Bulgaria offers a heady mix of folk music, roses, sultans and warlords, woodcarving and frescoed mountain monasteries, saints, slaves and kings. Its varied geography includes the deeply forested Balkan Mountains. These separate vast plains, the coasts of the historic maritime highway the Black Sea and the Danube’s broad waters, Europe’s longest river. Contemporary Bulgaria owes much to its Prehistoric, Thracian, Slavic and Turkic past. Golden Byzantine beauty and Ottoman sophistication meld into the country’s unique, richly coloured culture.
The well-preserved prehistoric village, Stara Zagora, is unique in Europe. Thracian Sveshtari and Kazanluk reflect Bulgaria’s ancient roots. The subterranean Thracian tombs at Kazanluk were once filled with the ancient world’s finest gold. It is now preserved in Sofia’s National and Archaeological museums. Aleksandrovo’s Museum of Thracian Art displays a reconstructed tomb with colourful painted hunting scenes. Sveshtari has extraordinary sculpted caryatids, exceptional in the ancient world. Ancient gold glitters again at Varna. It was home to master metalworkers 6,000 years ago.
Bulgaria’s modern capital took its name from its 4th-century basilica, the Church of Saint Sophia. Opulent painted hues animate intricate medieval frescoes in the medieval Boyana Church and remote, mountainous, glinting gold-leafed Rila Monastery. Arbanassi, Bachkovo monastery, and Bansko bring medieval pilgrimage and faith to life. Christian belief and strong citadels sustained medieval Bulgaria. Hilltop Veliko Turnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, combines fine churches with an unconquerable fortress. Plovdiv’s great Roman theatre contrasts to the quaint cobbled streets of its old medieval town. Its painted houses are redolent of Balkan atmosphere. Tryavna is rich in vernacular National Revival architecture decorated with traditional woodcarving. Rock-hewn Churches at Ivanovo best exemplify the Bulgarian tradition of rich decoration, light and energy. Their expressive interiors shimmer with naturalistic landscapes of intense drama and thrilling atmosphere. St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia (1882–1912), is a grandiose celebration of Bulgarian liberty and nationhood.
Bulgarian archaeologist Dr Katya Melamed leads this tour, travelling from Sofia across to the Black Sea coast visiting painted towns, Byzantine monasteries & Thracian treasures. Read more