Bulgarian architecture

PROARCH ARCHITECTURE STUDIO: PERFECTION SINCE 1994

Everyone falls in love with Plovdiv, because of its cosiness, positive vibes and amalgamation of ancient and new: the ancient theatre and stadium, the beautiful Revival Period mansions and churches, the charming shops and bars in Kapana area plus the modern urbanscape of new buildings and compounds.

Living in Plovdiv is a pleasure, as it is more relaxed and full of positive emotions than in any other big Bulgarian city. If you consider moving there, you will not be alone – for over a decade, Plovdiv has attracted many new residents from Bulgaria and abroad.

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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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BULGARIA'S TOP 10 FORTS

Castle-wise, Bulgaria is nothing to compare with Scotland – and many other European countries. There is little reminiscent of Transylvania's menacing fortifications, Bavaria's fairy tale confections, or the Loire Valley's romantic châteaux. Fortresses were built in Bulgaria from Antiquity to the 19th century and, although many were lost in war-time destruction and postwar turbulence, the country still has several sites that combine stunning scenery with relatively well-preserved fortifications.

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PREFAB SOCIETY

With the mountains for a backdrop and amid large green spaces, uniform apartment blocks line up like Legos. Along the dual carriageway, 7km from the centre of Sofia, the underground comes above ground: Mladost Station.

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BIRD'S EYE VIEW OF NESEBAR

Looking for some peace and quiet on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast in summer is a natural aspiration, even in a year of pandemic and reduced international tourism like 2021. But there are places by the sea where peace and quiet in summer are not to be found. Even in a "slow" tourist summer, they are abuzz with local and foreign visitors; lively and vibrant, sometimes vulgar and often irritating.

Nesebar is one of those places.

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THE SECRETS OF REVIVAL PERIOD PLOVDIV

The braw houses lining the cobblestone streets of Old Plovdiv are arguably the city's most recognisable sight. The only thing that can distract from marvelling at their painted façades, projecting bay windows and verdant gardens is the pavement. Polished by the feet of generations of passers-by, it is slippery even when dry, as the traveller and historian Konstantin Jireček noted as far back as the late 19th century.

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(RE)DISCOVERING MELNIK

What is Bulgaria's smallest town? Bulgarian children learn the answer early in school. However, the reason both local and foreign tourists visit Melnik, population 194, is not its size. They cherish Melnik, in southwest Bulgaria, for its well-preserved Revival Period architecture, strong local wine and surreal surroundings of white limestone pyramids. Its location is just off the E79 route from Sofia to Greece, a short drive from Bansko.

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THE DANUBE

Hiding in plain sight is one of the best ways to avoid attention. There is a region in Bulgaria that has achieved that, although not quite intentionally. The Danube region is a treasure trove for visitors, yet few travellers venture along the 470-kilometre stretch from Vidin to Silistra that defines the greater part of Bulgaria's border with Romania. This is in sharp contrast to the popularity of the Danube as a tourist destination in Central Europe.

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SOFIA'S PARTY HOUSE

"Where is the parliament?" A couple of months ago anyone asking this question in Sofia would have been pointed to a butter-yellow neoclassical building at one end of the Yellow Brick Road. Imaginatively, it resembles the Paris Opera House and has the Belgian national motto, "Unity Makes Strength," above its main façade, looking onto the statue of a 19th century Russian tsar on horseback. This was the place where Bulgarian MPs used to gather to do whatever they were supposed to do.

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FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 1

Why there are no old forts and fortresses in Bulgaria on the scale of Romania, Greece, Italy or the Western Balkans is a controversial issue. The sort of answers you will be getting will depend on who does the talking. Some will assert the "Turks" destroyed everything when they ruled over these territories in the 14-19th centuries. Others will, more level-headedly, point out that when the Ottomans were in control the Bulgarians lands were no longer a border zone and consequently forts and fortresses were no longer needed for defence purposes.

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VELIKO TARNOVO CHURCHES

In the Middle Ages, Tarnovo was not only a political and administrative capital, but also a major religious centre. In and around it were dozens of churches and monasteries, where priests and monks of all ranks were busy with prayer, philosophy, and writing. The Ottoman invasion of the 14th century brought all this to an end, but some of the churches survived. You will find them clustered around Tsarevets hill, where the main fortress of mediaeval Tarnovo used to be. All of them are now museums.

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ENDANGERED KOPRIVSHTITSA

Is it possible for a place where a rebellion against a powerful empire started to be saved from being raised to the ground by the victorious power? History is full of examples where the answer is a resounding "no." Bulgaria, however, has a town where the opposite happened.

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KOPRIVSHTITSA

The surrounding landscape is all high slopes, lush forests and meadows. Beautiful 200-year-old mansions line cobbled streets. Old stone bridges span the local river. Charming old water fountains, their worn inscriptions still legible, are here, there and everywhere. Koprivshtitsa's history is also captivating, as this was where the April Uprising of 1876 began.

To make things even better, the local food is great.

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RUSSIAN SOFIA

Many of the most prominent sites and monuments in the Bulgarian capital are dedicated to or bear the names of Russians. The most obvious examples are the nation's principal cathedral, St Alexandr Nevskiy, and the horseback statue of Emperor Alexandr II in front of the parliament. The yellow-brick paved boulevard, which is one of the most prominent features of Sofia, is named after the same man, Tsar Osvoboditel, or King Liberator and, on its way to the Largo, it passes by the picturesque Russian Church.

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BALCHIK: PALACE OF MELANCHOLIC QUEEN

The official biographers kept silent about this shocking incident which led to the death of Queen Marie of Romania several months later on 18 July 1938. Before she died, the fairhaired, blue-eyed darling of Europe's high society expressed the wish to be buried in her favourite palace at Balchik in Bulgaria.

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OLD PLOVDIV FOREVER

You cannot say that you have any idea of what Bulgaria really is if you have not climbed the cobbled streets of Old Plovdiv, taken in its multi-coloured Revival Period mansions and the faces of saints on the walls of local churches, if you have not savoured the aroma of ageing wood emanating from the houses and of flowers from their lush gardens.

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WHAT IS SAMOKOV?

Lined with advertisements for winter sports and down-at-heel sellers of local potatoes, the road to Samokov, about 70 km from Sofia, does not promise much excitement in the town itself, but Samokov is a surprise. The town is much more than the producer of famous potatoes, a gateway to the Borovets ski resort or the starting point for a number of treks in the Rila mountains.

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MUZEIKO - BUILDING OF THE YEAR

A few months after its opening, Sofia's Muzeiko, the first museum for children in Eastern Europe, is not only full with visitors eager to learn more about nature, history and space. In December, Muzeiko won the Building of the Year 2015 award in the Educational Infrastructure category. The museum was also a nominee in two more categories, Building Incorporating Green Elements and Concrete in Architecture.

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PONDERING OVER MEANING OF LIFE AT TROYAN MONASTERY

It is not an opinion, but a fact: the Stara Planina around Troyan is one of the most beautiful parts of the mountain range. Covered with thick forest, the slopes tower above you. Cold rivers flow past quiet villages and hamlets, and the hair-raising road to the Beklemeto Pass winds up, and up, and up, until you reach a bald summit at the height of 1,595m, adorned with a menacing monument called the Arch of Freedom.

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