Bulgaria’s territory has been inhabited since earliest historic times – the Stone Age and the Copper Stone Age. Archaeological evidence from that time has been found near Karlovo, in the area of Nova Zagora, Veliko Tarnovo, Vidin, Sofia, Teteven, Troyan and the Rhodope Mountain. The oldest gold treasure in the world discovered near Varna also dates from that period.
In the Bronze Age the Thracians, mentioned for the first time by Homer, settled here. They were farmers and stock-breeders and have left evidence of a rich culture (like the Vulchetrun treasure). The first Thracian state organizations emerged in 11th – 6th century B.C., and their heyday was in 7th -6th century B.C. In 1st century B.C. their lands were conquered by the Roman Empire, and after 5th century they were included within Byzantium. The Thracians were gradually assimilated by the Slavs who settled on the Balkan peninsula in 6th century A.D.
In the second half of 7th century A.D. the proto-Bulgarians – people of Turkic origin, settled on the territory of today’s North-East Bulgaria. In an alliance with the Slavs they founded the Bulgarian state, which was recognized by Byzantium in 681. Khan Asparuh, the leader of the proto-Bulgarians, headed the state, and Pliska was declared to the capital of the state.
Under the rule of khan Tervel (700-718) Bulgaria expanded its territory and became a great political power. At the time of khan Krum (803-814) Bulgaria bordered the empire of Charles the Great to the west, and to the east the Bulgarian army reached the walls of Byzantium’s capital Constantinople.
In 864 during the reign of knyaz Boris I Mihail (852-889) the Bulgarians converted to Christianity which became official religion. That smoothed out the ethnic differences between proto-Bulgarians and Slavs and commenced the establishing of a united Bulgarian nationality.
In the end of 9th century the brothers Cyril (Constantine the Philosopher) and Methodius devised and disseminated the Slavonic alphabet. Their disciples Kliment and Naum came to Bulgaria, where they were warmly welcomed and found good conditions for work. They engaged in valuable educational and literary activities. From Bulgaria the Slavonic alphabet spread also to other Slavonic countries like Serbia and Russia. Ohrid and Pliska, and later also the new capital of Veliki Preslav became centres of Bulgarian culture and of Slavonic culture in general.
The rule of Tsar Simeon (893-927) is considered to be the peak of “the Golden age of Bulgarian culture”, and the country bordered the Black Sea, The White Sea and the Aegean Sea.
In 1018 after continued wars Bulgaria was subjugated by Byzantium. The Bulgarians started fighting for their freedom as early as the first years under Byzantine domination. In 1186 the uprising lead by the boyar brothers Asen and Peter threw off the power of Byzantium. The Second Bulgarian Kingdom was founded with capital Tarnovo. After 1186 the country was first ruled by Asen, and then by Peter.
Bulgaria’s former power was restored during the reign of their youngest brother Kaloyan (1197-1207), and during the time of Tsar Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) the Second Bulgarian Kingdom reached its greatest prosperity – it established its political hegemony in south-eastern Europe, expanded its territory to the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea, economy and culture developed. Bulgaria reached another zenith, and that lasted until the end of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1186-1396).
Dissensions among some of the boyars lead to dividing the country into two kingdoms – the Vidin kingdom and the Tarnovo kingdom. That weakened the state and in 1396 it was conquered by the Turkish Empire. For nearly five centuries Bulgaria was under Turkish domination. The first years are characterised by sporadic and unorganised attempts to win freedom. Later rebels called haiduks appeared, and that enabled a better organised national liberation movement to start.
The formation of the Bulgarian nation and Bulgarian enlightenment started in the beginning of 18th century. An impulse for that was the work of the monk Paisiy Hilendarski “Slav-Bulgarian History”, written in 1762. The ideas of national liberation lead to the establishing of an independent national church and the development of education and culture. The beginning of organised revolutionary movement for liberation from Turkish domination is connected with the activities of Georgi Sava Rakovski (1821-1867) – a writer and a publicist, founder and ideologist of the national liberation movement.
The main figures of the liberation movement are Vasil Levski, Lyuben Karavelov, Hristo Botev as well as many other Bulgarians.
The April uprising burst out in 1876, and it was the first large-scale organised attempt to liberate the country from the Ottoman domination. The uprising was cruelly crushed and drowned in blood, but it drew the European countries’ attention to the Bulgarian national issues. In 1878 as a result of the Russian-Turkish liberation war (1877-1878) the Bulgarian state was restored but national unification was not achieved. The former Bulgarian territory was divided into three: Principality Bulgaria was proclaimed headed by prince (knyaz) Alexander of Battenberg; the autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia was headed by a Christian Governor appointed by the sultan, and Thrace and Macedonia remained under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Empire.
The end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century are characterized by remarkable achievements in all fine arts. This is the time when the following Bulgarian poets and writers created their works: Ivan Vazov, Aleko Konstantinov, Dimcho Debelyanov, Pencho Slaveykov (the only Bulgarian nominated for a Nobel prize laureate), and Peyo Yavorov. The artists An. Mitov, Ivan Angelov, Ivan Murkvichka, Yaroslav Veshin, B. Shats created some of the most remarkable works of that period. The foundations of professional Bulgarian musical culture were laid in the end of 19th century. The first Bulgarian composers are E. Manolov, D. Hristov, G. Atanasov – Maestro.
The decision of partitioning Bulgaria taken at the Congress of Berlin (1878) was never accepted by the people. The Kresna-Razlog uprising (1878-1879) broke out as a result of the decisions in 1878, and in 1885 brought to the unification of Principality Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia. The Ilinden-Preobrazhenie prising also burst out (1903).
Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bulgarian prince since 1887, proclaimed Bulgarian independence from Turkey and in 1908 became the tsar of the Bulgarian people. Bulgaria took part in the Balkan War (1973) and together with Serbia and Greece fought for the freedom of Thrace and Macedonia. Bulgaria won that war, but in the Second Balkan (Inter-Ally)War (1913) that followed it was defeated by Romania, Turkey and its former allies, which detached from Bulgaria territories inhabited by Bulgarians.
Bulgaria’s participation in World War I on the side of the Central Powers ended in a national catastrophe. In 1918 Tsar Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Boris III. The 1919 Peace Treaty of Neuilly imposed severe terms on Bulgaria – it was deprived of an outlet to the Aegean, western Thrace became part of Greece, south Dobrudzha was joined to Romania, and the regions round Strumitsa, Bosilegrad, Tsaribrod and villages in the region of Kula were given to the Serbian-Croation-Slovenian kingdom. (South Dobrudzha was reinstated to Bulgaria in 1940 by a treaty between Bulgaria and Romania).
In the early 40-ies Bulgaria pursued policy in the interest of Germany and the Axis Powers. Later the involvement of Bulgarian cavalry platoons at the Eastern Front was terminated. Tsar Boris III stood by public pressures and did not allow deportation of about 50,000 Bulgarian Jews.
In August 1943 Tsar Boris III died and the regency of the young Tsar Simeon II was declared to be the country’s government. The Soviet Army entered Bulgaria on 5 September 1944, and on 9 September a government of the Fatherland Front was established headed by Kimion Georgiev. In 1946 Bulgaria was proclaimed a people’s republic. The mother-queen, Tsar Simeon II and princess Maria Louise left the country through Turkey for Egypt. The Bulgarian communist party came to power. The political parties not participating in the Fatherland Front were banned, the economic enterprises and banks were nationalized, the arable land was forcibly organized in cooperatives. Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Kolarov, Vulko Chervenkov, Anton Yugov and Todor Jivkov were consecutively heads of government.
The democratic changes in Bulgaria started on 10 November 1989. A new Constitution was adopted, the political parties were restored, the property that had been taken away in 1947 was reinstated, privatisation and restoring land to its previous owners started. In 1990 Jelio Jelev became President of Bulgaria, and he was the first one democratically elected at that post.
EU and NATO membership became main priorities in Bulgaria’s foreign policy. On 10 December 1999 as a result of the country’s considerable progress in meeting membership criteria Bulgaria was invited to start accession negotiations.
The negotiations were launched on 15 February 2000 in Brussels. On 1 December 2000 the Justice and Home Affairs Council of EU took the decision to unconditionally take Bulgaria out of the negative visa list.
Republic of Bulgaria joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on 29 March 2004 together with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. That fully corresponds to the national interests and goals of Bulgaria, which considers NATO enlargement process to be above all things an efficient means to deal with the complex challenges to global security.
At the EU Summit on 12-13 December 2004 the leaders of the 25 member states decided that Bulgaria joins EU on 1 January 2007. The European leaders agreed to sign the Treaty of Accession with Sofia and Bucharest in April 2005.
On 1 January 2007, having achieved the membership criteria, Bulgaria became a full member of the European Union.