The natural landscape of Bulgaria is diverse, consisting of lowlands, plains, foothills and plateaus, river valleys, basins, and mountains of varying elevations. About 70% of the country’s territory is hilly land and 30% is mountainous. The average elevation of the country’s territory is 467 m, generally decreasing from south to north and from west to east.
In the central part of the country lies the Balkan Mountain Range, where the highest peak is Botev (2,376 m). From south to north, its western area is crossed by the Iskar River, which forms a picturesque gorge more than 70 km long. The northern arm of the Balkan Mountains is mainly karst. The highest peak in this range is Vasilyov (1,490 m).
To the south of the Balkan Mountains are the western Balkan valleys and the Srednogorie (central mountainous region). The largest valley in the southern arm of the Balkans is the Sofia valley, the location of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. The mountains in the Srednogorie are the Zavalsko-Planska Range, the Ihtimansko Srednogorie, the Sashtinska Sredna Gora, and the Sarnena Gora.
To the south of the capital Sofia rises the mountain Vitosha, whose highest peak is Cherni Vrah (2,290 m). Its foothills extend to the middle part of western Bulgaria, where low-lying and medium-elevation mountains alternate, such as Ruy, Milevska, Zemenska, Konyavska, Verila, and others. West of the Struma River valley and south of Kraishteto is the Osogovo-Belasishka mountain range, which includes the peaks of Osogovska (Mount Ruen, 2,251 m), Vlahinska, Maleshevska, Ograzhden and Belasitsa (Mount Radomir, 2,029 m).
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The territory of Bulgaria has been inhabited since antiquity, as the country’s many ancient settlements and burial mounds attest. Present-day Bulgaria was a cradle of some of the earliest civilizations in Europe – the oldest gold ornament ever discovered, unearthed in the Chalcholite necropolis near Varna, is evidence of that. From the age of Ancient Thrace we have inherited valuable cultural monuments, including tombs (such as the Kazanlak tomb, the Aleksandrovska tomb, and the Sveshtarska tomb); treasures (the Panagyursko, Rogozensko, and Valchitransko teasures, among others); and sanctuaries and temples (at Perperikon, Starosel, Kozi Gramadi, Begliktash, and elsewhere).
The cultural interaction between the Thracians and the Hellenistic civilization were particularly dynamic. Many cities and towns heavily influenced by Greek culture were established between 6th-2nd century BC in Thrace, Misia and along the shores of the Black Sea. In the middle of the 1st century AD, all Bulgarian lands became a part of the Roman Empire. Many architectural and archaeological monuments have been preserved from this period, such as the Ancient Theater and the Roman Stadium in Plovdiv, and remains of the Roman cities Ulpia Escus, Nove, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Nikopolis ad Nestum, Augusta Trayana, and Abritus.
After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the present Bulgarian lands came under the control of the East Roman Empire, later called Byzantium by historians. In the second half of the 7th century, the proto-Bulgarians settled in what is now Northeast Bulgaria. They united with the Slavs to form the Bulgarian state, recognized by Byzantium in 681. The head of the state was the leader of proto-Bulgarians Han Asparuh, and the city of Pliska was declared the state’s capital.
During the reign Han Krum (803-814), to the west Bulgaria bordered on the empire of Karl the Great, and to the east the Bulgarian armies reached the gates of the Byzantium capital, Constantinople. In 864, during the reign of Prince Boris I (852-889), Bulgarians adopted Christianity as its official religion, which makes Bulgaria one of the oldest Christian states in Europe.
At the end of the 9th century, the brothers Cyril and Methodius created and disseminated the Slavonic alphabet. Ohrid and Veliki Preslav became centers of the Bulgarian and Slavonic culture. From Bulgaria, the Slavonic alphabet spread to other Slavonic states as well. To the present day, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Macedonia and Belarus still use the Cyrillic alphabet, with rules of orthography established by the students of Cyril and Methodius and their followers in the Bulgarian capital Preslav. The reign of Tsar Simeon the First (893 – 927) is famous as the Golden Age of Bulgarian Culture, and the borders of the country at that time reached to the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
In 1018, after protracted warfare, Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium. In 1186, the uprising led by the boyar brothers Asen and Peter, freed Bulgaria from Byzantine rule, establishing the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, with Tarnovo as its capital.
The former might of Bulgaria was restored during the rule of their youngest brother Kaloyan (who ruled from 1197-1207), and during the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen the Second (1218-1241), the Second Bulgarian Kingdom reached its zenith, achieving political hegemony in Southeast Europe. It expanded its borders to the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea, and greatly developed its economy and culture. Some of the most important monuments preserved from that time are the wall paintings in the Boyana church, the churches in Veliko Tarnovo, the Zemenski Monastery, the Ivanovski Rock Churches, the miniatures that illuminate the London Gospel, and the Manasiy Chronicle.
At the end of the 14th century, the country was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. In the first years of Ottoman rule there were scattered attempts to liberate the country. Later the Hayduk movement created the preconditions for an organized national liberation movement.
The Bulgarian Revival began at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Bulgarian church, educational institutions, and culture were re-established. The beginning of the organized national liberation movement to throw off the Ottoman yoke is marked by the activities of Georgi Rakovski (1821-1867), and key figures in the liberation movement are Vasil Levski (1837-1873), Lyuben Karavelov (1834-1879), Hristo Botev (1848-1876), among others.
In April 1876, the April Uprising took place. This was the largest and the best organized attempt to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman domination. The uprising was brutally suppressed, but it placed the struggle for Bulgarian sovereignty at the center of international political discussions.
In 1878, with the Russian defeat of Turkey, the Bulgarian state was restored. The Berlin Congress (1878) divided the former Bulgarian territories into three parts – the Principality of Bulgaria, ruled by a prince, Eastern Rumelia, with a Christian governor appointed by the sultan, with Thrace and Macedonia remaining under Ottoman control. Alexander Battenberg was selected as the first prince of the Bulgarian Principality.
Bulgaria’s first constitution was adopted in 1879, and was one of the most democratic constitutions of its time. In 1885, the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia united. In 1908, the Bulgarian Prince Ferdinand Sachsen-Coburg-und-Gotha proclaimed Bulgaria’s independence from Turkey, and he was then declared Tsar of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom.
Bulgaria was victorious in the Balkan War of 1912, when together with Serbia and Greece the country gained the independence of Thrace and Macedonia. However, discord among the former allies led to the outbreak of the First Balkan War (1913), in which Bulgaria was defeated. As a result, territories predominantly inhabited by Bulgarians were cut off from the state. The participation of Bulgaria in the First World War on the side of the so called Allied Powers ended in national catastrophe. The Neuilly Peace Treaty (1919) imposed strict sanctions on Bulgaria, and the country lost much of its territory. In the Beginning of the 1940s, Bulgaria’s foreign policy reflected the interests of Germany and the Axis powers. In 1941, Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Axis, but the Bulgarian army did not participate in the battles on the Eastern Front. During this time, Tsar Boris the Third, representing the general consensus, refused to deport some 50,000 Bulgarian Jews. Of all European countries, only Denmark and Bulgaria managed to save their Jewish populations from the Nazi gas chambers. In the autumn of 1944, Bulgaria joined the Allied Forces and actively participated in expelling the German forces from Southern and Central Europe.
After the Second World War, Bulgaria came under the political and economic influence of the USSR. In 1946 the country was declared a republic and the Bulgarian Communist Party came to power. All political parties except for the so-called Fatherland Front (Otechestven Front) were forbidden, the economy and the banks were nationalized, and the agricultural land was organized as collectives.
The democratic changes in Bulgaria started at the end of 1989, when multi-party elections were held and a new constitution was adopted. At this time Bulgaria began its transition to democratic development and a market economy. Its foreign policy was redirected towards rapprochement with European institutions. Since 1991, Bulgaria has been a member of the Council of Europe, and in 2004 Bulgaria became a member of NATO. In 1995, it filed an application to join the European Union, with negotiations commencing in 1999. On 25 April 2005, the Accession Treaty granting the Republic of Bulgaria the right to join the European Union was signed in Luxemburg. On 1 January 2007, after fulfilling all membership criteria, Bulgaria became of full-fl in Luxemburg was signed edged member of the European Union.
State Structure and Economy
According to its Constitution, Bulgaria is a Parliamentary Republic, a unified state with local self-government. The official language in the republic is Bulgarian, and the religion of most Bulgarians is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The national state emblem of the Republic of Bulgaria is an upright golden lion on a dark red, shield-shaped background. The national emblem of Republic of Bulgaria is depicted on its state seal. The flag of the Republic of Bulgaria consists of three colors: white, green and red, laid horizontally from top to bottom. The country’s national anthem is the song Mila Rodino (Dear Motherland). Bulgaria’s capital is Sofia. All citizens are equal before the law. No limitations on rights or privileges are allowed because of race, citizenship, ethnicity, sex, national origin, religion, education, beliefs, political affiliations, personal or social position, or property status. The state authority is divided into the legislative, executive and legal branches. The political life of Bulgaria is based on the principle of political pluralism.
The basis of the Bulgarian economy is free economic initiative. The state creates conditions for the free development of science, education, and the arts and provides support for them. The state also makes provisions to preserve the country’s historical and cultural heritage. According to the Constitution, the basic institutions of the state include the National Assembly (Parliament); the President; the Council of Ministers; legal bodies such as the courts, the prosecutor’s office, and the office of investigation; the Constitutional Court; the Higher Court Council; and other organs of local self-government. The National Assembly is vested with legislative authority and exercises parliamentary supervision. The President is the head of the state, embodying the unity of the nation and representing the Republic of Bulgaria internationally. The Council of Ministers is in charge of and enacts the external and internal policies of the country, in conformity with the Constitution and the laws of the land. The legal authorities defend the rights and the legal interests of citizens, of juridical persons, and of the state. Since the country’s liberation in 1878, Bulgaria has been governed by governments led by 50 Prime Ministers. The territory of the Republic of Bulgaria is divided into municipalities and counties. At the moment, there are 264 municipalities (LAU 1), 28 administrative areas (NUTS 3) and 6 planning regions (NUTS 2).
The economy of Bulgaria is an open market economy with a developed private sector and a limited number of state enterprises. Bulgaria has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1 December 1996. Since 1 January 2007, Bulgaria has also been a member of the EU. The Bulgarian economy is characterized by economic, political and financial stability. The country has a strategic geographic location, liberal access to markets consisting of more than 560 million consumers, and the lowest corporate tax in EU - 10%. Investments in municipalities with high levels of unemployment enjoy tax-free status. There are also increased amortization norms (of 50%) for investments in new machinery, manufacturing equipment and other apparatus, computers, peripheral computing devices, and software. Bulgaria offers tax credits in accordance with special provisions for VAT assessment for the import of material related to investment projects amounting to more than 10 million BGN. There are also provisions for a 5% tax upon dividends and a 10% “flat rate” tax on the incomes of physical persons. Bulgaria enjoys the lowest operating costs in the EU. The level of national indebtedness and the state deficit for 2011 is also among the lowest in the EU. Bulgaria is one of three countries in the EU that has not changed tax rates as a result of the financial crisis. As of 1 January 2011, the country has the lowest tax burden for households and businesses in all of the entire European Union. Its farsighted fiscal policy and stable business environment make Bulgaria one of the most stable countries in the EU.
Bulgaria has a population of 7,351,234 as of 01.02.2011, with 72.9% of its people living in either cities or villages. The country is justly famous for its yoghurt and other dairy products, for its rose oil products, and for its wines and brandies. One of Bulgaria’s preeminent industries is tourism.