Issue 115

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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BACHKOVO MONASTERY

Its mediaeval ossuary preserves the only mural portrait of a Bulgarian king. The last patriarch before Bulgaria fell under the Ottomans, Evtimiy of Tarnovo, is believed to have been exiled and to have died there. The fortress-like complex is one of the finest architectural creations of the Bulgarian national revival period, and some of the frescoes are by Zahariy Zograf, the most prominent Bulgarian artist of the 19th Century.

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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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SVILENGRAD; THE ETERNAL BRIDGE

The Mustafa Pasha Bridge in Svilengrad was a piece of engineering that impressed even Western travellers in the 15th-17th centuries, who were generally disappointed by the very ordinary appearance of towns and villages in the Ottoman Empire. Built in 1529 by Mustafa Pasha, a vizier of the sultans Selim I and Süleyman the Magnificent, the bridge was a part of a complex consisting of a kervansaray, or roadside inn, a hamam, or public bath, and various other buildings. At 295m it is the longest Ottoman bridge in Bulgaria, with 21 arches, the widest of which is 18 metres.

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MYSTERIES OF MEZEK TOMB

However, apart from the destruction that it continues to bring, there are a few occasions where this illegal activity has led to extremely interesting discoveries. The Thracian tomb discovered near the Mezek village, in the region of modern Svilengrad, is one such story.

The mound that hides the tomb is a spectacular sight, at 14m high and about 90m wide. Its name, Mal Tepe, or Gold Hill, indicates that its secrets had long gripped the imagination of the locals.

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EMMA HOPKINS, OBE

We are situated at the back of the British Residence and Emma, who had a wide-ranging experience as a barrister and as a leading legal and policy expert on issues such as sexual violence in war, asylum, immigration and human rights, before she took up her post as ambassador in Bulgaria last year, already feels quite at home.

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TOP 10 TENETS OF THE BULGARIAN WAY OF THINKING

Remember: this country never had the Enlightenment. To fathom the overwhelming mixture of the sometimes ostensible controversies of life in Bulgaria, you need to understand how Bulgarians think – and what the main tenets of the mental process that forms psychological associations and models of the world are. Here is a tentative top 10. Peruse sparingly and apply plenty of common sense as well as a little humour.

Conspiracy theories

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LARGO OF SERDICA, ANNO 2016

In 313, a PR trick helped Constantine to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, whence he would go down in history as "The Great." Before a crucial battle he claimed that he had a dream in which he was advised to paint the initials of Jesus Christ, a theretofore forbidden god, on the shields of his soldiers with the promise that this would bring him victory. He did just that. He won, decriminalised Christianity, became a saint, and so on and so forth.

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FALLING UNDER THE SPELL OF TAJ MAHAL

Some rulers have won their place in history for their military prowess, others for their law-making, brutality or madness, but none of them can compare with the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658). His place in history is due to great love and great grief, immortalised in one of the most stunning pieces of architecture ever created, the Taj Mahal.

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RAPUNZEL'S TOWERS, A short story

Every morning, between six and seven thirty, thousands of gray-haired Rapunzels rise, gently toss their blankets aside and make their way to the kitchen. Some make breakfast for their grandchildren. Others leave bread crumbs for the pigeons on the balcony. They put coffee-makers or teapots on the stove. Some even turn on the radio. Inside, there's a slight draft. So they wrap their cardigans more tightly around their bodies, and clasp the cup of coffee or tea with lots of sugar with both hands. They feel chilly, they always do, but what else could they close in order to stop the draft?

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