Not much is known about Bulgaria’s ancient history, but recent social and political changes have made it possible to begin exploring the hundreds of prehistoric sites found there.
Bulgaria abounds in archaeological monuments, many of which are still unknown to the international scholarly community, while others are being discovered every year. There are numerous Neolithic, Chalcolithic (Copper and Stone Age), and Bronze Age settlement mounds, which complement similar monuments found throughout the Balkans and northwestern Asia Minor. There are also significant remains of Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman urban centers, settlements, and temples, as well as more than a hundred Thracian tombs, with remarkable architecture and artistic decoration.
It is believed that what is now known as Bulgaria was a part of Thrace, an area in southeastern Europe (which also included Turkey, eastern Serbia, and northeastern parts of Greece). The inhabitants of this region were called Thracians and were of Indo-European descent. According to the Greek poet Homer, the Thracians promised to fight alongside the Mycenaean Greeks in the legendary Trojan War but did not fulfill their pledge. As a result, following the Trojan War, the Greek warrior Odysseus raided Thrace to punish them for failing to honor their promise.
Bulgaria is also thought to be the land of the Greek legend of Orpheus. It is believed that the Greeks borrowed the mythical figure of Orpheus from a Thracian ritual called the Orphic Mysteries, about which not much is known.
Around 46 B.C.E. the Romans conquered Bulgaria and began inhabiting the region they called Moesia. Sometime later in the sixth century C.E Slavic nomads and farmers came to settle in the wastelands and were followed by a Central Asian Turkic ethnic group known as the Bulgars, who began migrating into this region around the seventh century from the northern coast of the Black Sea. The Bulgars were a nomadic Turkic steppe people, more like the Huns or Mongols, and expanded their chiefdoms by raiding neighboring tribes. They were ruled by khans (which is also the title for rulers of Mongolia and Turkey), a hereditary position.
The Byzantine Empire recognized Bulgar rule over the region between the Danube River and the Balkans (southeastern Europe) in exchange for a yearly tribute. Thus by the late seventh century the Bulgars had established their khanate (a region ruled by the khan), and Asparukh (d. 700) became the first emperor of Bulgaria. Initially the Bulgars faced constant opposition from the Slavs, who had entered Bulgaria long before the Bulgars and also outnumbered them. Over time the Bulgars absorbed the Slavic way of life, adopted the Slavic language, and in 865, under the rule of King Boris I, they embraced Orthodox Christianity.
The most ambitious Bulgarian king was Czar Simeon I (also known as Simeon the Great; d. 927), who was the son of Boris I (d. 907), the first Christian ruler of Bulgaria. He waged a war against the Byzantine Empire in an attempt to become the emperor of the Greeks and Bulgars. With the approval of Pope Formosus (?816–96), he even declared himself czar (or emperor) of Bulgaria and Greece.
After the death of King Simeon I, the Bulgarian Empire slowly disintegrated. The Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimisces (924–76) invaded the eastern part of the Bulgarian Empire and declared it a Byzantine protectorate. The Bulgarians suffered immensely under the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (958–1025), who defeated Czar Samuil of Bulgaria (958–1014) in 1014 in Balasita and ordered the massacre of thousands of Bulgarians. He also ordered his forces to blind more than 14,000 Bulgarian prisoners before sending them back to Bulgaria. As a result of his atrocities, he earned the nickname Voulgaroktonos or “Slayer of Bulgars.” Bulgaria was under Byzantine rule from 1018 to 1186.
In the late 12th century the power of the Byzantine Empire was on the decline. Taking advantage of this, Peter Asen, a Bulgarian noble of mixed descent (Cuman Bulgarian, and Vlach), led a revolt against the Byzantine Empire and declared himself Czar Peter II (r. 1040–41). He reclaimed some of the region under Byzantine rule, but the combined Hungarian, Serb, and Cuman (nomadic west Turkish tribes) forces prevented him from reclaiming the original territories of the Bulgarian Empire.
Under King Ivan II (r. 1218–41) the status of Bulgaria as a regional power was restored, and he expanded the kingdom, annexing the whole Balkan Peninsula, except for Greece. In 1242 Mongols raided Bulgaria and defeated the Bulgarian ruler. As a consequence Bulgaria was forced to pay an annual tribute to the Mongol ruler to prevent further raids.
By 1280 the Bulgarian kingdom was reduced to a small state situated on the southern bank of the Danube River.
In the 14th century Bulgaria came under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. They did not force the Bulgarians to convert to Islam, but since non-Muslims were not allowed to serve in the army of the sultan, a new custom of “tribute of children” was started. According to this custom every Christian community had to raise one out of five sons as a Muslim, and he was enrolled in the Janissaries, the elite armed force of the sultan.
Austria encouraged rebellion in Bulgaria in 1595 and 1688, but the revolts were quickly suppressed by Ottoman forces. In the 18th century the Russians, supported by the Bulgarians, fought with the Ottoman Turks over domination in the region. A peace treaty signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire gave Russia the right to interfere in the internal matters of Bulgaria to safeguard the interests of its Christian subjects. In 1876 the Bulgarians staged an insurrection against the Ottoman rulers in what became known as the April Uprising. It was brutally crushed, and more than 30,000 Bulgarians were massacred.
The atrocities of the Ottoman Turks invited strong reactions from the international community.
Russia intervened and called a conference at Constantinople in December 1876, which was attended by delegates from Great Britain, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, along with Russia and the Ottoman Empire. In order to find a peaceful solution to the Bulgarian problem, the formation of a Bulgarian state, made up of a small principality in the northern parts of the Balkan Mountains and including the entire Bulgarian region under Ottoman rule, was sanctioned. When the Ottomans refused to accept this plan, Russia with the backing of the European powers declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1877. By January 1878 Russian forces had gained control over a major portion of Bulgaria, and the forces of the Ottoman Empire were ultimately defeated. In accordance with the Treaty of Berlin (1878), which was signed between the European powers and the Ottoman Empire, a principality of Bulgaria was created between the Danube River and the Stara Planina mountain range. It included Sofia and the ancient capital of the Bulgarian Empire Veliko Turnovo.
After the Bulgarian state was formed Bulgarians began drafting their country’s constitution, and Stefan Stambolov (1854–95), a participant in the April Uprising and a prominent member of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, was elected prime minister. In 1885 a coup supported by Bulgarians in Eastern Rumelia, which had been under the administration of the Ottoman sultan, brought about the unification of Eastern Rumelia and Bulgaria.
In October 1912 the First Balkan War broke out, and the Allied forces of Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece invaded Macedonia and Thrace, which were under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans were defeated by the alliance and lost a considerable portion of their empire. However Bulgaria, which had suffered the heaviest human casualties in the war, demanded a larger share in the territories that were conquered by Serbs. The Serbs refused to give up their part and joined forces with Greece, offering Bulgaria the region of Thrace in return for its help. The two nations fought jointly against the Bulgarian forces, and soon Bulgaria lost all the territories it had won in the battle against the Ottoman Turks.
In 1915 during World War I, Bulgaria sided with its archrival the Ottoman Empire and joined forces with Germany and Russia against the Allied powers, which were supported by Serbia, Romania, and Greece. Bulgaria declared war on Serbia and Romania and reclaimed all the territories it had lost during the First Balkan War. However by September 1918, Greece, along with the Allied Forces, had defeated Bulgaria and forced Czar Ferdinand (1861–1941) to sign a peace treaty.
This treaty demanded that Ferdinand abdicate in favor of his son Boris III (1894–1943). In 1920 new elections were held in Bulgaria. They were won by the Agrarian Party leader Aleksandar Stamboliyski (1879–1923), who was sworn in as prime minister of Bulgaria. But in May 1934, after a military coup led by Kimon Georgiev (1882–1969) and backed by Czar Boris III, all political parties were abolished, and Czar Boris III took total control of Bulgaria.
In 1941 Bulgaria allied itself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and allowed German forces to use it for an invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia. The Fascists defeated the two countries and, as a token of appreciation for its support, gave the Thrace region of Greece and a major part of Macedonia to Bulgaria.
Bulgaria also declared war on Britain and the United States, but, due to Russian popularity in the region, refrained from declaring war on the Soviet Union. In 1943 Simeon II became czar after the sudden and suspicious death of his father shortly after a dinner meeting with Adolf Hitler. Czar Simeon II (b. 1937) was only six years old when he assumed the throne, so his uncle Prince Kyril of Bulgaria (1895–1945) and two others were appointed regents.
In 1944 Kyril and the other regents were removed by a Soviet-backed coup. Kyril was soon tried and executed, as were many members of Bulgaria’s educated governing classes.
Simeon, however, was allowed to stay on the throne with regents appointed by the new Communist government, which also appointed Georgi Dimitrov (1882–1949), a Bulgarian Communist, prime minister of Bulgaria. After the monarchy was abolished in 1946, following a rigged referendum that claimed 95 percent approval, the royal family went to Alexandria, Egypt, where Czaritsa Giovanna’s (1907–2000) father, Victor Emmanuel III of Italy (1869–1947), was living in exile. In 1951 the Spanish government of Francisco Franco (1892–1975) granted asylum to the exiled Bulgarian royal family.
In 1949 Dimitrov died, and an extreme Stalinist Vulko Chervenko (1900–80) was sworn in as the new prime minister.
When the Russian leader Stalin (1879–1953) died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), who disagreed with many of Stalin’s views, took over the USSR. In 1956 the Stalin puppet Chervenko was replaced by Todor Zhivkov (1911–98) as chairman of the State Council of Bulgaria, while another Bulgarian Communist Anton Yugov (1914–91), was appointed prime minister.
After Yugov retired in 1962 Zhivkov became prime minister. In 1971 he promoted himself to the position of president and made Stanko Todorov (1920–96) prime minister. However Zhivkov’s autocratic regime was growing increasingly corrupt and erratic. In the 1980s Bulgaria adopted a policy of forcing the minority Turks to adopt Bulgarian names instead of their Turkish names. Those who refused were persecuted, and thousands fled.
In 1989 people began demonstrating against the oppressive regime of Zhivkov, receiving widespread support from the Communists themselves. Eventually Zhivkov and his party gave up their right to rule Bulgaria, and in June 1990 the first free and fair elections since 1931 were held in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), a moderate wing of the Communist party, won the elections and assumed power in 1991.
Between 1992 and 1997 the government of Bulgaria went back and forth between the Bulgarian Socialist Party and anticommunist regimes. However neither party did anything substantial to revive Bulgaria’s failing economy. As in other post-Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the transition to capitalism was more difficult than expected, and the backward condition of Bulgaria’s industry and infrastructure was exposed. Discontent among the people against the two parties grew rapidly, and there were widespread demonstrations because of massive unemployment and lack of development.
In 1996 Czar Simeon II returned from exile and, using the name Simeon Sakskoburggotski, started a new political party called the National Movement for Simeon II. This party won a landslide victory in the June 2001 elections, and Simeon Sakskoburggotski was sworn in as the prime minister of Bulgaria. Under his rule Bulgaria is slowly trying to achieve economic stability, although unemployment and inflation remain high. In 2004 Bulgaria became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an international organization for mutual defense, and it is expected to join the European Union (EU) before 2010.

Located in southeastern Europe, Bulgaria is flanked by Turkey and Greece to the south, Romania to the north, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro to the west, and the Black Sea to the east. The main topographical features of Bulgaria include: the Danubian Plateau (a region between the Danube River and the Balkan Mountains); the Balkan Mountains (also known as Stara Planina or Old Mountains); the central Thracian Plain; and the Rhodope Mountains.
The Rila Mountains and the Pirin Mountains lying in the Rhodope mountain region, are the most striking topographic features of the Balkan region. The Rila mountain range is home to the highest peak in the Balkan Mountains Mount Musala, which stands 9,760 feet high. The second highest peak in Bulgaria Mount Vikhrenm, which is 9,563 feet high, is located in the Pirin mountain range.
The important rivers of Bulgaria include the Danube, the Struma, the Maritsa, and the Mesta. The Sofia Basin (15 miles wide and 60 miles long) is home to the capital city of Sofia and its surrounding areas.
Bulgaria has a temperate climate that is characterized by wet, cold winters and hot, dry summers.
Renowned for its rose oil, Bulgaria has the largest rose plantations in the Kazanluk region and is called “The Valley of Roses.” Bulgaria has more than 250 native plant species that are not found anywhere else in the world, including the Balkan violet, the Rile primrose, the Rhodopean tulip, and the Bulgarian blackberry. A wide variety of mushrooms, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and other fruits can be found in Bulgaria’s forests.

The Bulgarian economy has suffered immensely due to the lack of development of its infrastructure and the absence of progrowth economic policies.
There is massive unemployment throughout the country, and inflation is high. However, the present government of Bulgaria, under the leadership of Simeon Sakskoburggotski (the former Czar Simeon II), is trying to revive the failing economy and has introduced a number of reforms. Privatization of industry is being encouraged, and the government is making investments in developing basic infrastructure facilities. It is also conducting talks with the members of the European Union (EU) and is expected to benefit from the economic policies of the EU after it joins that organization.
Some of the important industries in Bulgaria include food processing, chemicals, construction, machine building, electricity, and nuclear fuel. The agricultural produce of the region includes fruit, tobacco, vegetables, wine, barley, wheat, and sugar.

Bulgaria’s population is dominated by ethnic Bulgarians, who constitute 84 percent of the country’s population. However, a significant number of Turks, Macedonians, Greeks, and Armenians also live in Bulgaria. The culture is a blend of the Bulgar, Thracian, and Slavic cultures.
Bulgarian is the official language of the country and is widely spoken in Bulgaria. It is a southern Slavic language and uses the Cyrillic alphabet. The various ethnic groups in the region speak their own languages.
Most Bulgarians are Bulgarian Orthodox Christians (83 percent), while 12 percent are Muslim.
Minority religions—Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and people of other faiths—practice their religions freely.
Bulgaria does not have a national dress; people in different parts of Bulgaria wear their own distinctive traditional costumes. For example in the Thrace region and mountainous part of Bulgaria, women prefer to wear the closed tunic, known as the soukman. In the northern parts of the Stara Planina and in the Danube Plain, women wear a bruchnik (double apron). Men generally choose between a chernodresnik and a beloldresnik, which are black or white robes.
The musical instruments used by Bulgarian performers, also used by musicians throughout the Balkan region, include the kaval (flute), tambura (a stringed instrument), tapan (two-sided drum), gaida (bagpipe), zurla or zurna (a woodwind instrument), and gadulka (violin).
Most of the traditional Bulgarian dances, called horo, are performed as line dances or circle dances.
However some dances can also be performed by individuals. The traditional dances are not very popular among the Bulgarian youth and are usually reserved for weddings and village festivals.
Traditional Bulgarian artisans are renowned for their wood carvings, handicrafts, copperware, beautifully designed rugs, and ceramics.

Bulgarian cuisine includes a wide variety of tasty and spicy delicacies. Bulgarians feast on salads, bean soup, kebabcheta (a spicy meat dish), kavarma (a tasty and spicy dish made from pork and veal liver), and peppers stuffed with cheese and egg.
Every region also boasts its own specialties, such as Danube fish soup, Bansko-style kapama (vegetables and meat stewed in an earthenware vessel), Thracian katmi (a delicious pancake), Rhodope cheverme (roasted lamb), and Dobroudjanska banitsa (cheese pie).
Coffee and white and red wines are favorite beverages in Bulgaria.

The death of a person in Bulgaria is announced by the ringing of church bells, followed by wailing and mourning. After someone dies all the windows and doors in his or her house are kept open so the soul can leave. Also cups are placed upside down, and all the portraits and mirrors are covered with cloth.
In preparation for burial the body is washed with soap and water or water scented with basil leaves. The eyes of the deceased are kept closed, since Bulgarians believe that leaving the eyes open may cause the death of someone else in the family.
The body is dressed in new clothes; young men and women are dressed in their wedding clothes for burial.
The body is then placed under a canopy, since it is believed the soul will appear in front of God along with the canopy in which the deceased will be buried.
A special kind of bread is prepared that everyone at the funeral eats. Apples, breads, and dried fruit are buried with the deceased to provide food in the afterlife. Sometimes even money is placed in the pocket of the deceased. Also a number of rituals are performed to prevent the dead person from turning into a vampire, including burying a cross, a religious icon, or an incense stick with the body.