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The first Bulgarian state was established in 681. Trials and tribulations have marred the state’s 14 century existence which seems to have been almost entirely dedicated to long struggles for national freedom and independence. In its more recent history, Bulgaria has suffered longest (500 years) from the occupation of the Ottoman [Turkish] Empire. However, it is characteristic of this period of domination that the Bulgarians preserved almost intact their language, folklore, and cultural heritage and that if anything, the foreign domination has contributed to their awareness of other cultures and their tolerance of the very concept of ‘otherness’. In most recent times, 50 years of Soviet domination in political life have left the country with the difficult task of restoring democratic principles in all walks of public life.
The roots of Bulgarian culture spread much deeper than even most Bulgarians might imagine. The country has always been an important cross-roads connecting Europe with Asia, and Northern Europe with the Mediterranean. It was home at one time or another to the Thracians, the Greeks and the Romans, and their cultural heritage has continued to live long after them, as has the cultural grandeur of Byzantium and the exotic charm of Muslim art. The wealth of this heritage makes cultural traditions of present-day Bulgaria a unique phenomenon in a land where East meets West – its traditions are still very much alive. They live on in music, dance and crafts. They also live in some customs that are not really known in other countries.
Wheat, maize, tomatoes, peppers are among the main agricultural products. Bulgaria is a major producer and exporter of wine and also rose oil from the Valley of Roses.
Rich in southern vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes. Beans are a staple food; fruit such as apples, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, pears are abundant. Dishes are often baked on a slow oven and seasoned heavily with herbs and spices. Meals are often a social event and always accompanied by excellent ‘rakiya’ (plum or grape brandy) and/or red wine. Bulgarians are very fond of their red wine. White wine is also delicious, though Bulgarian folklore presents a lot of songs about red wine and only one about white, which goes like this: ‘O, white wine, why are you not red?’