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Republic of Bulgaria
Република България
Flag Coat of arms
MottoСъединението прави силата  (Bulgarian)
"Saedinenieto pravi silata"  (transliteration)
"Unity makes strength"

Bulgaria (pronounced /bʌlˈɡɛəriə/ ( listen) bul-GAIR-ee-ə; Bulgarian: България, transliterated: Bălgaria, pronounced [bɤ̞lˈɡarijɐ]), officially the Republic of Bulgaria (Република България, transliterated: Republika Bălgarija, [rɛˈpublikɐ bɤ̞lˈɡarijɐ]), is a country in the Balkans in south-eastern Europe. Bulgaria borders five other countries: Romania to the north (mostly along the River Danube), Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia to the west, and Greece and Turkey to the south. The Black Sea defines the extent of the country to the east.

With a territory of 110,994 square kilometers, Bulgaria ranks as the 16th-largest country in Europe. Several mountainous areas define the landscape, most notably the Stara Planina (Balkan) and Rodopi mountain ranges, as well as the Rila range, which includes the highest peak in the Balkan region, Musala. In contrast, the Danubian plain in the north and the Upper Thracian Plain in the south represent Bulgaria's lowest and most fertile regions. The 378-kilometer Black Sea coastline covers the entire eastern bound of the country.

The emergence of a unified Bulgarian national identity and state dates back to the 7th century AD. All Bulgarian political entities that subsequently emerged preserved the traditions (in ethnic name, language and alphabet) of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/681 – 1018), which at times covered most of the Balkans and eventually became a cultural hub for the Slavs in the Middle Ages.[5] With the decline of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422), Bulgarian territories came under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 led to the re-establishment of a Third Bulgarian state as a principality in 1878, which gained its full sovereignty in 1908.[6] In 1945, after World War II, it became a communist state and was a part of the Eastern Bloc until the political changes in Eastern Europe in 1989/1990, when the Communist Party allowed multi-party elections and Bulgaria undertook a transition to parliamentary democracy and free-market capitalism.

Bulgaria functions as a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic. A member of the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, it has a high Human Development Index of 0.840, ranking 61st in the world in 2009.[7] Freedom House in 2008 listed Bulgaria as "free", giving it scores of 1 (highest) for political rights and 2 for civil liberties.[8]


Prehistory and antiquity

Prehistoric cultures in the Bulgarian lands include the Neolithic Hamangia culture and Vinča culture (6th to 3rd millennia BC), the eneolithic Varna culture (5th millennium BC; see also Varna Necropolis), and the Bronze Age Ezero culture. The Karanovo chronology serves as a gauge for the prehistory of the wider Balkans region.

A golden rhyton, one of the items in the Thracian Panagyurishte treasure, dating from the 4th to 3rd centuries BC

The Thracians, one of the three primary ancestral groups of modern Bulgarians, left lasting traces throughout the Balkan region despite the tumultuous subsequent millennia. The Thracians lived in separate tribes until King Teres united most of them around 500 BC in the Odrysian kingdom, which later peaked under the leadership of King Sitalces (reigned 431–424 BC) and of King Cotys I (383–359 BC). After the Slavs migrated from their original homeland, the easternmost South Slavs settled on the territory of modern Bulgaria during the 6th century and assimilated the Thracians. Eventually the Bulgar élite incorporated both of them into the First Bulgarian Empire.[9]

The First Bulgarian Empire

In 632 the Bulgars, originally from Central Asia,[10] formed under the leadership of Kubrat an independent state that became known as Great Bulgaria. Its territory extended from the lower course of the Danube to the west, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea to the south, the Kuban River to the east, and the Donets River to the north.[11] Pressure from the Khazars led to the subjugation of Great Bulgaria in the second half of the 7th century. Kubrat’s successor, Asparukh, migrated with some of the Bulgar tribes to the lower courses of the rivers Danube, Dniester and Dniepr (known as Ongal), and conquered Moesia and Scythia Minor (Dobrudzha) from the Byzantine Empire, expanding his new kingdom further into the Balkan Peninsula.[12] A peace treaty with Byzantium in 681 and the establishment of the Bulgarian capital of Pliska south of the Danube mark the beginning of the First Bulgarian Empire. (At the same time one of Asparuh's brothers, Kuber, settled with another Bulgar group in present-day Macedonia.[13])

Ruins of Pliska, capital of the First Bulgarian Empire from 680 to 893

Succeeding rulers strengthened the Bulgarian state - Tervel (700/701-718/721), stabilized the borders and established Bulgaria as a major military power by defeating a 22,000-strong Arab army in 717, thereby eliminating the threat of a full-scale Arab invasion into Eastern and Central Europe.[14] Krum (802-814),[15] doubled the country's territory and significantly reduced the Byzantine threat by killing emperor Nicephorus I in the Battle of Pliska.[16] By introducing the first written code of law, valid for both Slavs and Bulgars, Krum managed to further centralize and stabilize the country.

The 8th and 9th centuries saw the gradual mutual assimilation of the Bulgars and the Slavs.[17] Boris I The Baptist (852–889), accepted Eastern Orthodox Christianity in 864,[18] and introduced the Cyrillic alphabet, which the Bulgarian literary schools of Preslav and Ohrid developed.[19] The Cyrillic alphabet, along with Old Bulgarian language, fostered the intellectual written language (lingua franca) for Eastern Europe, known as Church Slavonic.

Baba Vida fortress in Vidin, built in the 10th century

The greatest territorial extent of the Bulgarian Empire — covering most of the Balkans — came during the reign of Emperor Simeon I the Great, the first Bulgarian Tsar (Emperor), who ruled from 893 to 927.[20] The Battle of Anchialos (917), one of the bloodiest battles in the Middle ages.[21] stands as one of his most decisive victories against the Byzantines. However, Simeon's reign also saw Bulgaria develop a rich, unique Christian Slavonic culture, which became an example for other Slavonic peoples in Eastern Europe and also fostered the continued existence of the Bulgarian nation despite forces that threatened to tear it apart.

After Simeon's death, Bulgaria declined in the mid-tenth century, worn out by wars with Croatia, frequent Serbian rebellions sponsored by Byzantine gold, disastrous Magyar and Pecheneg invasions, and the spread of the Bogomil heresy.[22] Because of this, Bulgaria collapsed in the face of an assault of the Rus' in 969–971.[23]

The Bulgarian Empire ca. 893 in dark green, with wartime borders up to 927 in light green

The Byzantines then began campaigns to reconquer Bulgaria. In 971, they seized the capital Preslav and captured Emperor Boris II.[24] Resistance continued under Tsar Samuil in the western Bulgarian lands for nearly half a century. The country managed to recover and defeated the Byzantines in several major battles, taking the control of most of the Balkan peninsula and in 991 invaded the Serbian state.[25]

Bulgaria's rise ended in 1014, when Byzantine Emperor Basil II ("the Bulgar-Slayer") defeated its armies at the Kleidion.[26] The Byzantines took as many as 15,000 Bulgarian prisoners: Basil had them blinded before releasing them.[17] Samuil reportedly had a heart attack on seeing the returned blinded soldiers, and died two days later, on 15 October 1014.[26] Four years later, in 1018, the Byzantine Empire completed the reconquest the territory of the First Bulgarian Empire, which then came to an end.

Byzantine rule and rise of the Second Empire

Basil II did not officially abolish the local rule of the Bulgarian nobility and incorporated them into Byzantine aristocracy as archons or strategoi.[27] He also guaranteed the indivisibility of Bulgaria in its former geographic borders and recognised the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid and set up its boundaries, securing the continuation of the dioceses already existing under Samuil, their property and other privileges.[28] These actions initially prevented major uprisings.

The Bulgarian Empire under Tsar Ivan Asen II

After Basil II's death, the people of Bulgaria challenged Byzantine rule several times in the 11th century and again in the early 12th century. The largest uprising occurred under the leadership of Peter II Delyan (proclaimed Emperor of Bulgaria in Belgrade in 1040), but it did not succeed. Bulgarian nobles ruled the province in the name of the Byzantine Empire until Ivan Asen I and Peter IV started a rebellion in 1185 that led to the founding of a second empire, which re-established Bulgaria as an important power in the Balkans for two more centuries.

Ivan Shishman, the last ruler of the Tarnovo Tsardom (1371–1395)

The Asen dynasty set up its capital in Veliko Tarnovo. Kaloyan, the third of the Asen monarchs, extended his dominions to Belgrade, Nish and Skopie; he acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the Pope, and received a royal crown from a papal legate.[9] Cultural and economic growth persisted under Ivan Asen II (1218–1241), who extended Bulgaria's control over Albania, Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace.[29] The achievements of the Tarnovo artistic school as well as the first coins to be minted by a Bulgarian ruler were only a few signs of the empire's welfare at that time.[9] The Asen dynasty ended in 1257, and due to Tatar invasions (beginning in the later 13th century), internal conflicts, and constant attacks from the Byzantines and the Hungarians, the country's military and economic might declined.

By the end of the 14th century, factional divisions between Bulgarian feudal landlords (boyars) and the spread of Bogomilism had gravely weakened the cohesion of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It split into three small Tsardoms and several semi-independent principalities that fought among themselves, and also with Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs, Venetians, and Genoese. In these battles, Bulgarians often allied themselves with Ottoman Turks. Similar situations of internecine quarrel and infighting existed also in Byzantium and Serbia. In the period 1365–1370, the Ottomans conquered most Bulgarian towns and fortresses south of the Balkan Mountains and began their northwards conquest.[30]

Fall of the Second Empire and Ottoman rule

Shipka memorial (located near Gabrovo) — built in honor of the Battles of Shipka Pass (1877-1878); a symbol of Bulgarian liberation.

In 1393, the Ottomans captured Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, after a three-month siege. In 1396, the Vidin Tsardom fell after the defeat of a Christian crusade at the Battle of Nicopolis. With this, the Ottomans finally subjugated and occupied Bulgaria.[31][32][33] A PolishHungarian crusade commanded by Władysław III of Poland set out to free the Balkans in 1444, but the Turks defeated it in the battle of Varna.

The Bulgarian population suffered greatly from Ottoman oppression, intolerance and misgovernment,[34] and lost most of its cultural relics. The nobility was eliminated and the peasantry enserfed to Ottoman masters.[35] Bulgarians had to pay much higher taxes than the Muslim population, and lacked judicial equality with them.[36]

Throughout the more than four centuries of Ottoman rule, the Bulgarian people organized several attempts to re-establish their own state, most notably the First and Second Tarnovo Uprisings (1598 / 1686) and Karposh's Rebellion (1689). Another response to the oppression was a strengthening of the haydut ("outlaw") tradition.[17] The National awakening of Bulgaria became one of the key factors in the struggle for liberation. The 19th century saw the formation of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, which in 1876 organised the April uprising, the largest and best-organized Bulgarian rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Though crushed by the Ottoman authorities — in reprisal, the Turks massacred some 15,000 Bulgarians[17] — the uprising (together with the 1875 rebellion in Bosnia) prompted the Great Powers to convene the 1876 Constantinople Conference, which delimited the ethnic Bulgarian territories as of the late 19th century, and elaborated the legal and political arrangements for establishing two autonomous Bulgarian provinces. The Ottoman Government declined to comply with the Great Powers’ decisions. This allowed Russia to seek a solution by force without risking military confrontation with other Great Powers (as had happened in the Crimean War of 1854 to 1856).

Liberation and formation of a Third Bulgarian State

In the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878, Russian soldiers together with a Romanian expeditionary force and volunteer Bulgarian troops defeated the Ottoman armies. The Treaty of San Stefano (3 March 1878), set up an autonomous Bulgarian principality. But the Western Great Powers immediately rejected the treaty, fearing that a large Slavic country in the Balkans might serve Russian interests. This led to the Treaty of Berlin (1878), which provided for an autonomous Bulgarian principality comprising Moesia and the region of Sofia. Alexander, Prince of Battenberg, became Bulgaria's first Prince.

Most of Thrace became part of the autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia, whereas the rest of Thrace and all of Macedonia returned to the sovereignty of the Ottomans. After the Serbo-Bulgarian War and unification with Eastern Rumelia in 1885, the Bulgarian principality proclaimed itself a fully independent state on 5 October (22 September O.S.), 1908, during the reign of Ferdinand I of Bulgaria.

Bulgarians overrun a Turkish position at bayonet-point during the First Balkan War of 1912–1913, Painting by Jaroslav Věšín.

Regional and general wars

In the years following the achievement of complete independence Bulgaria became increasingly militarised, and at least one historian referred to Bulgaria as "the Prussia of the Balkans"[37] In 1912 and 1913, Bulgaria became involved in the Balkan Wars, first entering into conflict alongside Greece, Serbia and Montenegro against the Ottoman Empire. The First Balkan War (1912–1913) proved a success for the Bulgarian army, but a conflict over the division of Macedonia arose between the victorious allies. The Second Balkan War (1913) was a disastrous defeat for Bulgaria, which was attacked almost simultaneously by its neighbours. In World War I, Bulgaria again found itself fighting on the losing side as a result of its alliance with the Central Powers. Despite achieving several decisive victories (at Doiran, Monastir and again at Doiran in 1918), the Bulgarian army suffered 300,000 casualties, including 100,000 killed.[17] Both wars caused significant territorial losses for Bulgaria.

Following these wars, in the 1920s and 1930s the country suffered political unrest, which led to the establishment of military rule, eventually transforming into a royal authoritarian dictatorship by Tsar Boris III (reigned 1918–1943). After regaining control of Southern Dobrudzha in 1940, Bulgaria became allied with the Axis Powers, although it declined to participate in Operation Barbarossa (1941) and never declared war on the USSR.

In World War II, Nazi Germany allowed Bulgaria to occupy parts of Greece and of Yugoslavia, although control over their population and territories remained in German hands. Bulgaria was one of only three countries (the others being Finland and Denmark) that saved their entire Jewish populations (about 50,000 people in Bulgaria's case) from the Nazi concentration camps; Bulgaria repeatedly postponed compliance with German demands, offering various rationales.[38] However, the Nazis deported almost the entire Jewish population of the Bulgarian-occupied Yugoslav and Greek territories to the Treblinka death camp in occupied Poland. In the summer of 1943, Boris III died suddenly, and the country fell into political turmoil as the war turned against Nazi Germany and the communist movement gained more power.[39] In early September 1944, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and invaded it, meeting no resistance. This enabled the Workers' Party to seize power and establish a communist state, which ended the alliance with Germany and joined the Allied side in the war's final stages.

The People's Republic of Bulgaria

The Fatherland Front, a Communist-dominated political coalition, took power in 1944 and the Communist party increased its membership from 15,000 to 250,000 during the following six months. It established its rule with the uprising of September 9 that year. However, Bulgaria did not become a people's republic until 1946. It came under the Soviet sphere of influence, with Georgi Dimitrov (Prime Minister 1946 to 1949) as the foremost Bulgarian political leader. The country installed a Soviet-type planned economy, although some market-oriented policies emerged on an experimental level[40] under Todor Zhivkov (First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, 1954 to 1989).

By the mid 1950s standards of living rose significantly, and in 1957 collective farm workers benefited from the first agricultural pension and welfare system in Eastern Europe.[41] Todor Zhivkov dominated the politics of the country from 1956 to 1989, thus becoming one of the most established Warsaw Pact leaders. Zhivkov asserted Bulgaria's position as the most reliable Soviet ally, and increased its overall importance in the Comecon. His daughter Lyudmila Zhivkova became very popular in the country by promoting national heritage, culture and arts on a global scale.[42] On the other hand, an assimilation campaign of the late 1980s directed against ethnic Turks resulted in the emigration of some 300,000 Bulgarian Turks to Turkey.[43][44]

The People's Republic was abolished in 1989 as many Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, as well as the Soviet Union itself, began to collapse. Opposition pressured Zhivkov and his aide Milko Balev to relinquish the rule of the Communist party on 10 November 1989.

The Republic of Bulgaria

In February 1990 the Communist Party voluntarily gave up its ruling status, and in June 1990 free elections took place, won by the moderate wing of the Communist Party (renamed the Bulgarian Socialist Party — BSP). In July 1991, the country adopted a new constitution that provided for a relatively weak elected President and for a Prime Minister accountable to the legislature. The new system eventually failed to improve both the living standards and create economic growth. According to a 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, 76% of Bulgarians said they were dissatisfied with the new system of democracy, 63% thought that free markets did not make people better off and only 11% of Bulgarians agreed that ordinary people had benefited from the changes in 1989.[45]

Since 1989, Bulgaria has held multi-party elections and privatized its economy, but economic difficulties and a tide of corruption have led over 800,000 Bulgarians, most of them qualified professionals, to emigrate in a "brain drain". Furthermore, the average quality of life and economic performance actually remained lower than in the times of socialism well into the early 2000s.[46] The reform package introduced in 1997 restored positive economic growth, but led to rising social inequality. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 and of the European Union in 2007, and the US Library of Congress Federal Research Division reported it in 2006 as having generally good freedom of speech and human rights records.[47]


A view of central Stara Planina
Kamchia river running through alluvial forests in the biosphere reserve of the same name
Plains in the northwest
Lake Tevno

Geographically and in terms of climate, Bulgaria features notable diversity, with the landscape ranging from the Alpine snow-capped peaks in Rila, Pirin and the Balkan Mountains to the mild and sunny Black Sea coast; from the typically continental Danubian Plain (ancient Moesia) in the north to the strong Mediterranean climatic influence in the valleys of Macedonia and in the lowlands in the southernmost parts of Thrace.

Relief and natural resources

Bulgaria comprises portions of the separate regions known in classical times as Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. The mountainous southwest of the country has two alpine ranges — Rila and Pirin — and further east stand the lower but more extensive Rhodope Mountains. The Rila range includes the highest peak of the Balkan Peninsula, Musala, at 2,925 metres (9,596 ft); the long range of the Balkan mountains runs west-east through the middle of the country, north of the famous Rose Valley. Hilly country and plains lie to the southeast, along the Black Sea coast, and along Bulgaria's main river, the Danube, to the north. Strandzha forms the tallest mountain in the southeast. Few mountains and hills exist in the northeast region of Dobrudzha. The Balkan Peninsula derives its name from the Balkan or Stara planina mountain range running through the centre of Bulgaria and extends into eastern Serbia.

Bulgaria has large deposits of manganese ore in the north-east and of uranium in the south-west, as well as vast coal reserves and copper, lead, zinc and gold ore. Smaller deposits exist of iron, silver, chromite, nickel, bismuth and others. Bulgaria has abundant non-metalliferous minerals such as rock-salt, gypsum, kaolin and marble.


The country has a dense network of about 540 rivers, most of them — with the notable exception of the Danube — short and with low water-levels.[48] Most rivers flow through mountainous areas. The longest river located solely in Bulgarian territory, the Iskar, has a length of 368 km (229 mi). Other major rivers include the Struma and the Maritsa River in the south.

The Rila and Pirin mountain ranges feature around 260 glacial lakes; the country also has several large lakes on the Black Sea coast and more than 2,200 dam lakes. Of the many mineral springs, most rise in the south-western and central parts of the country along the faults between the mountains.

Climate and rainfall

Bulgaria overall has a temperate climate, with cold winters and hot summers. The barrier effect of the Balkan Mountains has some influence on climate throughout the country: northern Bulgaria experiences lower temperatures and receives more rain than the southern lowlands.

Precipitation in Bulgaria averages about 630 millimetres (24.8 in) per year. In the lowlands rainfall varies between 500 and 800 mm (19.7 and 31.5 in), and in the mountain areas between 1,000 and 1,400 mm (39.4 and 55.1 in) of rain falls per year. Drier areas include Dobrudja and the northern coastal strip, while the higher parts of the Rila, Pirin, Rhodope Mountains, Stara Planina, Osogovska Mountain and Vitosha receive the highest levels of precipitation.

Government and military

Georgi Parvanov, current president and head of state of Bulgaria

Since 1991 Bulgaria has a democratic, unitary parliamentary republican constitution.

The National Assembly or Narodno Sabranie (Народно събрание) consists of 240 deputies, each elected for four-year terms by popular vote. The National Assembly has the power to enact laws, approve the budget, schedule presidential elections, select and dismiss the Prime Minister and other ministers, declare war, deploy troops abroad, and ratify international treaties and agreements. Boyko Borisov, de facto leader of the centre-right party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, became prime minister on 27 July 2009.

The president serves as the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. While unable to initiate legislation other than constitutional amendments, the President can return a bill for further debate, although the parliament can override the President's veto by vote of a majority of all MPs.

Bulgaria became a member of the United Nations in 1955, and a founding member of OSCE in 1995. As a Consultative Party to the Antarctic Treaty, the country takes part in the administration of the territories situated south of 60° south latitude.[49][50] It joined NATO on 29 March 2004, signed the European Union Treaty of Accession on 25 April 2005,[51][52] and became a full member of the European Union on 1 January 2007.[53] Bulgaria elects 17 members to the European Parliament.[54]

Bulgaria has embassies in all European countries except Latvia and Iceland, as well as in 40 other countries, and hosts the embassies of 68 nations in its capital (see List of diplomatic missions of Bulgaria and List of diplomatic missions in Bulgaria).


The military of Bulgaria, an all-volunteer body, consists of three services – land forces, navy and air force. The country is a member of NATO and currently has more than 700 military personnel deployed abroad.

Following a series of reductions beginning in 1990, the active troops currently number about 39,000, down from 152,000 in 1988, and are supplemented by a reserve force of 303,000 soldiers and officers and paramilitary forces, numbering 34,000. The armed forces have an inventory including highly capable Soviet equipment, such as MiG-29 fighters, SA-6 Gainful and SA-10 Grumble SAMs and SS-21 Scarab short-range ballistic missiles. Military spending in 2009 cost $1.19 billion.[55]

In April 2006 Bulgaria and the United States of America signed a defence cooperation agreement providing for the usage of the air bases at Bezmer (near Yambol) and Graf Ignatievo (near Plovdiv), the Novo Selo training range (near Sliven), and a logistics centre in Aytos as joint military facilities. Foreign Policy magazine lists Bezmer Air Base as one of the six most important overseas facilities used by the USAF.[56]

Provinces and municipalities

Between 1987 and 1999 Bulgaria consisted of nine provinces (oblasti, singular oblast); since 1999, it has consisted of twenty-eight. All take their names from their respective capital cities:

The provinces subdivide into 264 municipalities.


A view of Business Park Sofia, one of the new financial districts of the capital.
A sunflower field in Dobrudja, one of the most fertile regions in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has an industrialised, open free-market economy, with a large, moderately advanced private sector and a number of strategic state-owned enterprises. The World Bank classifies it as an "upper-middle-income economy".[57] Bulgaria has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years, even though it continues to rank as the lowest-income member state of the EU. According to Eurostat data, Bulgarian PPS GDP per capita stood at 40 per cent of the EU average in 2008.[58]

GDP per capita was estimated to be $13,100 in 2008.[59] The economy relies primarily on industry and agriculture, although the services sector increasingly contributes to GDP growth. Bulgaria produces a significant amount of manufactures and raw materials such as iron, copper, gold, bismuth, coal, electronics, refined petroleum fuels, vehicle components, weapons and construction materials.

Since a hyperinflation crisis in 1996/1997, inflation rates have fallen to 1.6% in 2009. The unemployment rate declined from more than 17% in the mid 1990s to nearly 7% in 2007, although in some rural areas it still continues in high double digits. Corruption in the public administration and a weak judiciary have also hampered Bulgaria's economic development.[60]

Amidst the Financial crisis of 2007–2010, unemployment rates remained relatively low at 6.3% for 2008, but increased to 9.1% in 2009. GDP growth in 2008 remained high (6.1%), but turned largely negative in 2009. The crisis had a negative impact mostly on industry, with a 10% decline in the national industrial production index, a 31% drop in mining, and a 60% drop in "ferrous and metal production".[61] The International Monetary Fund predicts a 0.2% overall growth for the Bulgarian economy in 2010, and 2% in 2011.[62]


Agricultural output has decreased overall since 1989, but production has grown in recent years, and together with related industries like food processing it still plays a key role in the economy. Arable farming predominates over stock breeding. Agricultural equipment amounts to over 150,000 tractors and 10,000 combine harvesters, as well as a large fleet of light aircraft.

Bulgaria is a major producer of agricultural commodities such as anise (6th in the world), raspberries (13th) and tobacco (15th).[63]

Energy, industry and mining

Although Bulgaria has relatively few reserves of natural fuels such as petroleum and natural gas, it produces significant amounts of metals and minerals, and its well-developed energy sector plays a crucial role throughout the Balkans. The country's strategic geographical location makes it a major hub for transit and distribution of oil and natural gas from Russia to Western Europe and to other Balkan states.

The "Elatsite" gold and copper mine extracts about 13 million tonnes of ore annually, and produces about 42,000 tonnes of copper, 1.6 tonnes of gold and 5.5 tonnes of silver.[64]

In addition, Bulgaria has an active nuclear industry for peaceful purposes. The only Bulgarian nuclear power plant operates in the vicinity of Kozloduy, and has a total capacity of 3,760 MW. Construction of a second nuclear power plant has started near Belene with a projected capacity of 2,000 MW. Thermal power plants (TPPs) provide a significant amount of energy, with most of the capacity concentrated in the Maritsa Iztok Complex.

Recent years have seen a steady increase in electricity production from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, although it still relies mostly on coal and nuclear powerplants.[65] Wind energy has large-scale prospects, with up to 3,400 MW of installed capacity potential.[66] As of 2009 Bulgaria operates more than 70 wind turbines with a total capacity of 112.6 MW, and plans to increase their number nearly threefold to reach a total capacity of 300 MW in 2010.[67]

Mining produces important exports and has become pivotal to the economy. In Europe, the country ranks as the 3rd-largest copper producer,[68] 6th-largest zinc producer,[69] and 9th-largest coal producer,[70] and is the 9th-largest bismuth producer in the world.[71] Ferrous metallurgy also has major importance. Much of the production of steel and pig iron takes place in Kremikovtsi, Pernik and Debelt. Large refineries for lead and zinc operate in Plovdiv, Kardzhali and Novi Iskar; for copper in Pirdop and for aluminium in Shumen.

About 14% of the total industrial production relates to machine building, and 20% of the workforce is employed in this field.[72]


A view of Rila mountain

In 2007 a total of 5,200,000 tourists visited Bulgaria.[73] Tourists from Greece, Romania and Germany account for 40% of visitors.[74] Significant numbers of British (+300,000), Russian (+200,000), Serbian (+150,000), Polish (+130,000) and Danish (+100,000) tourists also visit Bulgaria.

Main destinations include the capital Sofia, coastal resorts like Albena, Sozopol, Nesebar, Golden Sands and Sunny Beach; and winter resorts such as Pamporovo, Chepelare, Borovetz and Bansko. The rural tourist destinations of Arbanasi and Bozhentsi offer well-preserved ethnographic traditions. Other popular attractions include the 10th century Rila Monastery and the 19th century Euxinograd château.

Science and technology

Tower of the 200 cm (79 in) telescope at the Rozhen Observatory.

Bulgaria spends 0.4% of its GDP on scientific research,[75] or roughly $376 million on a 2008 basis. In the immediate years after 1989, chaotic economic conditions hampered scientific development. Bulgaria still has one of the lowest scientific budgets in Europe,[76] which causes a significant brain drain. Large numbers of scientific professionals have left the country.[77] Despite its scientific decline, Bulgaria maintains its traditions in mathematics, astronomy, physics, nuclear technology and sciences-oriented education, has significant experience in medical and pharmaceutical research, and maintains a polar exploration program by means of an artificial satellite and a permanent research base. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS), the leading scientific institution in the country, employs most of Bulgaria's researchers in its numerous branches.

Bulgarian scientists have made several notable discoveries and inventions, such as the electronic digital computer, (John Atanasoff); the prototype of the digital watch (Peter Petroff), the first purpose-built aircraft bombs (Simeon Petrov); nivalin (Dimitar Paskov);[78][79] the molecular-kinetic theory of crystal formation and crystal growth (formulated by Ivan Stranski) and photoelectrets (Georgi Nadjakov), the last forming an important step in the development of the first photocopier machine. Bulgaria became the 6th country in the world to have an astronaut in space: major-general Georgi Ivanov on Soyuz 33 (1979).[80]

Due to its large-scale computing technology exports to COMECON states, in the 1980s Bulgaria became known as the Silicon Valley of the Eastern Bloc.[81] The country ranked 8th in the world in 2002 by total number of ICT specialists, outperforming countries with far larger populations.[82] Bulgaria operates the only supercomputer in the Balkan region,[83] an IBM Blue Gene/P, which entered service in September 2008.[84]

Education and healthcare


The Ministry of Education, Youth and Science oversees education in Bulgaria. All children aged between 7 and 16 must attend full-time education. Six-year olds can enroll at school at their parents' discretion. The State provides education in its schools free of charge, except for higher education establishments, colleges and universities. The curriculum focuses on eight main subject-areas[85] - Bulgarian language and literature, foreign languages, mathematics, information technologies, social sciences and civics, natural sciences and ecology, music and art, physical education and sports.

Sofia University's Faculty of Biology

Government estimates from 2003 put the literacy rate at 98.6 percent, approximately the same for both sexes. Traditionally, Bulgaria has had high educational standards.[85]


Bulgaria has a universal, mostly state-funded healthcare system. An overall reform in the sector began in 1999: this has introduced mandatory health-insurance for employees through the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), which since 2000 has paid a gradually increasing portion of the costs of primary health-care. Employees and employers pay an increasing, mandatory percentage of salaries, with the goal of gradually reducing state support of health care. Between 2002 and 2003, the number of hospital beds decreased by 56 percent, to 24,300. However, the pace of reduction slowed in the early 2000s; in 2004 some 258 hospitals remained in operation, compared with the government-estimated optimal number of 140. Between 2002 and 2004, health-care expenditures in the national budget increased from 3.8 percent to 4.3 percent, with the NHIF accounting for more than 60 percent of annual expenditures.[86] Bulgaria has several major hospitals and medical complexes, such as Pirogov Hospital, Saint Marina Hospital and the Military Medical Academy of Sofia.


Trakiya motorway

Bulgaria occupies a unique and strategically important geographic location. Since ancient times, the country has served as a major crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. Five of the ten Trans-European corridors run through its territory.

An air traffic control radar on Golyam Rezen Peak, Vitosha

The national road network has a total length of 102,016 km (63,390 mi), 93,855 km (58,319 mi) of them paved and 441 km (274 mi) of them motorways. Planning or construction has started for several motorways: Trakiya, Hemus, Cherno more, Struma, Maritza and Lyulin. Bulgaria also has 6,500 km (4,000 mi) of railway track, more than 60% electrified, and plans to complete the only high-speed railway in the region by 2017, at a cost of €3 bln.[87][88]

Air travel has developed relatively comprehensively. Bulgaria has six official international airports  — at Sofia, Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv, Rousse and Gorna Oryahovitsa, as well as many other military and agricultural airfields. Bulgaria has 213 airports, 128 of them paved.

The most important shipping ports by far, Varna and Burgas, have the largest turnover. Burgas, Sozopol, Nesebar and Pomorie support large fishing fleets. Large ports on the Danube River include Rousse and Lom (which serves the capital).

Bulgaria has a well-developed communications network (despite a somewhat antiquated fixed-line telephone system), with extensive Internet and cellular communications. The years after 2000 saw a rapid increase in the number of Internet users: in 2000, they numbered 430,000, in 2004 – 1,545,100, and in 2006 – 2.2 million.[89] The population of 7.6 million people uses some 11 million mobile phones.[90]


The National Statistical Institute of Bulgaria estimates the country's population for 2009 at 7,606,000 people. According to the 2001 census,[91] it consists mainly of ethnic Bulgarians (83.9%), with two sizable minorities, Turks (9.4%) and Roma (4.7%).[92] Of the remaining 2.0%, 0.9% comprises some 40 smaller minorities, most prominently (in numbers) the Russians, Armenians, Arabs, Chinese, Vlachs, Jews, Vietnamese, Crimean Tatars and Sarakatsani (historically known also as Karakachans). 1.1% of the population did not declare their ethnicity in the latest census in 2001.

The 2001 census defines an ethnic group as a "community of people, related to each other by origin and language, and close to each other by mode of life and culture"; and one's mother tongue as "the language a person speaks best and usually uses for communication in the family (household)".[93]

Native Language By ethnic group Percentage By first language Percentage
Bulgarian 6,655,000 83.93% 6,697,000 84.46%
Turkish 747,000 9.42% 763,000 9.62%
Romani 371,000 4.67% 328,000 4.13%
Others 69,000 0.87% 71,000 0.89%
Total 7,929,000 100% 7,929,000 100% [93]

In recent years Bulgaria has had one of the lowest population growth rates in the world. Negative population growth has occurred since the early 1990s,[94] due to economic collapse, a low birth rate, and high emigration. In 1989 the population comprised 9,009,018 people, gradually falling to 7,950,000 in 2001 and 7,606,000 in 2009.[3] As of 2009 The population had a fertility-rate of 1.48 children per woman in 2008. The fertility rate will need to reach 2.2 to restore natural growth in population.

The interior of a church in Bratsigovo

Most Bulgarians (82.6%) belong, at least nominally, to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Founded in 870 AD under the Patriarchate of Constantinople (from which it obtained its first ecclesiatical Primate, its clergy and theological texts), the Orthodox Church had autocephalous status from 927 AD. Other religious denominations include Islam (12.2%), various Protestant denominations (0.8%) and Roman Catholicism (0.5%); with other Christian denominations (0.2%), and "other" totalling approximately 4%, according to the 2001 census.[95] Bulgaria regards itself officially as a secular state. The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, but appoints Orthodoxy as "a traditional" religion.[96]

Islam came to the country at the end of the fourteenth century after the conquest of the country by the Ottomans. In the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, missionaries from Rome converted Paulicians from the districts of Plovdiv and Svishtov to Roman Catholicism. As of 2009 Bulgaria's Jewish community, once one of the largest in Europe, numbers less than 2,000 people.

Bulgaria's 20 largest cities have populations as follows:[97]

Rank Core City Province Pop.


Rank Core City Province Pop.
1 Sofia Sofia City 1,404,929 11 Pernik Pernik Province 84,479
2 Plovdiv Plovdiv Province 380,130 12 Yambol Yambol Province 83,410
3 Varna Varna Province 364,968 13 Haskovo Haskovo Province 80,939
4 Burgas Burgas Province 229,250 14 Pazardzhik Pazardzhik Province 79,528
5 Rousse Rousse Province 175,058 15 Vratsa Vratsa Province 77,318
6 Stara Zagora Stara Zagora Province 162,416 16 Blagoevgrad Blagoevgrad Province 77,216
7 Pleven Pleven Province 137,001 17 Veliko Tarnovo Veliko Tarnovo Province 72,111
8 Sliven Sliven Province 115,758 18 Gabrovo Gabrovo Province 65,947
9 Dobrich Dobrich Province 114,990 19 Vidin Vidin Province 57,072
10 Shumen Shumen Province 103,016 20 Asenovgrad Plovdiv Province 55,323


The National Gallery of Foreign Art, housing numerous examples of European, Asian and African art
A decorated horse, prepared for a race. Horseraces take place each year to mark Todorovden (St. Theodore's day).

A number of ancient civilizations, most notably the Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Slavs, and Bulgars, have left their mark on the culture, history and heritage of Bulgaria. Thracian artifacts include numerous tombs and golden treasures. The country's territory includes parts of the Roman provinces of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia, and many of the archaeological discoveries date back to Roman times, while ancient Bulgars have also left traces of their heritage in music and in early architecture. Both the First and the Second Bulgarian empires functioned as the hub of Slavic culture during much of the Middle Ages, exerting considerable literary and cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world by means of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools. The Cyrillic alphabet, used in many languages in Eastern Europe and Asia, originated in these two schools in the tenth century AD.

A historical artifact of major importance is the oldest treasure of worked gold in the world, dating back to the 5th millennium BC, coming from the site of the Varna Necropolis.[98][99]

World Heritage Sites

Bulgaria has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Madara Rider, the Thracian tombs in Sveshtari and Kazanlak, the Boyana Church, the Rila Monastery, the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Pirin National Park, Sreburna Nature Reserve and the ancient city of Nesebar.


The country has a long-standing musical tradition, traceable back to the early Middle Ages. Yoan Kukuzel (ca. 12801360) became one of the earliest known composers of Medieval Europe. National folk music has a distinctive sound and uses a wide range of traditional instruments, such as gudulka (гъдулка), gaida (гайда) – bagpipe, kaval (кавал) and tupan (тъпан). Bulgaria has a rich religious visual arts heritage, especially in frescoes, murals and icons, many of them produced by the medieval Tarnovo Artistic School.[100]


Yogurt (kiselo mliako), lukanka, banitsa, shopska salad, lyutenitsa, sirene and kozunak give Bulgaria a distinctive cuisine. Exports of Bulgarian wine go worldwide, and until 1990 the country exported the world's second-largest total of bottled wine. As of 2007, 200,000 tonnes of wine were produced annually,[101] the 20th largest total in the world.[102] Bulgaria also produces large amounts of beer and rakia.


Sumo wrestler Kotoōshū (Kaloyan Mahlyanov), the first European to receive the Emperor's Cup (May 2008).

Bulgaria performs well in sports such as volleyball, wrestling, weight-lifting, shooting sports, gymnastics, chess, and recently, sumo wrestling and tennis. The country fields one of the leading men's volleyball teams in Europe and in the world, ranked 6th in the world according to the 2010 FIVB rankings.[103]

Football has become by far the most popular sport in the country. Dimitar Berbatov (Димитър Бербатов) is one of the most famous Bulgarian football players of the 21st century, while Hristo Stoichkov, twice winner of the European Golden Shoe, is the most successful Bulgarian player of all time.[104][105] Prominent domestic football clubs include PFC CSKA Sofia[106][107] and PFC Levski Sofia. Bulgaria's best performance at World Cup finals came in 1994, with a 4th place.

Bulgaria participates both in the Summer and Winter Olympics, and its first Olympic appearance dates back to the first modern Olympic games in 1896, represented by Swiss gymnast Charles Champaud. Since then the country has appeared in most Summer Olympiads, and by 2008 had won a total of 212 medals: 51 gold, 84 silver, and 77 bronze.

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Institute for Economics and Peace Global Peace Index[108] 56 out of 144
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 61 out of 182
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 71 out of 180
World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 76 out of 133
Foreign Policy Globalization Index 36 out of 122



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  14. ^ C. de Boor (ed), Theophanis chronographia, vol. 1. Leipzig: Teubner, 1883 (repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1963), 397, 25–30 (AM 6209)"φασί δε τινές ότι και ανθρώπους τεθνεώτας και την εαυτών κόπρον εις τα κλίβανα βάλλοντες και ζυμούντες ήσθιον. ενέσκηψε δε εις αυτούς και λοιμική νόσος και αναρίθμητα πλήθη εξ αυτών ώλεσεν. συνήψε δε προς αυτούς πόλεμον και τον των Βουλγάρων έθνος, και, ως φασίν οι ακριβώς επιστάμενοι, [ότι] κβ χιλάδας Αράβων κατέσφαξαν."
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  49. ^ The Antarctic Treaty system: An introduction. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR).
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  61. ^ Economist: financial crisis brewed by U.S. market fundamentalism , Xinhua, March 12, 2009
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  69. ^ See List of countries by zinc production
  70. ^ See List of countries by coal production.
  71. ^ See List of countries by bismuth production
  72. ^ Geography of machine building in Bulgaria Factsheet
  73. ^ See World Tourism rankings
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  87. ^ Влак-стрела ще минава през Ботевград до 2017 г.
  88. ^ Железопътната линия Видин-София ще бъде модернизирана до 2017 г., investor.bg, 13.11.2008
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  90. ^ Cellphone number ranks
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  92. ^ The Ministry of Interior estimates various numbers (between 600,000 and 750,000) of Roma in Bulgaria; nearly half of Roma traditionally self-identify ethnically as Turkish or Bulgarian.
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Further reading


  • Annie Kay Bradt Guide: Bulgaria
  • Paul Greenway Lonely Planet World Guide: Bulgaria
  • Pettifer, James Blue Guide: Bulgaria
  • Timothy Rice Music of Bulgaria
  • Jonathan Bousfield The Rough Guide To Bulgaria

External links

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