Bulgaria’s popularity with travellers has gone through wild swings of fortune over the year. Once a favourite with eighteenth-century high society travellers, Bulgaria was mostly shunned during its Communist days. The fall of the Iron Curtain has spurred the return of the tourist crowds, who arrive to find a country rushing to catch up with the rest of Europe, and consequently offering a heady mix of flashy nightclubs and ancient villages, decaying Communist-era monuments and ultra-modern skyscrapers.
Kazanlak, Town In The Valley Of Roses
Kazanlak, a city in the centre of the Rose Valley, is known for its traditional Rose Festival which is held every year during the first weekend in June. This festival originates from the celebrations held at the beginning of the rose-harvesting period.
The moment you step in Kazanlak you will inevitably feel the beauty and magic of the Bulgarian Rose. This small, but extremely picturesque town will welcome you with a burst of sweet fragrance and colours. Even out of season of the big events honouring the Rose, the town is checkered with colourful gardens, where magical flowers bloom.
The first Rose Festival in Kazanlak took place in 1903. A few years later, a similar fest was organized in the town of Karlovo, situated in the same area. The electing of Queen Rose, the harvesting ritual in the rose gardens and the parade along the streets of the town are the most interesting events during the festival. Nowadays, similar events are held at almost all towns in the “Rose Valley”.
In Kazanlak, the festival takes place in the famous Rose valley (Rozova Dolina), situated west of the city of Kazanlak, which is the center of the rose oil industry. The “valley of roses” geologically consists of the valleys of the rivers Stryama and Tundzha, south of the Balkan Mountains, in the eastern part of the lower Sredna Gora chain. This valley is famous for the cultivation of roses and production of rose oil (essential oil extracted from the petals of roses – the most widely used oil in perfumery). Kazanlak`s rose gardens are also the largest rose gardens in the whole world.
The celebrations for the blossom of the roses started early in the morning with the rose-gathering ritual. The roses are picked traditionally by women dressed in Bulgarian folk costumes. The gathering process requires great dexterity and patience. The flowers are carefully cut one by one and laid in willow-baskets which are then sent to the distilleries. After that, the crowd continues on the streets with the ‘Kukeri’ march (a traditional ritual to scare away evil spirits performed by men in costumes). The festival continues with the sounds of Bulgarian folk music accompanied by traditional dances. Young girls and boys dressed in traditional folk costumes meet the guests of the feast and the event culminates with fireworks. During this period, the area of the rose fields gives off a pleasant scent and is covered with multi-coloured blooms. It is especially marvelous in May when the rose blossoms and the fragrance heady and heavenly.
Mostly, the programmes at the festivals include various exhibitions, award ceremonies, tournaments and competitions of all types. Bazaars and even conferences regarding the problems and perspectives of the local rose oil producers are held as well as public discussions about the economical and cultural development of the towns in the area.
Sofia: Things To See & Do
This lovely Eastern Orthodox church is the oldest in the city, as well as one of the most significant examples of St Sofia early Christian architecture in the Balkans. Built between the 4th and 6th centuries, it was this church which gave the city its name, Sofia. It was converted to a mosque during the Turkish rule, abandoned after two successive earthquakes, and then reconverted into an Orthodox Church.
St Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral (Hram-pametnik Aleksander Nevski)
One of the finest examples of 20th-century architecture in Sofia and one of the symbols of the city, this magnificent cathedral was built between 1882 and 1912 to honour the Russian soldiers who died fighting to liberate Bulgaria from Turkish rule. Among the attractions inside are the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and the Icon Museum, which holds religious masterpieces from as far back as the 9th century.
St George Rotunda
The rotunda church of St George is considered to be the oldest building in Sofia, dating to the 4th century, and is situated amid the remains of the ancient Roman town of Serdica. St George Rotunda is famous for its exquisite architecture and layers of medieval frescoes that were discovered under a covering of plaster. The magnificent dome is protected by UNESCO and the church functions at present as a museum.
Banya Bashi Mosque (Banya Bashi Dzhamiya)
The only remaining mosque in Sofia was designed in 1576 by one of the greatest Ottoman architects, Mimar Sinan, who was responsible for the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. This particular building is best known for its magnificent domed ceiling, which was restored to its original splendour after the fall of Communism. Though not really a tourist attraction, visitors are welcomed.