Around Bulgaria, Ancient Thrace

Sofia, Bulgaria
July, 2013

I had heard so much from other bikers about Bulgaria – spectacular scenery, light traffic, good roads, lots of history, friendly folks – I thought I’d spend the last month of the trip starting in Sofia (the capital) in the far western part of the country, and do a loop around the country.  The route took me through the heavily wooded Rhodope Mountains in the south, along the beach resorts of the Black Sea coast almost to the Romanian border, then west along the foothills of the Balkan Mountains in the north.

SOFIA  -  The big attraction in Sofia is the St. Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church, completed about 1900 in gratitude to the Russian people (Alexander Nevsky was a 13th-century Russian prince regarded by the Russian people as their greatest national hero.)  Because Russia helped Bulgaria in the 1870′s throw out the Ottoman Turk occupiers of Bulgaria, the Bulgarians even today have an abiding fondness for the Russians.  The city itself is quite pleasant and liveable with an interesting assortment of architectural styles  and monumental buildings reflecting the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman occupations.

Here’s the link to a few more photos from around Sofia

PLOVDIV  -  Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second-largest city, after Sofia.  There is evidence of permanent settlements here dating back to the 7th millenium BC.  It was part of the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th century and really flourished under the Ottomans in the 14th century.  During the Bulgarian National Revival that tookj place during the mid-19th century, Plovdiv was at the center.  Bulgarians developed an impressive architectural style of their own as you can see from the pictures of some of the residences still in use today.

Here are some more photos from Plovdiv and the surrounding countryside.


BACHKOVO MONASTERY and the FORTRESS OF ASEN -  Twenty miles south of Plovdiv, in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains, is the Bachkovo Monastery, one of the oldest Bulgarian Orthodox monasteries in Europe.  It was founded in the 11th century by a commander in the Byzantine army.  Nearby is the Fortress of Asen which dates back to the Thracian period.  The fortress was overrun during the Third Crusade, the one led by Richard the Lionheart.

Here are some photos of this interesting monastery and the ruins of the fortress, including the Church of the Holy Mother of Petrich, the only surviving building  of the original 12th-century fortress.


VARNA and the BLACK SEA COAST  -  The road from historic Nesebar on the south Black Sea coast up to Varna in the north is made for motorcycling.  Lightly traveled, it switches from fabulous views of the endless beaches and ocean to occasional jaunts up into the wooded hills and prosperous farms of eastern Bulgaria.

Varna itself is one of the most pleasant and interesting cities I’ve visited on this trip and I went out of my way to tell the Director of the Archeological Museum that I thought it was the finest one I’d seen in the Balkans.  It would be worth the trip just to spend time going through it, as I did twice in successive days.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the Black Sea coast.


NESEBAR  -  Set on a rocky peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea, Nesebar was first settled by Thracians in the first millennium B.C. but reached its commercial peak in the 13th and 14th centuries.  The Old Town is packed with Byzantine churches, many still standing.

Here are a few of the notable Greek, Russian and Bulgarian Orthodox churches, a couple of which go back to the early days of the Byzantine Empire (c. 7th century A.D).


VELIKO TURNOVO  -  The big deal about Veliko Turnovo, the powerful capital during the Bulgarian Second Kingdom (1185-1393 A.D.) is the immense and majestic Tsarevets Fortress, built in the 12th century.  When the Kingdom finally fell to the Ottomans in 1393, Tsarevets was reduced to rubble.  Only a few of the buildings have been restored but much of the fortress wall is original.

Here are a few more photos of Tsarevets Fortress.