The Danube

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19TH CENTURY RABBI HALTS MAJOR EPIDEMIC

The coronavirus outbreak has stopped the world in its tracks and made the word quarantine a part of everyday life, and vocabulary. The word describing the practice of isolation as a way to fight epidemics, of course, is much older and there is a Bulgarian town that is an example of how instrumental quarantining could be in saving lives.

In 1828, the decisive action of a single man protected Silistra, on the River Danube, from an outbreak of cholera. Astonishingly, this man was not a general or a prime minister, but a modest Jewish religious scholar.

Tue, 06/02/2020 - 16:53
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TRAVELLING TO BULGARIA'S EXTREMES

In the past two centuries, geography, politics and moments of national triumph and tragedy have defined the borders of Bulgaria. The current territory of the Bulgarian nation appeared after the Berlin Congress in 1879, stretched and contracted during and after several wars in 1885-1886, 1912-1913 and 1915-1918, and peacefully set into its current shape in 1940.

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 10:11
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FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 2

Such examples are the fortification structures excavated at a salt-producing town near Provadiya and a fortified settlement now in Ticha Dam, near Shumen, both belonging to the 5th millennium BC. Archaeologists interpret these two sites as early evidence for a stratified society whose wealth and resources attracted incursions and invasions.

Discovering new fortifications sounds great, but most of the fortresses in the Bulgarian lands are in a condition that can excite only an archaeologist. Few have survived in a state fit for Instagrammable photos.

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 09:21
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IVANOVO ROCK CHURCHES

No, this encounter of past and present is not taking place in faraway Cappadocia of worldwide renown for its odd rock chapels, but here in Bulgaria. About 20 kms from Ruse, the bends of the Rusenski Lom River embrace about a dozen churches and monastic cells hewn into the rock. In the 12th-14th centuries they composed one monastic complex. Today, they are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 12:39
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TUTRAKAN MILITARY CEMETERY

If you chance to pass by on your way from Ruse to Silistra you will see a large military cemetery beside the road. Stop and have look at the rows of graves, the chapel, the old machine guns, and the monument in the shape of a war medal. There is an obelisk, too, with inscriptions repeating the same words in Bulgarian, German, Turkish and Romanian: "Honour and glory to those who knew how to die heroically for their fatherland."

Thu, 09/08/2016 - 12:29
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ROMAN DANUBE

A mountain is a better protection than a river, but in 15 AD, when the Romans took over the Thracian lands between the Danube and the Stara Planina mountain, they had no choice: The mighty river, whose upper course they had already mastered, became the frontier of the expanding empire, setting a clear line between the civility of Pax Romana and the unruliness of the independent people on the other side of the river, the Barbarians, as the Romans called them.

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 14:46
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THE BEST BULGARIAN BRIDGES

A legend is told all over the Balkans about a bridge and a stonemason. Once upon a time, a group of builders was commissioned to construct a bridge over a river, but whatever the men had built during the day was mysteriously destroyed during the night. Each morning the builders had to start from scratch.

Finally, the men saw the writing on the bridge, and realised that it wanted a human sacrifice. They reluctantly made a deal among themselves: on the following day, they would inter in the bridge the first person who came near.

Thu, 09/24/2015 - 13:19
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TAKE THE B TRAIN

Wars are of course bad, but their side effects can sometimes be positive. Take, for example, the Crimean War of 1853-1856. This conflict, which engaged the Western powers in battle on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire, brought many European innovations to the backwater that was the Sultan's realms at that time. In the following years, the Bulgarian towns along the Danube experienced an influx of novelties, from the first theatre to the first newspaper.

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 14:33
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OTTOMAN BULGARIA

As you travel through Bulgaria you will inevitably be confronted by remnants of its Ottoman past: mosques, water fountains, bridges, forts, baths and public buildings. It would be strange if you were not – Bulgaria spent 500 years under Ottoman domination. It began with the invasion at the end of the 14th Century, which brought chaos to the Balkans and destroyed the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, and ended for the different parts of the Balkans inhabited by Bulgarians between the 1878 San Stefano Peace Treaty and the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars.

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 10:45
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GOING DOWN THE DANUBE

In the 19th Century, cartographer Guillaume Lejean discovered with amazement that the Bulgarian stretch of the Danube was less well known than the Nile. In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor described the Bulgarian bank as terra incognita "the least inviting country in Europe, except Albania." Were they right?

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 12:18
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YOU SNOOZE, YOU LOOSE

There are moments when time and place merge, creating an overwhelming sentiment which makes you wish the world would stop spinning.

Sunsets, for example, can be glorious and sites like Santorini have made a business out of them. In Bulgaria, a similar experience could be enjoying a cold menta, or mint liquor, with a dash of Sprite in the shade of a beach bar, while the mid-day sun shines in the bleached sky. Or it could be entering the warmth of a tavern, filled with the smell of burning wood, with the anticipation of a hearty dinner after a day skiing.

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 11:45
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ROMAN BULGARIA

Travellers have for centuries been amazed by the size and magnificence of Roman remains in Bulgaria, and though many ancient ruins have been lost to modernisation, much still remains.

The Romans consolidated their power over today's Bulgaria at the beginning of the 1st Century AD, absorbing the local Thracian tribes into the multicultural and multiethnic empire. Life changed, to an enormous extent. New cities were built and older ones were refashioned, with temples, baths and opulent villas in the latest Roman fashion.

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 11:26
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HORROR ISLAND

If there was a competition for the most surreal road sign in Bulgaria, Belene would be a top contender. The standard signposts in the centre of this 8,300-strong town on the Danube list the following places of interest. First is "Municipality," the building of the City Council. Then comes the Bus Station. And then – hold your breath – you can choose to go to either the Nuclear Power Plant or the Prison.

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 13:31
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OESCUS, NEAR GIGEN

The second bridge over the Danube, between Bulgaria's Vidin and Romania's Calafat, is a project which took decades to be conceived and years to be built. Funnily enough, some kilometres downstream there is proof that spanning the Danube with a bridge was not all that difficult.

Fri, 06/07/2013 - 13:03
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BORDERLANDS

A land the size of a palm: this was how Bulgaria is described in the still quoted verse by Communist poet Georgi Dzhagarov. What is not mentioned in that poem, however, is that under Communism this "handful of land" was strictly guarded. Socialist Bulgaria was surrounded by enemy NATO-members Turkey and Greece, and the deviant Comrade Tito's Yugoslavia and the maverick Comrade Ceausescu's Romania. Bulgaria needed the highest protection. So went the thinking, and the protection was organised accordingly.



Mon, 03/11/2013 - 08:49
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TALE OF THREE-AND-A-HALF ISLES

First-time visitors to Bulgaria will probably be amazed to discover one of the striking differences between Bulgaria and its neighbouring Greece and Turkey is that it has no real islands to speak of. Nothing like Greece's thousands of isles and sea rocks, nothing even like Turkey's limited but still significant selection of offshore territories. When God bestowed all its natural wonders on Bulgaria he was very economical with islands. Sad, but true.

Mon, 07/02/2012 - 13:35
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The Timok

ALL QUIET ON THE TIMOK

Knee-deep in the water, the fisherman casts his line. He pays no attention either to the small sheep outlined on the opposite bank or to their shepherd's distant shouts. The two men can see each other quite clearly but do nothing to acknowledge it. They act as if they were on different planets.

And in a way they are. The fisherman is wading in Serbian waters, the shepherd and his flock are in Romania, and we are observing the scene from Bulgaria. We are all divided by the Danube and its tributary, the Timok.

Fri, 11/11/2011 - 15:51
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The Danube at Budapest

AND THE DANUBE FLOWS ON

Mountains divide people, rivers unite them — and the Danube is no exception. Any archaeologist will tell you that for thousands of years the Danube used to unite the peoples who lived along its banks. However, in the 1st Century AD the Roman legions arrived and Europe's second-largest river after the Volga became a dividing line between "civilisation" and the "barbarians."

Wed, 10/01/2008 - 14:17
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