Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of the
best of Europe. This time I’m surrounded
by Slavic culture… it’s Bulgaria!
Thanks for joining us. ♪♪ Relatively
unknown and underappreciated, Bulgaria is a country
I’ve long enjoyed for the surprises it offers
the curious traveler. A crossroads of civilizations,
it offers a fascinating story. Bulgaria is a land
of rich culture, with a modern vitality. Its capital has
a stunning cathedral. Folk traditions
are alive and well. A mountain monastery cradles
Bulgaria’s spiritual soul. Craftspeople
keep traditions alive, and roses offer
a fragrant harvest. With glittering treasures
from ancient tombs and decrepit monuments
to a difficult 20th century, it’s a surprising land
where this means yes: “Da.” and this means no: “Ne.” In the southeast
of Europe, Bulgaria sits at the east
end of the Balkan Peninsula. From Sofia, we visit
Rila Monastery, head north to Veliko Tarnovo, explore the Thracian Plain,
and finish in Plovdiv. Sofia may be the capital of one of the poorest countries
in the European Union, but you wouldn’t know
it strolling its vibrant boulevards. With a million people,
Sofia is delightfully livable. It has an airy,
open street plan… fine old architecture… lush parks… and a relaxed pace of life. The city is named
for “Holy Wisdom,” represented by this statue
of Sveta Sofia. She proudly tops a column
marking the center of town. Because of its
strategic position, Bulgaria sits
on layers of history. From ancient Greeks and Romans
to fearsome Slavic warriors, from Ottoman pashas
to Cold War communists, each left its mark. In this town, any where you dig, you find ancient ruins —
bits of Roman Sofia. Preserving its rich heritage
is a priority, and the city’s infrastructure is built around
its archeological treasures. Every day commuters
walk by reminders of Sofia’s distant past. Bulgaria’s complicated history
has made it a melting pot. And with its ethnic diversity
came different religions. Here in Sofia,
within a few steps, you’ve got mosques, churches,
and a synagogue. Most Bulgarians —
like Russians and Greeks — are Orthodox Christians, and the Orthodox
tradition stretches from here far to the East. And this mosque survives from five centuries
of Ottoman rule. Today, one in every ten
Bulgarian citizens is Muslim, whose ancestors
came from Turkey. A block away is one
of Europe’s largest synagogues. Bulgaria was one of the
only countries in Nazi territory that refused to turn its Jewish
population over to Hitler. None of Bulgaria’s
49,000 Jews were deported to
concentration camps. I’m joined by
my Bulgarian friend and fellow tour guide,
Stefan Bozadzhiev, who’s my teacher for all things
Bulgarian — including some fun little insights. How many springs
in Sofia like this? -We have more than 40.
And this is just one of them. -And the people, why do they
like this so much? -Because they’ll have eternal
life if they drink it. -So, this is healthy water,
then? -Very healthy. Try! -It’s warm… -Yeah…
-It’s mineral-y… -Yes, a little bit sulfur,
probably? -I’m feeling better already.
It’s nice. -I see it in your eyes! -Sofia prides itself
on its mineral springs, which attracted
the first settlers here in ancient times. And to this day, these
perpetually flowing water taps are appreciated
by the locals. And the city even has
an actual yellow brick road. These bricks were a gift from Austria’s Emperor
Franz Josef, who, after what must have been
a muddy visit in 1907, wanted to encourage Sofia
to pave its streets. The bricks lead
to Sofia’s cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox
churches in Christendom. It’s the only national church I can think of that’s named for a sainted military hero
of a different country: Alexander Nevsky of Russia. The Bulgarians feel
a Slavic kinship with Russia — which, in 1878, helped liberate them
from centuries of Ottoman rule. This church was built to honor
the Russian soldiers who died to free Bulgaria from the so-called
“Turkish yoke.” Russian architects
designed the church with a mix of Russian
and Neo-Byzantine styles. Its cascading gold
and copper domes are striking from every angle. Inside, you’re immersed in the glow
of Orthodox tradition. Walls glitter with gold
and silver icons, all from the early 20th century. Worshippers show their devotion with the help of sacred images. The elaborate marble iconostasis separates parishioners
from the main altar. It’s lined with saints, including the church’s
namesake, Alexander Nevsky. The faithful light candles
to help power their prayers: lower-level candelabras
are for the deceased; higher-level ones represent
prayers for the living. Sofia has lots
of sprawling parks, offering apartment dwellers a green and inviting
space to hang out. And many of the parks
come with heavy reminders of a tough 20th century. After World War II, Bulgaria
ended up in the Soviet Bloc. Even though Bulgaria
was famously docile under Russian rule, life under communism
wasn’t easy here. And today, while
enthusiastically part of the EU, Bulgaria still wrestles
with its communist legacy. Although
the communists are gone, their architectural heritage
still looms large. At Sofia’s main intersection, today’s parliament offices fill the Stalinist-style former Communist Party
Headquarters. All over Bulgaria,
controversy swirls around crumbling communist-era
monuments — like this one. Should they be
allowed to stand, or should they be torn down? Many have already been removed
and are displayed here at Sofia’s Museum
of Socialist Art. In this garden
of communist propaganda, Lenin, who once topped
the main pillar in the center of town,
still faces the storm. The red star,
which for 50 years capped the city’s
grandest edifice, no longer inspires. And Georgi Dimitrov,
the “Bulgarian Lenin,” is simply ignored. Today, these statues seem to
preach their outdated ideology only to each other. We’re driving deep into
the mountains south of Sofia. The peaceful beech forests
seem a world away from the big city. Finally, we reach
Rila Monastery — fortress
on the outside… spiritual sanctuary inside. Within its walls,
you feel something special-both
sacred and timeless. Founded in the 10th century, Rila Monastery was a stronghold for Bulgarian faith,
language, and culture during nearly
500 years of Ottoman rule. And today, it remains
the country’s revered national treasure. This beautiful place has been
a holy site and refuge for over a thousand years. The monastery is still home
to a handful of monks who host both tourists
and pilgrims. This bell tower, the oldest
surviving part of the monastery, served as a final refuge
in case of attack. The iconic church
is surrounded by a graceful arcade. Under the arcade
vivid 19th-century frescoes depict Bible stories, peopled by angels and devils, saints, and sinners. Here’s St. John of
Rila, who, seeking
a hermetic way of life, founded this remote monastery
in the year 927. These scenes shows
the 40 days of trials your soul goes through
after death. A guardian angel accompanies
the soul — represented by a small child — through
a gauntlet of temptations. This place feels so venerable.
Did you come here as a child? -Yes — actually, many times
with my family. It was a favorite
destination. -So, why is Rila so important to
the Bulgarian people? -Because actually our most
favorite, most beloved saint, St. Ivan Rilski,
was buried nearby. -Okay, so, this is, like,
you could say, the Jerusalem for
the Bulgarian people. -Absolutely. The heart of every
single Bulgarian belongs to this place, belongs
to this monastery here. -You come here and celebrate
Bulgaria. -We celebrate Bulgaria
and the Bulgarian spirit. -Driving across Bulgaria, traffic is sparse,
roads are good, and — since we’re here
in the spring — everything is green and fertile. Our next stop is Bulgaria’s
medieval capital, Veliko Tarnovo. One of Europe’s most
dramatically set cities, it winds through a misty gorge at a sharp bend
of the Yantra River. The town is shaped like
a natural amphitheater. It’s more vertical
than horizontal, with a mix of blocky
modern construction and traditional
Bulgarian homes. The ruins of its fortress
are a reminder of the city’s importance
800 years ago. They mark the site
of the heavily fortified headquarters of
a long-gone Bulgarian kingdom. This towering monument
commemorates that vast and mighty realm. It was ruled by
the Asen dynasty. According to legend,
the Asen brothers planted a sword on this spot and said, “Here shall
be Bulgaria.” This was a golden age
for Bulgaria — the 13th and 14th centuries, when its empire dominated
the Balkan Peninsula, and stretched all
the way to Ukraine. Today’s locals have
different aspirations. And a walk along
Veliko Tarnovo’s crafts street reveals a thriving folk culture
with opportunities to watch artisans at work. Rumi carves
with a keen eye. Rashko paints icons
with a delicate touch. Nina skillfully
turns clay into art. Meanwhile, her son finishes
each piece with patterns that go back centuries. [ Hammering ] Todor the silversmith — with his strong hands
and distinctive technique — transforms strips
and strands of metal into exquisite jewelry. And, nearby, a folkloric dance
troupe shares their traditional music. [ Singing in native language ] Leaving Veliko Tarnovo, we cross over
the Balkan Mountains. At the top of Shipka Pass, a memorial marks
the site where, in 1877, a combined Bulgarian
and Russian army finally turned the tide in the battle
against the Ottomans. This pivotal battle led
to the eventual demise of the Ottoman Empire and to the creation
of the modern, independent country of Bulgaria. Down in the valley,
golden domes mark Shipka Church, which honors the sacrifice of those Russian
and Bulgarian troops. Built by Russia a century ago, it’s a fine example of the
exuberant “Muscovite-style.” Capping a nearby ridge,
miles from anything, is one of the most bizarre
sights I’ve seen anywhere: Buzludzha, an abandoned monument to the Bulgarian
Communist Party. This gigantic conference hall
was built in the 1980s, in the waning days
of communist rule. With the end of the Cold War and the arrival of capitalism,
it was abandoned. Today, the lyrics of the
international communist anthem are literally
falling off the walls. And graffiti makes it clear
who won the Cold War. Venturing inside,
we discover an eerie, crumbling world
of vandalized propaganda, a roof that’s barely held up
by its hammer and sickle, and disintegrating mosaics —
once so proud, and now just an artifact
of a failed system. The Thracian Plain, defined by Bulgaria’s
two major mountain ranges, was a busy funnel of trade
throughout ancient times. Four centuries before Christ, back when Socrates and Plato were doing their thing
in Athens, about 300 miles to the south — Bulgaria was
known as “Thrace.” The Thracians were
an impressive civilization. We’ve learned a lot about them
through their tombs. Thracians buried their royalty
in distinctive, dome-shaped tombs
that were covered in earth. Dozens of these tombs are scattered
across the valley, along with hundreds
of decoy mounds designed to fool
grave robbers. Buried deep under
those piles of earth, the tombs were impressive
engineering feats from 300 years before Christ. And this replica
tomb demonstrates how even in the afterlife, the deceased would be surrounded by comforting images. So, what do we have? -We have the Thracian king who
is buried here and the royal banquet
with the gods, musicians, servants,
horses. And on the top of it,
we have races with chariots, which is a part of
a funeral procession. -Tombs held a trove
of golden treasure, now displayed in museums
throughout Bulgaria. This bronze head
of a powerful king humanizes those
ancient Thracians. This region is also called
the “Valley of the Roses.” And we’re here just in time
for the rose harvest. [ Singing in native language ] Vast fields of roses
bloom overnight. Workers rise before the sun to quickly hand-pick
the new blooms. They need to work early, before the rising sun
evaporates the essential oils. While the fields smell sweet,
the work is hard. At the distillery, millions
of blooms are quickly unloaded. Freshness
is critical. The bags of roses
are stacked high before being dumped
into the stills. So many flowers
and so much hard work. The essential oils evaporate,
then re-condense… like fragrant moonshine. The payoff: a wide variety
of rose oil products, appreciated both abroad
and at home. Kazanlak, the main town
of the valley, is especially festive in May. And we happened to drop
in on a national holiday. It’s the Day
of Slavic Culture. Throughout the country, school’s
out and people are celebrating. Like much of
the Slavic world, Bulgaria uses
the Cyrillic alphabet. And today, flowers
are laid at a monument to Cyril and Methodius, the missionary saints
who invented the Cyrillic script to help introduce Christianity to the Slavs back
in the 9th century. It’s a great excuse
for a parade: a celebration not only
of their alphabet, but of the Bulgarian language
and culture in general. And it seems the entire town
has turned out for the event. Our final stop is Bulgaria’s
most enjoyable city, Plovdiv — with a history going
back centuries before Christ. From its ruined acropolis, it’s easy to see the hills upon which ancient
Plovdiv was built. In the fourth century B.C.,
it was called Philippopolis… the “City of Philip” — he was the father
of Alexander the Great. Centuries later,
the Roman Emperor Trajan built this
5,000-seat theater. The stage wall
is mostly intact. The stony seats are etched
with their original numbers. And the functioning theater remains a part
of the community to this day. On the surrounding hillsides, Plovdiv’s atmospheric Old Town is a showcase of delightful
buildings from the 1800s — a time when the ruling
Ottoman Empire was in decline and Bulgarian cultural
pride was on the rise. The style: “Bulgarian
National Revival.” One of the finest examples
is open to the public. Hindliyan House was decorated to the taste
of its merchant owner. Elegant in its day,
it still feels lived-in, with opulent seating rooms… fine furnishings… even a rose water fountain. Souvenir wall paintings show off some of the merchant’s
far-flung business travels, from Stockholm to Venice. Nearby is a museum
celebrating the work of the Bulgarian artist
Zlatyu Boyadzhiev. Boyadzhiev — this is
a self-portrait with his wife — was already
a well-established artist when his health took
a terrible turn. In 1951, he suffered a stroke, which made his right
hand useless. But that didn’t stop him. He picked up the brush
in his left hand and learned to paint
brilliantly in a completely different style. Over the next 25 years, he reveled in bright colors
with a childlike exuberance, slapping thick, Van Gogh-like
brushstrokes onto the canvas. Boyadzhiev’s best works feature timeless slices of peasant life: Back in pagan times,
people prayed not in temples, but under trees. Locals sit around
a public fountain sipping glasses of wine. Peasant women cluster
around a fire, knitting as they eke out warmth. A fattened pig is slaughtered
as townsfolk gather. The importance of community
is celebrated — and each weathered face
tells a story. It’s dinnertime,
and Stefan is taking us out for a meal of updated
Bulgarian classics. Prices are low here,
making even a splurge like this surprisingly
affordable. So, what is this drink, then? -This is a traditional
Bulgarian drink, and it is called “rakia.” -So, it’s unusual for me to have
the firewater with the salad. Is that typical in Bulgaria? -It’s very traditional
in Bulgaria. And we say “Nazdráve!” -“Nazdráve!”
-To your health. -To your health.
“Nazdráve!” You like it?
-Yes. Yes, of course. -Now, this is funny
in Bulgaria — you went “yes.” -Yes, of course.
-It’s confusing for a tourist because
we go “yes,” and what is “no?”
-“Ne. Ne.” -“Ne.” So, “no” —
-Yes. -“Da, ne.”
-Okay. Stefan, can I have another sip
of my “rakia”, please? -“Ne.”
-No? [ Laughter ] As the second course arrives it’s clear that
Bulgarian cusine is a tasty mix
of the many cultures that have influenced
this country. You know, this is, frankly,
more interesting than I would expect — when you go to “Eastern Europe,” you think of potatoes, kraut,
and heavy meat, but this is — it feels more
Mediterranean. -Yes, actually, you’re right — Bulgaria is a crossroads of
civilizations. Between the north and south,
east and west. -You got Mediterranean, so it’s
a little bit of Greece, a little bit of Turkey,
and a lot of Bulgaria. -And a lot of Bulgaria. ♪♪ -While most tourists stick to
the cobbled old town, modern Plovdiv has
plenty to offer, as well. Just steps away
is the vibrant and fun-loving corner of town called the “Mousetrap.” Newly revitalized,
this artsy district is where foodies and creative
young people congregate. Thanks to some
progressive policies, the graffiti in this
neighborhood seems to add to, rather than detract
from, the ambience. In Plovdiv, as in many
European cities, local leaders understand that buildings are
going to be tagged anyway. Their pragmatic solution? Commission only the best street
artists to create art, rather than eyesores. Plovdiv is a city
with many personalities, built upon layers of history: Under the 14th-century
Ottoman mosque, they’ve excavated
an ancient stadium. And these ruins have
been artfully integrated into 21st-century life. They kick off Plovdiv’s
liveliest pedestrian boulevard, where people promenade
in style, past inviting parks and sidewalk cafés. At this crossroads
of civilizations, today’s Bulgarians
have blended old and new into a culture
distinctly their own. Bulgaria
is a great place to travel. A place where East
and West mix harmoniously. The result: a land that’s both
exotic and fun to visit. Thanks for joining us.
I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on travelin’. “Da. Ne.” “Da. Ne.” Girls: -“Da.” -Rick: Yes.
Girls: -“Ne.” -Rick: No. From that so-called
Turkish yoke. -This is the royal dome here. -Ow. I hurt my head.
Let’s try again.

100 Replies to “Bulgaria

  1. Kakto kazvashe edin student vav vlaka edno vreme, za da stane Sofia stolitsa , tryabva da ya srutyat iz osnovi i da ya postroyat otnovo .Ina4e si ya obi4ame nashata mila rodina, da ni byaha ni ostavili da ziveem v neya !

  2. What is the living coast for a month in us dollar.and how much we can earn from country as salary in dollars

  3. There were no bulgarian-russian armies….were roumanian-russian armies who eliberated bulgaria from otoman opression mate. Take a look at the real history. Greetings from Roumania

  4. Outdated ideology? The majority of Bulgarians had a far higher standard of living during communism than they do now.


  6. im always watch your Videos some times , this is good for lesson and great vacation. And now i realize how boring my life -_-

  7. One minor mistake – Cyril and Methodius didn't invent the Cyrillic alphabet. They invented the first Bulgarian alphabet – glagolitic. The Cyrillic was invented by their students and named after Cyril.

  8. Am so wanting to go to the Balkans — please stay lovely and don't succumb to a busy, caffeinated, ikea – kind of culture.

  9. Millennial in Bulgaria are primarily secular, though we do value the history preserved in the churches. But you won't really find much people that actually believe in bible myths around here…

  10. Had my breakfast. Coffee's in front of me, and ready to learn about another beautiful part of the world before my shower! Thanks, Rick Steve!

  11. 'Russians fought Turkey in 1877 for Bulgaria's independence'.
    I'm sad that it seems none in Bulgaria knows or aknowledges that Romanians fought as well together with the Russians against the turks on Bulgarian soil.
    Greetings from Romania.

  12. Very nice information about Bulgaria. I love the way you narrated the whole thing about this land. I like this country as it's full of natural beauty. Thanks for sharing this vlog man.

  13. I love Bulgaria, been there many times and used to own a house in the countryside! The people are warm, welcoming and the food is the best!!!

  14. The "traditional Bulgarian drink" rakiya is actually not Bulgarian (and no, it also is not the traditional Turkish raki or the Greek ouzo). It comes from the Levant and was then popularized during Ottoman times and then spread all over the Empire's territory.

  15. Бисер. И. Диамант. На. Целия. Свят. Моята. Родна. Страна. България. Букет. От. Националности. Както. Е. Всякъде. По. Света

  16. We have to thank Stefan (the Bulgarian host), who represented our country, traditions and sites so well! Благодарим Стефан!

  17. Bulgaria do no thave a complicated history – Bulgaria has a gerat history and the protobulgarians are those who made it like this . We are not multi culti state like romania or germany!

  18. I can't wait to visit Bulgaria. So many Polish people visited Bulgaria and some of them buying apartments there. Beautiful country, rich history, wonderful people.

  19. Omg, that hand made art is so beautiful!!!!!!!
    Not like junk souvrenirs made in China on every street in Europe.

  20. I had a chance to come to Bulgaria because of my mobility. Peaceful atmostphere, hospitable people and beautiful landscape.
    I hope to come back this country
    Highly Recommend from Vietnam

  21. Always lock car, lock bike, lock your room apartment. Never leave bag alone on chair. Even for moment. Take everything in hand with you. If you leave it, it walk away. Very fast. Always eyes watching you. They wait like snakes in grass.

  22. Buy shorts with zipper front pockets. Keep wallet and cell phone and all important things in zipper front pockets. Sorry, very hard to walk. Better that going to Consulate for new passport or report lost ATM card. Make list of your bank card international call number, photo copy your passport, don't carry all your wallet, better to take just cash for day, and key and not too much.

  23. Many Bulgarians when they can find work at all, get typically no more than the Government minimum wage 400 Leva a month. And in the smaller towns, it is still an issue of getting paid on time and in full. When I was married to a Bulgarka, her family would complain of the low wages, and how for instance when the her father would just get 20 leva with the explanation that there was not enough to pay salaries. But later on the same trip, we happened to pass a small road side clearing with tables, and pits for fires. There a family gathered and it turned out to be one of the winery directors. The comment was still the winery director was driving a new car.

    So talk about inequality in the world. Another situation, my sister in law's husband worked for the local TV station as a cameraman, and he was suppose to get 400 leva a month and at one point, they just stopped paying him and many other low ranked employees. I forget exactly, but I remember they owned him several months of back pay. I still have not heard if he ever was repaid.

  24. The city planners of Bulgaria should be very proud. Their cities invoke artistic inspiration. Simply beautiful

  25. I enjoyed watching this episode, really much loved plovdiv and Bulgarian people, rich culture and customs!! I just got another country to my bucket list ❤️❤️❤️ Greeting from Morocco 🇲🇦

  26. 23.30 Under that mosque was a stadium before.. why I am not surprised.. they demolished the stadium and used its rocks to build that mosque in first place.

  27. A good documentary, however I missed: Belozem (stork village) and Martenitsa (the national celebration of 1 march. But of course it is difficult to show everything. One thing I can say: Bulgarian people are really nice. I have been there several times.

  28. Bulgaria is lovely! As an EU citizen I would love to buy a summer apartment/house there. So weird biggest cities are not close to the coastline as it is typical in other countries

  29. Bulgaria was wealthy durring and after ottoman rule, when bulgaria got its independence they where wealthyer then most of their neighbours but thereafter they went downhill. Mostly thanks to their russian brothers.

  30. Wow, such a great video. And you are amazing vlogger – not like others who just show themselves more and give less info about culture and places.

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