There are nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bulgaria, seven of which are cultural and two are natural landmarks. The Bulgarians are very proud of their contribution to the world's heritage and there are now many tour operators with organised tours to these ancient sites. Those travellers who would like to get a deep understanding of this wonderful country with its extraordinary contrasts might like to take a tour around the UNESCO sites. Mix in plenty of time for personal explorations to get a good insight into Bulgarian history, culture and life - and you'll have a holiday to be treasured.
Ancient City of Nessebur
Situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, the more than 3,000-year-old site of Nessebur 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pirin National Park
Extending over an area of 27,400 ha and lying at an altitude of 1,008–2,914 m in the Pirin mountains, in south west Bulgaria, Pirin National Park has a limestone Balkan landscape, with lakes, waterfalls, caves and pine forests. The rugged mountains, with some 70 glacial lakes scattered throughout them, are home to hundreds of endemic and rare species, many of which are representative of the Balkan Pleistocene flora. The mountains also have diverse and unique landscapes of great aesthetic value.
Srebarna Nature Reserve
The Srebarna Nature Reserve is a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha.
It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered.
Some 80 other bird species migrate and seek refuge there every winter.
Among the most interesting bird species are the Dalmatian pelican, great egret, night heron, purple heron, glossy ibis and white spoonbill.