The Republic of Bulgaria is situated in the Balkan Peninsula, with a coastline on the Black Sea. It is bounded by Romania to the north, Turkey and Greece to the south, and to the west by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Bulgaria is about 330 km, from north to south, and about 500 km from east to west. Over half of the country is covered in hills and mountains, and about one-third is forested. The Danubian Plain is a fertile area covering one-third of the country to the north of the Balkan Mountains.
The principal river draining Bulgaria is the Danube; its primary tributaries in Bulgaria are the Iskùr and the Yantra. The Danube River is of major commercial importance for its freight and passenger traffic with the former Soviet bloc countries. The most important ports are Ruse, Svishtov, Lom, and Vidin.
The Balkan Mountains form part of the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, extending eastwards for about 560km toward the Black Sea. The highest point is Botev Peak, at 2,375m.
The range separates the Danube River in the north and the Maritsa River in the south. The northern side slopes gradually down to the Danube River, forming the northern Bulgarian plateau. On the central southern side of the mountains are a series of narrow plains, including the important agricultural region of Thracian Plain. The range is crossed by highways, railroads, and the Iskùr River. Resources include coal, graphite, copper, lead, zinc, iron, mineral springs and coniferous and deciduous forests.
In southern Bulgaria, the Rhodope Mountains form an important climatic barrier, protecting the Aegean lowlands from cold northerly winds. Extending southeast from Bulgaria through Macedonia they form the border with Greece. The spectacular landscape includes lakes, river valleys, gorges and pine forests with steep, rocky slopes. At the western end of these mountains, in south-western Bulgaria, are the Rila Mountains, which include Musala, the highest peak in the Balkans, at 2,925m, and the ski resort of Borovets.
Tributaries of the Maritsa River drain the Rhodope Mountains. The Maritsa is about 480 km long, and is the deepest river of the Aegean Sea basin. Rising southeast of Sofia, it flows east across the Thracian Plain, to Greece, and then along the border with Turkey. At Edirne it changes direction, flowing southwest to enter the Aegean Sea. Other important rivers are the Struma and Mesta, which flow south to the Aegean Sea and the Kamchiya, which empties into the Black Sea.
Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast is popular for its spas and resorts. Unfortunately, two of Bulgaria’s largest industrial cities, Varna (the Black Sea capital), and Burgas, are situated here and the water pollution generated by these centres has threatened the area’s tourist industry. Virtually all of the middle and lower reaches of the major rivers are also polluted by industry and water treatment facilities for industrial and municipal wastes are inadequate or nonexistent.
Bulgaria has a number of national parks; the Pirin National Park has glacial lakes and ancient forests, the Vratchansky Balkan National Park in the northwest has spectacular rock formations, waterfalls and ancient caves and the Central Balkan National Park, northeast of Sofia, has the highest waterfall, Raiskoto Praskalo.
Glacial lake in National Park Rila
Most of Bulgaria has a continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers. The average temperatures in Sofia range between -4°C in January to 27° C in July.
The climate in general is harsher than in other regions at the same latitude, with severe droughts, frosts, winds, and hailstorms. The wettest period is early summer, with average rainfall of about 630mm per year. During the winter, conditions in the mountains are ideal for skiing and snowboarding.
There is a predominantly Mediterranean climate in the valley of the south-western Rhodope Mountains, and on the Black Sea coast, with dry summers and mild, humid winters, and plenty of sunshine between May and October.
Bulgaria’s first inhabitants were Thracians, the area was then conquered by the Romans, who divided it into the provinces of Moesia and Thrace. In the 6th century AD, it was occupied by Slavs, followed by Bulgars from Asia in the 7th century.
In 1185 Bulgaria fell to the Turks and was ruled by Byzantium from the 11th century, until the end of the 14th century. The country was then occupied by the Ottoman Empire and it remained under Ottoman rule for almost 500 years.
In 1908, Bulgaria was declared an independent state. In 1944, a communist coalition seized power, and in 1946 the monarchy was abolished, and a people’s republic was declared.
In the late 1980s, Bulgaria experienced political unrest, and its communist leader resigned in 1989. A new constitution that defined the country as a parliamentary republic with a ‘democratic, constitutional, and welfare state’ was implemented in 1991.
Following the 1991 elections, the government slowly began initiating economic and industrial reforms, allowing foreign investment, privatisation of state-owned companies, and the return of land seized by the Communists.
However, economic problems continued into the 21st century as it sought political stability and admittance to the European Union and NATO. Under Bulgaria’s former king, Simeon II, who became prime minister between 2001 and 2005, the country pressed ahead with market reforms, intended to meet EU economic targets.
In 1990, Bulgaria began converting from a socialist to a market economy; however, this did not result in a positive economic reversal. Instead, there was popular dissatisfaction with the social effects of the reforms. Although the end of the decade was more stable, there was little progress with economic reform. Bulgaria signed an EU accession treaty in April 2005 and, depending on the pace of reforms, should be on course for membership in 2007.
Bulgaria’s main resources are agricultural; the climate and soil support livestock and the growing of grains, oil seeds, vegetables, fruits, and tobacco. In the early 1990s about 21 percent of the workforce was employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
The country also has mineral reserves, mainly iron ore and coal, with small, but valuable deposits of manganese and petroleum. Copper, zinc, lead, and natural gas are also commercially exploited. More than half the total coal produced goes to industry.
Because of privatisation, many state-owned industrial enterprises have come under private ownership. The manufacturing industry is now the largest sector of the Bulgarian economy. The weak currency, has made Bulgaria’s products affordable in foreign markets, principal exports are machinery, agricultural products, and manufactured consumer goods.
Aleksandr Nevskij Church in Sofia
Bulgaria has been a parliamentary republic since the July 1991 constitution was approved.
The legislature is the National Assembly, which is elected by universal suffrage. The prime minister and cabinet come from the majority group within parliament. The head of government is the prime minister, who presides over the Council of Ministers, the highest administrative body of the Bulgarian government.
The state president, who is also commander in chief of the armed forces, serves as the head of state and is directly elected by the voters to no more than two five-year terms, in a two-round election, but his/her powers are largely ceremonial. There is a separation of powers, which is monitored by a constitutional court.
Bulgaria has an independent judiciary and a Constitutional Court. The Supreme Court sits in Sofia. Other tribunals in Bulgaria include provincial courts, regional courts, and military courts.
Bulgaria’s 9 regions and 273 districts are administered by popularly elected people’s councils. Council members are elected to 30-month terms. The councils are responsible for all economic, cultural, and social matters within the area and supervise all government-owned enterprises.