Bulgarian civilization one of the oldest

April 27, 2012 12:50 pm
Our second and last day in Bulgaria began in the city of Rousse, its most significant river port and the fifth largest city with a population of 150,000.

Our passage through downtown on our way to our day’s destination failed to give us a true view of the vibrant busy city. What we saw from the bus was “lots of graffiti”; many Communist-type apartment buildings in poor shape and with rusty details; fashionable clothing in the shop windows; wide sidewalks; lots of trees; outside cafes; and a casino.

Bulgarian civilization is one of the oldest. The first traces of human presence date from 44000 B.C.

Around 5000 B.C. a sophisticated society already existed and some of the first pottery and jewelry of the world was produced here. Between 3000 B.C. and 500 A.D. at least four major tribes invaded the area, but in the end it was the Slavs, a peaceful people, who settled on the peninsula. In the mid 600s the area was named Bulgaria.

There were a lot of firsts in Bulgarian history, a number of them under King Boris I during the ninth century, such as the Cyrillic alphabet and the Slavic language.

He also was responsible for bringing Christianity to Bulgaria and the first organ used in a Catholic church was here. These were the good times.

There were also some very dark times. In 1396, Bulgaria fell under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. Many mosques were built and the Arabic alphabet was introduced for official and religious documents.

Many of the Orthodox Christian sanctuaries were demolished or turned into Muslim shrines. The Bulgarians suffered heavy taxes, duties, and the so-called “blood tax”.

The Ottomans believed that in conquering Bulgaria the men became their slaves, and in turn their goods, their women and children then became the lawful possessions of the Turks.

This led to the “blood tax” where a young boy, ideal age 10-20 years old (but sometimes younger), was forcibly taken from each Christian family to Asia Minor where he was converted to the Islam religion and trained as a warrior with no knowledge of his parents or fatherland. These young men along with the Turkish civil army then became the masters in command in Bulgaria. Literally these boys came back as the enemy of their families, friends and homeland.

Bulgaria, about the size of the state of Tennessee, is made up of mountains, forests, flat farm land and seven million people. We had a bus ride of about an hour and a half ahead of us to get to our first stop of the day — the town of Veliko Tarnovo (great turnover/ turnover of rulers). 

Parts of the trip were very pastoral.

There were flocks of sheep, about 50 each with shepherds, as well as herds of cows with their tenders. There were no fences to contain these animals.

There were horses tethered in the fields and we saw farmers with their small donkey carts loaded with hay both in the field and along the road. Our guide was very positive and tried to make our trip through the countryside enjoyable as she commented on “the beautiful landscape” and the “lovely buildings.”

As before we saw fields of sunflowers, corn and grain but we were reminded that the main crop of Bulgaria is the liquid gold —  rose oil.

As the bus neared Veliko Tarnovo, the first capitol of Bulgaria, we were treated to a lovely site of red roofed stone houses that appeared to be perched on top of each other along the edge of the gorge above the Yantra River.

The city of 70,000, built on a series of hills, is the home to the University of Rousse with 12,000 students.

We wound our way through the narrow downtown streets to the Yantra Grande Hotel where we were to have a short rest and refreshments of a
drink and some small cookies.

The hotel was indeed quite grand and housed an extensive spa and wellness center as well as a casino. During our short visit we were able to experience the flavor of the busy city although we saw little of it.

The temperature was hot and there was much more to do before we were to return to the boat. Next time I will share with you the second half of the day and more about the liquid gold.



Ginny Mammen is a La Grande resident. Reach the author at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it