaissance was under way, reawakening an interest in Bulgarian history and culture, and unleashing new energies in art and architecture. This was the National Revival, and by the mid-19th century its effect was felt in the political sphere, too, with radical young patriots demanding political change. Bulgarians dared to dream of a liberated future. A growing national consciousness swept through Europe. Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829, and Russia, long a friend to Bulgaria, was ready to take on the Turks and their allies.


Spiritual godfather of the Bulgarian National Revival was Father Paisii of Hilendar (1722-73), a Bulgarian monk from Mount Athos. Dismayed by the Greek clergy's stranglehold on the Bulgarian church, which used Greek as its official language, Paisii penned a patriotic manuscript entitled the Slaw-Bulgarian History, with eulogized Bulgaria's medieval rulers in stirring fashion. It was, in essence, a manifesto of Bulgarian nationalism - a history of the Bulgarian state and Church. Although the Greek-controlled Church authorities forbade the printing of Paisii's book, it was widely circulated, and became required reading for subsequent generations of Bulgarian patriots.


One of the main popularizers of Father Paisii's work was Neofit Rislski (1793-1880), a Bansko-born monk who devoted himself to the promotion of Bulgarian-language education. His Bulgarian Grammar (1835) was one of the first-ever text books in the language; He also translated a huge quantity of religious texts from Greek into Bulgarian, and spent decades working on a huge Greek-Slavic Dictionary. Most importantly, Neofit Rilski headed the first secondary school in Bulgaria, founded by Vassil Aprilov in Gabrovo in 1835. He went on to found a similar school two years later in Koprivshtitsa, introducing modem secular teaching methods later taken up across the whole of Bulgaria.


Relatively unharmed by the Ottomans - and the only form of public construction permitted, churches acquired civic functions, becoming keepers of the national identity. As the only outlet for Bulgarian nationalism, a wave of church building activity swept the country during the 1830s and 1840s. The renovation of Rita Monastery was one of the great patriotic projects of the era, funded by contributions from Bulgarians keen to turn Rila into a national spiritual landmark, One of Neofit Rilski's most famous followers was Zahari Zograf, a Samokov-bon painter whose work can be seen in churches and monasteries throughout the country. Among his best-known works are the icons inside Rila monastery church, and frescoes in the church's porch.


The upsurge in Bulgarian culture was accompanied by changes in lifestyle. Wealthy merchants were travelling widely and building large family houses, often using traditional Bulgarian crafts in their design and construction. House painters used Bulgarian folk art as the inspiration for the colorful floral designs with which they covered outer facades and reception rooms. Wood carvers incorporated floral motifs, bird shapes and sunburst patterns into Intricate fretted ceilings. This all maintained a link with the past and reinforced a national identity. This increasing demand for artists in turn led to the development of schools of art - at Tryavna, Samokov, and Boyana for example. This artistic legacy remains and can be seen in Plovdiv, Koprivshtitsa, Tryavna, Veliko Tūrnovo and elsewhere.


Bulgaria's newly literate population was unwilling to put up with the administration imposed by the Ottoman Empire Radicals like Georgi Sava Rakovski (1821-67) established the country's first anti-Ottoman armed group, inspiring intellectuals and freedom fighters such as Lyuben Karavelov (1834-79), Vasil Levski (1837-73) and Hristo Botev (1884-76) to organize pockets of resistance. In April 1876 a large-scale uprising against the Ottomans was launched but was brutally put down. However, news of the massacres resulted in universal condemnation, the start of another Russo-Turkish War and ultimately independence for Bulgaria in 1878.


After the Congress of Berlin, many Macedonians, who saw Bulgaria as their main ally in the struggle against Ottoman rule, came to Sofia as exiles. Because of ethnic and linguistic similarities between Bulgarian and Macedonian Slavs, many people from both groups claimed that they were historically one nation. The Bulgarian court and the country's armed forces also sought closer links with Macedonian factions. Prime Minister Stefan Stambolov angered the court by trying to clamp down on the Macedonian lobby, and was dismissed by Prince Ferdinand in 1895. The following year Stambolov was murdered in Sofia by Macedonian revolutionaries. This was the first of many political assassinations linked to Macedonian émigré groups.

In 1903 the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) staged an uprising in Macedonia against Ottoman rule. The revolt was brutally put down, sending another wave of Macedonian exiles into Bulgaria. In 1908 the Ottoman Empire was again convulsed, this time by the Young Turks, a group of Western-oriented radicals who tried to introduce a modern liberal regime. Bulgaria took advantage of Ottoman weakness to declare itself an independent kingdom, with Ferdinand Tsar Ferdinand I.


Eager to force the Ottomans from their remaining European possessions in Macedonia and Thrace, Bulgaria was drawn into an anti-Ottoman alliance with Serbia and Greece. In the First Balkan War of 1912, these three Balkan states inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ottomans but disagreed on how to divide their conquests. The Greeks and Serbs occupied much of Macedonia, which Bulgaria regarded as rightly hers. Bulgaria responded by declaring war on her former allies, but was roundly defeated in the Second Balkan War of 1913.

Bulgaria's involvement in World War I was an even greater disaster. Once again lured by the chance to occupy Macedonia, Bulgaria joined the war on the German-Austrian side in 1915. Three years later a Greek-French-British army invaded Macedonia, sweeping the Bulgarian army aside. With the country in a state of collapse, Tsar Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his son Boris III, and Aleksandūr Stambolyiski, radical leader of the Agrarian Parry, became prime minister.


Stambolyiski's policy of giving power to the peasants enraged the urban middle classes. He also lost the support of Bulgarian nationalists by failing to oppose Macedonia's becoming part of Yugogoslavia. In 1923 Stambolyiski was murdered by embittered Macedonian writes and their Bulgarian allies. An uprising by Bulgarian Communists was put down, leaving power in the hands of the authoritarian right.

Throughout the 1920s, Macedonian revolutionary factions continued to influence Bulgarian politics. They ran southwestern Bulgaria as a virtual gangster-state. Eager to bring the Macedonians under control, a group of intellectuals and Bulgarian army officers staged a coup in 1934. Tsar Boris III imposed a royal dictatorship the following year.


In 1941, two years after the outbreak of World War II, Bulgaria joined the Axis, judging that an alliance with Germany would allow her to reoccupy Macedonia. By 1943, however, it was apparent that German victory was not assured, and Bulgarian politicians sought other options. In 1944 Bulgaria switched sides, hoping to head off an invasion by the Soviet Red Army. However, the Red Army invaded, providing the Bulgarian Communist Party with the opportunity to seize power.

The Communists' first priority was to banish all other political forces. Politicians sympathetic to the Communists were cajoled into joining the Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization controlled by the Communists. Anti-Communist politicians were denounced as traitors who were sabotaging the country's postwar reconstruction. Elections held in 1945 gave the Communists a landslide victory. A staged referendum in 1946 voted to abolish the monarchy, and Bulgaria became a republic. Persecution of the Communist Party's opponents culminated in 1947 with the trial of Agrarian leader Nikola Petkov, who was executed for allegedly plotting with foreign intelligence services.

Bulgaria was forced to accept the loss of Macedonia, which became a federal republic within Communist Yugoslavia. The BKP leader Georgi Dimitrov considered solving the Macedonian question by forming a Bulgarian-Yugoslav Confederation, of which Macedonia would be a constituent part. However, Stalin disapproved, and Dimitrov died in mysterious circumstances in 1949.

Under his successor, Vulko Chervenkov, Bulgaria became a model Stalinist society In which political, economic and cultural life was tightly controlled. Agriculture was collectivized and the development of heavy industry fed economic growth. The death of Stalin in 1953 was followed by the fall of his close associates in Eastern Europe, and in 1956 Chervenkov stepped down in favor of Todor Zhivkov. Although he allowed greater cultural freedom, Zhivkov remained a hard-line Communist loyal to the Soviet Union.

By the early 1980's, the Bulgarian economy was stagnating and Zhivkov could no longer rely on full employ-ment and improving standards of living to ensure continuing support. He also launched a policy of bringing Bulgaria's Turks into the national fold. Turks were made to adopt Bulgarian surnames, and the use of the Turkish language in public places was discouraged. The policy was justified by the dubious theory that Bulgaria's Turks were ethnic Bulgarians, forcibly Turkicized during Ottoman rule.


By the 1980s, across Eastern Europe confidence in the Communist system was ebbing away. While the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the problem through policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), Zhivkov was unwilling to follow his lead. Instead, he opted to whip up nationalist passions by stepping up his anti-Turkish campaign. As a result, some 360,000 Bulgarian Turks fled to Turkey in 1989. The exodus led to catastrophic labor shortages, and crops remained unharvested.

At the same time, Bulgarian dissidents became increasingly active, forming pressure groups such as the environmentally ethical Ecoglasnost, and the embryonic trade-union movement Podkrepa. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 suddenly changed Eastern Europe's political landscape. The Bulgarian Communist leadership forced Tador Zhivkov to resign, and embarked on a reformist path. Soon after, the anti-Communist opposition united to form the Union of Democratic forces (UDF), led by the dissident intellectual Zhelyu Zhelev. Bulgaria's ethnic Turks, allowed political expression for the first time, founded the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF).


Under a new name, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the Communists won the first free elections in Bulgaria in 1990. They were, however, greeted by a wave of protest, and were forced accept the veteran anti-Communist Zhelyu Zhelev as president. Fresh elections in 1991 brought the UDF to power, but its radical program of economic reform was halted when coalition partners, concerned by the social cost of free-market policies, deserted the government.

The BSP re-established itself as the dominant force in Bulgarian politics in 1994. However, economic mismanagement led to runaway inflation and food shortages, provoking mass protests. The UDF was returned to power in April 1997, but it failed to stamp out government corruption, and in 2001 Bulgaria turned to a new, non-ideological party formed by Bulgaria's former Tsar, Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Simeon IIs National Movement continued the program of economic stabilization initiated by the UDA. But despite economic growth, prosperity failed to reach most of the populace, who returned the BSP to power in 2005. Despite these frequent changes in government, most political parties agreed that Bulgaria's most important priority was its smooth integration into Western organizations. Bulgaria Joined NATO in 2004, and signed the European Union Accession Treaty in 2005. Bulgaria's entry into the EU in 2007 marked a significant new phase in the country's voyage from post-Communist chaos to political and economic stability.

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