Discover the tangible and intangible world heritage recognised by UNESCO

Cultural heritage

Much of the Cultural Heritage in Bulgaria is linked to religion or its ancient history.

The Rila Monastery is located in the southwest of Bulgaria, in the Rila Mountains, and is one of the most important cultural monuments of the country, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is the largest monastery in Bulgaria: 5 floors, with 4 of them visible. The monastery museum is located in the underground floor. It is open for visits from 08:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day. It is forbidden to take pictures in the church and the monastery museum but it is allowed to take them in the courtyard. The entrance is worth 8 levs (4 euros). The monastery offers accommodation and food.

Ivanovo churches

The rock monastery “San Archangel Michael” is located 18 km from the city of Ruse, near the town of Ivanovo, within the territory of the Natural Park “Rusenski Lom”, named after the river that passes through the region. In Ivanovo there is a great variety of small churches, chapels and cells carved to different heights in the rocks of the picturesque river canyon. The monastery was founded in the thirteenth century by the monk Joakim, who later became a Bulgarian patriarch. In the period between the ХIII – XIV centuries the complex was spiritual center of the Bulgarians. In the temples of the monastery are preserved wall paintings of the ХIII – XIV centuries, created by teachers of the school of Tarnovo (capital of Bulgaria at that time) representing the development of picturesque styles in Bulgaria. The fourteenth-century frescoes in the “Saint Virgin” church, who are considered as the peak of the development of medieval art in the Balkans, are very famous, which is why the monastery was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. It can be reached by car and there is parking near the entrance.

Inscribed as UNESCO Cultural Heritage in 1979, the Boyana church “Saint Nikola and Panteleimon” is one of the most representative picturesque monuments of the country. It was built during the Middle Ages and is among the 40 churches that have remained intact to this day in Bulgaria. It is known that during that time they have reached 20,000 or 30,000 but, due to the Ottoman occupation, it was not allowed to have churches higher than a Turkish soldier mounted on a horseback. Therefore, many of the churches were demolished, although nobody knows why, only the church in Boyana was not. It is located in Boyana District, at the foot of Vitosha Mountain, a short distance from the center of Sofia. The church is not so popular for its architectural value, but for the paintings inside, which date from the year 1259 and have been preserved very well. Apart from the frescoes that are part of the Old and New Testaments, some of the paintings are of ancient Bulgarian kings that are painted from head to toe with a very high qualitative value. It is a fact that the frescoes are almost all related to secular portraits, but in the church there are more than 240 paintings that represent the outstanding achievements of Bulgarian culture during the Middle Ages. In some parts of the religious scenes elements of the popular lifestyle are represented.

The town, or more precisely the Old Nessebar, became the subject of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of UNESCO in 1983, with the flow of tourists wishing to touch this unique cultural and historical heritage is increasing more and more. The Old Town is situated on a beautiful peninsula with many natural landmarks and cultural monuments with centuries-old history. On the territory of this small peninsula (850m x 350m long) over the centuries there are data on the existence of more than 40 churches from the period 5th-19th centuries, today they are 23. Some of them are very well preserved, such as St. Spas and St. Stephen and have been converted into museums. Early Byzantine and Bulgarian churches from different ages are part of the sights you need to explore. At the beginning of the Old Town is the Archaeological Museum, where you can see finds from excavations

Thracian tomb in Kazanlak

The tomb was discovered by chance on April 19, 1944 under a mound where soldiers dug a trench in the northeast of Kazanlak, in the central part of the country. Then, in 1979 it was the first Bulgarian site, included in the list of the World Organization for the Protection of the Unique Cultural and Natural Heritage. The Thracian tomb in the Kazanlak region consists of three rooms: a rectangular entrance, a narrow brick corridor (dromos) and a brick circular funerary chamber with a bell-shaped dome. It belonged to the Thracian ruler Roigos and his wife and dates from the IV-III century BC. Its worldwide prominence comes from the unique frescoes in the hall and the cupola which represent the life of the ruler, the Thracian culture and burial rituals and are evidence for the remarkable evolution of pictorial art in Hellenistic Thrace. They were painted by the artist Kodzimasis Hrestos, known in the ancient history, and are some of the best preserved mural paintings from the early Hellenistic period in Bulgaria. To preserve the frescoes, access to the original Kazanlak tomb is strictly limited. Accessible for visits is the copy of the tomb built nearby. You can go by car or walk 15 min from the center of Kazanlak.

Thracian tomb Sveshtari

The tomb of Sveshtari is located near the village of Sveshtari, municipality of Isperih, 42 km from Razgrad, and was built about 2,300 years ago as a stone tomb for a tribal ruler of the Thracians. It was discovered in 1982 by archaeologists who excavated the mound over the tomb. It consists of three ornate rooms. Its dimensions are impressive: 7.5 meters long, 6.5 meters wide and 4.45 meters high inside. In the tomb chamber there are two stone beds, human remains of a man and a woman, other remains which are supposed to belong to some family member buried there later , and burial gifts. The decoration of the tomb follows the spirit of the Hellenistic culture. In the chamber of the tomb there are ten magnificent and finely carved female figures (1.20 meters high) that are called “the caryatids”. In 1985 it was included in the World Heritage List due to its architecture and unique decorations. The royal tomb excavated in Sveshtari is not isolated. A total of 26 mounds of different sizes have been preserved for two kilometers. The entire area is declared an archaeological reserve and it’s named ¨Sboryanovo¨. It can be reached by car.

The Knight of Madara is located next to the village of Madara, near Shumen, about 370 km east of Sofia and 70 km from Varna. There you will see something unique in the territory of Europe.  An excavation in the rock dating from the early eighth century. The sculpture of Madara’s Horse is 23m above the ground level and is 3.1 meters wide and 2.6 meters high. The monument consists of three figures in real size, a horsemen, a lion lying in front of him, behind a running dog and inscriptions in Greek language that refer to the events of Bulgarian history in the period from the early eighth century to the ninth century . It is believed that the composition of the rock with the rider with a solemn movement to the right is an image of a Bulgarian ruler and symbolizes the power of the First Bulgarian State. Unfortunately, erosion cannot be neutralized, and some of the figures are in poor condition, and their importance cannot be unequivocally determined. Even so, a snake and an eagle can be found in the rock reliefs. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The places you can visit are the Pliska National Historical and Archaeological Reserve, the Veliki Preslav Historical Reserve, the Shumen Fortress Reserve, the Cave of the Nymph and the Fortress of Madara, as well as the 386 stone steps to the left of the Madara Horseman. The view from the top is really lovely and worth the climb.

Intangible Heritage

This part of the world heritage is very special and unique. Visiting Bulgaria one must know at least one of them.

The Grannies from Bistritsa

“The Grannies of Bistritsa” is a group of singers of authentic folk music from the village of Bistritsa in Sofia. The group was officially formed in 1946 as the first Bulgarian radio folk music orchestra. Their songs are characterized by archaic polyphony, dance and customs of the Shopski region (the Sofia region). The experts define the style as a unique polyphony with 3 voices. Polyphony is a specific type of singing in which one or two voices form the curves, while the other singers maintain the monotonic song that doubles, accompanying the main singers. The dancers dress in folk costumes and dance the “horo”  (traditional dance) in a circle whose direction is usually counterclockwise. One thing is very characteristic: the musical rhythm and the dance are not synchronized. In 2005, the group “The Grannies of Bistritsa” was included in the UNESCO List of Masterpieces of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Chiprovski carpets

The Chiprovsti carpets are a type of handmade rugs with two identical faces. The name comes from the city of Chiprovtsi, in the northwestern part of Bulgaria, where they began to weave carpets in the seventeenth century. The rugs are woven from natural materials – cotton and wool. The paint for the carpets is also made with natural inks. At first, the rugs were made in two colors – red and black. Over the years they added more colors like yellow, brown, red, blue and green. They are stamped with stylized figures that represent the authentic family and cultural life, showing the history and the traditions of the Bulgarians. They are part of the national crafts and heritage. In 2014, the Chiprovtsi carpets were included in the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage List. You can enjoy a large exhibition of carpets in the Historical Museum of Chiprovtsi. Admission is free for children, for adults it is only 3 BGN (1.50 EUR) and is open every day from 08:00AM to 05:00PM.

In several villages near the border with Turkey it is still celebrated according to the tradition that has been preserved over the years. These towns are: Kosti, Rezovo, Brodilovo and Bulgari. Once the day has started, we proceed with the icon of Konstantin and Elena from the chapel where it has been kept for the year, to the nearest holy source. At the same time, in the center of the town or city, a bonfire is lit and left burning all day long. When the night comes, a “carpet” of burnt wood with a diameter of 2 meters long and 6-8 cm wide is extended. The person who represents the “Nastinar” takes the icon in his hands and, with the sounds coming from the gaidas and drums, dancing, walks the “carpet”.

Natural heritage

Bulgaria has many natural areas, but two of them are very important due to their characteristics.

Pirin National Park

Pirin National Park is located in the Pirin Mountains, in the southwestern part of Bulgaria. It was established in 1962 and since 1983, the park has been under the protection of UNESCO. Today  Pirin National Park covers more than 40,000 hectares. Vihren is the highest peak in Pirin: 2914 m, and is the second highest in Bulgaria after  Musala peak in Rila (2925 m). There are thousands of species of plants, birds and animals that are found in the park, some of which are included in the Red List of the International Union for the Protection of Nature. This is where the oldest and largest tree in Bulgaria is located: Baykusheva Mura, whose age is estimated at more than 1300 years. The Visitor Information Center of the Pirin National Park is located in the city of Bansko, which is also famous as a tourist center of the region both in the summer and in the winter for the ski and snowboard tracks. In this information center lovers of mountain walks can obtain information about the accessible routes in the park. The park is extremely important for its biological diversity and special care is taken to protect it. It is unacceptable that visitors to the park pollute the environment. Strictly prohibited are hunting, fishing in some rivers, illegal logging and damage to signs on the tourist routes.

Sreburna National Reserve

The Sreburna National Reserve is located near the village of Srebarna, 16 km west of Silistra and 2 km south of the Danube River, in the northeastern part of Bulgaria. The site was declared a biosphere reserve in 1948 and covers Lake Srebarna and its surroundings. It is located on the main route of migratory birds between Europe and Africa called “Via Pontica”. It is famous for its unique and varied species of waterfowl, such as the dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), the great white heron (Ardea alba), the cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), ducks, geese, swans, etc. In order to preserve the biodiversity of rare bird species, in 1983 Lake Srebarna was included in the list of UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage Sites.

The park has a museum where you can see stuffed inhabitants of the lake. Another interesting attraction is the possibility of observing the birds in real time by means of a video camera placed in the lake. There is also an ecological trail around the reserve, where visitors can enjoy the pleasant view from the observation fields specially built for tourists.

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