55 Facts About Bulgaria That Will Leave You Speechless
I know what you’re thinking:
How could possibly a small, little-known country like Bulgaria astonish the world?
I’ll tell you how!
Few countries in the world possess such a rich history, an abundance of landmarks, and a myriad of peculiar traditions as Bulgaria.
This list of facts about Bulgaria comprises some of the greatest achievements by Bulgarians, the most important contributions to the world, as well as some fun and interesting facts about the Eastern European country purely for your entertainment.
What you need to know first is that travelling in Bulgaria is safe and the reasons to visit Bulgaria are countless. However, don’t wait too long as globalisation and mass tourism are the main causes of unique places to become less authentic and very similar to each other.
So if you are looking for an exquisite travel destination, check out these 55 interesting facts about Bulgaria that will leave you speechless!
Where Is Bulgaria And What Natural Resources Does It Boast?
- Tucked in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula in the South-Eastern part of Europe, at a crossroad between Europe and Asia, Bulgaria borders Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia, and Romania. Its natural borders are also the Black Sea and the Danube River.
- With a size of almost 111,000 km2 (~43,000 mi2), Bulgaria is as big as Ohio, slightly smaller than neighbouring Greece, somewhere between the sizes of North Korea and South Korea, and approximately half the size of Uganda.
- The highest Bulgarian mountain, Rila Mountain, is also the highest on the Balkans. Its tallest peak – Musala (2,925 m/9,596 ft.) – is higher than Mount Olympus by seven metres.
- The mountain range, which gave the Balkan Peninsula its name, runs through the whole width of Bulgaria. The former name of what we now call Stara planina (literally: Old Mountain) was Balkan. It stretches from Serbia, divides Bulgaria into Northern and Southern, and kisses the Black Sea at Cape Emine.
- Bulgaria is the second richest in natural mineral springs country in Europe, stepping down only to Iceland. Therefore, Bulgaria is every SPA lover’s paradise! The International Hotel & Restaurant Association crowned one of the Bulgarian towns with a great abundance of mineral waters and SPA hotels, Velingrad, as the SPA Capital of the Balkan. Do you want to bet that soon it will earn the reward SPA Capital of Europe? ;)
- Bulgaria’s natural border to the East, the Black Sea, features pristine sandy beaches and high-rising rugged cliffs. The coast is also home to great bio-diversity and the fertile Dobrudja Steppe.
- The Rose Valley, located between the mountains Stara planina and Sredna gora, produces approximately half of the world’s rose oil. The rose oil is extracted from a species called Rosa Damascena (Damask rose). It is an essential component in the cosmetics industry. The Bulgarian Rose Oil is a Protected Geographical Indication. The rose picking season and the festivities in the area at the beginning of June each year culminate with the crowning of the Rose Queen.
- Bulgaria is one of the few countries that can surprise you not only with beautiful scenery but also with rare animal and plant species. Some of them have long vanished in other parts of Europe.
- Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is situated just 15 minutes away from Vitosha Mountain. Does your capital city have the advantage of a mountain at its doorsteps? ;)
The Proudest Historical Moments And Defining Events
- Bulgaria is one of the oldest countries in Europe. It is also the only one, which never changed its name since its establishment in 681.
- The oldest golden treasure in the world was found in Varna. In 1972, almost 300 graves were discovered in a necropolis in the industrial zone of Bulgaria’s Black Sea capital. The artefacts are dated at 4600 – 4200 BC! The treasure consists of a total of 3,000 items and weighs six kilograms. Currently, you can awe at the sophisticated gold, copper, and pottery items at the National Historical Museum in Sofia and at the Varna Archaeological Museum.
- Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city is the oldest constantly inhabited city in Europe. For most of its 8,000-years-long history, it was known as Philipopolis. The capital Sofia is the second oldest, with an estimated age of approximately 7,000 years. For comparison, Rome is approximately 2,800 years young and Athens was established 6,000 years ago.
- Two Bulgarian scholars, the Saints Cyril and Methodius, invented the Cyrillic alphabet. Interestingly, their version of the script is not the one used today. The two brothers wrote an alphabet, called Glagolitsa, to make it possible to visually represent the Slavic languages.
Nevertheless, their creation ensured that for each sound in the Slavic languages there would be a visual representation, hence creating a writing system.
Unfortunately, their script was too complex for ordinary folks to use it. Therefore, their students, led by Saint Clement of Ohrid, simplified their masters’ creation. They wrote an alphabet, borrowing letters from the Latin and Greek scripts, and named it after their teacher.
- The Cyrillic alphabet is the EU’s third official alphabet since Bulgaria joined the Union in 2007. Throughout the world, an estimate of over 250 million people use a version of the script today. These are the countries which write in Cyrillic:
In fact, all countries in the ex-USSR used the Cyrillic alphabet. Since the republics gained their independence in the 1990s, some switched to other scripts. In addition to the list above, several minorities and non-official languages, mainly spoken in Central Asia, also use the Cyrillic alphabet.
- The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the oldest Slavic Orthodox Church. It was recognised as an independent church in 870 AD, just several years after becoming the official religion in the country.
- Before falling under Ottoman ruling, Bulgaria had double its current area. Three seas washed its borders – the Aegean Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Black Sea.
- Bulgarians speak Bulgarian. This comes as a surprise to many foreigners. After almost five centuries under the Ottoman Empire ruling, Bulgaria gained its independence in 1908. Despite the different religions, traditions, and languages of Bulgarians and Ottomans, the Bulgarian spirit and language survived.
- The Bulgarian Army never lost a battle. Unfortunately, it has also never won a war (due to the incompetence of politicians). A Bulgarian flag was never captured during a battle.
- Bulgaria is the only country in the world, which saved its Jews during World War II. Despite the fact, that the country was on the German side, no Jew was ever transported to a concentration camp.
- The Bulgarian flag consists of three bands of equal size, white, green, and red, positioned horizontally from top to bottom. The white is a symbol of peace, the green represents the wonderful nature, and the red is the blood soaked into our lands.
Bulgarian Landmarks Which Will Leave You Breathless
- UNESCO has included nine Bulgarian sites in its list of World Heritage Sites. There is a good reason to list these seven cultural sites:
- The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak,
- The Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari,
- The Ancient City of Nessebar,
- The Madara Rider,
- The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo,
- The Boyana Church,
- The Rila Monastery,
…and three natural sites:
- Pirin National Park,
- Srebarna Nature Reserve,
- The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe (stretching over 12 countries).
- On the UNESCO Tentative List you will also find:
- Two neolithic dwellings near Stara Zagora with their interior, household furnishings, and utensils completely preserved,
- The Magura Cave with drawings from the Bronze Age,
- The ancient town of Nicopolis ad Istrum,
- The ancient tomb of Silistra,
- The Bachkovo Monastery,
- The town of Melnik and the Rozhen Monastery,
- The Roussensky Lom National Park,
- The Ancient Plovdiv,
- The Thracian Tomb of Alexandrovo, featuring unique wall paintings,
- Vratsa Karst Nature Reserve,
- The Belogradchik Rocks,
- Central Balkan National Park,
- Pobiti Kamani Natural Monument,
- The royal necropolis of the Thracian city of Seuthopolis – a serial site, an extension of the Thracian tomb of Kazanlak,
- Frontiers of the Roman Empire – The Danube Limes in Bulgaria,
- Bishop’s Basilica and Late-Antique Mosaics of Philippopolis, Roman Province of Thrace.
- Moreover, in 1976, UNESCO declared the ancient Bulgarian calendar as the most accurate in the world.
- Alexander Nevski Cathedral in the heart of the Bulgarian capital is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world.
- Some of the most fabulous rock formations in Bulgaria are:
- The Wonderful Bridges,
- The Belogradchik Rocks,
- The Wedding, and
- The Tyulenovo Arch.
Prepare your eyes for mind-boggling sights that rival, for example, the Grand Canyon.
Great Bulgarians Whose Inventions And Actions Made The World A Better Place
- A Thracian hero named Spartacus was born in the Bulgarian lands. He was a military leader, whom the Romans enslaved. Together with other escaped slaves, he started an uprising and a war against the Roman Republic.
- Another Thracian, born on Bulgarian soil, was Orpheus. He was one of the most famous ancient musicians. It is believed that he possessed the power to tame animals by playing enchanting melodies on his instrument.
- I already mentioned the Cyrillic alphabet, but since its creation had such an enormous impact on the world, I’ll include the scholars who created the system again. These are the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius, as well as their students, the most famous of whom is Saint Clement of Ohrid.
- The Bulgarian Dan Kolov is a wrestler and a martial arts fighter who participated in over 1,500 matches, a world record! Out of them, he only lost three official matches. Among his accomplishments are winning the Diamond Belt World Heavyweight Championship (1928, 1933), winning the European Heavyweight Championship (1934, 1937, 1938), as well as wins at tournaments in Japan (1924), Brazil (1927), and in the USA (1914 – 1927).
- General Vladimir Vazov led the Bulgarian forces in a battle during World War I at Doiran, Macedonia. The battle ended with the Bulgarians repulsing all attacks from the significantly better trained, better equipped, and outnumbering Greek and British armies. The British paid great honour to General Vladimir Vazov in 1936 in London, by lowering the flags of all their regiments who participated in the battle. The chairman of the British legion Major Goldy said in his speech: “He is one of the few foreign officers whose name features in our history“.
- Georgi Dimitrov led the Communist International from 1934 to 1943 and was the first communist leader of Bulgaria (1946 – 1949). Prior to that, in 1932, he was appointed Secretary General of the World Committee against War and Fascism.
A year later, he was arrested in Berlin for allegedly setting the Reichstag on fire. Dimitrov refused counsel and defended himself against his Nazi accusers, led by Hermann Göring. He used the trial as an opportunity to defend the communist ideology. During the infamous Leipzig Trial, his defence and the accusations he directed at his prosecutors won him world renown.
- The Bulgarian emigrant Peter Petroff was an inventor and an engineer, who worked for the NASA Space Program. In the long list of his accomplishments, you’ll find the development of one of the earliest computerised pollution monitoring systems, telemetry devices for early weather and communications satellites, an early wireless heart monitor, and the components of one of the world’s first digital watches. Remember his name next time you look at the time on your electronic device ;)
- The American-Bulgarian physicist and inventor John Vincent Atanasoff is credited with the invention of the first electronic digital computer. His machine was named the Atanasoff–Berry Computer.
- In 1977, the space probe Voyager 1 left the Earth orbit. 35 years later, it reached the boundaries of the Solar System. On board the probe is a golden record containing a message to an alien civilization that might or might not exist out there. One of the pieces is a recording of the Bulgarian folklore song Izlel e Delyo Haidutin, performed by then 35-years-old Valya Balkanska.
- The women’s high jump world record belongs to the Bulgarian athlete Stefka Kostadinova. In 1987, at the World Championship in Rome, she jumped the sensational 09 m (6.86 ft.). In the 31 years since no other female athlete has managed to even match her record.
- Another world record Bulgarian athlete is Yordanka Donkova, competing in 100 metres hurdles. During her exceptional career, she corrected the world record for the 100 metres hurdles five times:
- 12.36 s, set on August 13, 1986 (equalling the previous world record)
- 12.35 s, set on August 17, 1986
- 12.29 s, set on August 17, 1986
- 12.26 s, set on September 7, 1986
- 12.21 s, set on August 20, 1988 (the world record stood for 28 years until July 22, 2016).
- Hristo Stoitchkov, a former FC Barcelona forward football player, is regarded as one of the best players of his generation. He was twice a runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year award (1992 and 1994). In 1994, he received the Ballon d’Or (the Golden Ball award) after leading the Bulgarian National Football team to the fourth place in the World Cup Finals in the USA. 10 years later, Pelé included him in the FIFA 100 List of the World’s Greatest Living Players.
- The Bulgarian chess grandmaster Veselin Topalov is a former FIDE World Chess Champion. He won the title in 2005. He also ranked number one in the world from April 2006 to January 2007. He regained the top ranking in October 2008 and held it until January 2010. His peak rating was 2816 in July 2015, placing him at the ninth position on the list of highest FIDE-rated players of all time.
Bulgaria’s Rich Culture and Peculiar Traditions
- At the Bulgarian Christmas Eve table, the dishes are an odd number and they are all vegan. Prior to Christmas, Bulgarian Christians fasten for 40 days. The Christmas Eve celebration is the culmination of the fasting.
- Similarly, 40 days prior to Eastern it is also fasting time.
- While Christmas is the biggest holiday for Catholic Christians, for Eastern Orthodox Christians, hence also for Bulgarians, the biggest religious holiday is Easter.
- On January 6th, the celebration of Saint Joan and the Epiphany, a Bulgarian custom involves a priest, throwing a cross into the freezing waters of a river or a lake. Single men (!) jump in to retrieve the cross. The man who captures the cross is believed to be rewarded with good health and happiness.
- In the winter months, in villages and towns throughout Bulgaria, groups of men, women, and sometimes even children, dress in peculiar costumes. They are called kukeri. Decorated with heavy bells and huge hats or masks, they dance and make lots of noise. Their goal is to scare evil spirits away and bring good harvest.
Since 1966, every January Pernik, a town 35 km away from the Bulgarian capital, hosts the Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva”. Kukeri from all over Bulgaria and its neighbouring countries compete in a colourful and loud parade.
The sight of the fury and feathery costumes and the sound of up to six kilograms heavy bells will give you goosebumps and would cause any evil spirit never-ending nightmares!
- On February 14th, while the rest of the (Christian) world celebrates Valentine’s Day, Bulgarians celebrate Trifon Zarezan. He is the patron of vine growers and wine producers.
- Bulgarians welcome spring with Baba Marta. Every year on March 1st, we exchange martenitsi. The red and white woollen bracelets, necklaces, and little figures are a symbol of good health and prosperity.
You should wear your martenitsa until you see a stork, a swallow, or a blossoming tree, which are signs of the arrival of spring and a new beginning. After you have spotted one, you should tie your martenitsa to a fruit tree for good harvest.
- In the mountainous parts of Bulgaria near the borders with Turkey and Greece, locals still practise a ritual called nestinarstvo. Men and women enter a state of trance, then walk and dance on burning ashes.
- Bulgarian cuisine is by far the most delicious food you’ve never tried! Travellers compare it to the Greek and Turkish, even to the Mediterranean cuisines. Having in mind the crossroad location of the country and its rich history, it is easy to understand why so many influences have mixed to create a rather unique, albeit somewhat unknown culinary heaven.
- Talking about food, I cannot miss mentioning that Bulgaria is one of the biggest wine producers in the world. Wine production has a long history in the Bulgarian lands, dating back to the Thracians. No wonder then that aficionados like Sir Winston Churchill loved the Broad-Leafed Melnik wine! It is rumoured that he ordered 300 litres of the godly nectar every year for decades. In the 1980s, Bulgaria was the second biggest world wine exporter. Cheers! Maybe the reason for this is that while the rest of the world is getting drunk on love, we’re getting drunk with wine (see #44).
- A huge part of Bulgarian cuisine is the yoghurt. In 1905, a prominent Bulgarian physician and microbiologist, Stamen Grigorov, discovered the bacillus responsible for the existence of natural yoghurt. As a sign of recognition, the science community called it Lactobacillus bulgaricus. The name, which Bulgarians use for yoghurt, literally translates to sour milk.
- Have you heard of the eighth miracle? This is how Bulgarian folklore music is also known! To prove this fact, the song Izlel e Delyo Haidutin, performed by Valya Balkanska, was sent on board the probe Voyager 1 as a message to alien civilizations (see #34).
- Bulgaria is one of only three countries in the world to use the bagpipe as a traditional musical instrument. The other two are Ireland and Scotland. Known as gaida in Bulgarian, it is made of lamb- or goatskin.
Fun Facts About Bulgaria That Will Make You Scratch Your Head
- An unexplainable communications fact about Bulgarians is that we shake our heads for yes, and nod for no. Don’t ask why, just go with the flow!
- In addition to birthday celebrations, we gather family and friends to rejoice our name days as well. These are the days when the saint or martyr with your name is honoured by the church. For many Bulgarians, the name day is a larger celebration than their birthday.
- Bulgarians are spilling water in front of the house for success. When a member of the family leaves home on a special event, e.g. the first day of school, graduation, an important exam, or on his or her wedding day, the other members of the family spill water in front of the doorstep as he or she leaves. They then wish him or her that “his/her success boat floats in calm waters” (roughly translated). This is the Bulgarian equivalent of wishing someone to “break a leg”.
- Sofia is one of the most affordable European capitals to visit. Be warned, that prices are constantly rising so don’t miss the chance to visit as soon as possible!
Did These Interesting Facts About Bulgaria Blow Your Pants Off?
I hope that these facts about Bulgaria were not just fun to read, but you also learned a valuable lesson in history, geography, and culture. And if the list has sparked your curiosity to pack your bags and visit our country, go check the other posts about Bulgaria!
Have in mind, that I’ve skipped many historical and cultural specifics and narrowed the list down to only the most fascinating facts, which make Bulgaria a unique travel destination.
Which fact about Bulgaria amazed you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Did I miss any important people or facts about Bulgaria? Let me know what you think!