A Country of Superb Variations
Bulgaria is an ancient country which was once home to the fierce Thracians, who ruled here through the first millennium BC. Greek settlers founded cities, such as Sozopol and Varna, on the Black Sea coast in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, and the region was later conquered by the Romans, who left behind impressive monuments such as the Roman baths in Varna and the amphitheatre in Plovdiv. Bulgar tribes invaded in the 7th century AD, and in 681, Khan Asparauh founded the First Bulgarian Empire. This empire grew to cover a large area of south-eastern and central Europe, and was at its most powerful under the rule of Tsar Simeon I (893-927). Bulgaria fell to the Byzantine Empire in 1018, regained its independence in 1185 but in 1396 it became part of the Ottoman Empire. For five centuries Bulgaria was ruled, often brutally, by the Turks, and there were many uprisings against this harsh feudal rule. The April Uprising in 1876, and the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-8 finally led to Bulgaria’s independence, and in 1879, a German prince, Alexander Battenberg, was elected as the country’s new head of state. Bulgaria fought territorial wars with its neighbours in the early 20th century, and joined World War I on the side of the Central Powers, suffering loss of land and war reparations payments in 1919 as a result. Bulgaria allied with the Nazis during World War II, and after the country was ‘liberated’ by the Red Army, it became a communist state and a loyal member of the Warsaw Pact. Following the demise of communism across Eastern Europe in 1989, Bulgaria’s communist leadership resigned. In 2001, Bulgaria’s former king, Simeon II, who had been exiled in 1946, was elected as Prime Minister – he was the first former monarch to return to power in Eastern Europe. Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004, and became a member of the European Union in 2007.