The Bulgarian lands have rich and most diverse cultural heritage. Inhabited since prehistoric times, they keep lasting traces from different ages with rich traditions. Their location on a crossroads explains the intertwining, mixing, the mutual influences of the culture, mores, and religions of tribes and peoples, having lived and crisscrossed the region. Getting in touch with the thousands of cultural messages, bequeathed to us by those living before us is very exciting indeed. Invaluable is the cultural and historical heritage of ancient Thracians, Greeks, Romans, of generations of Bulgarians leaving through their achievements intriguing and useful information about their lifestyle, traditions and their spiritual enlightenment.
One of the earliest traces from Antiquity were found in the Bacho Kiro Cave close to the Dryanovo Monastery. These are flint and bone implements of labour and pottery from the middle and late Paleolithic Age. Of value to science are the finds from the settlement mounds near the village of Hotnitsa (Hotnitsa treasure) and the village of Karanovo (Karanovo settlement mound). The gold objects found in the Varna Chalcolithic necropolis have been described as the oldest processed gold in the world. The most ancient copper mines in Europe have been found in the vicinities of Stara Zagora. Copper ore had been mined in their galleries as far back as at the end of the 5th millennium B.C. and copper products were made. Featuring among the preserved masterpieces of the late prehistoric art in the Balkan Peninsula are the unique cave drawings in the Magoura Cave (northwest of Belogradchik).
Among the most precious relics unearthed in the Bulgarian lands has been the cultural heritage of the Thracians, who had produced incredible artistic and architectural masterpieces. The Thracian art, passing through a long and complicated path of development from the beginning of the late Bronze Age to the end of Antiquity has left remarkable treasures, temples, sanctuaries and cities.
The magnificence of the Thracian treasures is stunning. Standing out among them are the Panagyurishte gold treasure, the Rogozen treasure, the Vulchitrun gold treasure, the Borovo silver treasure, the Vratsa treasure, etc. Valuable and beautiful with their exquisite decorations are also the Kralevsko gold treasure, the Letnitsa treasure, the Lukovit treasure.
Listed among the favourite sites of cultural tourism in Bulgaria are the Kazanluk tomb and the Sveshtari tomb, included in the list of the UNESCO-protected world cultural heritage. Of interest is the Alexandrovo tomb (near the village of Alexandrovo, Haskovo region) with valuable murals, the Mezek Thracian tomb (Haskovo region). Intriguing details of the building technique and artistic methods from Antiquity can also be identified in the remains of the royal Thracian cities of Kabile (in the vicinity of Yambol) and Seuthopolis (under the waters of the Koprinka Dam near Kazanluk), as well as in the Greek Black Sea coast colonies of Odessos (Varna), Apollonia (Sozopol), Messembria (Nessebur), Dionysopolis (Balchik), to mention just a few. Quite a few of which developed over old Thracian settlements.
The region of the Kazanluk valley (known as the Valley of Roses) became particularly popular in the 1990s, as new tombs were unearthed there, presenting the evolution of the Thracian culture in the 5th-4th century BC. Bulgaria and the world started to speak about the Valley of the Thracian kings.
During the last few years the findings of the Bulgarian archaeologists have been bordering on sensations. Enormous interest has been shown in the Starosel Thracian cult centre (near Hissarya, Plovdiv region), in Perperikon (by the side of Kurdzhali, in the eastern parts of the Rhodope Mountains), where a rock-built sacred city of the Thracians has been unearthed, in Tatoul, in the treasures of Zlatinitsa and Sinemorets.
Traces of structures from Roman times can be identified to this day: fortress walls and forums, temples and thermae, amphitheatres, stadiums and buildings of various assignment in the ancient cities of Philipopolis/Trimontium (present-day Plovdiv), Serdica (present-day Sofia), Odessos (present-day Varna), Pautalia (present-day Kyustendil), Diocletianopolis (present-day Hissarya), Abritus (present-day Razgrad), Nicopolis ad Istrum (north of Veliko Turnovo), Nicopolis ad Nestrum (east of present-day Gotse Delchev), Novae (next to Svishtov), Sexaginta Prista (present-day Rouse). Many of them, partially restored and adequately presented, give an idea of the skills of the builders and architects of yore. Among the best known are the ancient theatre in Plovdiv, the Roman thermae in Varna, the museum display in the open of Sexaginta Prista in the central part of Rouse, the impressive remains of ancient thermae (the Asclepion of Pautalia) in Kyustendil and many more. Very interesting and highly valuable are the late Antiquity floor mosaics from Augusta Trajana (present-day Stara Zagora), the Roman and early Byzantine mosaics of what had once been Martianopolis (an archaeological reserve), the mosaics in the Mosaics Museum, the only one of its kind, in Devnya. Dated to that same age are: the Silistra vaulted tomb, the Pomorie domed tomb, the Hissarya family tomb, known for its original frescoes.
When in the 4th century A.D. the Christian religion gained equal rights with the rest of the religious confessions, the construction of Christian temples began in the Bulgarian lands. Interesting from a scholarly point of view and very frequented are the early Christian churches of St Sophia and the rotunda of St George in Sofia, the Church of St Sophia (the old Bishopric) in Nessebur, the Chervenata [Red] Church near Perushtitsa and some others.
There is keen and fully justified interest in the cultural and historical monuments that have survived from the time of Danubian Bulgaria, founded by Khan Asparouh. The stunning remains of Pliska and Veliki Preslav (the first and the second capital of Danubian Bulgaria) are living evidence of the traditional building skills, brought by the old Bulgarians. Their grand architecture is kind of a symbol of the political, economic and cultural upsurge of the medieval Bulgarian state. The reign of Simeon the Great, marked by an exceptional political upsurge and the flowering of culture and letters, has been referred to as a Golden Age of Bulgarian Culture.
The Madara Horseman rock relief is the most significant Early Medieval item of Bulgarian monumental art and the only one of its kind in the European cultural history (located near the village of Madara, Shoumen region). It has been included in the list of the world heritage under UNESCO protection.
Veliko Turnovo has been the living symbol of Bulgarian statehood over the ages. It is one of the most visited towns in Bulgaria. Part of the city territory has been declared a museum reserve. The brilliant capital of the Bulgarian Kingdom during the 12th-14th centuries, Turnovo was among the largest cities in terms of area and population in the Southeast Europe of that time. What has survived to date (partially or wholly restored) takes us again to the time of the regal Turnovgrad city, when magnificent palaces, monasteries, churches, fortifications, bridges and big buildings were erected. The flowering of the remarkable Turnovo School of Art was directly related to the economic and political strengthening of the kingdom, with the large-scale construction and intensive literary activities in the royal court, in the bishopric and the monasteries. Among the peak artistic achievements are the book miniatures, some of which can be seen to this day (in the Gospel of Ivan Alexander, the Manases Chronicle, the Tomichov Psalmbook and some others). The most remarkable cultural achievement in the late Middle Ages in Bulgaria and the most remarkable Bulgarian literary phenomenon during the 14th century was the Turnovo Literary School, connected with the activities of Patriarch Euthymius.
Featuring among the cultural monuments that have survived from that period are the murals in some of the Turnovo churches, the icons in the churches in Nessebur and elsewhere. Worthy of special attention are the unique frescoes in the Boyana Church and the Ivanovo rock churches, appreciated for their true value and included in the list of the world cultural heritage under the protection of UNESCO. These indisputable masterpieces of medieval Bulgarian art present to the world the achievements of the Bulgarian creative genius.
Church murals painted during the period of Ottoman domination can be seen in the churches of the Kremikovtsi, Dragalevtsi and some other monasteries in what has been referred to as the Sofia (Small) Mount Atho,s near the city of Sofia; in the Orlitsa Nunnery of the Rila Monastery; in Arbanassi and other churches and monasteries.
The exclusive upsurge in architecture and the fine arts, accompanying the National Revival Period, found expression in the erection of remarkable housing and public buildings, in representative churches and monasteries. The remarkable art schools of Samokov, Tryavna and Bansko came into being in that serene period rife with constructive energy. Their representatives produced extraordinary pieces of woodcarving, icon painting and painting.
Objects of cultural tourism are both a number of settlements and town districts, having preserved the atmosphere of the National Revival period like Koprivshtitsa, the Old Plovdiv, Veliko Turnovo, Arbanassi, Zheravna, Bozhentsi, Tryavna, Bansko, Melnik and some others (some of them have the status of cultural and historical reservations), as well as remarkable monasteries and churches, among which are the Rila, Bachkovo, Troyan, Rozhen, Preobrazhenski [Transfiguration] monasteries, the Church of the Holy Virgin in Pazardzhik, the Church of the Holy Trinity in Bansko and some others. Becoming lively centers of the cultural and socio-political life in the 18th-19th centuries, the Bulgarian monasteries became natural breeding grounds for the spiritual and material creativity of the awakening Bulgarian nation.
The period following Bulgaria’s Liberation (1878) was characterized by sweeping construction. Urban development plans were made en masse, the town and city centers were shaped, solid buildings of a new, European look were put up, decoration of the urban houses was modernized. Special saloons, deluxe cafes and clubs came into being, where topical matters, associated with the culture and policy of post-liberation Bulgaria were discussed in an agreeable and refined atmosphere. The European influence spread increasingly more tangibly both in the lifestyle and customs of the people and in the architectural outline of the newly built structures. Cities like Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Rouse, Bourgas and others were undergoing rapid and visible changes over the years.
A great number of the present-day Bulgarian cities naturally combine their centuries-long history and the artistic samples from various ages with the living and noisy presence of contemporary life. Some of them are university centers focusing the lively cultural life of our time, while others are fashionable resorts, offering fine conditions for holidaymaking, convenience and entertainment. And no matter where they are located in the mountains, in the fields or at the seaside they are attractive because of their most varied and unexpected opportunities of cultural tourism in the country.
Bulgarian artists, writers and actors, musicians and singers, architects, scholars and inventors, established or rising, produce the Bulgarian cultural heritage of tomorrow, addressing the spiritual messages of contemporary Bulgaria to the world and the future generations. Having inherited the creative potential of a millennial culture, they produce original musical and verbal images; they mould sculptures and shape new architectural outlines; they create unique paintings, drawings and sculptures.
The world is familiar with the outstanding people of art, in which Bulgaria takes deserved pride. Among them are Boris Christov and Nikolai Giaourov, Gena Dimitrova and Raina Kabaivanska, Alexandrina Milcheva and Hristina Angelakova, Mincho Minchev and Mila Georgieva, Vasko Vassilev and Lyudmil Angelov; the choirs The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices, Gousla [Rebec] and Yoan Koukouzel, the children’s radio choir and the Bodra Smyana Choir; artists Ivan Milev and Vladimitrov Dimitrov- the Master, Tsanko Lavrenov and Zlatyu Boyadjiev, Zhorzh Papazov and Dimitur Kazakov, Nikola Manev, Vezhdi Rashidov, and Svetlin Rousev.