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UNESCO List of the Cultural Heritage
There are eight sites on the Bulgarian territory recognized as unique, with world significance and included in the UNESCO List of the Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Ancient City of Nessebar
Situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, the more than 3,000-year-old site of Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement (Menebria). At the beginning of the 6th century BC, the city became a Greek colony. The city’s remains, which date mostly from the Hellenistic period, include the acropolis, a temple of Apollo, an agora and a wall from the Thracian fortifications. Among other monuments, the Stara Mitropolia Basilica and the fortress date from the Middle Ages, when this was one of the most important Byzantine towns on the west coast of the Black Sea. Wooden houses built in the 19th century are typical of the Black Sea architecture of the period.
The Ancient city of Nessebar is a unique example of a synthesis of the centuries-old human activities in the sphere of culture; it is a location where numerous civilizations have left tangible traces in single homogeneous whole, which harmoniously fit in with nature. The different stages of development of its residential vernacular architecture reflect the stages of development of the architectural style on the Balkans and in the entire East Mediterranean region. The urban structure contains elements from the second millennium BC, from Ancient Times and the Medieval period.
The medieval religious architecture, modified by the imposition of the traditional Byzantine forms, illustrates ornamental ceramics art, the characteristic painted decoration for this age. The town has served for over thousands of years as remarkable spiritual hearth of Christian culture.
The Ancient City of Nessebar is an outstanding testimony of multilayered cultural and historical heritage. It is a place where many civilizations left their tangible traces: archaeological structures from the Second millennium BC, a Greek Black Sea colony with surviving remains of fortifications, a Hellenistic villa and religious buildings from the Antiquity, preserved churches (in some of them preserved only parts of archaeological structures) from the Middle Ages. Nessebar has demonstrated its historical importance as a frontier city on numerous occasions. Having been a remarkable spiritual centre of Christianity for a thousand years, today it is a developing and vibrant urban organism.
The Ancient City of Nessebar is a unique example of an architectural ensemble with preserved Bulgarian Renaissance structure, and forms a harmonious homogenous entity with the outstanding natural configuration of the rocky peninsular, linked with the continent by a long narrow stretch of land. Its nature and existence is a result of synthesis of long-term human activity, which has witnessed significant historic periods - an urban structure with elements from 2nd millennium BC, classical antiquity, and the Middle Ages; the development of medieval religious architecture with rich plastic and polychrome decoration on its facades in the form of ceramic ornamentation typical for the period; the different stages in the development of the characteristic residential vernacular architecture, which testify to the supreme mastery of the architecture of the Balkans as well as the East Mediterranean region. The vernacular architecture of the urban ensemble, dominated by medieval churches and archaeology, together with the unique coastal relief, combine to produce an urban fabric of the high quality.
Within the boundaries that encompass the small rocky peninsula, are all the evidence of the numerous cultural layers - from the 2nd millennium BC until the present time.
Systematic archaeological studies, reinforcement, restoration and conservation have preserved the material traces of history in Nessebar more than anywhere else. The small peninsula is a meeting place of bygone times. Nessebar has demonstrated on several occasions the significant historic position of a frontier city on the outposts of a threatened empire. The millennia of uninterrupted human occupation (the earliest traces of human settlement date back to over 3,000 years ago) have produced an impressive cultural occupation layer that is as thick as 6 m in some places.
Confined to a rocky promontory of the Bulgarian coast, Nessebar is a rich city-museum with more than three millennia of history. The Thracians were the first to establish themselves on this natural defensive site, as attested by numerous discoveries of Bronze Age objects. Strabo records, moreover, the legendary foundation by the Thracian, Mena, from whom the city took its original name, Menebria. Dorian colonists from Megara made it one of the oldest Greek colonies of Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) under the name of Messembria: according to Herodotus it was already in existence in 513 BC.
Nessebar lies nestling along a romantic isthmus. Its cobbled streets, well kept medieval churches, and timbered houses from the 19th century illustrate its chequered past. Nessebar's churches can be best described as a cross between Slav and Greek Orthodox architecture, and are some of the finest in the area. One of the oldest towns in Europe, it still exudes the spirit of different ages and peoples - Thracians, Hellenes, Romans, Slavs, Byzantines and Bulgarians.
The Greek city, whose acropolis rose on the eastern end of the peninsula, was defended on the landward side by a 6th-century wall which still partially exists to the north. Vestiges of the agora, the theatre, and the Temple of Apollo were brought to light near buildings constructed during the period when Messembria fell under Roman influence. The city was taken in 71 BC, but continued to enjoy numerous privileges, such as that of minting its own coinage. When the death of Theodosius (395) provoked the schism with the Roman Empire, Messembria fell into the Byzantine domain and it was not long before it became one of the most important strongholds of the Eastern Empire, and the object of struggles between Greeks and Bulgarians. It was successively held by first one and then the other, depending on the fortunes of each army, until 812 when the Bulgarian Khan Krum seized it after a siege of two weeks.
Until its capture by the Turks in 1453, Nessebar comprised monuments of exceptional quality: for example, the Stara Mitropolia, a large basilica without transept rebuilt in the 9th century; the Church of the Virgin; the Nova Mitropolia, founded in the 11th century and continually embellished until the 18th century; the Church of St John the Baptist, which houses the archaeological museum; and finally a remarkable series of 13th- and 14th-century churches: St Theodore, St Paraskebba, St Michael and St Gabriel, and St John Alituhgethos. Other notable churches are the Old Bishop's Residence in an early Byzantine style (4th-5th centuries), and the New Bishops Residence (St Stefan), containing valuable 12th-century murals.
The Turkish domination coincided with the decline of Nessebar, but it did not diminish the monumental heritage, which was enriched from the 19th century by numerous houses in the 'Plovdiv style'. This vernacular architecture ensures the cohesion of an urban fabric of high quality. Nessebar's National Revival houses with stone foundations and broad wooden eaves, which overhang narrow cobbled lanes leading right to the sea, are also remarkably beautiful.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Boyana Church
Located on the outskirts of Sofia, Boyana Church consists of three buildings. The eastern church was built in the 10th century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two storey building to be erected next to it. The frescoes in this second church, painted in 1259, make it one of the most important collections of medieval paintings. The ensemble is completed by a third church, built at the beginning of the 19th century. This site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.
There are several layers of wall paintings in the interior from the 11th, 13th, 15-17th and 19th centuries which testify to the high level of wall painting during the different periods. The paintings with the most outstanding artistic value are those from 13th century. Whilst they interpret the Byzantine canon, the images have a special spiritual expressiveness and vitality and are painted in harmonious proportions.
From an architectural point of view, Boyana Church is a pure example of a church with a Greek cross ground-plan with dome, richly decorated facades and decoration of ceramic elements. It is one of the most remarkable medieval monuments with especially fine wall paintings.
The Boyana Church is composed of three parts, each built at a different period - 10 century, 13th century and 19th century which constitute a homogenous whole.
The integrity of Boyana church is fully assured. In 1917 a park was created around the church, thereby securing its immediate surroundings through being separated from the impact of modern traffic. The property has also remained intact from historic invasions, and other destructive threats. Three separate zones are defined in the property boundaries and buffer zone, through which appropriate control measures are applied.
To safeguard and present the internal 11th and 12th centuries fresco fragments, those from the 13th century, and the later 1882 additions in the antechamber, they were cleaned, refilled and conserved. This work was completed in 2008. The property is now air-conditioned, and under constant surveillance.
During the Middle Ages the strong Bulgarian fortress of Boyana (Batil) stood on the lower slopes of Mount Vitosha in what is now the Sofia suburb of Boyana. This name is mentioned for the first time in 969. Boyana was one of the 35 fortresses and settlements that formed the fortification systems of the city of Sredets (Sofia). Boyana Church was built within the fortress and is a magnificent example of medieval architecture and monumental art.
The church has undergone many transformation and extensions, and thus its present complex volume differs considerably from the original. New buildings have been added to the First (East) Church, architectural transformations have been made, and the decoration has been changed. At present Boyana Church consists of buildings from the 11th, 13th and 19th centuries.
The oldest Boyana Church, the so-called East or First Church, was designed and used as a chapel. It had a typical Greek cross plan with a dome, and a concealed internal cross without free-standing support and without a narthex. It is built entirely of brick. The north and south facades are articulated on the outside with three blind arches, each with the central arch higher than the side ones; the arches are not related to the structure of the building. The brickwork decorations are figural: archivolts with 'wolf's tooth' and concentric rows of bricks above the arches.
The plan of the interior is reminiscent of a Greek cross and is scantily lit by long narrow openings (one each on the north and south walls, four on the dome) as well as through one triforium on the apse. The entire interior surface of the walls and dome was covered with murals. Some larger fragments have been preserved in the apse. As the First Church was painted again in the mid-18th century, traces of the original paintings are noticeable only where the upper layer of murals has been destroyed.
In the 13th century the feudal ruler of the western region of the Second Bulgarian State, Sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava, who were closely related to the royal family, commissioned the extension of the church. The builders added a new two-storey building to the western wall of the First Church. The ground floor has direct access from the First Church and was intended as a narthex. It is rectangular, covered with a cylindrical vault. On the inside, the walls are decorated only with two niches on the southern and northern sides respectively, probably for a family tomb. The upstairs floor of Kaloyan's Church has an almost identical architectural composition to the older building, in the shape of a Greek cross, and it was used as a family chapel. It was dedicated to the martyr healer St Panteleimon. Access to the chapel is by an outside staircase along the southern wall. It is possible that the stairs connected the chapel with the house of the nobleman. There are grounds for believing that in the event of danger, the mobile staircase was removed, thus, the upstairs chapel could also be used as a defence tower.
The articulation of the facades is figural as in the First Church. The northern and southern facades have four blind arches each on the level of the second floor. One of the arches on the southern wall is wider and was used as an entrance to the chapel on the second floor. The eastern facade of Kaloyan's Church rises above the roof of the First Church. On the outside its surface is broken by a small semicircular apse. The western, entrance facade is the most representative and has a pronounced monumental character. The new church, extended and renewed by the family of the Sebastocrator, was decorated with paintings and consecrated in 1259.
The Boyana frescoes are an early example of the icon-painting style which later on was adopted in mural painting and as such they mark the beginning of specific features which strongly influenced the Tirnovo artistic school. The icon-style murals that became widespread in the Serbian, Russian and Mount Athos monasteries during the 14th to 16th centuries are closely related to this innovation.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

The Madara Rider
The Madara Rider, representing the figure of a knight triumphing over a lion, is carved into a 100-m-high cliff near the village of Madara in north-east Bulgaria. Madara was the principal sacred place of the First Bulgarian Empire before Bulgaria’s conversion to Christianity in the 9th century. The inscriptions beside the sculpture tell of events that occurred between AD 705 and 801.
The Madara Rider is a unique relief, an exceptional work of art, created during the first years of the formation of the Bulgarian State, at the beginning of the 8th century. It is the only relief of its kind, having no parallel in Europe. It has survived in its authentic state, with no alternation in the past or the present.
It is outstanding not only as a work of Bulgarian sculpture, with its characteristically realist tendencies, but also as a piece of historical source material dating from the earliest years of the establishment of the Bulgarian state. The inscriptions around the relief are, in fact, a chronicle of important events concerning the reigns of very famous Khans: Tervel, Kormisos and Omurtag.
The Madara Rider is an exceptional work of art dating from the beginning of the 8th century. It is the only relief of its kind, having no parallel in Europe.
The Madara Rider is outstanding not only as a work of the realist Bulgarian sculpture but also as a piece of historical source material from the earliest years of the Bulgarian state, since the inscriptions around the relief chronicle events in the reigns of famous Khans.
The rock relief of the Madara Horseman encompass within its boundaries sufficient elements for its presentation. It lies within an archaeological reserve that includes other archaeological monuments, up to 2000 years old.
The form and design, location and setting, materials and substance, and spirit and feeling of the Madara Horseman relief have retained their authenticity.
The sculptor carved a relief of a majestic horseman 23 m above ground level in an almost vertical 100 m high cliff. The horseman is thrusting a spear into a lion lying at his horse's feet, while a dog runs after the horseman. In antiquity the Thracian tribes inhabited the plain. There was an ancient Thracian sanctuary in the large open cave under the rocks, which is known today as the Nymphs' Cave.
The fortress and a large farm (villa rustica) prospered at the foot of the cliff for more than three centuries during Roman times, until it fell into disuse with the decline of the Roman Empire. The pitched towers of the fortress were rebuilt when the first Bulgarian capital, Pliska, was established nearby.
During the difficult times at the end of the 7th century the relations of the young Bulgarian state and Byzantium were very complex. The Bulgarians won the right to establish their state in a victorious battle, but Byzantium considered itself an heir to the Roman Empire and never gave up its claim on this territory. When the dethroned Byzantine Emperor Justinian asked for help from the Bulgarian Khan Tervel, he was obliged to accept the Bulgarian conditions. The Emperor was reinstalled on the throne in Constantinople thanks to the Bulgarian army. These events took place in the year 705: thus, only a quarter of a century after the Bulgarian state had been founded, it was not only recognized by but also received tribute from Byzantium.
The Madara Horseman was carved at the very beginning of the 8th century, about three decades after the foundation of the Bulgarian State (681). The sculpture marks a triumph: the Byzantine Empire had recognized the new state. The relief is not an abstract symbolic scene but presents a particular image with its own historical background and profound symbolism. The place chosen is such that the bulge of the rock allows some parts of the relief to project more than the rest. Other elements of the composition are almost flat because they had to be accommodated in the slope of the rock surface.
The sculptor used three methods for the carving of the figures. First he outlined the images with a 1.5 cm wide and 2 cm deep groove in the rock (only the lion is not surrounded by such a groove). Then he hewed out the surrounding surface so that the figures project from it. The third method used was to cover the figures in red plaster so as to outline them even better against the rock. Most of this plaster has been destroyed by the elements, but some traces are still visible. The letters of the inscriptions were also filled with the same plaster. The sculptor worked carefully on the composition in order to ensure that the relief would be seen clearly from a distance. The elements of this skilful composition are arranged in such a way as not to distract but emphasize the impact.
The sculpture offers an original combination of dynamic and static character, of formal gestures and realistic details. The image is of a particular event but it implies a sense of triumph beyond the limits of time. However, although this monumental work of art combines the concrete with the abstract, the inscription cut in the left and right sides of the composition provided curt, precise and simple information about the event and some of the circumstances related to it. The profound historical meaning of the relief is further clarified by the inscriptions around the figures. These inscriptions were made in three consecutive stages and are related to important events. They are the earliest proto-Bulgarian inscriptions and the earliest written data on Bulgarian history.
However, these traditions began with the texts on the Madara relief. These three texts not only mark the beginning of the historic annals but are also related to the images and meaning of the relief, of the victorious scene presented. The existence of a state acquires its complete meaning only through its international recognition, and these texts mark precisely the events connected with the international recognition of the state, with its introduction into international relations as a respected partner.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th century by St John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. His ascetic dwelling and tomb became a holy site and were transformed into a monastic complex which played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. A characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th–19th centuries), the monument symbolizes the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation.
In its complicated ten-century history the Rila monastery has been the hub of a strong spiritual and artistic influence over the Eastern Orthodox world during medieval times (11th-14th c.). Under Ottoman rule (1400-1878) the monastery influenced the development of the culture and the arts of all Christian nations within the Ottoman Empire. With its architecture, frescos etc. it represents a masterpiece of the creative genius of the Bulgarian people.
Architectural styles have been preserved on the property as historical monuments of considerable time span (11th-19th c.). The basic architectural appearance is now one of the peak examples of building craftsmanship of the Balkan peoples from the early 19th c. As such it has exerted considerable influence on architecture and aesthetics within the Balkan area.
Rila Monastery is considered a symbol of the 19th Century Bulgarian Renaissance which imparted Slavic values upon Rila in trying to reestablish an uninterrupted historic continuity.
Rila Monastery is the most important spiritual and literary center of the Bulgarian national revival, with an uninterrupted history from the Middle Ages until present times. Reconstruction work was required following a fire, and sections of the monastery, a new church and other structures date to the 18th century. The property fully endorses authenticity requirements regarding location, context, concept, usage, function and tradition, where the spirit and feeling of the site are also properly preserved.
Rila Monastery, the oldest in the Slav world and still the largest active religious centre in Bulgaria, is first and foremost an exceptionally fine artistic complex, in which architecture and painting merge harmoniously. Apart from this, it has been for centuries the seat of the development, preservation, and diffusion of Slav religious culture in all its various manifestations, including literary and artistic, and it became the symbol of Bulgarian cultural identity that was continually threatened by Turkish domination.
The monastery stands about 120 km from Sofia, in the heart of the Rila Massif, located at the north-western extremity of the Rodopi Mountains, a mountainous system with peaks that rise to almost 3,000 m. In this area, which was still covered by forest in AD 876-946, lived the hermit Ivan Rilski (Saint John of Mila), the evangelizer of the Slavic peoples. He was responsible for the construction of the original nucleus of the coenobitic community, a short distance from the cave in which he lived as an anchorite; this nucleus was completely destroyed in the 13th century by fire.
A new building was constructed a few kilometres from the site of the first foundation, and it was completed in the 15th century thanks to the donations of Stefan Hrelyu, a powerful local prince who ordered in 1355 the construction of the tower that still bears his name and a church dedicated to John of Rila, who had in the meantime been canonized.
During the Ottoman Turkish domination of Bulgaria, the monastery took on the role of bulwark of national identity in the face of foreign occupation. It became a destination for pilgrimages from all over the Balkan region, especially after 1469, when the relics of the saint were brought there.
The complex continued to serve this function in the centuries that followed, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it became one of the powerhouses of the Bulgarian Renaissance. This period is documented by the splendid cross that is still preserved in the museum of the monastery, executed and decorated with more than 100 biblical scenes by the monk Raphael, one of the leading figures of the movement.
The existing structures, with the exception of the Hrelyu Tower, date back to the 19th-century building project. They occupy a vast area which forms an irregular square, provided with two entrances, both decorated with frescoes. The building that surrounds it contains four chapels, a refectory and some 300 cells, a library and rooms for the guests of the monastery. The complex has an interior courtyard overlooked by three- and four-storey constructions, embellished by orders of arches set upon stone columns which unify their facades and form airy loggias. This is enlivened by the chromatic interplay between the white of the plaster and the red and black hues of the bricks.
The Hrelyu tower is a compact building 23 m high, square in plan. The highest of its five storeys contains a chapel dedicated to the Transfiguration and decorated by a series of frescoes that were done in the second half of the 14th century: in the nave are depicted stories of Saint John of Rila.
Of the building constructed in the 19th century, the most important is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, built in 1833 on the structure of the preceding building. This church houses a magnificent carved wooden iconostasis, executed in 1842 by Athanasios Taladuro of Thessalonica, and many frescoes.
The cultural heritage contained in the monastery is not limited to its buildings, but extends to the works of art and documents that constitute a priceless testimonial to Bulgarian civilization; they are chiefly to be found in the museum and in the library.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo
In the valley of the Roussenski Lom River, in north east Bulgaria, a complex of rock-hewn churches, chapels, monasteries and cells developed in the vicinity of the village of Ivanovo. This is where the first hermits had dug out their cells and churches during the 12th century. The 14th-century murals testify to the exceptional skill of the artists belonging to the Tarnovo School of painting.
The frescos of the Ivanovo churches reveal an exceptional artistry and a remarkable artistic sensitivity for 14th century painting and Bulgarian medieval art; they are an important achievement in the Christian art of South-Eastern Europe. Posterior to the Khora monastery mosaics (Karia Djami) of 1303 - 10, these frescoes, by their very expressiveness surpass any other historical monuments discovered, characteristic of the Palaeologues style. Neo-classical in spirit and in elements of their subjects, the frescoes represent a departure from the canons of Byzantine iconography. They show close ties with expressive Hellenistic art and a clear preference for the nude, the landscape, an architectural background in a composition, drama, an emotional atmosphere - qualities which combine to make an exceptional masterpiece of the Tarnovo school of painting and monumental art.
The five historical monuments in this group (chapels, churches, etc.), dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, serve as examples that pave the way for the distinctive character development, and mastery in the art of the Second Bulgarian State /1187-1396/. The richness, the variety of the cells, chapels, churches, monastery complexes, the original architectural solutions - all set in a magnificent natural environment - confirm the value of this extraordinary historical grouping.
Many churches, chapels, monasteries and cells were cut into the natural rock along the Rusenski Lom river, during the 13-14th centuries. The "Church" frescoes reveal an exceptional artistry and a remarkable artistic sensitivity for 14th century painting and Bulgarian medieval art; they are an important achievement in the Christian art of South-Eastern Europe. Neo-classical in spirit and in elements of their subjects, the frescoes represent a departure from the canons of Byzantine iconography. They show close ties with expressive Hellenistic art and a clear preference for the nude, the landscape, an architectural background in a composition, drama, an emotional atmosphere - qualities which combine to make an exceptional masterpiece.
The extensive complexes of monasteries were built between the time of the Second Bulgarian State /1187-1396/ and the conquest of Bulgaria by the Ottoman Empire. The five historical monuments in this group, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, the richness, the variety of the cells, chapels, churches, monastery complexes, the original architectural solutions - all of that set in a magnificent natural environment - confirm the value of this extraordinary historical grouping.
In the valley of the Roussenski Lom River, in north-east Bulgaria, a complex of rock-hewn churches, chapels, monasteries and cells developed in the vicinity of the village of Ivanovo. This is where the first hermits had dug out their cells and churches during the 12th century. The 14th-century murals testify to the exceptional skill of the artists of the Tarnovo school of painting.
The period of the history of Bulgaria from the last years of the 12th century, when for the second time the country became independent from Byzantium, until the Ottoman Empire annexation in 1396, is known as the Second Bulgarian Empire. Independence from Byzantium could not be complete until the Bulgarian clergy became dependents of the Patriarch of Costantinopoli. In 1204, the Kaloyan Tsar signed an agreement with the Papacy in order to return as part of the Roman Catholic church. It was not to be a long-lasting agreement. During the reign of Tsar Ivan Ansen II, Bulgaria once again embraced Orthodox Christianity, but with its own Patriarch, not subordinate to Costantinople.
The first Patriarch was the monk Gioacchino, who shared with Ivan Ansen the plan to expand the Bulgarian church. Before taking over the Patriarchal throne he had lived as a hermit in a cave in the river Rusenski Lom valley, not far from the village of Ivanovo. The monk achieved so high a level of sanctity that Tzar Ivan Ansen entrusted to him the construction of a monastery, something which contributed to strengthen his image as a merciful monarch. The convent was built between 1218 and 1235 and had from the outset a rocky character; all its buildings were dug into the limestone cliff gorge of the river and its contributories.
In the years between 1331 and 1371 the monastery, thanks to further new royal donations, acquired the best of its artistic patrimony: the splendid frescoes attributable to the painters of the so-called Tarnovo School.
During the conquest of the country by the Ottoman Turks in 1396, the forgotten monastery of Ivanovo fell quickly into ruins and was abandoned. The solid limestone out of which it was carved and on which frescoes were painted enabled it to resist to the inclemency of the weather. Along the two walls of the Rusenski Lom river gorge there is a labyrinth of cells, of rooms, and above all of churches and chapels dug into the cliff face which were originally completely covered by frescoes, but of which only five are still in good condition.
Bearing in mind the fact that three of these churches go back to the reign of Ivan or immediately afterwards, they constitute remarkable evidence of the revolution in painting during the two centuries of the Second Bulgarian Empire. In the churches of the first period, the human figures are painted in the same realistic style, with oval faces and fleshy lips, and the colours of the clothing are bright. The 14th-century frescoes by contrast are in the classical style of the Palaeologic period.
The five churches and their frescoes are testimony to the Byzantine art influence in Bulgaria. The creation and decoration of these rock-hewn churches is largely attributable to the donations of the Bulgarian Tzars in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak
Discovered in 1944, this tomb dates from the Hellenistic period, around the end of the 4th century BC. It is located near Seutopolis, the capital city of the Thracian king Seutes III, and is part of a large Thracian necropolis. The tholos has a narrow corridor and a round burial chamber, both decorated with murals representing Thracian burial rituals and culture. These paintings are Bulgaria’s best-preserved artistic masterpieces from the Hellenistic period.
The Thracian tomb of Kazanlak is a unique aesthetic and artistic work, a masterpiece of the Thracian creative spirit. This monument is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world. The exceptionally well preserved frescos and the original condition of the structure reveal the remarkable evolution and high level of culture and pictorial art in Hellenistic Thrace.
The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak is the masterpiece of the Thracian creative spirit.
The Kazanlak frescoes testify to high level of culture and pictorial art in Thracia.
The Kazanlak frescoes represent a significant stage in the development of Hellenistic funerary art.
In 1942 a tomb dated to the 3rd century BC was discovered near Kazanlak in the romantic Valley of Roses, near the ancient city of Teutopolis. The Kazanlak Tomb is a peak in the development of Hellenistic art; it is a significant contribution to the art of the entire Hellenistic world.
The numerous burial mounds in the Kazanlak area (more than 500), together with the remains of Thracian settlements, including Seuthopolis, the only Thracian city that has been completely excavated, preserved and researched, show that the area was inhabited by a large Thracian population, which reached the height of its cultural development during the 5th to 3rd centuries BC.
Seuthopolis was founded by the Thracian King Seuth III at the end of the 4th century BC. The city was fortified, with a layout based on the principles of the Greek polis. Monumental works of Thracian architecture have been found in Seuthopolis, such as the palace-temple, with interiors decorated with murals, and the temples of Dionysius and the Great Thracian Gods. Seven brick tombs were discovered in the necropolis, four of which are of the beehive type. The use of brickwork in the making of tombs is typical for the area of Seuthopolis: nowhere else in Thrace were bricks used so widely in building.
The tomb stands on top of a rocky hill, and has been constructed without deep foundations. It comprises the three chambers required by the Thracian cult of the dead: an antechamber for the chariot, horses, or slaves which accompanied the dead man in the after-life; a corridor (dromos), which was a small room for the things needed in the after-life; and a burial chamber for the body itself. The three components have different shapes and dimensions.
The murals are the chief asset of the Kazanlak Tomb, because they are the only entirely preserved work of Hellenistic art that has been found in exactly the state in which it was originally designed and executed. They start from the antechamber. The walls are of a light ochre colour, against which large stones are outlined with dark-blue lines, in imitation of squared stonework, thus creating a solemn atmosphere before entering the corridor and burial chamber. Only a small part of this decoration is preserved, high on the east wall of the antechamber. The entrance to the corridor has a painted dark-ochre frame.
The painting in the corridor and the burial chamber in fact represent a monumental facade. It begins with a high podium, above it follows the neutral load-bearing wall, and then the composition ends in architectural details with pictures between them.
The artworks in the Tomb reach their peak in the burial chamber. The floor is coloured in Pompeian red. The podium stands on the circle of the plinth and is covered on the top with a wide black band. The plinth imitates pink marble with light blue veins. The podium consists of eight squares divided with grooves imitating marble facing. The load-bearing wall coloured in Pompeian red follows above the black band. The composition in the burial chamber is designed with great skill and knowledge of the architectural elements of the Ionic entablature. The painter, however, has intentionally infringed the Ionic proportions with the large figure frieze. He thus achieved an exceptional impact by enclosing the entire composition in a colourful frame of architectural motifs.
The murals were executed on the basis of a preliminary design drawn upon the final fine layer of plaster. Even today faint lines incised on the wet plaster can be distinguished, marking out the plinths and the contours of the vault. The pattern of the Kazanlak Tomb murals shows that they were not painted spontaneously: the paintings are a result of carefully premeditated artistic composition executed in accordance with a precise project. The architecture and the pattern of the composition were prepared together as an integrated work of art. It is clear that both were the work of one person - an artist-architect.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari
Discovered in 1982 near the village of Sveshtari, this 3rd-century BC Thracian tomb reflects the fundamental structural principles of Thracian cult buildings. The tomb has a unique architectural decor, with polychrome half-human, half-plant caryatids and painted murals. The 10 female figures carved in high relief on the walls of the central chamber and the decoration of the lunette in its vault are the only examples of this type found so far in the Thracian lands. It is a remarkable reminder of the culture of the Getes, a Thracian people who were in contact with the Hellenistic and Hyperborean worlds, according to ancient geographers.The Thracian Tomb near Sveshtari is an extremely rare and very well preserved monument of the sepulchral architecture containing remarkable elements in terms of their quality and style sculpture and painting. The Tomb is also remarkable for the fact that it represents local art, inspired by Hellenism, a rare case of an interrupted creative process which possesses specific characteristics.
The Thracian Tomb near Sveshtari is a unique artistic achievement with its half human, half vegetable caryatids enclosed in a chiton in the shape of an upside down palmette. The fact the original polychromy has been preserved with its ochre, brown, blue, red and lilac shades adds to the bewitching charm of an expressive composition where the anthropomorphic supports conjure up the image of a choir of mourners frozen in the abstract positions of a ritual dance.
The tomb is exceptional testimony to the culture of the Getes, Thracian peoples living in the north of Hemus (contemporary Stara Planina), in contact with the Greek and Hyperborean worlds according to the ancient geographers. The Tomb is also remarkable for the fact that it represents local art inspired by Hellenism, a rare case of an interrupted creative process, which possesses specific characteristics. This monument is unique in its architectural décor and in the specific character of the funeral rites revealed by the excavation.
Thracian tomb of Sveshtari was one of the most spectacular archaeological events of the 20th century. The tomb itself is a unique artistic achievement with its half-human, half-vegetable caryatids enclosed in chitons in the shape of inverted palmettes. The fact the original polychromy has been preserved with its ochre, brown, blue, red and lilac shades adds to the bewitching charm of an expressive composition where the anthropomorphic supports conjure up the image of a choir of mourners frozen in the abstract positions of a ritual dance. The tomb is an exceptional testimony to the culture of the Getae, a Thracian people living in the north of Hemus, in contact with the Greek and Hyperborean worlds according to ancient geographers.
The tomb is located in a region declared an archaeological reserve, near the town of Razgra between the villages of Malak Porovetz and Sveshtari in Isperih municipality, in the river Krapinetz canyon and on the hills around. The time when the Sveshtari tomb was built (mid-3rd century BC) coincided with the period of a great political, economic and cultural upsurge of the Thracian tribe of the Getae. The rich decoration and perfect architecture of the tomb demonstrate the political power of the ruler.
Under a tumulus 11.5 m high and roughly 70 m in diameter, geophysical prospecting revealed, to the south-east, the monumental entrance to a hypogeum of exceptional interest, including a dromos, an antechamber, and two rectangular funeral chambers. The layout of this Thracian king's tomb, which is very different from that of Thracian tombs with cupolas such as that of Kazanlak, fits a Hellenistic model to be found in Macedonia, Asia Minor and Egypt. The tomb of Sveshtari is, however, unique in its architectural decor and in the specific character of funeral rites revealed by the excavation.
The tomb consists of a corridor (dromos) and three square chambers: antechamber, lateral chamber, and main burial chamber covered by a semi-cylindrical vault. The plan of the building provides a new interesting example in Thracian building practice. The decoration of the tomb is executed in the spirit of the contemporary Hellenistic architecture. Its entrance is flanked by two rectangular columns (antae). Above them there is an architrave plate with a frieze in relief, consisting of stylized bovine heads (bucrania), rosettes and garlands. Ten beautiful female figures with hands raised high like caryatids are impressive. The figures are about 1.20 m tall, presented frontally, wearing long sleeveless dresses (chitons) tied with a thin belt below the breasts.
Two funerary beds, human bones and grave offerings were discovered in the central chamber. From the scattered stone details it was possible to reconstruct the facade of the tomb (aedicula), consisting of pilasters, cornice and a pediment, and closed with three stone doors. Being situated in front of the large funerary bed as a symbol of the boundary between life and death, the aedicula isolated the grave of the deified ruler (the most sacral part of the tomb) from the rest of the place. In the centre of the composition the goddess is offering a gold wreath to the ruler, depicted as a horseman facing her. On both sides of them there are processions of servants and armour-bearers carrying different gifts in their hands.
The layout of the central chamber which contained two stone funeral beds and an aedicula imitates the arrangement of a peristyle house: five half-columns and ten sculpted feminine caryatids in high relief on limestone flagstones support the architrave barrel-vaulted Doric frieze with its triglyphs and metopes spanning the room at mid-height.
In the north-west lunette, on the wall opposite the entrance, there is a painting depicting the deceased as hero, who, in the presence of several protagonists, is advancing on horseback towards the central figure of a deity extending a laurel wreath. Skeletal material found during excavation bears witness to the horse sacrifices that accompanied the funerary rites.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Varna necropolis
The world-famous Eneolithic Necropolis is not included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, but it is the most important monument excavated from The Middle Eneolithic Age (4500–4000 BC). It has been accidentally found during construction works in western industrial zone – Varna in 1972 and soon turned into sensational scientific discovery with break-through importance well over the borders of prehistory of contemporary Bulgarian territory. The studies completed until now (excavations are still not completed – about 30% of estimated necropolis area are still not excavated) have discovered 294 tombs. In 57 tombs there is no human skeleton and only three contain the largest part of gold objects and the best other findings. Varna necropolis preserved the oldest processed gold ever


UNESCO INTANGIBLE HERITAGE

Nestinarstvo – Fire Dancing

The Nestinarstvo fire-dancing rite is the climax of the annual Panagyr ritual on the feast days of Saints Constantine and Helena (3 and 4 June) in the village of Bulgari, in the Mount Strandzha region of south-east Bulgaria. The ritual is held to ensure the well-being and fertility of the village. In the morning, consecrated and ceremonial rituals are solemnized and a procession with the sacred icons representing the two Saints travels outside the village to a spring with holy water, accompanied by drum and bagpipes. At the spring, holy water and candles are handed out to everyone present for good health. The festival culminates in a fire-dance in the evening as the highest form of veneration of the Saints. People silently form a circle around the burning embers led by the sacred drum, and the Nestinari, who are spiritual and physical leaders through whom the saints express their will, begin entering the circle and treading the embers. Formerly celebrated in some thirty nearby Bulgarian and Greek villages, Nestinarstvo remains today in Bulgari, a village of only a hundred persons. During the Panagyr, however, thousands crowd the village.

Bistritsa Babi, archaic polyphony, dances and rituals from the Shoplouk region

The traditional dances and polyphonic singing found in the Shoplouk region of Bulgaria are still performed by a group of elderly women, the Bistritsa Babi. This tradition includes diaphony, or what is known as shoppe polyphony, ancient forms of the horo chain dance and the ritual practice of lazarouvane, an initiation ceremony for young women.
Diaphony is a specific type of polyphonic singing in which one or two voices build the melody consisting of izvikva meaning “to shout out” and bouchi krivo meaning “crooked rumbled roars”, while other singers hold a monotone drone that is doubled or trebled to produce a more sonorous sound that accompanies the lead singers.The dancers, dressed in traditional costumes, hold each other by the waist or belt and dance in a circle, stepping lightly and moving counter-clockwise. A number of variations are performed within this structure, depending on the song and ancient ritual purposes.
Although the social function of the polyphonic singing has changed over the twentieth century, as it is now primarily performed on stage, the Bistritsa Babi are regarded as an important component of the region’s cultural life, promoting traditional expressions among the younger generations. The women are among the few remaining representatives of traditional polyphony and the village of Bistritsa is one of the last areas in Bulgaria in which this cultural expression has been maintained over the centuries.

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