Bulgaria is a small but beautiful country with a rich history located in the Balkan, a region still marked as ‘developing’ when it comes to tourism. However, there are a lot of fun facts about Bulgaria that will make you want to visit. So, whether you’re thinking of traveling to Bulgaria or are just curious to learn more about the Land of Roses (more about this below), keep reading; here are some of the most interesting facts related to Bulgaria!
First things first…
General fun facts about Bulgaria
Population: approximately 7,000,000 people with one of the sharpest population declines in Europe.
Area: 110,994 square kilometers (42,855 square miles).
Average elevation: 470 meters (1,541 feet) above sea level.
Geographical location: The eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula, between Romania, Macedonia, Greece, and Serbia, with the Danube River (north), the Black Sea (east), and the Rhodope and Pirin Mountains (south and west respectively) serving as natural borders.
With that being said, let’s cover some more fun facts about Bulgaria!
Flag: White (hope), green (nature), and red (blood of people who died for Bulgaria) stripes laid horizontally from top to bottom.
A capital built on top of Roman ruins
During the glory days of the Roman Empire, the city of Serdica was one of the most important hubs on the peninsula. The city of Serdica covered the territory of today’s Sofia, the country’s capital where today, you can find a lot of ancient Roman ruins scattered around the city.
Fun fact: back in 2004, a large corporation planned to build a large hotel complex in Sofia but when digging, the construction workers accidentally discovered remnants of the old amphitheater of Serdica; a structure said to be almost as large as the Colosseum of Rome. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the construction but the amphitheater can still be found under the hotel named Arena di Serdica.
There’s a lot of history beneath the streets of Sofia. Hence, it’s no wonder that…
Building the subway infrastructure took 3 decades
A city as big as Sofia needs as many reliable transportation systems as possible. On the surface, the city has many regular bus and tram lines but underground, there are only two subway lines. The main reason for this is the archaeological sites that lie beneath the city surface. Hence, it’s no surprise that the construction of the subway line took more than 30 years (1960-1990).
The first station, Serdika Metro Station is living proof of this. Here, you can find a lot of Roman remnants merging with the modern structures of the building. It’s one of the rare places where you can see so many archaeological items on public display. But that’s not the only thing Bulgaria has an abundance of…
The second country with most thermal springs in Europe
Even though it’s a relatively small country, Bulgaria is home to numerous thermal water springs. Many of them were used for building thermal baths during the Ottoman era but unfortunately, today, most of Bulgaria’s thermal potential remains underutilized. The only country with more natural springs than Bulgaria in Europe is Iceland.
And speaking of nature…
One-third of Bulgaria is covered by forests
Bulgaria is not very densely populated and one-third of the country’s territory is still covered in parks, forests, and greenery. And with so much of greenery, it’s no surprise that…
Bulgaria has the third-richest biodiversity in Europe
One of my favorite fun facts about Bulgaria is that even though it covers only 100,000 square kilometers, Bulgaria exhibits striking topographic variety. You can see towering mountains massifs, deep river gorges, canyons, upland basins, sandy beaches, and of course, a lot of forests. In other words, Bulgaria encompasses parts of Alpine, the Black Sea, and Continental biogeographic regions which results in one of the richest and most diverse ecological systems in Europe.
Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that…
Bulgaria produces close to 80% of the world’s rose oil
This is one of those fun facts about Bulgaria that many people don’t know but if you have ever used rose oil, statistically, the chances that it came from Bulgaria are 80%. Most of the roses in Bulgaria are grown in Kazanlak (Rose Valley). Bulgaria produces around 1.6 tonnes of rose oil per year. This might not sound like a lot but keep in mind that it takes 10,000 roses to fill a single 5ml bottle.
But that’s not all…
World’s leading lavender producer
Back in 2012/13, Bulgaria surpassed France as the world’s leading lavender oil producer. Lavender was first planted in Bulgaria back in 1907 and today, the regions of Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Blagoevgrad, and Stara Zagora are worldwide famous for the production of lavender oil. Bulgaria produces close to 150 tons of lavender oil per year.
But that’s not all we have from fun facts about Bulgaria related to nature…
Fun facts about Bulgaria: the highest peak in the Balkans
Bulgaria is also home to Musala, the highest mountain peak in the Balkans. The peak is located in the Rila Mountains and it rises to 2925 meters above sea level, eight meters more than runner-up Olympus in Greece.
With so much natural beauties, it’s good to see tourism in Bulgaria rising and Bulgaria turning into the next big thing in Europe. This is illustrated through the next fact…
There are 142 resorts in Bulgaria
58 of them are balneological, 56 are mountain resorts, and 26 are marine resorts.
But this list of fun facts about Bulgaria isn’t just about the country’s beautiful nature. Bulgaria also has a rich history. For instance, did you know that Bulgaria is…
Home to one of Europe’s oldest cities
Plovdiv has been inhabited for more than six millenniums, making it the third oldest city in Europe and one of the oldest cities in the world. According to historical sources, there are only a handful of historical sites older than the ones you get in Plovdiv and only two cities in Europe that have been inhabited longer than Plovdiv; Athens and Argos, both in Greece. And speaking of historic cities…
The oldest and largest golden treasure
Only in Varna Necropolis, you’ll find more than 3,000 golden objects, some of which date back to more than 6,000 years ago. This is considered to be the oldest processed gold ever found in the world (dating back to the time of the Chalcolithic) but even historians don’t know much about its origin.
The most popular assumptions circulate around the fact that Thracians used gold (a lot of it) as an important of ancient burial rituals but this isn’t officially confirmed. But that’s not all when it comes to old, mysterious archaeological findings.
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Over 15,000 Thracian tombs
This list of fun facts about Bulgaria wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the staggering number of over 15,000 ancient Thracian tombs found in the territory of Bulgaria. Most of them are yet to be explored. One of them is even part of…
The 9 UNESCO sites in Bulgaria
Seven of them are cultural sites. This list includes the Ancient City of Nessebar, the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, the Rila Monastery, Madara Rider, and Boyana Church. In addition, there are also two natural UNESCO sites; Srebarna Nature Reserve and Pirin National Park where you can find a growing population of brown bears and even more wolves.
But just because Bulgaria has only 9 UNESCO Heritage Sites, doesn’t mean that there aren’t other sites which are worth visiting. The first one that comes to mind is…
The biggest cathedral on the Balkan?
An inevitable part of most Bulgarian postcards, the Alexander Nevsky cathedral was the largest cathedral on the Balkan for over 100 years until the construction of Saint Sava in Serbia was completed. However, one can’t deny that this is still one of the most beautiful Orthodox cathedrals in the world. It was built in 1912 to honor the Russian soldiers who gave their lives to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman occupation.
The oldest European country not to change its name
The first Bulgarian republic was established in 681 AD. Since then Bulgaria is the only one who hasn’t change its name.
However, not all parts of Bulgarian history are as glamorous…
Bulgaria was an ally of Nazi Germany
During WWII, Bulgaria chose to be allied with the Axis and participated in deporting Jews from Macedonia and Northern Greece to concentration camps. The bizarre part is that today, when even Germany admits and pays reparations for its actions in the war every year, the official diplomatic position of Bulgaria, is to deny that this ever happened.
Speaking of fun facts about Bulgaria and its politics…
A former monarch becomes a prime minister after 50 years of exile
After his father’s death in 1943, Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became the monarch of Bulgaria. However, after only three years of rule, a referendum was held (with the presence of the Soviet Army) in which it was decided the monarch to be exiled to Egypt.
The former monarch didn’t get a passport until the fall of communism in 1990 and six years later, he came back to Bulgaria and became the country’s prime minister in 2001 and during this mandate he went from being one of the most popular historic figures in Bulgaria to a relatively unpopular Politian. In the end, he ended his short, unsuccessful political career in a coalition with the very same Socialist party that exiled him in 1946.
But that’s not all when it comes to bizarre Bulgarian politics. In addition to some of the weirdest election posters I have ever seen, Bulgaria is probably the only country where…
A city councilor was fired because of Farmville
Believe it or not, one of the most important people in Plovdiv and a member of the city council was fired in 2010 because he couldn’t stop playing Farmville even during city council sessions. He must be very sad after Farmville’s recent discontinuation from Facebook.
And with such politicians, it’s no surprise to see why…
Bulgaria has the fastest-declining population in Europe
It can be said that Bulgaria never fully transitioned from government planning to the free market. At least not in a way that’s acceptable for the people living in Bulgaria. The problem is a lot deeper with the country struggling with corruption and cronyism but the results are clear; especially after Bulgaria became a part of the EU in 2004 (which allowed Bulgarian citizens to live and work in the Western European countries), the population of Bulgaria dropped from almost 9 million residents in the early 1990s to barely 7 million in 2020.
Through a series of clumsy attempts (that were oftentimes borderline illegal), the Bulgarian government issued more than 200,000 passports to “Bulgarians” from Macedonia and Moldova in hopes to attract more Orthodox Christians that will replace some of the people who left but this strategy completely backfired because most of the people who got these passports moved out too because they were not Bulgarians but just wanted to get their hands on an EU passport and go to work in Western Europe as most Bulgarians do.
But let’s not get too serious. After all, this is a list of fun facts about Bulgaria. And one of the best ones we have for you is that…
Bulgarians shake their heads for yes and nod for no
There’s no clear evidence of the origin of this origin but this behavior is also noticeable to a lesser extent in neighboring Macedonia, Greece, and Albania but it’s in Bulgaria where most people express confirmation by shaking their head and negation with nodding. The most popular theory dates back to the Ottoman era when Ottomans were aggressively trying to convert as many Bulgarians to Islam. A lot of people even died because they declined to convert to Islam.
So, Bulgarians decided to massively swap the two signs so that when asked if they wanted to become Muslim they could nod in what seems to be a confirmation but this would still mean no deep inside them.
And speaking of culture, we have a lot of fun facts about Bulgaria for you. For example…
Spilling water in front of the door for good luck
When a family member has a special event like the first day of school, graduation, an important exam, a long journey, etc. it’s very common for one of the family members to spill water in front of the gate for “success and luck to flow like water.”
And since we’re talking about superstitions and all customs, we just have to tell you about…
Fire dancing (Nestinarstvo)
Nestinarstvo is one of the oldest local customs performed at the territory of today’s Bulgaria. To put it simply, this is a traditional barefoot fire-walking ritual with ecstatic dance that’s still performed in the villages surrounding the Strandzha Mountains in Southern Bulgaria.
Fun facts about Bulgaria: Name Days
Name days in Bulgaria are a big deal. For some people, it’s even more important than their birthday. Just for an explanation, name days are the days in the Orthodox Christian Calendar devoted to different saints celebrated by people who are named after those saints. For example, a person named Iliya will celebrate his name day on the 20th of July; a day in the Bulgarian religious calendar devoted to St. Iliya.
And speaking of celebrations, do you know that…
Bulgarians celebrate wine instead of love on Valentine’s Day
When most of the Catholic world celebrates Valentine’s Day, Orthodox Slavs celebrate St. Tryphon of Campsada, the patron saint of gardeners and winegrowers. A perfect opportunity for wine lovers to celebrate their love for wine.
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A Bulgarian folklore song in outer space
One of my favorite fun facts about Bulgaria is the folk song “Izlel e Delio Haydutin” performed by Valya Balkanska playing on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in 1977 as they were heading out in space. By the way, this is one of the most touching and fascinating pieces of Bulgarian folklore. I strongly recommend you to hear it out even if you don’t speak Bulgarian.
They say Merci for Thank You
You’ll hear the word Merci a lot in Bulgaria; don’t let this surprise you. This is a leftover from the 19th century when it was prestigious to speak French (similarly to in Russia). I suppose the word Merci stuck around, especially because it’s a lot easier to pronounce than the traditional blagodarya ti.
The life of petchka
Many Bulgarian families, especially ones living in rural areas, own a petchka, a Soviet invention used as a 2-in-1 heating/cooking device. These devices work on wood or coal and you have to keep adding wood/coal all the time but nothing can keep you warm like a petchka especially in the cold Bulgarian mountains.
Finally, to round up the interesting cultural facts about Bulgaria, we have…
Back in the days, people used to preserve vegetables in sour pickle water in order to have enough nutrients for the winter. Even though today, we have imports and exports to provide us with enough fruits and vegetables for the long and hard winter, the old tradition of winter pickles is still very much alive. Bulgarians pickle everything; tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, etc.
Vegan Christmas Eve dinner
In Bulgaria all dishes prepared for Christmas Eve are vegan. In fact, Bulgarians, just like other, Orthodox Slavs fasten by not eating milk and dairy products for 40 days before Christmas (and Easter). Additionally, the number of dishes served at the Christmas table should never be an even number.
The world’s largest glass bottle mosaic
Made with 72,933 empty coke bottles, covering an area of 250 square meters. It was made by Coca-Cola Bulgaria.
20th fastest internet in the world
The country invested a lot in this and it’s no surprise that more digital nomads choose Bulgaria as their new home.
The world’s greatest wrestler?
Bulgarian Doncho (Dan) Kolov is the first and only wrestler to record at least 1,500 wins. He also holds arguably the best record of all times, winning 96.5% of his matches.
Women’s high jump world record
Stefka Kostadinova set the world record at 2.09 meters in 1987. No one didn’t come close to breaking it yet. Until recently, a Bulgarian (Yordanka Donkova) also held the record for 100 meters with hurdles with a time of 12.21 minutes. The record was recently broken (2016) when Kendra Harrison ran the distance 0.1 seconds faster.
How many of these fun facts about Bulgaria did you know? Did you learn some new interesting information about Bulgaria? Have some more fun facts about Bulgaria? Feel free to share them in the comments!
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