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simeon the greatAs a part of the dynamic Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria is and always has been the scene of change and transition. Geographically situated between Europe and Asia, it occupies a strategic cultural, economic and political crossroads, and throughout history has consequently alternated between being powerful and being overpowered.

Thracians were the first people that inhabited the territory of nowadays Bulgaria. Their civilisation is evidenced by numerous archaeological finds, tombs, gold and silver treasures.

In the 7th century began the constant migration of the Slavs from across the Danube and the Bulgars from the Central Asia. These two groups became the ancestors of modern-day Bulgarians and in 681 Khan Asparoukh firmly established the First Bulgarian Kingdom which lasted until 1018. With an administration centered in the northeastern city of Pliska, the First Bulgarian Kingdom stretched from the Carpathians in the north to the Balkan Mountain range in the south and is generally considered the first Slavic state in history. In 865, Tzar Boris I was converted to Orthodox Christianity. Then he adopted the religion as the official faith of the Bulgarian Kingdom, where the majority of the dominant Slav population had already been converted. Under Simeon (893-927), the son of Boris, the Bulgarian Kingdom reached its greatest power and size. Sometimes called the Kingdom of Three Seas, it stretched from the Black Sea in the east, to the Aegean in the south and to the Adriatic at the western edge of the Balkan Peninsula. The capital was moved to Preslav, also situated in the north-east. Simeon encouraged learning and education, and Slavic culture flourished. Brothers Cyril and Methodius from Thessaloniki (now in present-day Greece) are credited with inventing the earliest form of the Cyrillic alphabet, called Glagolithic, in order to best represent the sounds of the Slavic language. Their student, Kliment Ohridski, further developed the alphabet, which he named after Cyril, and founded the first Slavic university on the shores of Lake Ohrid, in present-day Macedonia.

monasteryThe Second Bulgarian Kingdom with capital in Veliko Turnovo was founded by brothers Peter and Assen in 1187 and existed till 1396 when the country was over-run by the Ottoman Turks. It was the bloody and violent era for Bulgaria and Bulgarian culture. The years of Ottoman rule served to isolate the Balkan region from the blossoming Renaissance period in Europe and consequently, the culture of this area was deeply affected by Turkish influences. The end to the Ottoman rule was put in 1878 with the help of Russian army.

Bulgaria fought on the losing side in both World Wars. Communist policies transformed Bulgarian society and the economy. The People’s Republic of Bulgaria became one of the USSR’s closest allies. The Party controlled all aspects of everyday life. It continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This was the signal of the end of communism in Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria the communist dictator Todor Zhivkov was arrested and the country began moving towards the first multi-party elections held in June 1990.

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