Culture of Bulgaria
A country often described to lie at the crossroads linking the East and West, Bulgaria was the centre of Slavic Europe during much of the Middle Ages, exerting considerable literary and cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world by means of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools. Bulgaria is also the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet, the second most widely used alphabet in the world, which was developed in these two schools in the tenth century. Bulgaria is well-known for its rich folklore, distinctive traditional music, rituals and tales, but the country's contribution to humanity also continued in the nineteenth and twentieth century, when individuals such as John Atanasoff - born in USA with Bulgarian origin, regarded as the father of the digital computer, a number of noted opera singers (Nicolai Ghiaurov, Boris Christoff, Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova), Anna Veleva, and successful artists (Christo Javacheff, Pascin, Vladimir Dimitrov) popularized the culture of Bulgaria abroad.

A number of ancient civilizations, most notably the Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Slavs and Bulgars, have left their mark on the culture, history and heritage of Bulgaria. The country has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of these, two are Thracian tombs (one in Sveshtari and one in Kazanlak), three are monuments of medieval Bulgarian culture (the Boyana Church, the Rila Monastery and the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo), while the Pirin National Park and the Srebarna Nature Reserve represent the country's natural beauty, and the ancient city of Nesebar is a unique combination of European cultural interaction, as well as, historically, one of the most important centres of naval trade in the Black Sea. In addition, the Varna Necropolis, a 3500-3200 BC burial site, contains what are believed to be the oldest examples of worked gold in the world.

The Roman theatre in Plovdiv.
Stoyan Bachvarov Dramatic Theatre, Varna.


Bulgarian folk music is unique in its complex harmonies and highly irregular rhythms. These kinds of rhythms, also called uneven beats or asymmetric measures, were introduced to musicologists only in 1886 when music teacher Anastas Stoyan published Bulgarian folk melodies for the first time. Examples of such beats are 5/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8 and 11/8, or composite ones like (5+7)/8, (15+14)/8 and (9+5)/16 - (9+5)/16. Each area of Bulgaria has a characteristic music and dance style. Bulgarian folk music inspired and was used by musicians like Kate Bush and George Harrison.

Bulgarian vocal style has a unique throat quality, while the singers themselves are renowned for their range. Their voices are low and soprano, and the children love singing, and anything artistic. (Orpheus is said to be from Thrace, a region partly in Bulgaria.) Diatonic scales predominate but in the Rhodope mountains, for example, pentatonic scales occur, while in Thrace chromatic scales with augmented intervals (similar to the music of Classical Greece). Also, the intonation varies, and is quite different from the modern Western equal temperament. Depending on whether the melody moves up or down, an interval can augment or decrease by a quarter tone.

Musical instruments (also characteristic of the whole Balkan region) include gaida (bagpipe), kaval (rim-blown flute), zurna or zurla (another woodwind), tambura (guitar-like), gadulka (violin-like), and tapan (large two-sided drum).

Dances have complex steps matching the rhythm, and are often fast. Most are circle-dances or line dances called horo; but some are done singly or in pairs, like the 7/8 dance Rachenitsa.

Although traditional music and dance are not popular among Bulgarian city youth, they are often performed at weddings, and generally countryside fiests. They are also performed in Bulgaria and abroad by amateur and professional performing artists.

Key figures

Number of museums: 220 (2002)

Number of museum exhibits: 5,766,707 (2002)

Number of museum visits: 3,554,515 (2002)

Number of libraries: 49 (2002)

Number of volumes in libraries: 34,676,995 (2002)

Number of library readers: 319,403 (2002)

Number of people: 7,839,374 (2006)