With a territory of 110,994 square kilometers (42,855 sq mi), Bulgaria ranks as the 16th-largest country in Europe. Several mountainous areas define the landscape, most notably the Stara Planina (Balkan) and Rodopi mountain ranges, as well as the Rila range, which includes the highest peak in the Balkan region, Musala. In contrast, the Danubian plain in the North and the Upper Thracian Plain in the South represent Bulgaria's lowest and most fertile regions. The 378-kilometer Black Sea coastline covers the entire eastern edge of the country.
For centuries, the roads passing through the territory have connected the country with Asia and Africa, and with the rest of Europe. Four common European transport corridors, connecting Western and Northern Europe with the Eastern and Southern part of the continent, cross their roads here. Bulgaria is also known for its picturesque nature and rich cultural heritage. According to the statistics, the country ranks third in Europe only after Greece and Italy for the number of its valuable archeological sites.
HistoryIn 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. They founded the Bulgarian state along with Southern Slavs and the Thracians, who already inhabited these territories, and it was recognized by Byzantium in 681. Khan Asparuh, the leader of the proto-Bulgarians, headed the state, and the city of Pliska was declared its capital.
In 864, during the reign of Knyaz Boris I Mihail, the Bulgarians converted to Christianity, which became the official religion. Thissettled the ethnic differences between the proto-Bulgarians and the Slavs, and commenced the establishment of a united Bulgarian nationality.
In the end of 9th century, the brothers Cyril (Constantine the Philosopher) and Methodius devised and disseminated the Cyrillic alphabet, which later became the written foundation for all Slavic languages. Their disciples, Kliment and Naum, came to Bulgaria, where they were warmly welcomed, and where they engaged in valuable educational and literary activities. From Bulgaria, the Cyrillic alphabet spread to other Slavic countries like Serbia and Russia. The cities of 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's territory bordered the Black Sea, The White Sea and the Aegean Sea.
In 1018, after continued wars, Bulgaria was subjugated by the Byzantine Empire until 1186. Bulgaria's former power was restored during thereign ofKaloyan (1197-1207).
At the end of the fourteenth century the state was once again politically-weakened,and in 1396 it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and remained under its rule for nearly 5 centuries.
In later years, as a result of the spread of ideas of national liberation, Bulgaria began its gradual transition towards independence, which included the establishment of an independent national church and the development of education and culture.
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 separate entities,and Macedonia, which had also been part of the Bulgarian territory,remained under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Empire.
The end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century are characterized by remarkable achievements inBulgarian fine arts. This is the time during which the best-known Bulgarian poets and writers created their works. The foundations of Bulgarian musical culture were also laid at the end of 19th century.
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 access to the Aegean, Western Thrace became part of Greece, South Dobrudzha was ceded to Romania, and the regions round Strumitsa, Bosilegrad, Tsaribrod and villages in the region of Kula were given to the Serbian-Croatian-Slovenian kingdom. However, South Dobrudzha was later ceded to Bulgaria in 1940 by a treaty between Bulgaria and Romania.
In the early 1940s, Bulgaria pursued policies in the interest of Germany and the Axis Powers. However, the involvement of Bulgarian cavalry platoons at the Eastern Front was soom 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 as 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 began 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, and privatisation started. In 1990 Jelio Jelev became the first democratically-elected President of Bulgaria.
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 remove Bulgaria from the negative visa list.
The Republic of Bulgaria joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on 29 March 2004, together with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. This fully corresponded with the national interests and goals of Bulgaria, which considered 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 EU member states decided that Bulgaria and Romania would officially join the 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.