The lands now known as Bulgaria have been occupied since ancient antiquity. Evidence of that human habitation is everywhere in the country’s territory, but some sites have gained worldwide fame for their unique character. The best-preserved Neolithic settlement in Europe, dating back to the 6th century B.C., is located in Bulgaria near Stara Zagora, and the oldest worked gold in the world, dating back to the 5th century B.C., was found a necropolis near Varna. Somewhat later the Thracians occupied these lands, erecting some of the most impressive ancient architectural monuments. They left behind many treasure hordes, temples, shrines, and tombs, among other relics. In the 1st century A. D., the Romans conquered all the territory included in a present-day Bulgaria. The Romans legacy includes roads, cities, substantial infrastructure, and many architectural monuments, such as parts of public buildings, stadiums, and theaters.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, present-day Bulgaria became part of the Eastern Roman Empire, later known as Byzantium. During the second half of the 7th century, the proto-Bulgarians settled in what is now northeastern Bulgaria. In alliance with the Slavs, those people formed the Bulgarian Empire that was recognized by Byzantium in 681.
The ruler of Empire, Khan Asparuh, was also the leader of the proto-Bulgarians, and Pliska was chosen as the Empire’s capital. That was the beginning of Bulgaria as a nation.
In 864, during the reign of Boris I (852-889), Bulgaria accepted Christianity as the official state religion. Bulgaria is one of the oldest Christian nations in Europe.
At the end of the 9th century, the brothers Cyril and Methodius invented and disseminated the Cyrillic alphabet. Slavonic writings spread from Bulgaria to the other Slavic countries that continue to use the alphabet to this day: Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Macedonia and Belarus.
The reign of the successor to Boris I – Tsar Simeon I (893-927) is known as the Golden Age of the Bulgarian culture. During this time, Bulgaria’s borders extended from the Black Sea to the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. Tsar Simeon erected his castle at Preslav.
In 1018, after years of war, Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium. In 1185, after an insurrection led by the brothers Asen and Peter, Bulgaria freed itself from Byzantine rule. This marks the beginning of the Second Bulgarian Empire and the establishment of Veliko Tarnovo as the capital city. The reign of Tsar Ivan Asen (1218-1241) marks the flowering of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
At the end of the 14th century, Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the country for all of five centuries. During this long period, Bulgaria never lost its national identity and never ceased struggling for its freedom and independence. The 18th is known as the period of the Bulgarian Revival, when Bulgarian education, culture, and religion significantly developed.
This period was not only a time of Bulgarian cultural development, but also a time of improved living conditions and architecture, evidence of growing self-confidence among a freedom-loving people.
In 1876, the April Uprising took place – the most general and best organized attempt to gain independence from Ottoman rule. The uprising was crushed, but two years later, during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Bulgaria finally gained its independence and established the Third Bulgarian State.
The Berlin Congress of 1878 divided the former Bulgarian territory into three parts – the Principality of Bulgaria, to be ruled by a monarch; Eastern Rumelia, with a Christian prelate to be appointed by the sultan; and Thrace and Macedonia, which would remain under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The first ruler chosen to govern the Principality of Bulgaria was Alexander Battenberg. In 1885, two Bulgarian states, the Principality of Bulgaria and eastern Rumelia – were united. In 1886, Battenberg abdicated and then next year Prince Ferdinand I took his place.
In 1908, the Bulgarian Prince Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg declared the country’s independence from Turkey and he was proclaimed Tsar of the Third Bulgarian State.
During the second decade of the 20th century, Bulgaria fought in three wars, the last of them being WWI. Bulgaria fought on the side of the Central Powers, which led to a national catastrophe and the loss of substantial territory. During the next decades, Bulgaria developed as an industrial nation with modern means of production, high-quality education, and a stable economy.
During 1941, Bulgaria entered WWII on the side of the Axis Powers. A year after the death of Tsar Boris III, in 1943, Bulgaria joined compatriots in actively seeking to expel the German forces from Southern and Central Europe.
After WWII, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. In 1946, the country was declared a republic, and the Communist Party gained power over Bulgaria. All parties other than the Fatherland Front were banned and personal property was nationalized.
In 1989, Bulgaria entered the era of democratic change. A new constitution was adopted and measures were taken to establish a market economy. In 2004, Bulgaria became a member of NATO, and on January 1st, 2007, after meeting the criteria for membership, Bulgaria became a full member of the European Union.