Bulgarian Icons – The End of History

08.09.2014 § 2 Comments

hbotev

Photographer Lyubomir Sergeev asks a painful question: would the treasured heroes of Bulgaria’s past stab themselves in the heart or shoot themselves if they could see what their country is like today? In painstaking detail, he recreates the dress and time periods of six great Bulgarian men and creates a new kind of portrait: one that not only inspires, but also forces us to think harder, to be better.

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Unified Bulgaria

07.09.2014 § 2 Comments

Bulgaria’s national day is deservedly March 3, 1878. After almost 500 years under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and a two-year war of liberation championed by Russia, a treaty signed on that day in the Istanbul suburb of San Stefano restored Bulgaria as a powerful state on the Balkans encompassing all the lands populated by Bulgarians and ruled by the idealistic Alexander I Battenberg, grandson of Queen Victoria and nephew to the Russian emperor. However, San Stefano Bulgaria was hacked up by the delegate nations at the Congress of Berlin only three months later. Ethnically Bulgarian territories (in striped red on the map) were divided into three distinct regions: the Principality of Bulgaria encompassed only Moesia and the Sofia region, Thrace became semi-autonomous under the name Eastern Rumelia and the status of Macedonia and parts of Thrace remained unchanged: they returned to Ottoman rule and their populations were brutally punished for the short gasp of freedom.

Prince Alexander I Battenberg

In this manner the Great Powers of Europe sowed the seeds for countless conflicts on the Balkans. Because of the Congress of Berlin, Bulgaria would spend decades struggling to once again unify all the lands considered ethnically Bulgarian in its borders. This struggle would cost it two national catastrophes and sour its relationships with Serbia, Greece and Romania, who’d believe (not entirely without cause) Bulgaria to be motivated by hegemony.

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The Golden Sabre

24.08.2014 § 1 Comment

Прохода Шипка

The Monument at Shipka Pass

[Reposted in honour of the 137th anniversary of the battle of Shipka Pass]

It is well known that in history often insignificant circumstances can change the fates of nations. For example, the battle for Shipka pass in August 1877, the trial by fire of the newly formed Bulgarian volunteer corps and its most costly victory, was fought because of a sabre. A beautiful sabre, made of gold and encrusted with diamonds, but still, merely a sabre. « Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating Cyrillic

24.05.2014 § 5 Comments

Cyril and MethodiusMay 24th is celebrated in Bulgaria as the day of two saints: St. Cyril and St. Methodius, of Bulgarian education and culture and Slavonic literature. It is a widely observed holiday in the country, on par with Liberation Day (March 3) and Christmas. It is a day largely devoted to celebrating the creation and the existence of the Cyrillic alphabet, which Bulgarian is written in.

Bulgaria may not be the largest user of Cyrillic today, but it is the first. The Cyrillic alphabet was the official script of Bulgaria before it was spread to Russia, Croatia, Serbia, etc. and it was Bulgaria’s Boris I who commissioned the two literary schools where thousands of monks would be educated and the first thousands of books in the new alphabet would be hand-copied and spread across the land.

It may be strange to see such importance placed on a set of symbols that we take for granted, but there is a great reason for our fascination with our letters, and a great accompanying story: the story with the greatest cultural significance in Bulgaria’s history.

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Plovdiv: A Promotional Video

11.02.2014 § 2 Comments

Created by the Operational Program “Regional Development”, this video is a perfect companion to my posts about Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest (and oldest) city. As a bonus, you get to hear some narration in Bulgarian, with English subtitles.

Communism in a Song

16.10.2013 § Leave a comment

I have written a bit about the Socialist period in Bulgaria, and there is no doubt that it is the defining political stage in the history of modern Bulgaria. Twenty-five years after its 45-year span ended, we are still divided into “reds” and others, and we are still struggling to “transition” to a free-market economy. While my opinions on the subject will be nothing new to either side, I would like to take a look at the immediate implications of the onset of Communism in Bulgaria through an unlikely source of data.

Emil Dimitrov, whom I have mentioned in the Music section of this blog, wrote a beautiful song called “A Letter to Mom” (“Писмо до мама”) in 1974. In listening to it a few days ago, I realized that it encapsulated so much of the sweeping changes brought forth by Bulgaria’s Communist decades. This song, while being entirely non-political and written as a sentimental ballad honouring one’s mother, offers glimpses at the themes that were current in Bulgarian society in the 1970’s. Here are the lyrics, each stanza followed by my commentary.

A Letter to Mom

O what a bride you must have been, dear mommy
So clean, so sparkling was your father’s yard
When they led you out onto the threshing floor
To link hands with your groom in bridal dance

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A Dynamic Map Of Europe Since 1000 A.D.

29.04.2013 § Leave a comment

This map of Europe shows the tumultuous rise and fall of empires and states in the last 1000 years. Note Bulgaria’s fluctuations towards the middle bottom of the frame.

 

Gagarin in Plovdiv

08.09.2012 § Leave a comment

On May 23, 1961, 41 days after completing his pioneering spaceflight, first man in space Yuri Gagarin visited Plovdiv on his celebratory tour. He had coffee on the terrace of Hotel Trimontium with various dignitaries and he was made an honorary citizen of Plovdiv. This makes Plovdiv one of only 22 cities to do so, which is claim to fame enough.

However, what was known to very few people until days ago was that he had signed the hotel’s guestbook. « Read the rest of this entry »

Bozhentsi: The End of The Road

29.07.2012 § 1 Comment

The tiny, barely marked turnoff takes us off the main road to Shipka pass and the drive winds past a few tiny villages, narrowing as it goes, twisting and turning to take us to the village of Bozhentsi. It’s where the road ends. To us, it marks the final point of our short pleasure drive and a chance to stretch our legs in search for dinner on a scorching Saturday afternoon. To the few survivors who fled Veliko Tarnovo after the Ottoman conquest, it meant the beginning of a new life in the safety of the nearby hills. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Golden Treasure of Panagyurishte

27.07.2012 § 1 Comment

The Panagyurishte treasure, named after a tongue-twisting town in Bulgaria, is a masterpiece of Thracian worksmanship. It consists of a phiale, an amphora and seven rhytons, all made of solid 24-carat gold. The treasure weighs a total of 6.164 kg (13.5 pounds) and is arguably the single most valuable set of artifacts ever found on the territory of Bulgaria.

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Care and Neglect

27.07.2012 § 2 Comments

On Veliko Tarnovo‘s main pedestrian shopping street, among the artisans and souvenir shops, stand two buildings which are not too different, really. They’re both heritage buildings, over 100 years old, both owned by private entities, and they exhibit the perfect duality of the conditions of private enterprise in Bulgaria. Yin and yang, order and chaos, careful preservation and haphazard decay. « Read the rest of this entry »

Crucial Battles in Bulgaria’s Mountain Passes

26.07.2012 § Leave a comment

Crossing the Balkan mountains, known as Стара планина (“The Old Mountain”) to the locals, usually involves winding your way up, then down, one of the range’s rugged mountain passes. The range that currently bisects Bulgaria used to be a southern bulwark against the Byzantines, and has served time and time again to slow down invaders and protect the core of the Bulgarian territory.

Much like the Italian peninsula and the Alps protected Rome for centuries, much like Constantinople held on on the Golden Horn for close to 1000 years, so have the passes of the Balkan range provided a much-needed advantage in four crucial battles that shaped the course of history for the Bulgarian people.

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Plovdiv’s Roman Treasures: A Walking Tour

25.07.2012 § 8 Comments

In 1968, the sports field of the Pedagogy Institute in Bulgaria’s second-largest city, sun-drenched Plovdiv, was scheduled for refurbishment. A company of the Army’s construction corps was assigned to expand the field, which involved digging deeper into one of the city’s three hills. However, the Institute never got its field, because what the diggers found underneath were the curved marble seating rows of an immaculately preserved outdoor Roman theatre.

Plovdiv, inhabited continuously since 4000 BC and Europe’s third-oldest city (after Athens and Argos), is known by many names. Settled by the Thracians as Eumolpias, it was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, and given the name Philippopolis. After the decline of the Macedonian kingdom, it reverted to the Thracians, who called it Pulpudeva. When the Romans swept onto the Balkans, they called it Trimontium (“City of Three Hills”) and made it a cultural and economic hub of the Roman province of Thrace. The via militaris, one of the Roman empire’s arterial roads, passed through the city, and it thrived on the banks of the Hebros (Maritsa) river, at one time containing numerous public buildings, baths, shrines, villas, with high walls and a Roman grid system in its streets. This walking tour will take you on a trip through its main Roman-era sights.
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The Uprising of Peter Delyan and Harald Hardrada’s Varangian Guard

11.07.2012 § 3 Comments

In the category “strangest pairings of national heroes”, it turns out that Harald Sigurdsson, king of Norway, later given the nickname Hardrada (“the hard ruler”) and one of the greatest heroes of Norse lore, was intimately involved in a bloody chapter of Bulgaria’s medieval history – the uprising of Peter Delyan.

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The Origins of Bulgaria: Myths and Facts

26.06.2012 § 12 Comments

What follows is a tale of two, well, tales. More specifically, two tales of the origin of the Bulgarian state.

One tale says that Bulgaria is 1331 years old (having been founded in 681), speaks of an age-old alliance between the prosperous Slavic tribes on the Balkans and a refugee band of Bulgars pushed out of Crimea by overwhelmingly strong adversaries, and is prominent in every history book, in every cocktail party summary of Bulgarian history, in every Bulgaria-themed blog.

The other, well, makes a little bit more sense. Stick with me through 3400 words and I will show you some fascinating examples of manipulation of historical facts, as well as a different logical account of the foundation of the Bulgarian state.

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The Legacy of Nikola Fichev

20.06.2012 § 3 Comments

kf-001
Nikola Fichev (also known as Kolyu Ficheto) is Bulgaria’s best-known Revival-era master-builder and architect. An orphan, he became a builder’s apprentice at age 10, and eventually taught himself the fundamentals of construction, architecture, drafting and arithmetic required to become one of the most prolific masters of the 19th century. He was also fluent in Turkish, Greek, Serbian and Romanian.

In his lifetime (1800-1881), he built four bridges, over a dozen churches, a town hall, monasteries, houses and inns, all between Veliko Tarnovo and the Danube port of Svishtov. He used innovative building methods and embedded revolving pillars into several of his churches. The pillars would be able to freely rotate around their centres as long as the integrity of the building’s foundations was not compromised. Despite being built almost 150 years ago, many still revolve to this day. Here are just a few of his masterpieces that can still be seen in Bulgaria.

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Bulgaria’s First Cosmonaut and the Near-Disaster of Soyuz 33

14.06.2012 § 1 Comment

Prologue

Since the late 1950’s, the USSR and the United States have been grappling for space supremacy. Many know and speak of the heroic chapters in this struggle, the milestones each nation achieved, and the disasters it had to endure when testing the boundaries of space. To this day, 2% of the vehicles launched in space have killed their crew, and many disasters have been narrowly averted. The US has had the benefit of an ocean to splash down into and the use of multi-launch vehicles, while the Soviet and Russian space program has been landing on hard ground in the Siberian steppes.

America has lost 14 astronauts: seven in the Challenger disaster during liftoff in 1986 and seven in the Columbia shuttle reentry in 2003. The Russian space program, in contrast, has so far lost only four: Vladimir Komarov, commander of Soyuz 1, whose main parachute failed to open on reentry in 1967, and the three-man crew of Soyuz 11, killed by depressurization during re-entry in 1971. Add to the list of fatalities the death of three astronauts in the launchpad fire on Apollo 1 (also in the ill-fated 1967), several test flight deaths (including that of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin), and a couple of very, very close calls.

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Memory and Oblivion

12.06.2012 § 3 Comments

History knows hundreds of cases of historical facts being forgotten or purposefully shuffled towards oblivion. The purpose of history is, in my mind, to know where one stands by knowing where one stood and moreover to learn from past mistakes and appreciate the good and the bad of previous historical contexts.

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Vampires: The Bulgarian Connection

08.06.2012 § 7 Comments

Source: NHM Bulgaria

According to the BBC, Sofia News Agency, and a few dozen other outlets, the “remains of two vampires” were discovered in a tomb near the Bulgarian seaside town of Sozopol. In other words, two skeletons were unearthed posthumously pinned to their graves with iron spikes through the chest.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, a Sozopol native and Bulgaria’s chief historian, explains that there have been over 100 such burials found on Bulgarian territory, mostly dating back to the Middle Ages. He goes on to explain some of the historical background and symbolism behind the ritual.

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Perperikon: The City of Stone

07.06.2012 § Leave a comment

Translated with permission from otbivki.com, a Bulgarian-language travel and adventure blog.

In the hot summer day, dust is our most faithful companion. It sticks to our shoes, our face and our clothes as we walk along the narrow path in a single file. I hear our footsteps leave quiet prints and race with the stones – how many generations have taken this path, how many tribes and civilizations have ascended the steep slope, to experience victories, losses, opulence, poverty or death? For centuries, the cliffs have kept their history, ready to share it with every visitor of the City of Stone.

It appears before us, clad in the golden garb of sunshine, regal, serene and unwavering. Its name is Perperikon.

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June 2 – Day of Botev and all those who fell for the freedom and independence of Bulgaria

02.06.2012 § 3 Comments

Hristo Botev

Every year on June 2 at noon, for three minutes the air raid sirens across Bulgaria sound in alarm. Cars stop, pedestrians bow their heads and students rise at their desks. Everyone observes a moment of dignified silence.

The sirens have long since stopped warning of imminent danger – there are no enemy airplanes over Sofia, no foreign armies marching across the Thracian plains. The sirens sound to remind us of those Bulgarians who died for Bulgaria’s freedom and present-day peace. On June 2 Bulgaria remembers the armies of khan Tervel, who defended Europe against the Arabs, the defenders of Medieval Tarnovo, the heroes of the April uprising, the martyrs of Shipka, the young Bulgarian flying aces who defended Sofia from English and American bombers, as well as countless other known and unknown Bulgarians who laid their lives in the name of our sovereignty.

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The Battle of Doiran and Bulgaria’s Greatest Military Strategist

28.05.2012 § 1 Comment

In 1914 Bulgaria was a young state, recently gained its independence and continuing to look for the means to realize the vision of unifying all Bulgarian lands within its borders. After the humiliating Treaty of Bucharest at the end of the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria was exhausted from two wars and in an economic crisis due to the loss of wheat-producing Dobrudza.

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Veliko Tarnovo – Bulgaria’s Medieval Capital

16.05.2012 § 11 Comments

In the foothills of the Balkan mountains, around the twists and turns of the Yantra river rise three hills: Tzarevetz, Sveta Gora and Trapezitza. Perched atop these hills and reflected in the river are the houses and castle walls of Veliko Tarnovo – the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and once the beating cultural heart of South-Eastern Europe.

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