There is a great variety of historical, natural, religious and artistic sights to see in Bulgaria. Throughout the country there are remains from different eras and periods, societies and peoples, spiritual and artistic figures, creating a beautiful blend of ethnic culture full of unique traditions and rituals, combined with a sense of belonging to the movements that shaped the world as we know it today. The Bulgarian tourism movement, founded more than a hundred years ago, has promoted the recognition of all the sights that make up the special Bulgarian identity through the programme “100 Tourist Attractions in Bulgaria” [www], which includes most of Bulgaria’s “must-see” attractions. Of course, the programme now includes more than 250 unique sights, but the names are still relevant today. Here are some of the most popular sites:
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Old Town of Nessebar, Boyana Church, Madara Riding Stone Sculpture, Rila Monastery, Ivanovo Rock Church, Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari as historical sites and Pirin National Park, Srebarna Nature Reserve as natural sites.
- the other great monasteries of Bulgaria that were centres of Bulgarian culture under Ottoman rule, such as the Bashkovo Monastery, the Troy Monastery, the Dryanovo Monastery, the Osenovlag Monastery, etc.
- the natural creations in the Bulgarian mountains, which are a combination of amazement at the beauty of the natural forms and the exciting feeling of danger in front of the sharp ridges and deep gorges created only by wind and water. Among the most famous natural creations are the caves Dyavolsko Garlo (Bulgarian: Дяволското гърло, Devil’s Gorge), Ledenika (Bulgarian: Леденика, The Ice Cold), Magurata, whose walls are decorated with cave paintings, and Snezhanka (Bulgarian) : Снежанка, Snow White), the gorges of Trigrad and the river Erma, the rock phenomenon Chudnite Mostove (Bulgarian: Чудните мостове, The Wonder Bridges) and the natural pyramids near the town of Melnik and those near the village of Stob.
- the still preserved medieval fortresses such as Tsarevets in Veliko Tarnovo, Baba Vida in Vidin, Tsari Mali Grad near Samokov, Samuil Fort near the village of Strumeshnica and Asenevtsi Fort near Asenovgrad.
- the remains of the cities of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire in Sofia, Plovdiv, Nessebar, Sozopol, Razgrad and many other cities
- historical architectural reserves such as the towns of Koprivshtitsa, Bozhentsi or Daskalolivnitsa in the city of Elena, the old town of Plovdiv, the Varosha district in Blagoevgrad and the Arbanasi district in Veliko Tarnovo
- the sacred sites of Perperikon and Rupite, the country’s many ancient and medieval churches and the tombs of the Thracian kings
- Sites of historical importance to the Bulgarian people, due to the actions of those who visited them, such as Mount Shipka, Mount Okolchitsa, the Oborishte region, the houses of Vasil Levski and Ivan Vazov, and the church of Batak, among many others.
There are many unique and interesting traditional rituals to be seen in Bulgarian culture, some of which have existed since pagan times and are still practised. Some of the most interesting rituals are:
- nestinarstvo – a fire ritual that originated in the villages of the Strandzha Mountains and consists of dancing barefoot on the embers of the solder. Originally it was practised in the square of some Strandzhan villages, but today it can be observed in many places in the country on the night of Saints Constantine and Helena – 3 vs. 4 July. It is a unique blend of Eastern Orthodox Christian beliefs and pagan rituals in the Strandzha Mountains.
- surva – a New Year ritual for good luck and healthy bonnets. It is practised by young children (up to 12 years old) on New Year’s Day by tapping older parents on the back with a survachka (a stick made of horn sticks decorated with wool, dried fruits and popcorn) and reciting a text for good luck.
- kukerstvo – a traditional Bulgarian ritual to drive away evil spirits. The ritual is performed by men wearing masks and grotesque clothing made of animal skins, horns and hooves, and belts with large bells. The men dance, make loud noises with the bells on their belts and thus chase away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest, health and good luck for the whole year. The ritual usually takes place on New Year’s Eve, when “the monsters are hiding”.