The republic of Bulgaria is a country in the Southeastern Europe, in the eastern part of the Balkan peninsular and occupies 23% of its territory. To the north it borders Romania, to the west – Serbia and Macedonia, to the south – Greece and to the southeast - Turkey. To the east, it is washed by the waters of the Black Sea. Besides the continental part, Bulgaria has 62 islands in the River Danube and 7 small islands in the Black Sea. With its 111 000 km² area and a population of 7,364 million, Bulgaria is 11th in the EU and 15th in Europe.
The earliest evidence of human presence in the lands of present day Bulgaria dates back to 44 000 years BC, or the Paleolithic era. About 5000 BC in the lands of Northeast Bulgaria an advanced civilization flourished, creating the earliest gold jewellery in the world. From the Antiquity to the Dark ages in the land of present day Bulgaria developed the cultures of the Thracians, the ancient Greeks and the Romans. The proce3ss of building the Bulgarian statehood started with the arrival of the Slavs during the 6th century, and of the Proto-Bulgarians a century later.
In 681 the First Bulgarian state was founded, which lasted until 1018 and influenced the East European peoples through its schools of letters and its literature. The Second Bulgarian state existed between 1186 and 1396, when it was conquered by the expanding Ottoman Empire. In 1878, after almost a century of spiritual, cultural and economic revival, unsuccessful uprisings and diplomatic struggles, Bulgaria recovered its statehood as a monarchy and won its freedom from five centuries of Ottoman occupation with the help of the Russian Empire. Shortly after this, Bulgaria entered into a series of wars with its neighbours and became an ally of Germany during the two World Wars. In 1946 the monarchy was replaced by a people’s republic of Soviet type. The so called “socialist order” collapsed in 1989 and Bulgaria started on its way to liberal democracy and market economy. In 2004 the country joined NATO and in 2007 – the European Union.
The official language is Bulgarian and it is spoken as a mother tongue by 85,2% of the population of the country. The Bulgarian language is the earliest Slavic language with a written record. At the end of the 9th century, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, together with their students, created and disseminated the Slavonic alphabet. Today this alphabet is being used by almost 300 million people all over the world.
The rose is the symbol of Bulgaria. The country is known for growing the oleaginous roses and producing from them the most expensive attar of roses in Europe.
The Bulgarian lands have inherited one of the oldest cultural treasures of Europe. For example, the Varna treasure of the 5th and the beginning of the 4th millennium BC, belonging to the Varna culture is the oldest processed gold in the world. One of the oldest Bulgarian cultural monuments is the Madara Horseman from the 8th century, which has been included in UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritage.
The Bulgarians have a number of rites and rituals, which originate from the combination of pagan and Christian understanding of the world and the universe. The have been arranged in calendar sequence. Some of the more popular ones are “survakane” (a ritual performed on 1st January by young men or children, who hit with a cornel branch the backs of the adults, wishing health and fertility); “hamkane” – performed 7 weeks before Easter, when everybody in the family is trying to catch in their mouth a boiled egg, tied on a string; “martenitsi” – a decoration made of red and white wool, which is exchanged between Bulgarians on 1st of March with wishes for a fruitful season and health at the end of winter.
One of the characteristics of the Bulgarian cuisine is that most of the products put in a meal are cooked together. It is especially true about roasted or baked dishes. The explanation is simple: in the past, the households did not have their own ovens and used public ones. Even with the onset of modern technologies, this tradition of cooking has been preserved for traditional dishes like “kavarma” (chicken, pork or vegetable stew). Bread and bread products are the staple food for Bulgarians. The Bulgarian yoghurt and cheese are famous all over the world.