The southeast passage between Europe and Asia
Typically Balkan region – of passage and mixture between Europe and Asia – Bulgaria has been for centuries in the balance between West and East, between Slavic culture and Turkish culture. The recent democratic transformation of the political-economic system has not been without difficulties for Bulgaria, which has moved closer to the West, in the hope of a more prosperous future.
Two plains and two mountain ranges
According to directoryaah, the Bulgarian territory is made up of alternating plains and mountains, arranged in a west-east direction: the Danube plain, with a continental climate, cultivated with corn and fodder; the Balkan Mountains; the plain of the Tundža and Marica rivers, with a Mediterranean climate, rich in fruit and vegetables and famous for its roses, cultivated to make perfumes and jams; the Rhodope Mountains (the Musala, 2,925 m, is the highest), are sweet in shape like the Balkans but have an alpine climate.
The population lives mainly in the plains, but the capital Sofia (Sofija, 1,194,000 residents) is located on a plateau; main economic and cultural center, Sofia has ancient monuments, including churches and mosques. Important cities are Plovdiv and Varna. The population includes minorities of Turks and Gypsies and is of Orthodox religion, but there are many Muslims in this area of contact between Christianity and Islam.
In addition to agriculture, tourism is important, thanks to the Black Sea beaches, natural beauties and monuments, while the industry is in serious crisis. The Bulgarian economy was integrated with the Soviet one and when the economic system had to be changed, the country became very impoverished.
Fourteen centuries of history
The Bulgarians are a people of Turkish descent who settled between the 7th and 8th centuries AD in the Balkans, converting to Orthodox Christianity and merging with the Slavic populations. Between the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century, thanks to a series of victorious wars, ‘great Bulgaria’, which included almost all of the Balkans, took shape. But at the beginning of the 11th century Bulgaria was subdued by the Byzantines and during the 14th century it came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted more than five centuries.
In the second half of the nineteenth century there was a reawakening of national sentiment, which produced various anti-Turkish revolts and finally led, in 1908, to the full independence of Bulgaria, which became a monarchy. Pursuing the ancient dream of ‘great Bulgaria’ – which involved the reconquest of Macedonia and the outlet to the Aegean Sea – the Bulgarian rulers allied themselves in the first world conflict with the central empires (Germany and Austria) and in the second with the powers of the Axis (Germany and Italy), however, emerging defeated by both wars. The invasion by Soviet troops in 1944 led to the collapse of the monarchy.
In 1946 the republic was proclaimed and within a few years a communist regime was established modeled on that of the Soviet Union, a country of which Bulgaria was the most disciplined and submissive ally. Inside, the regime was characterized by inaction, of which the forty-year dominance of the leader Todor Zivkov was an expression. The collapse of the communist regimes, starting from 1989, also involved Bulgaria, which gave itself a new democratic constitution. But the transition to the market economy was not easy, because liberalizations immediately created a sharp rise in unemployment. While maintaining strong ties with Russia, Bulgaria has recently become increasingly oriented towards the West: in 2004 it joined NATO.