Turkey

BULGARIA'S MANY CAPITALS

Over the centuries after Bulgarians settled in the Balkans, they moved capital more than once – sometimes for political reasons, sometimes for strategy, sometimes out of despair. Some of these places became the beating heart of a state commanding vast territories. Others were the seats of ambitious lords trying to carve their own place out of a contested political map. Here is a list of the most important and interesting official and alternative Bulgarian capitals, in chronological order. They cover, in broad strokes, some 13 centuries of Bulgarian history.

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TURKEY'S WORST KEPT SECRET

A cloud of dust appears on the edge of the horizon, where the flat plains give way to snow-covered peaks. As the cloud comes nearer, low thunder rumbles through the air. The noise increases, the dust rises. Amid the haze appear the heads, the bodies, the flying manes of horses, hundreds of them, black, chestnut, grey, white. They pass by, a mass of animals and dust, of galloping feet and changing colours. Then they disappear, the cloud of dust dissipating on the horizon, a dying rumble of hooves.

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ROUND BLACK SEA IN 3 VAGABONDS PART 2: THE NATURE

What do you need to make a sea? In the case of the Black Sea, you take three tectonic plates between Europe and Asia that clash, divide and subside under the pressure of volcanic activity for several million years, and let rivers and rains fill the gaps. You then add a narrow strait to connect the water basin to the Mediterranean. The end result is a sea with low salinity whose shores and currents still reflect its geological past: on maps and in aerial photographs the two ancient basins that made the current Black Sea are still clearly discernible, divided by a pointy end: the Crimea.

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ROUND BLACK SEA IN 3 VAGABONDS. PART 1: THE HISTORY

It encompasses six countries, with wide rivers, majestic mountains and splendid beaches, and the remains of ancient civilisations and modern developments. Peopled with adherents of the three Abrahamic religions, and redolent of times of splendour, confrontation and tragedy, the shores of the Black Sea combine different nations, geographic and climatic features, and history. In a series of three articles, we will cover the most exiting sites in a region that is still underexplored by Western travellers. We begin with the history of the Black Sea.

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LOST CITY OF ANI

Burdened with the robotic directions of Satnav devices, we have lost the ability to feel like explorers. Yet, there are places that, though identifiable on Satnav, still convey the feeling that they are at the edge of the known world.
Ani on the Turkish-Armenian frontier is one such place.

Scattered on the steep bank of the border-defining Arpa Chai river, Ani is what remains of the once populous capital of Armenia. Domed churches of dark grey and red stones sprout from heaps of debris among a barren landscape: otherworldly, surreal, dreamlike.

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IRON CHURCH ON ISTANBUL'S GOLDEN HORN

With its mixture of Byzantine, Ottoman and fin-de-siècle heritage, Istanbul is never short of sights to visit, explore and marvel at. Among its lesser known treasures, one stands out. It is both a curiosity and a place with an intriguing history, strongly connected to Bulgaria.

The Church of St Stefan on the banks of the Golden Horn is made entirely of iron. It belongs to the city's Bulgarian community and played a crucial part in 19th century Bulgarian history.

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AMAZING ISTANBUL

Home to at least 18 million people, Istanbul spreads over two continents, and has a past so rich that it would take you a lifetime to get to know it properly. And yet, it is so vibrant and full of sensations and experiences that it feels more like sheer pleasure than a history lesson, particularly in winter.

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FAIRY-TALE CAPPADOCIA

The places everyone should visit before they die fall into three categories: stunning natural landscapes (like the Grand Canyon), sites of astonishing human creativity (e. g. the Giza Pyramids), and Cappadocia.

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PEOPLE OF ISTANBUL

Reasons to visit Istanbul in the autumn are many, and range from the milder and sunnier climate of the Bosporus to the hope of encountering fewer tourists at the city's famous historical sites, while the nostalgic aroma of roasted chestnuts wafts around the corners of old neighbourhoods such as Galata and Beyoğlu.

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GALLIPOLI: MEMORIES OF A BATTLE

When wondering where to spent their summer vacation, few people consider Gallipoli. The peninsula that mirrors the European side of the Dardanelles Straits is rugged and lacks the resorts and ancient ruins, the green slopes and turquoise waters which the eastern Mediterranean is famous for.

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EPHESUS

The best way to enjoy in (relative) solitude Ephesus, one of the cultural, archaeological and tourism gems of Turkey, is to come in autumn. In the summer, the crowds can get a little overwhelming. They pour in from opening to closing times, busload after busload after busload of organised tours. They queue to be photographed sitting on the ancient Roman public lavatory.

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IZMIR

When planning a holiday on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey, Izmir is rarely the first choice. Or the second. Or the third. In fact, it is not even on the Wikitravel suggestion list for Mediterranean Turkey. The idea of postponing even for a day the bliss of swimming in the crystal waters of Fethiye, to name just one major resort not too far away, for the dubious pleasure of being stuck in the congested traffic of Turkey's third biggest city is indeed far from tempting. What is more, if you discount the villas in the Karşıyaka neighbourhood, there is hardly any old architecture in Izmir.

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AT THE CONTINENT'S END

Cosmopolitan Istanbul has straddled the Bosporus in a way that has rendered the city and the strait synonymous. But alongside the passage of water between the Black and the Marmara seas an explorer can find some utterly un-Istanbul-like highlights, which differ immensely from a standard sightseeing tour of the strait.

One of them is Rumeli Feneri.

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HÜZÜN ISTANBUL

It is "a state of mind that is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating." For the Sufis, hüzün is the spiritual anguish of not being close enough to God. For St John of the Cross, this anguish causes the sufferer to plummet so far down that his soul will, as a result, soar to its divine desire. Hüzün is not a singular preoccupation but a communal emotion, not the sadness of an individual but the dark mood shared by millions.

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KARS

The restaurant owner assigns some task to his helper, who disappears into the cold rainy night of Kars. Soon the boy is back in the warm, low-ceilinged room. A chinking sound is heard from within the opaque nylon bag he's holding and the two sneak into the kitchen. After a minute or two, the owner reappears, and with a genial gesture puts on the table the beers the boy has bought from the nearby grocery. They are wrapped in napkins.

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MAKE OR BREAK

It is always embarrassing to see a grown man cry. But at the oil-wrestling tournament in Kırkpınar, a suburb of Edirne – just a few miles from the Bulgarian border, you will have to endure it. You will see hundreds of men of all shapes and sizes, from hefty fellows to beardless boys and sturdy youths alike, weeping on the oilsoaked grass of the stadium.

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ANZAC DAY

On 30 April 1915, when Australia learned that five days earlier the country's first overseas army corps had landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Ottoman Empire, a wave of joy swept through the streets. The day was declared a public holiday.

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ESCAPE TO ISTANBUL

Numerically, Istanbul has had many faces: it is now the world's third-largest city by population, for the Byzantines it was the Second Rome, while for generations of settlers – from the Arabs to the Crusaders to the Ottomans – it was the Number One city they sought to conquer. So why not cheat on your favourite Bulgarian winter getaway and sneak over to Istanbul? Just think about it: from Sofia, only five hours by car or one by plane separate you from the most cosmopolitan and lively spot in the world.

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