Although “only” thirteen centuries old the history of Bulgaria and its lands stretches back millennia into the dawn of the European civilisation. Many empires took advantage of this territory and left their treasures on it – some still waiting to be discovered.
The first known culture to walk the seaside of Bulgaria around 5000 BC has left us the oldest gold artifacts in the world and a little more.
After 3000 BC tribes generally known as Thracians slowly settled on the Balkans. Although they did not have their own script they had an advanced culture with its own kingdoms, coinage, treasures and mythology. The close relations with their neighbours are recorded by Ancient Greek historians and their military strength is mentioned even in Homer’s Iliad. The Black sea coast was dotted with Greek colonies and some of them still bear their names today.
In the II Century BC the lands of the Thracians became part of the Roman Empire and in the next seven centuries large urban and trade centuries were developed with Serdica (Sofia) and Philipopolis (Plovdiv) being on the main road between Rome and Byzantium and sharing their glorious architecture and culture.
With the decline of the Roman Empire the Slavs settled on the peninsula followed by the Bulgars who came from the northwest where Old Great Bulgaria has existed for several centuries. Those two peoples managed a state of coexistence and in 681 AD Bulgaria was officially recognized by Byzantium.
The First Bulgarian Kingdom existed until 1018 AD spreading its territories to all corners of the Balkans. During its golden age the kingdom adopted Christianity as an official religion, created the Cyrillic alphabet and even threatened the walls of the Byzantium capital Constantinople.
After a century and a half of Byzantium rule, the Bulgarian Kingdom was re-established in 1185 AD and soon became a regional power with high culture and connections throughout Europe. This era left us with marvelous churches and monasteries that can still be seen in their full glory as well as the fortress capital of Veliko Tarnovo.
During the 13th century Bulgaria split into smaller, weak feudal kingdoms and one by one they fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. During the times of the European Renaissance the Bulgarian high culture was obliterated and the population retreated to atomised villages across the Balkans. The Ottomans destroyed the fortresses and subdued the land settling Muslim population as well as forcing islamisation in isolated parts of the countryside.
It wasn’t until 19th century that a new educated Bulgarian class emerged, towns were revitalised with the help of trade and the decline in the Ottoman Empire provided a chance for an organised rebellion with the support of Russia. In 1878 the formal existence of Bulgaria was reinstalled but it wasn’t until 1907 that the Third Bulgarian Kingdom regained its independence on the way to become a modern European state.
The Balkan wars and the following World War One left Bulgaria severely damaged, without vital territories and with substantial financial losses. The years between the two World Wars lead to political turbulence as well as recovery and growth which were cut short with the country joining the German side in 1941 under the thread of military invasion.
In 1944 Bulgaria was invaded by Soviet Russia without any resistance and People’s Republic of Bulgaria was established which lasted until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The traces of the Communist rule are evident all over the country where soviet monuments still stay erect and massive buildings are still used today. The older generations Bulgarians may still look with nostalgia at the times when everything was provided and everyone was “equal”.
From the last decade of the 20th Century Bulgaria entered a transitional period to democracy which leads to constant political and financial crisis, widespread poverty and massive emigration. In 2007 Republic of Bulgaria became a member of the European Union set a course to recovery which continues today with improved stability, rising standard of living and European integration.