Bulgaria has a rich and diverse history and there’s a host of top Historic Sites in Bulgaria to visit, among the very best of which are Perperikon, The Eastern Mound and the famous site of Pliska. Other popular sites tend to include the Baba Vida Fortress, Belogradchik Fortress and Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak.
From the early Thracian kingdom through to occupation by the forces of Alexander the Great and then the Roman Empire, Bulgaria encountered some of the most famous ancient empires. Early independence within the First Bulgarian Empire later followed, as did conflict and conquest by the Byzantine Empire before the emergence of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 12th century. This independence proved to be short lived and Ottoman rule followed for centuries before the establishment of the modern Bulgarian state in the late 19th century.
Today, there’s an amazing selection of historic sites in Bulgaria, representing the many cultures which have influenced the region. We’ve put together an experts guide to Bulgarian cultural landmarks and attractions, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Bulgaria, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Bulgaria?
Perperikon was an important Thracian holy sanctuary which became a Roman town around the first century BC and was later the site of a medieval fortress.
Whilst it was the Thracians who built the sanctuary, it was preserved and expanded under the Romans, who developed Perperikon into a larger settlement with an acropolis and even notable palaces. The remains of these structures have been excavated and can still be explored.
Today, visitors can wander through historic Perperikon to see its fascinating ancient ruins including the remains of important public buildings, houses, stairways, altars, tombs and walls.
The Eastern Mound is an archaeological site comprised of the beautifully preserved gravesite and chariot of an elite Thracian warrior. Dating back to the first century AD, the Eastern Mound was only discovered in 2008. Now, visitors to this site can see the remains of this grave site in their original location, along with his horses and a dog.
The Thracian’s chariot is also on display, complete with an intact decoration. It is distinctive for having four intact wheels as well as for the larger than usual size of these wheels.
Pliska is an archaeological site housing the ruins of what was the country’s first capital. Spread over 23 square kilometres and with a complex system of fortifications, Pliska was an impressive early medieval city. It acted as the main city of the First Bulgarian Empire from 681AD until 893AD, when the capital was moved to Preslav by Tsar Simeon I.
Today, visitors can tour Pliska’s remains including some of its defences and a church known as the Big Basilica. There is also a good onsite museum.
The Baba Vida Fortress is hailed as one of the most – if not actually the most – well-preserved medieval castles in Bulgaria. Located in the northwest of the country, the fortress was first built in the 10th century atop the ruins of the Roman watchtower of Bononia, itself built in the 1st century AD on the remains of a Thracian settlement.
Over the course of its existence, the fortress has been built and rebuilt on many occasions, with elements of its past visible throughout. Today, this restored site and museum has a main courtyard surrounded by an inner and outer wall as well as four towers.
Belogradchik Fortress is an impressively well-preserved fortification in north-western Bulgaria. It was the Romans who initially founded the fortress as a stronghold from the 1st to the 3rd centuries, building the highest part of the fortress, known as the Citadel.
Over the centuries, Belogradchik Fortress has been used by a succession of different forces including the Byzantines. Notoriously, in 1850, Belogradchik Fortress played a sinister role in suppressing the Belogradchik uprising, it being the place where activists were decapitated.
Today, Belogradchik Fortress is open to the public and is a popular tourist attraction.
The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak is a late 4th Century BC burial site located in Bulgaria and forms part of the ancient Thracian settlement of Seuthopolis.
The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak is perhaps best known for its incredibly well preserved examples of Thracian artwork, including wall frescoes and murals. Discovered in the mid-20th Century, the tomb site is one element of a larger Thracian necropolis which contains seven brick tombs.
To ensure continued conservation, access to the original tomb is limited, however visitors can explore a recreation of the tomb located nearby. Information about the history of the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak is available on site in both English and Bulgarian. The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak was declared a UNESCO World Heritage historic site in 1979.
Tsarevets Castle in the Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo is a medieval fortress complex and was the centre of the Second Bulgarian Empire, which ruled the region from the 12th to 14th centuries AD.
First constructed on the site of an earlier Byzantine fort, by the late 12th century Tsarevets Castle had become the headquarters of the Bulgarian forces, who overthrew Byzantine rule in the region. For the next two centuries, Tsarevets Castle housed the royal palaces and administration of the new regime.
Today, visitors can tour the castle complex and visit the restored Baldwin’s Tower from where there are great views of the locality. Sound and light shows are also held within Tsarevets Castle at certain times.
The Boyana Church in Sofia is famous for housing some of the most impressive medieval frescoes in Europe.
The church complex was built over three distinct periods. The initial construction was built during the late 10th century as a private chapel which stood within the Boyana fortress. Later, during the 12th century Second Bulgarian Empire period, the Boyana Church complex was expanded and the famous frescoes were added in 1259. Finally, in the mid-19th century, further work was undertaken, leaving us with the Boyana Church as it is known today.
The 13th century frescoes themselves are considered to be an historical treasure and an excellent example of the artwork of the period.
Today, the Boyana Church is a UNESCO world heritage historical site and is open to the public. However, in order to protect the paintings, access is limited and by guided tour only. However, the nearby Boyana Church Museum contains further information on the history of the complex and visitors can buy a combined ticket to both sites.
The Boyana Church also features as one of our top visitor attractions in Bulgaria.
The Chiprovtsi Monastery is a small monastic centre which lies about 5km from the town of Chiprovtsi, dedicated to St. John of Rila (also known as St Ivan).
The first building to be constructed on the site was probably built in the tenth century during the First Bulgarian Empire, when the area became increasingly Christianised. The Chiprovtsi Monastery has since served as a centre of learning and religious study and is still a functioning monastery today.
The history of the Chiprovtsi Monastery has often been turbulent. The monastery has been destroyed several times, with the worst destruction occurring after the failed Chiprovtsi Uprising. The current site was built in 1829.
Today, it is possible to visit the Chiprovtsi Monastery, though keep in mind that, as this is a working monastery, visiting times and access may be limited.
Rozhen Monastery is a medieval monastery with breathtaking views of Bulgaria’s Pirin region, said to be the largest in the area. Whilst much of Rozhen Monastery dates to the 18th century, there is evidence that it existed as early as the 890 AD.
Perched on a mountain, Rozhen Monastery seems to have been constructed to melt into its surroundings. The monastery has developed over the centuries and, in the 14th century, Rozhen Monastery said to have been renowned for its school of calligraphy. Yet, one of the most famous aspects of Rozhen Monastery is its church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, also built in the Middle Ages.
In the 17th century, much of Rozhen Monastery was devastated by a fire and it underwent renovation in the later 17th and 18th centuries. Today, visitors to Rozhen Monastery can see the results of these renovations including its beautiful wood carvings and murals, some of which have survived from the 15th century. Also impressive is its stained glass, amongst the oldest in the country.
Nearby is the burial site of Bulgarian revolutionary leader Yane Sandanski, who died not far from Rozhen Monastery on 22 April 1915.
This site also features as one of our top ten tourist attractions in Bulgaria.