Bulgarian Culture

Bulgarian culture combines many elements influenced by all the different peoples that have walked these beautiful lands. The distinctive folklore, ancient rituals, picturesque churches and colourful festivals provide a meeting point of epochs and civilizations.

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The Cyrillic alphabet

Language

Bulgarian is a Slavic language with complicated grammar and rich vocabulary. Combined with the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet in which it is written it is almost impenetrable to the foreign tourist, usually used to Latin writing. This is not helped by the fact that the Russian language was compulsory for most of the middle aged and elderly Bulgarians during the Communist times and this is often the only foreign language they can speak with varying success. Luckily though, the younger generation has grown up in an English language dominated age and most of them are capable of getting by with the modern Lingua Franca.

Cusine

The cuisine in Bulgaria is Balkan with yogurt and cheese being the most favourite choice of food. Bread is also an important part of any Bulgarian meal and is usually accompanied along side other dishes. Salads are popular in the summer months as well a Tarator – a yogurt based cold soup made with cucumber, walnuts and dill. Bannitsa is a pastry filled with cheese which can be served for breakfast or eaten as a snack.

Bulgarians often cook their food in a gyuvech – a big ceramic dish which holds all ingredients together and used for cooking in a hot oven. There’s an also a smaller dish of the same variety which is used as both cooking and serving dish for an individual portion.

Giuvetch - Traditional Bulgarian Ceramic Pot

Giuvetch – Traditional Bulgarian Ceramic Pot

Folklore

Bulgarian culture has a rich folklore with many traditions and rituals typical in villages and towns alike. The country is divided into 6 folklore regions, each with its own history and local characteristics such as traditional costumes and musical rhythms. A lot of the cultural traditions are unique not only for the country but for the particular region.

Rose picking is one of those traditions and resembles the symbol of Bulgaria. It takes place annually for several weeks in the valley of the roses between the slopes of the Balkan and Sredna Gora Mountains when rose petals are picked and later distilled into rose oil. It has not only an economical purpose but a ritual side as well as an accompanying festival that happens every year in June.

Another tradition that stretches millennia back in time is the Anastenaria – a very dangerous ritual where performers in a trance like state dance on burning coals. It happens only in a handful of villages in the Strandja Mountain in the southeast part of the country and its origins are attributed to the ancient cult to Dionysus.

In the western parts of Bulgaria every winter people put on heavy costumes and masks made of animal skins and big noisy bells, creating a monstrous look in order to scare the bad spirits away. Yet another tradition that comes from pagan times but still lives at least in its ritual form

Many other folklore traditions used to be an integral part of the everyday life of the ordinary Bulgarian until not so long ago. Nowadays with the towns and cities accommodating most of the population and the aging village population it is harder to observe and maintain these unique cultural examples.

The best places to observe the rich folklore heritage of Bulgaria are the numerous festivals that happen annually in many places across the country, mainly in the summer. Apart from the festivals, every village has its own gathering which is well attended by the local people and offers a unique opportunity to the outsider to take a glimpse into the village life.

Religion

The majority of the Bulgarian population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church and there are also Muslim, Judaist and a very small Catholic minority. Magnificently decorated churches and chapels are widespread around the country and are considered to be very sacred among Bulgarians who visit them on daily basis for a prayer and to light a candle. Most places of worship are open to the public at all times which makes them very accessible.

The Bulgarian monasteries are highly attractive to tourists visiting the country. Many of them have carried the high Bulgarian culture through the centuries of the Ottoman rule preserving history books and religious manuscripts. The majority of these religious fortresses are still intact and operational and offer a unique glimpse back in time.

Preobrazhenski Monastery near Veliko Tarnovo

Preobrazhenski Monastery near Veliko Tarnovo