Bulgaria is a quiet country in southeastern Europe, and it doesn’t always get the hype it deserves. The country is very rural and consists of both mountain ranges (including the Balkan Mountains) and beaches, where it borders the Black Sea. It also borders busier countries like Turkey and Greece. It’s becoming a popular expat destination, actually, because of its quiet beauty, low prices, and close proximity to other European countries. If you’re interested in exploring Bulgaria, make sure you take the time to visit these places.
As with any country, it’s always advisable to start your sightseeing excursion in the capital city. This is where you’ll start getting to know the country. What sets Bulgaria apart is the fact that it’s a cultural melting pot. You can find signs of Greek, Slavic, Ottoman, and Persian influences, and you can see a lot of that history in Sofia. The city itself dates back to the 5th century B.C., and some of the major sights there are the great monuments to Soviet rule, the ancient remains of the Serdica Fortress, and the Roman-Byzantine Church of St. George. Additionally, Sofia is where the famed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral sits. Behind all of it lies a beautiful mountainous backdrop that never fails to impress travelers.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Speaking of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, you might as well make a point to tour it while you’re in Sofia. The cathedral is open to visitors every day and there is no charge to go inside and take a look. You can also schedule tours to learn more about it as you admire the artwork. The cathedral features the onion domes typical of Russian Orthodox churches, and inside there are mosaics, icons, paintings, and ornate gold leaf decorations. The cathedral was built between 1894 and 1900, during the time when Estonia was part of the tsarist Russian Empire. It was strategically placed where a statue of Martin Luther used to be, which can be controversial to some Estonians.
This fortress, also known as Kaleto, is located on the slopes of the Balkan Mountains, and it’s one of the best-preserved strongholds in Bulgaria. The initial fortress was built when the area was part of the Roman Empire. It was expanded in the 14th century by Tsar Vidin Ivan Stracimir. It was further changed after capture by the Ottoman Empire in 1396, and then was used as a stronghold in at least two more wars.
Also near the town of Belogradchik there is a rock formation that travelers like to go and see. The rock formation forms a 3km long strip and the rocks themselves reach up to 200 meters high. They were naturally formed as a product of compression at the bottom of the sea about 230 million years ago, and then eroded over the last 45 million years into what they are today. They are largely made of limestone and they include hundreds of caves where bones of prehistoric species and paintings dating back as far as 10,000 B.C. have been discovered.
This monastery has famously become a symbol of the country of Bulgaria. It may even be the most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in the entire world. It’s known for its mix of Mamluk, arabesque, Byzantine, and Romanesque styles, along with its iconostasis walls with shimmering gold leaf. Today, this monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there’s an onsite museum to help you learn about its 1,000 years of history, which is captured in the murals and other artwork that you can find there.
Visit this entirely preserved medieval castle for a trip back in time. It’s said to be the only one of its kind in the country, and it dates back to the 10th century. It was, at one point, Tsar Vidin Ivan Stratsimir’s most important defense during the Middle Ages. It was originally a fortress that was destroyed by the Byzantines, but Vidin rebuilt it for his purposes. The fortress now functions as a museum to help you see firsthand what life was like there in the Middle Ages.
Located in the northwestern part of the Balkan Mountains, this cave was opened to visitors in 1961, and about 53 animal species live inside it. One of those is an insect commonly referred to as “Light-Hater,” because it has adapted so well to life in the caves without light that if it goes out into the light, it will die. Inside the cave are also icy stalagmites, stalactites, and columns and a small lake.
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABaba_Vida_Fortress_01.jpg
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