Jewish heritage

WITNESS OF TIME

The largest Sephardic temple in Europe is situated in a central Sofia street, in an area where a mosque and several churches of various denominations "rub shoulders" with each other.

The story of how Sofia Central Synagogue appeared is a fascinating one, as it encapsulates the history of Bulgaria in the past century.

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BULGARIA'S ABANDONED SYNAGOGUES

At the end of the Second World War, Bulgaria was the only European country whose Jewish population was bigger than before the war began. Still, by the early 1950s, Bulgaria's 49,000-strong Jewish population has shrunk to about 8,000. Fearful of their future under the new Communist regime, with its repression and nationalisation of businesses and properties, the majority of the Bulgarian Jews decided that they would rather live in the nascent State of Israel.

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AROUND BULGARIA IN 5 SACRES SITES

You don't need to be a believer to experience something special at some places and some moments. A sense of spirituality can enfold you anywhere, anytime. Being a small but very varied country, Bulgaria has plenty of locations conducive to this. It is a country of many religions, both old and new, long dead or still living, and it is yours to explore with eyes and soul open once you get tired of the beaten tourist track.

RILA MONASTERY

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PLOVDIV TEMPLES PART 2

Plovdiv's claim to be the Bulgaria's most diverse and cosmopolitan city can be spread not only over the peoples who used to live, or are still living, in it. The diversity covers also the heavens above. A short walk round the historical core of the city leads you to temples of many different religions and denominations.

Some of them have been here for centuries, other have resurfaced after long periods of sometimes forced hibernation. And, of course, there are the recent "immigrants."

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SO MANY, SO FEW

Bulgaria, they will assert, stands unique in Europe and the world in that it did not allow its Jewish citizens to be transported to extermination in the Nazi death camps. Christians, Jews, Muslims and Gypsies lived in peace and harmony, they will add, reinstating the Bulgarians' "proverbial" hospitality and tolerance. Your Bulgarian in the street will probably omit to mention the Bulgarian State Railways cattle cars that brought over 11,000 Jews to Treblinka and Auschwitz from the then Bulgaria-administered territories of Aegean Thrace and Vardar Macedonia.

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