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(Source: UNESCO Courier)

BULGARIA, the roots of a modern country by Magdalina Stantcheva (Fellow, medieval archeology specialist and head of excavations at the History Museum of the city of Sofia).

Bulgaria - 13 centuries of history and culture
The motto engraved on the coat of arms of Sofia , capital of Bulgaria "It grows but does not age" may well summarize the history of the modern state and dynamics which this year celebrates the 1300th anniversary of its founding by the Khan Asparouch in 681 .

Between the 5th and 9th centuries, when the great mixing of peoples whose migration east to west and from north to south reshaping Europe (and Asia and North Africa) to give ethnic traits , language and culture that still retains the rich territories extending from the Danube to the Aegean and the Black sea to the Adriatic underwent amazing transformations.

Map of Bulgaria - 1843 Atlas
What were once those of Thrace and Illyria; they were Roman provinces and then tore the Empire "Roman" of the East, said Byzantine, Byzantium now, enemy or ally, does not govern more than by its cultural influence.

After various invasions, the country had welcomed new residents - the Slavs arrived in successive waves growing, which joined the warriors of another origin, from the plains of the Dnieper and Volga and the so-called the Bulgarians.

It is the fusion of these two peoples that Bulgaria has largely personality, its culture.

The latter gave him his name, first gave him her tongue.

But if it is attached to these decisive moments in its history, as well as each phase, often dramatic, the development of this culture, Bulgaria modern are also passionate about the more distant past, that of the Thracians , eg which its citizens feel as heirs.

Thracian warrior
On this small territory (110,911 km2) and registered a multi-millennial history that has left all his mark.

The richness and variety of the Bulgarian heritage (more than 31 000 monuments of all eras are classified and protected) and were matched by the attentive fervor with which his heirs are living together the old and the modern.

Here the story is part of contemporary life and prehistory itself seems more present than elsewhere and familiar.

The first farmers of this country, there are some 8000 years have left many traces of the highest interest.

Mounds formed by the accumulation of successive habitats, tells demonstrate the permanence of settlements - most Bulgarian towns are built on several floors of ruins and archaeological deposits.

From these tells, one of the most reputed constantly draws researchers in the southern province of Nova Zagora near the village of Karanovo.

Top 12 meters, the deepest layer belongs to the oldest Neolithic or sixth millennium, as the top time of the Iron Age.

Vertical section - Nova Zagora site near the village of Karanovo
The vertical section made by archaeologists shows how, without interruption, generations succeeded one another, from century to century.

In science such a site is obviously of great wealth.

Karanovo materials, tools, weapons, utensils of all kinds, line the halls of many museums .

Archaeological Site - Bulgaria
Later, at the beginning of the Bronze Age, and, in this case, at the dawn of European civilization, men have bequeathed to posterity another prestigious site - the Chalcolithic necropolis of Varna , on the coast the black Sea.

Archaeologists have unearthed a number of tombs of the late 4th millennium BC, who delivered hundreds of gold objects, from tiny beads to bracelets which weigh 200 to 300 grams .

This finding is especially exciting that two tombs contained gold scepters symbols of legitimate authority, clear signs of an already established tradition.

Tomb of the Varna Necropolis
There is no doubt that the social organization of this part of Southeast Europe had reached an unusual degree of complexity so high then.

This riddle is probably due to the copper deposits operated while in the area and had to lead to fairly intense discussions with several Asian countries nearby.

The trade would be the basis for the prosperity of these miners burrowed so many golden wonders with their dead and in which scholars today agree to recognize the ancestors of the Thracians .

Bronze head of Seuthes III - Archaeological Museum in Sofia
This people, the oldest of which we know the name in the southeast of Europe, has left many vestiges of its language (which belonged to the same Indo-European branch as Latin and Greek) in inscriptions and names places, mountains or rivers.

He also occupied an important place in the literature of its close neighbors - in the classical period, from the 6th century BC, the Greeks often fell Thracian influences on their mythology, religion, arts, especially music.

Today, the public met the Thracians with the fabulous jewelry exhibition of vases and golden weapons that traveled several countries.


Most of these objects, chance finds or rewards systematic excavations, came from the great tombs, past mansions of men who believed in the afterlife and the union, after death, with the divine principle.

The tombs often very ornate and filled with precious objects were covered with a more or less high mound of earth, according to the rank and wealth of the deceased.

The Thracian territories have seen thus build mounds, many of which have disappeared over the ages.

It left more than ten thousand today we have kept intact and protected against illegal excavations.

Tumulus and entry of a Thracian tomb in Bulgaria
In some areas they form the most striking features of the landscape. This is the case throughout the international highway of Istanbul, in the region of Plovdiv .

One of these mounds, in the department of Stara Zagora, housed the tomb of Kazanlak , the frescoes from the 4th century BC, represent a key episode in the history of painting.

They mainly represent a "funeral banquet" that characterizes the extreme delicacy of the central figures, the prince and his wife, and especially the tenderness and distinction of their farewell gesture.

No less remarkable appear parents and relatives of the deceased, horse drivers, bearers of offerings.

Frescoes of the Tomb Kazanlak
This monument of exceptional value is the number of those that UNESCO has inscribed on the World Heritage List.

To spare him any damage, the responsible departments have commissioned a copy nearby, for the thousands of tourists who visit the region.

One finds there, in fact, a valley famous for its mild climate that cultivates fields of Bulgarian Roses whose gasoline is highly sought after by perfume manufacturers.

The Story of Three Capitals
In the history of the nation three city names keep a moving and almost sacred resonance.

They are those capitals that the Bulgarian princes established in the Middle Ages.

John Tzimisce conqueror Preslav and Basil II conqueror Pliska
Pliska first, prodigious monument of the foundation of the first Bulgarian state in 681, its consolidation, conversion to Christianity and the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Founded in 681 by Khan Asparouch, Pliska remained the capital in just over two centuries.

Towards the end of this period, two events had a decisive influence on the future of the country - the conversion to Christianity and the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Byzantines (under Emperor John Tzimisce) conquered the city of Preslav
Then Preslav , witnessed the golden age of Bulgarian culture, when in the 10th century flourish the arts and literature under the leadership of King Simeon.

Preslav became the second capital of Bulgaria during the reign of King Simeon (893-927) and saw grow the "Golden Age" of Bulgarian culture.

After the city was taken and sacked in 971 by the Byzantine Emperor John Tzimisce, the Bulgarian endured for decades Byzantine rule.

Bulgarians killing Byzantine
Tirnovo finally center of civilization in the 13th and 14th centuries, until the Ottoman invasion that would subjugate the country.

Each seems to still express the spirit of his time.

Baptism of the court of Preslav
Pliska , designed as a huge fortified camp enclosing the palace in the center of Khan and the temple of their god is massive, austere, majestic.

The huge blocks of limestone walls and palaces still evoke the power and nobility of the founders.


This desire to assert and last is expressed in what remains of the fortress and the palace as in the inscriptions engraved in stone columns on the order of the Khans.

The memory should conquer death, this is the message of one of them, Khan Omourtag - "Man, even if he lives well, dies and another is born. Whoever came into the world later remembered ... ".

Any different, Preslav , which founded the young King Simeon (893-927) in the gently rolling hills that border the Ticha, was undoubtedly impressive.

But more than fortresses, archaeologists like to find it, despite the looting it suffered, a city of builders of stone cutters and sculptors, painters and potters, silversmiths and writers, each of these trades and the arts reflecting a surprising originality.


To give one example, it seems clear that, for the first time in Europe, we have made Preslav the 10th century, a kind of earthenware, especially for wall decoration, but also to the dishes luxury.

Better yet, the painters made icons ceramic, earthenware served as support for writing and was exhumed a white clay spindle whorl decorated with enamel on which someone, craftsman or donor, had written the name the young wool spinner in which it was intended.

"The whorl Lola" seems to indicate how the writing was so widespread.

St. Theodore - Ceramic Icon
In any case Preslav is famous in the history of the Slavic culture because of its literary school represented by prominent authors such as Tchernorizetz Khrabar John Exarch, Constantine of Preslav and king Simeon himself who, it seems fills his palace of books.

Most compiled works or compounds Preslav at that time were religious sermons and commentaries on the Bible.

But they also contain original developments on secular subjects, and sometimes enthusiastic texts as "the alphabetical prayer" Constantine exalting the historical importance of the conversion of the Bulgarians.

The alphabetical Please Constantine of Preslav
In the 12th century, after decades of Byzantine rule, Tarnovo became the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, and remained so until she perished in the flames after the Ottoman conquest in 1393.

In a fantastic site grooves encircling steep hills arose a great city, very complex and highly hierarchical into its architectural structure.

Religious and political conflicts were frequent.

But enlightened rulers, patrons of the arts, never ceased to encourage the development of national literature.

Constantine Universal Chronicle of Manasses
Among the rare manuscripts which escaped the destruction, one must mention the Chronicle of Constantine Manasses, preserved in the Vatican, which contains sixty-nine beautiful miniatures, of which twenty-one were of Bulgarian subjects.

Other masterpieces of illustrative painting found in some manuscripts of the 14th century (Four Gospels of the British Museum, Psalter of Moscow) also famous.

But the monumental painting Turnovo, there remains almost nothing there.

frescoes of the Boyana Church
Fortunately the frescoes of the Boyana Church (1259) near Sofia in suggest the grandeur and sophistication as they are considered the school's works Tirnovo or unknown painter who has left donors Boyana Prince Kaloyan and his wife Dessislava, portraits full of charm and dignity, evidenced by the life that infuses traditional images of a dramatic sense and an unsurpassed humanism in 13th century Europe.

? Here is a video over the Ovech Fortress near Provadia Bulgaria reflecting the strength builder of the people who have shaped the country



Shelters of mind
From the state's beginnings and especially during the Ottoman rule, the monasteries of Bulgaria were the refuge of the national spirit and kept alive its cultural forms of expression.

The monks are taught Bulgarian language, translated the Greek and Oriental philosophers and laid the foundations of a national literature.


This is also the Bulgarian monumental painting reached its peak from the 15th century.

The frescoed walls and vault of the refectory of the monastery of Bachkovo, dated from the 17th century, are striking in their richness and quality.

There is a variety of images - scenes from the Old and New Testaments, monotheistic philosophers portrait of antiquity and even rare in the Bulgarian religious painting, ecumenical councils representation.

Monasteries in the National Revival
In Bulgaria , the monastic tradition is as old as the nation itself.

The first monastery was founded by Boris in Pliska 1, who retired at the end of his life.

And Cyril and Methodius's disciples came to work in the same monastery to teach and spread the Slavonic alphabet developed by their masters.

Cyril and Method
It was the beginning of a long tradition - for twelve centuries monasteries were to be cultural centers.

Preslav strengthened and clarified this noble role that was to take its full extent under Ottoman rule, each monastery then became a center of national spirit, where the Bulgarians felt protected.

Cross Rila Monastery
The feast day of the great monasteries, pilgrims from all over the country on foot, by wagon, horse, gave it go.

The population of the cities and the countryside was sent offerings of all kinds to help decorating the sanctuaries.

This is the case of the Rila Monastery , served by monks who celebrate divine service in the church and chapels which perpetuates the Bulgarian spiritual.

Handwritten songs - Rila Monastery
This monastery built in the mountains south of Sofia , is also a museum national whose showrooms are devoted to various themes - history, economic activity, ethnographic treasures, collections of icons.

From the outside, the monastery is reminiscent of a mighty fortress.

The court, very wide, is bordered cranes in several floors that adorn balconies adorned with wood carvings.


The center is occupied by the main church, and a high tower of the 14th century.

On the floors, surrounded by dormitories for the guests and the monks' cells are disposed several chapels where people sing the Mass during certain holidays.

After Rila, it is worth mentioning the Bachkovo Monastery which is hardly less important.

Founded in 1083 in a valley of the Rhodope by Georgian Pakourian Gregory, senior military which, at the time of Byzantine rule, was appointed governor of the country, the monastery had a very turbulent history.

Bachkovo monastery
It has been repeatedly destroyed, rebuilt, restored and enlarged.

In the 17th century, during one of these revisions, the Monastery of Bachkovo was with an unusual masterpiece - the mural paintings of the refectory.

These paintings that cover the walls and ceiling form an overall composition where a star sky and a green garlands are represented biblical scenes and various characters from antiquity.


Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, for example, wear clothes of the Middle Ages, which does not detract from the seriousness of their maintenance nor the nobility of their faces.

In the courtyard, one of the walls is decorated with a more recent composition that evokes the feast of the monastery, celebrated in the month of August, the day of the Virgin festival.

This is a narrative scene of extraordinary wealth of information.

Fresco of the monastery of Bachkovo
The monastery is represented there, sandwiched between the foothills of the mountain.

All around, perched on the heights of the small churches and chapels dedicated to different saints.

The main pass book entry to a solemn procession - in head, prominent citizens bear the miraculous icon of the Virgin.

The procession will tour all the churches. After the clergy, preceded by the Plovdiv bishop, advanced monks and laymen, townspeople and peasants.

The artist has rendered with meticulous precision geographic site details the river, the bridges, the path where drag latecomers.

Several figures are certainly portraits.

Zechariah Zograf, repésentant art of the Bulgarian Revival (1810-1853)
The representation of ethnographic details and social characteristics of the characters is typical of the art of the creator of this composition - Zachary Zograf, Bulgarian self-taught painter who was one of the most gifted of the mid 19th century.

Zechariah Zograf also decorated the two churches of the monastery. All his compositions demonstrate consistent critical social concern.

So in the scene of the Last Judgment, we recognize usurers portraits of Plovdiv and their wives haughty way to the furnace of hell.

Scene of the Last Judgment by Zachary Zograf
But the art of the painters of that era rarely confined to social themes.

The artists dotting the walls of churches and monasteries of roses and green twigs.

Their saints are dressed in bright colors and faces shine with a remarkable freshness.

Everything is animated by a vitality, a special sort of cheerfulness and optimism that characterize this period that historians refer to as the National Revival.

Scene of the Last Judgment by Zachary Zograf
For nearly 500 years, the Bulgarian had lost their independence after the Ottoman invasion in the late 14th century. They had endured the worst trials.

But they had preserved their national consciousness, their traditions, their faith, their lifestyles, and finally they showed a fierce determination in the struggle for liberation in the 19th century, at a time when the social and political situation had changed dramatically.

Before the release which followed the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, the Bulgarians were living a difficult period, the worst followed the 1876 April Uprising.

Despite the heroism of the combatants, and failed uprising was cruelly suppressed.

This repression provoked in Europe the indignation of the enlightened and sympathetic what won the Bulgaria certainly hastened the advent of freedom.

But this freedom had been long prepared by the facilitators of the National Awakening.

The architecture of this period is, in this respect, very significant.

Bachkovo Monastery
While for centuries the occupants allowed to build churches that humble and obscure as low as possible, it began in the second half of the 18th century, with the gradual weakening of the Ottoman Empire, to erect large churches well-lit, decorated on the outside with attractive facades and inside beautifully carved iconostasis.

Often these large frames of carved wood, appear in the middle of acanthus leaves and birds, figures of Adam and Eve dressed as Bulgarian peasants, the first busy digging the earth, the second wisely spinning her distaff .

And among the saints, Cyril and Methodius, inventors of the Slavic alphabet are always displayed prominently ...

After liberation, for social, economic and political, cities have evolved very slowly, smoothly.

This stability has kept the architecture of national awakening that now surrounds of a special solicitude.

In Plovdiv , for example, on mounds of this particularly scenic city, entire neighborhoods date from centuries Awakening.

The corbelled houses, facades to boldly articulated volumes form sets dominated the direction of measurement and instinct of the composition.


Sleek lines, abundant openings, arches, above the gates, ingenious combinations of wood and metal, the profusion of flowers in all windows, exudes a freshness that seems to be the symbol of Bulgarian time sensitivity of hope.

These old houses, these old streets are lively today the same life, the same dynamism as in the rest of the country with the sites, new towns and villages renovated.

Secular cities
More than half of the cities in Bulgaria have at least five thousand years old and are all stone chronicles left by history over the centuries.

In Plovdiv , for example, the visitor encounters at every step both ancient remains as the amphitheater or stadium as cobbled streets and half-timbered houses from the 18th century from the period of national awakening, all these relics of the past being carefully protected and promoted at the heart of a modern and vibrant city.

Ruins of a Thracian city Plovdiv
The Thracians , Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Genoese, all have left their mark Nessebar , the port of the Black Sea.

His churches the oldest date from the 5th century mark every step, almost, of the history of Christianity in this region.

Church of the Pantocrator - Nessebar
The most notable examples of this religious architecture are the great basilica of the 6th century and churches of the 13th and 14th centuries, brick and tufa, with arches and cornices decorated with ceramic inlays.

A national campaign to safeguard the cultural heritage of Bulgaria has helped protect and restore a large number of villages and towns.

5000 years of planning
On the coast, the underwater archaeological research allowed to trace the origins of navigation in the Black Sea and to identify traces of the first port cities.

a large number of stone anchors were brought to the surface dating from the late Bronze Age, about 1200 years BC.

The Thracian ships exporting copper plates and related assets that were enriching their home ports, the first maritime trade centers.

Greek colonists who came to live on this coast in the 6th century BC is thus found a Thracian cities of Rosary.

Their language was imposed, they built theaters and workshops of their sculptors and ceramists their flourished in these cities who wore long Greek names.

Orpheus, son of king of Thrace Oeagrus and the Muse Calliope, was the poet and the most famous musician that ever lived in ancient times.
But we know that their ties with Thracians were very close and they were not just business - customs and deities were traded and mingled; feasts were common.

It was only one of the first meetings and cultural interactions that were to give this country its unique character.

These meetings and the seniority are not the privilege of the coastal cities - more than half of Bulgarian cities have at least five thousand years old.

Young woman Thrace reach the head of Orpheus - Gustave Moreau
Sofia , Plovdiv , Varna , Nesebar , Stara Zagora, constitute true monuments of the history of urban planning, and in many cases it is possible to explore their archaeological heritage as it sits in the ground under modern buildings.

In Sofia , the capital, that legacy as ten meters of cultural layers, concentrated in the most vibrant part of the city center.

The redevelopment of the area, severely tested by the aerial bombardments of the Second World War, posed acute problem of conservation of archaeological remains in urban areas.

In many countries, this issue is controversial; in Bulgaria it is exceeded.

All archaeological monument unearthed is integrated in the modern environment.

Preserved ruins in the Metro of Sofia - Serdika Station
Between the new buildings of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, an underpass along the outer wall of the ancient city before crossing the east gate and follow a street in the 6th century where marble slabs bear Roman inscriptions of 400 years old.

Further, in another underpass, the walker can be installed on the terrace of a cafe near a small medieval church.

Moreover, the tram along the tower of the enclosure wall; another tower is inserted in the premises of a department store.

A construction in bank had to give up half of his basement in a former assembly formed by part of the wall, two blocks from the 4th century and the foundations of a church from the 14th.

Faced with this modern building a large space is reserved for archaeologists, until architects have established the relics conservation plans.

All these cities are seeking to bring an original solution to the conservation of their heritage.

It was unearthed in Plovdiv (the Roman Trimontium) an amphitheater very well preserved - there will performances.

The forum, as it should be, is a place for pedestrians, while the old ramparts of the hills serve as retaining walls for the 19th century neighborhoods.

Pedestrian street and ancient Philippopolis Stadium Plovdiv
A Stara Zagora (the ancient Augusta Traiana), Neolithic dwellings are included in a newly built museum; an area with thermal baths, amphitheater and ancient streets remain partially intact, like open-air museum, and partly covered or indicated by markings on the pavement in new buildings.

Varna (Odessos ancient) preserves archaeological whole islets in its new quarters, and many elements of the Greco-Roman plan must still integrate with modern streets and squares.

Greek Architecture - Downtown Varna
To enter Nessebar (Mesembria), bordering the Black Sea, it is necessary to cross the door of the ancient rampart.

This small town, which has retained its Thracian name, deserves more than any other the name "museum city".

Perched on a narrow peninsula connected to the coast by a thin strip of land, it was one of the first ports of Thrace.

In the 6th century BC, it implanted a Dorian colony.

Enriched by operating a fertile hinterland as well as by the maritime trade, it still prosperous under Roman rule and then became one of the main ports of the Byzantine Empire.

Old Nessebar city
Later, the Bulgaria and Byzantium fought over for centuries this piece of land that belongs more to the sea than the coast, and the alternation of power won every time in Nessebar new architectural enrichment.

The Italian republics, especially Genoa, also came there to affirm their prestige. Their influence was felt it even after the Ottoman invasion.

Despite the slow decline of its business functions, centuries have passed without the vicissitudes of history begin vitality of Nessebar.

Today, tourist resort in Bulgaria famous of all, the city attracts preserved its architectural richness like for its site.

Thirty centuries of civilization have left their masterpieces here.

Among these buildings churches deserve particular attention.

He left ten that mark almost every phase of Christianity in these countries - the most ancient basilicas date from the 5th century, the most recent was built at the end of the last century.

But the churches of the 13th and 14th centuries are characterized by their number, by the quality of their style, the originality of Construction practices.


Small tufa blocks alternate with rows of bricks to form unexpected ornaments.

All details cornices, arches, niches are enhanced by inlaying small discs and four-leaf clovers ceramic.

This polychrome facades symphony slice on wood coatings patina houses over the years by the sun and sea air.

Harmony that fig trees add their pale green key.

Architectural detail - Old Nessebar
But antiquity and the Middle Ages do not interfere in any way, again, the dynamism of contemporary life.

During the construction of a "House of Youth", the diggers have unearthed the altar of a church disappeared - this precious relic has been carefully incorporated into the building in which it ranks high, protected by a column cement and a glass plate.

Many visitors.

In summer they come to hear the concerts that are given in the great basilica of the 6th century.

But the most assiduous are even archaeologists, historians and restorers whose patients work will have probably no end.

The Bulgaria is thus undoubtedly a country rich in culture and history and an ideal destination for a cultural holiday in an unspoilt and stunning scenery.

National Library Cyril and Methoduis - Sofia


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