Bulgaria's Liberation Day
Bulgaria, officially Republic of Bulgaria, Bulgarian Republika Bŭlgariya, country occupying the eastern portion of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Founded in the 7th century, Bulgaria is one of the oldest states on the European continent. It is intersected by historically important routes from northern and eastern Europe to the Mediterranean basin and from western and central Europe to the Middle East. Before the creation of the Bulgarian state, the empires of ancient Rome, Greece, and Byzantium were strong presences, and people and goods traveled the land with frequency.
Emerging from centuries of Ottoman rule, Bulgaria gained its independence in the late 19th century, joined the losing side of several conflagrations in the first half of the 20th century, and, despite gravitating toward the Axis powers in World War II, found itself within close orbit of the Soviet Union by mid-century. This alliance had profound effects on the Bulgarian state and psyche, altering everything from land use and labour practices to religion and the arts. As communist governments fell in eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bulgaria was suddenly released from the magnetic field of the Soviet giant and drifted into the uneasy terrain of postcommunism. Today its gaze is firmly fixed on the West; Bulgaria became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004 and of the European Union (EU) in 2007. The members of the EU engage in the bulk of Bulgarian trade.
The country is remarkable for its variety of scenery; its rugged mountains and relaxing Black Sea resorts attract many visitors. Like other nations of the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria claims a mix of Eastern and Western cultures, and the mingling is evident in its cuisine, its architecture, and its religious heritage. Though located in western Bulgaria, the capital, Sofia, is neatly positioned near the geographic centre of the Balkan region, and in nearly every other respect it occupies the central position within Bulgaria. With more than one million inhabitants, Sofia has three times as many people as the next largest cities, Plovdiv and Varna. The Bulgarian writer Yordan Radichkov has placed the capital along the axis of two major transnational routes: (1) the historic Silk Road that connects China and the West and (2) a major natural path of migrating birds known as the “grand route of Aristotle.” According to Radichkov, “The universal core of Bulgaria is to be found at the crossroads of these two routes.”
Nearly rectangular in outline, Bulgaria is bounded by Romania to the north, with most of the border marked by the lower Danube River. The Black Sea lies to the east, Turkey and Greece to the south, North Macedonia to the southwest, and Serbia to the west. The capital city, Sofia, lies in a mountainous basin in the west.
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Within a relatively small compass, the Bulgarian landscape exhibits striking topographic variety. Open expanses of lowland alternate with broken mountain country, cut by deep river gorges and harbouring upland basins such as that in which Sofia lies. Three basic structural and physiographic divisions run east-west, splitting the country into the traditional regions of North Bulgaria, including the Danubian Plain and the Balkan Mountains; South Bulgaria, including the Rila-Rhodope Massif; and a transitional area between them.
All but a short section of the northern frontier of Bulgaria is marked by the lower Danube River. The abrupt and often steep banks on the Bulgarian side contrast with the swamps and lagoons of the Romanian side. Extending southward from the Danube to the foothills of the Balkan Mountains is the fertile, hilly Danubian Plain. The average elevation of the region is 584 feet (178 metres), and it covers some 12,200 square miles (31,600 square km). Several rivers cross the plain, flowing northward from the Balkans to join the Danube. The Balkan Mountains border the Danubian Plain on the south. Their rounded summits have an average height of 2,368 feet (722 metres) and rise to 7,795 feet (2,376 metres) at Mount Botev, the highest peak.
The mountain chain is larger than the adjacent ranges that run parallel in a transitional region of complex relief. Block faulting—the raising or lowering of great structural segments along regular lines of crustal weakness—has produced there the Sredna Mountains, the Vitosha Massif near Sofia, a number of sheltered structural basins, and the Upper Thracian and Tundzha lowlands.
Another mountain mass covers southern Bulgaria. This includes the Rhodope Mountains (Bulgarian: Rodopi; Greek: Rhodopis), which rise to 7,188 feet (2,190 metres) at Golyam Perelik Peak; the Rila Mountains, rising to 9,596 feet (2,925 metres) at Musala Peak, which is the highest point in the country and indeed in the whole Balkan Peninsula; the Pirin Mountains, with Vikhren Peak reaching 9,560 feet; and a frontier range known as the Belasitsa Mountains. These majestic ranges discharge meltwater from montane snowfields throughout the summer, and their sharp outlines, pine-clad slopes, and, in the Rila and Pirin ranges, several hundred lakes of glacial origin combine to form some of the most beautiful Bulgarian landscapes.
Trending north-south at the eastern fringe of three principal regions is the narrow Black Sea coastal region. With the exception of the fine harbours of Varna and Burgas, the coast has few bays, but it does have extensive stretches of sandy beach that are features of a number of picturesque seaside resorts.