America for Bulgaria Foundation

THE TREE AND OTHER STORIES

Unlike the other visual languages, photography retains the "effect of reality." The photographic image verifies that what has been photographed is "really like that." At the same time, it arises "technically," through the effect of light on light-sensitive material. What, then, is the role of the photographer, where is the creativity in the creation of the photographic image, and to what extent is photography’s claim of being an art justified?

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BULGARIA'S BROADWAY?

When the Covid-19 lockdowns put the world into a standstill, in the spring of 2020, photographs and videos of famed and usually busy sites, such as the Eiffel Tower, Times Square and Taj Mahal, without their usual crowds became a powerful symbol of the crisis. The equivalent in Sofia was... Rakovski Street.

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BULGARIA'S TRADITIONS

When Bulgarians worry about the influence of globalisation on their culture, the preservation of their traditions is one of their main concerns. While it is true that some of the rites that are a part of life in Bulgaria have been affected by globalisation and mass culture, this is hardly the first time when they have been threatened with extinction. 

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BULGARIA'S FORGOTTEN RACE INTO SPACE

The mission of NASA's Space Launch System that aims to bring back humans to the Moon in 2024 is just the latest piece of space exploration news. The USA, China and Elon Musk are trying to figure out how to colonise Mars, Korea has developed its own rocket, and besides producing stunning photos of distant galaxies the brand new James Webb Space Telescope is searching for inhabitable exoplanets.

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CRACKING MEDIEVAL SMILE

A pair of dark, tender eyes glow in a delicate face crowned with a costly headdress decorated with pearls. The lady's lips are slightly curved, as if she is smiling at a private joke, or perhaps a secret she holds? The woman herself is an enigma. We know that the elegant lady painted on the walls of the Boyana Church was called Desislava and that she was the wife of Kaloyan, the handsome lord of 13th century Sofia painted next to her. But why is Desislava smiling?

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OF MUMMERS AND MEN

Winter has been a critical period for traditional societies in Europe since times immemorial. People, of course, were aware that the turn of the seasons would eventually bring back spring, sun and food. They knew that the slow, imperceptible change would start when the days are short and cold, and the nights are long and bleak. Despite this, they would crave some reassurance that spring would indeed return, the snow would melt and the plants would thrive again.

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BEST DRIVES IN BULGARIA IN 2023

Anyone who has done any driving on Bulgaria's roads will be familiar with the pitfalls (pun unintended). These include, but are not limited to, bad or non-existent asphalt, unpredictable and uncared-for potholes, confusing signage, maniacal drivers and traffic cops that contribute to the problems rather than try to solve them.

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WHY IS NESEBAR A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE?

If you visit Nesebar in high season, it will be easy to doubt the wisdom of UNESCO's 1983 decision to inscribe this town on the Black Sea coast into its World Heritage list. The crowds of holidaymakers on day trips from the overdeveloped resorts around, the stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs, the chalga music booming from overpriced, "traditional" restaurants are so overwhelming you cannot enjoy – or even notice – the beautiful medieval churches and the old wooden houses that are the reason all of these people and businesses are here.

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SILENCE OF THE CARYATIDS

No matter how diverse and interesting Thracian heritage is, time, destruction and rebuilding in war and peace, continual habitation and treasure-hunting have wiped out a lot of it – reducing it to a tomb here, a treasure there, and a shrine in what today appears to be the middle of nowhere. 

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WINTER TALES IN TRYAVNA

Wood-beamed houses, cobbled streets, mystic religious art and even some snow... you do not need to travel to France or Germany to immerse in the atmosphere of Christmas in a cosy town that has changed little over the centuries. 

Instead, visit Tryavna, on the northern slopes of the Stara Planina mountain range. 

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ST NICHOLAS DAY, SOZOPOL STYLE

In Western Europe, the 6th of December, or St Nicholas Day, is a time where the first whiff of Christmas gets felt. After all, the saint with his white beard and penchant for bringing gifts to good children is the draft of the modern Santa Claus. 

In Bulgaria, St Nicholas Day is equally important although in a different manner. Seen as the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, merchants and bankers, the saint is celebrated by many people who carry the different iterations of the name Nicholas and their families. A particular food is also associated with this day. 

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FIRST KINGS OF EUROPE

Who were the first kings of Europe? Homer heroes such as Agamemnon are the first to pop up in the minds of educated Westerners, but hierarchical societies on the continent predate the ancient Greeks. Millennia before them, people in southeastern Europe went on the long and often tortuous transition from simple farming communities to complex political organisations.

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SURPRISE, SURPRISE IN... PERNIK

When you plan a trip in Bulgaria, Pernik is rarely on the list (except for one event, more on this below). An industrial behemoth of the Communist era that fell on hard times after the collapse of the planned economy post-1989, the city is known for its uninspiring urbanscape of factories in different states of dereliction. Its residents now often commute to nearby Sofia – less than 20 miles away, and have the dubious reputation of spending weekend nights in local clubs where fights are de rigueur.

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ALL AROUND KARDZHALI

When you have a long weekend ahead and the weather looks good for a trip, heading to Kardzhali is a great option. The Rhodope mountains are beautiful – pleasant and refreshing in all seasons – and this city is the perfect base to explore some interesting sites.

Kardzhali itself is hardly an attraction. It is a relatively new city dominated by faceless Communist and post-Communist architecture. Besides its Regional History Museum, located in a beautiful building initially constructed in the 1920s for a Muslim religious school, there is nothing more to see.

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(RE)BUILDING BULGARIA'S PAST

When Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, the expectation was that membership would bring the struggling former Communist country closer to the more developed economies in Europe. Amazingly, one of the first things Bulgarians started spending EU money on was not on much needed infrastructure such as new roads, industries and businesses, or on modernising the education and healthcare systems. Instead, Bulgarian municipalities across the nation rushed to use EU funding to build... ruins.

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FAIRYTALE CHURCH

When travelling near Kazanlak in the Valley of Roses (also known as the Valley of Thracian Kings), your attention will be drawn to three monuments on the slopes of the Stara Planina mountain range. The first is the silhouette of the crumbling concrete "flying saucer" of the Communist Party Buzludzha House. The second is the bulwark-ish monument to the 1877-1878 defenders of the Shipka Pass. The third is the golden domes of a Russian-style church that gleam amid the forest above the town of Shipka.

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WHAT HAPPENED AT PETROVA NIVA?

Men dressed in early 20th century military uniforms, patriotic songs and speeches, lots of banners and grilled meat stalls: if you crave attending a mass event after the end of the Covid-19 travel restrictions, consider visiting Petrova Niva in the third weekend of August.

Marked with a sombre stone monument at a picturesque bend of the Veleka river, Petrova Niva is connected to a heroic and traumatic event in Bulgarian history, the St Elijah-Transfiguration Uprising.

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