One of the oldest countries in Europe, first settled about 6,500 BC, Bulgaria’s modern history starts with the arrival of the Thracians sometime before 1200 BC. Today, Bulgaria with its capital Sofia is a fascinating country, rich in history and culture, where nodding means no, where the hills are alive with the scent of roses, and where you can book a ski-, spa-, and beach holiday at the same time. Here are some interesting facts about Bulgaria.
Facts about Bulgaria
1. Bulgaria shares land borders with 5 countries.
Bulgaria is bordered by Romania to the north (605 km / 376 mi), Serbia (344 km / 214 mi) and North Macedonia (162 km / 101 mi) to the west, and Greece (472 km / 293 mi) and Turkey (223 km / 139 mi) to the south.
2. Musala is the highest point in Bulgaria.
At an elevation of 2,925 m (9,596 ft), Musala is the highest peak in Bulgaria and the entire Balkan peninsula. Its name is derived from Ottoman Turkish and roughly translates to “near God”.
3. Bulgaria is the world’s biggest producer of rose oil.
Although roses were most likely imported from China, they are now recognized as one of Bulgaria’s most important crops. Rosewater is said to have been distilled since the 17th century, greatly aided by the locals’ experience with distilling fruit brandy.
About 4,000 kg (8,818 lbs) of rose petals is needed to turn into one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of rose oil. Most of Bulgaria’s roses are grown in Rose Valley, covering an area of 1895 km² (732 sq mi), which accounts for nearly half of the roses needed for rose oil production in the world. In fact, roses are of such economic and cultural importance, each year Bulgarians celebrate a rose festival in the city of Kazanlak, the center of rose oil production.
4. The oldest inhabited city in Europe is in Bulgaria.
Located on the banks of the Maritsa river, the city of Plovdiv as we know it today was founded as a polis by Philip the Great in 342 BC. Evidence of habitation even dates back as far as 8,000 years. Today, it is Bulgaria’s second-biggest city and the oldest still inhabited city in Europe.
5. The Cyrillic alphabet was developed in Bulgaria.
In the 9th century, Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I the Great commissioned the Preslav Literary School with the development of a new script to be used for church books. It was derived from the Greek alphabet and formally adopted in 893.
6. The official language of Bulgaria is Bulgarian.
The most-spoken and official language in Bulgaria is Bulgarian. It is spoken by about 85% of the population. The second-biggest language in terms of speakers is Turkish (9%), followed by Romani (4%).
7. A Bulgarian holds the women’s high jump world record.
In 1987, Bulgarian athlete Stefka Kostadinova set the women’s world record in high jump at a staggering 2.09 m (6 ft 10 1⁄4 in). As of today, it is the oldest standing world record in athletics and many have tried and failed to beat it.
8. In Bulgaria, Baba Marta is the herald of spring.
Baba Marta is a mythical creature who brings the first signs of springs. Her arrival is traditionally celebrated in Bulgaria on 1 March. On this day, Bulgarians exchange and wear so-called martenitsi, an ornament made of red and white strings, often in the shape of two dolls. The ornament is worn until the owner sees the first sign of spring – most commonly a stork.
9. The current flag of Bulgaria has been in use since 1991.
The current Bulgarian flag, consisting of 3 bands in white, green, and red, was adopted in practice in 1991, although its first use dates back to 1879. The white of the flag is described to stand for peace and freedom, while green highlights the agricultural wealth of the country. Red is for the independence struggle and military courage of Bulgaria.
10. A Bulgarian bacterium is the main reason we have yogurt today.
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus (until 2014 known as Lactobacillus bulgaricus) is the primary bacterium used in the production of yogurt. Naturally, it is found exclusively in Bulgaria and was first isolated by Bulgarian scientist Ilya Metchnikoff in 1905. Metchnikoff discovered it when investigating the unusually high life expectancy in Bulgarian peasants which he suspected had something to do with the consumption of yogurt.
11. Bagpipes are the national instrument of Bulgaria.
Although most commonly associated with Scotland, the bagpipes are also the national instrument of Bulgaria. Known as gaida, the instrument has been common in the region for thousands of years. Today, it is an integral part of Bulgarian wedding ceremonies.
12. There are 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria is home to 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 7 cultural sites, and 3 natural sites. Many of them are related to Bulgaria’s heritage as a Thracian settlement, such as the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, and the Ancient City of Nessebar.
13. The main religion in Bulgaria is Christianity.
Most people in Bulgaria identify as Christian, Eastern Orthodox to be precise. Christianity was also adopted as a state religion very early on, in 865. About 79% of Bulgarians are Christian with Muslims being the biggest minority at 10%.
14. In 2010, a Bulgarian councilman was dismissed over playing Farmville during budget meetings.
Does anybody remember the good old days of Farmville, when you could not escape the inevitable flood of Farmville requests whenever you opened Facebook? In 2010, however, Bulgarian councilman Dimitar Kerin had to face the consequences of his addiction. He was dismissed after having been reprimanded previously for playing Farmville during budgetary meetings.
15. Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007.
Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007 which makes it one of the last countries to have joined. The country was allowed to join despite continuing concerns about corruption levels. With its accession, Cyrillic became the third official alphabet in the EU, next to the Latin and Greek alphabets. Bulgaria is yet to join Schengen and the Eurozone.
16. The currency of Bulgaria is the Bulgarian lev (BGN).
The lev was originally introduced in Bulgaria in 1881. In old Bulgarian, “lev” means lion. Until the introduction of the Euro, the lev was pegged to the Deutsche Mark. One lev consists of 100 stotinki.
17. Bulgaria has one of the highest death rates in the world.
You may often read about a fertility or birth rate, but Bulgaria’s most pressing problem is its very high death rate, ranking third in the world with 14.52 deaths/1,000 population. The country’s population has been shrinking significantly since the 1990s, owed primarily to low fertility rates, a high emigration rate, and high mortality rates due to a lack of adequate medical services. The average life expectancy in Bulgaria is only 74.8 years while the EU average is significantly higher at 80.99 years.
18. Bulgarians celebrate the new year with Surva.
Dating back to the 4th century, Surva Carnival has been one of the most important events in Bulgaria. Also known as the International Festival of Masquerade Games, this festival draws thousands of visitors each year. Its main attractions are kukeri, men dancing in elaborate (and somewhat frightening) costumes in order to drive out evil spirits. The festival is observed across Bulgaria, but the biggest display of kukeri can be found in the city of Pernik.
19. The name Bulgaria is derived from the Bulgars.
The Bulgars were a Turkic tribe who is said to have founded the country of Bulgaria. The meaning of the word is largely unknown although etymologists believe it to stem from the Proto-Turkic word bulgha (to stir). It is said to be a reference to the Bulgars’ “troublemaking” nature.
20. The oldest gold treasure in the world was found in Bulgaria.
In 1972, an excavator discovered the world’s oldest gold jewelry and processed gold treasure in the Varna region of Bulgaria. The items found were confirmed by archaeologists to have been created between 4,600 BC and 4,200 BC. In total, the artifacts weighed about 6 kg (13 lbs)! The artifacts can now be seen at the Varna Archaeological Museum and at the National Historical Museum in Sofia.
21. Only one Bulgarian has ever won a Nobel prize.
Although he was only born in Bulgaria, Elias Canetti, is widely considered Bulgaria’s only Nobel laureate. Canetti received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981. He is best known for his works “Crowds and Power” as well as “Die Blendung”.
22. The inventor of the digital wristwatch was Bulgarian.
In 1971, engineer Peter Petroff is said to have invented the first digital wristwatch, commonly known as the Pulsar. He also invented the wireless heart monitor to be used in hospitals.
23. Fire-walking is a sacred ritual in Bulgaria.
Fire-walking, locally known as Anastenaria or Nestinarstvo, is a long-standing Bulgarian tradition. It is an integral part of the annual festival for Saint Constantine and Saint Helen between 21 and 23 May. The festival is accompanied by dance, folklore music, and finally culminates in the traditional fire-walk. The practice is of such cultural significance, it has been inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
24. Rakia is the national drink of Bulgaria.
Rakia has been produced in Bulgaria since the 14th century, possibly even since the 11th century. In fact, historians now believe raki to have originated in Bulgaria. Raki is a type of fruit brandy with an alcohol content of over 40%. Due to its popularity and long history, raki has been named the national drink of Bulgaria.
25. Bulgaria has a national salad.
While many countries have national animals or flowers, Bulgaria may be the only country in the world to actually have a national salad. Shopska salad is a type of cold chopped salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers, sirene (a type of cheese), and parsley. During an initiative of the European Parliament, Shopska salad was voted the most favorite dish in Europe.
26. Actress Nina Dobrev is from Bulgaria.
Actress Nina Dobrev, best known for her role in The Vampire Diaries, is probably one of Bulgaria’s most famous exports. She was born in Bulgaria in 1989, although her family relocated to Canada when she was just 2 years old.
27. Bulgaria actively engages in Antarctic exploration.
Bulgaria actually has an active station in Antarctica, on Livingston Island. The first Bulgarian Antarctic expedition took place during the 1987/88 season. Today, about 1,500 of 20,000 features in Antarctica have been named by Bulgaria. Vice-versa, several places in Bulgaria are named after features found in Antarctica, such as Livingston Island Street in Sofia.
28. A Bulgarian folk song features on the Voyager Golden Records.
Intended to be found by alien lifeforms, the records placed on the Voyager probes happen to contain a famous Bulgarian folk song, Izlel ye Delyo Haydutin. It’s one of only 31 tracks featured on the two records.