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Bulgarian History

Some archaeological discoveries show that the territory of Bulgaria has been inhabited since the Stone Age. The Valchitran Treasure, found near the city of Varna, dates back from that time. It is the oldest gold treasure in the world.

During the Bronze Age the Bulgarian lands were inhabited by the Thracians. They did agriculture and stock-breeding, and left numerous proofs for their own rich culture. Between the 11th and the 4th century B.C., the first Thracian state unions appeared. In the 1st century B.C. their lands were conquered by the Roman Empire, and after the 5th century they became part of Byzantium.

Thracian fresco
The Valchitran Treasure
The palace of Perperikon

In the 6th century the Slavs settled in the Balkan Peninsula, and in the second half of the 7th century the proto-Bulgarians arrived. The Slavs and the proto-Bulgarians united and founded the Bulgarian State, officially acknowledged by Byzantium in 681. The proto-Bulgarian’s leader Khan Asparuh stood at the head of the new country, and Pliska was made the capital city. During the rule of Khan Tervel (700-718) Bulgaria became a great political power, and under Khan Krum (803-814) it increased its territories.

In 864, during the rule of Prince Boris the First Michael (852-889), Bulgarians accepted Christianity as their official religion. With this they removed the ethnical differences between proto-Bulgarians and Slavs, so this is when the building of a unified Bulgarian nation was started.

At the end of the 9th century the brothers Cyril and Methodi created and spread the Slavonic alphabet. Their students and followers came to Bulgaria, where they were warmly welcomed, and found good working conditions. They developed rich educational and literary activity. The Slavonic letter spread out of Bulgaria into other Slav countries like Serbia and Russia. The rule of Tzar Simeon (893-927) was called “the Golden Age of Bulgarian culture”. At that time the boundaries of Bulgaria reach as far as the Black Sea, the White Sea and the Aegean Sea.

Acceptance of Christianity
Cyril and Methodi
Slavonic alphabet

During the time when Simeon’s ancestors ruled Bulgaria, the country got weaker due to inside struggles. In 1018, after continuous wars, Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium. In the very first years of Byzantine reign, Bulgarians started to fight back for their freedom. In 1186 the rebellion, led by the boyar brothers Asen and Peter, discarded Byzantium’s rule. The Second Bulgarian Kingdom was founded, and Tarnovo was made capital. After 1186 the country was first ruled by Asen, and afterwards by Peter. Bulgaria’s previous power was restored under the rule of their youngest brother Kaloyan (1197-1207).

Under the rule of Tzar Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) the Second Bulgarian Kingdom reached its prime. The borders of the country reached the Black Sea, the White Sea and the Adriatic Sea. Economy and culture were blooming again.

In 1235 the Bulgarian Head of Church acquired the title Patriarch. The discord between some of the boyars led to splitting of Bulgaria into two kingdoms – with Vidin and Tarnovo as centers. This weakened the country, so in 1396 it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. For almost five centuries from that moment on, Bulgaria was under Ottoman management. The early years were characterized by badly-organized attempts for struggling for independence. Later on the appearance of the haidouks provided the foundation of a well-organized national liberation movement. Some of its most powerful figures were Vasil Levski, Liuben Karavelov, Hristo Botev and many other Bulgarians.

The band of Hristo Botev
Radetski ship
The capture of Vasil Levski

The formation of the Bulgarian nation and the development of national enlightenment started at the dawn of the 18th century. One of the most significant books of that period was the “Slav-Bulgarian History”, written by the monk Paisii Hilendarski in 1762. The ideas for national freedom led to the establishment of self-dependent national church, as well as to development of education and culture.

The April Revolt broke in 1876 – it was the first big-scale and well-organized attempt for liberation from the Ottoman domination. The revolt was smashed cruelly and drowned in blood, but it attracted the attention of the European countries towards the Bulgarian national issues. As a result of the Russian-Turkish War for Liberation (1877-1878), the Bulgarian country was restored in 1878. The former Bulgarian territories were split in three – the Principality of Bulgaria with Prince Alexander Batenberg, Eastern Rumelia governed by a Christian appointed by the Sultan, and Thracia and Macedonia remained under the management of the Ottoman Empire.

The decision for the tearing apart Bulgaria, made in the Berlin Congress (1878) has never been accepted by the Bulgarian people. The breaking of the Kresna-Razlog Rebellion (1878-1879) was thanks to that decision, and finally in 1885 the Principality of Bulgarian and Eastern Rumelia were united.

Paisii Hilendarski
Bulgarian volunteers
Meeting the Russian soldiers

Ferdinand Sax Koburggotski, Prince of Bulgaria from 1887, proclaimed independence from Turkey. In 1908 he became King of the Bulgarian people. Together with Serbia and Greece, Bulgaria took part in the Balkan War (1912) and fought for the freedom of Thracia and Macedonia. Bulgaria won that war, but then, in the Inter-Ally War (1913) it was overcome by Romania, Turkey and its former allies, that tore away Bulgarian-populated territories.

Bulgaria’s interference in World War I at the side of the Central Forces ended with national catastrophe. In 1918 King Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his son, Boris III. The Peace Treaty of Neuilly, signed in 1919, imposed firm clauses on Bulgaria – the country lost its border with the White Sea, West Thracia became part of Greece, South Dobrudza was adjoined to Romania, and other parts were given to the Serbian-Croatian-Slovakian Kingdom.

In the early 1940s Bulgaria’s politics was directed in favor of Germany. In August 1943 King Boris III died, and the Regency of the young king Simeon II was pronounced government of the country. On September 5, 1944, the Soviet Army entered Bulgaria. On September 9 a government of the Fatherland Front was established, led by Kimon Georgiev. In 1946 Bulgaria was pronounced National Republic. The Mother Queen, King Simeon II and Queen Maria-Luisa left the country, passing through Turkey on their way to Egypt. The Bulgarian Communist Party took power. All political parties outside the Fatherland Front were banned, the economy and the banks were nationalized, the farmland was forcedly organized into co-operations.

World War I
World War II
Beginning of the democracy

November 10, 1989 was the date which put the beginning of the democratic changes in Bulgaria. A new constitution was accepted (1991), the political parties were restored, the property taken away in 1947 was given back to its owners, privatization was started, as well as the process of returning the land to the former owners. In 1990 Zelio Zelev became the first democratically elected president of the country.

After 1996 Bulgaria’s major foreign-political priorities became the membership in the European Union and NATO. In 2004 Bulgaria did become a NATO member, and it is expected to become a member of the EU in early 2007.