History, Culture, Politics, and Travel in the Balkans, Turkey, and Cyprus



The Second Bulgarian Empire: Taking Advantage of Chaos in the Balkans

When Basil II conquered Bulgaria in 1018, he inaugurated over 100 years of Byzantine rule in Bulgaria. But under Basil’s successors the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire began to fall. Although Byzantium briefly recovered under the first three emperors from the Komnenos Dynasty (1081-1180), after 1180 came a string of mostly incompetent emperors. Bulgaria took advantage of a weakened Byzantium, reasserting its independence and then taking advantage of the fractured Balkans region following the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Continue reading “The Second Bulgarian Empire: Taking Advantage of Chaos in the Balkans”

Sofia: Cornerstone of History, Center of Culture

Although Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts are perhaps the best-known tourist attraction in the country, the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, also has a wealth of experiences to offer. Sofia is one of the least expensive European capitals to visit (plus the Bulgarian lev is almost two to the dollar), but besides being a well priced get away, it also offers history, culture, and excitement to its guests.

Downtown Sofia | Boby Dimitrov, Wikimedia

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Eggs, Bracelets, and Grass: Spring Comes to the Balkans

Yesterday, Americans celebrated Groundhog’s Day, an odd, but perhaps also endearing tradition to welcome the coming of spring. Although Punxsutawney Phil may be unique, traditions that say good-bye to winter and welcome spring are not. From Poland’s drowning of the Marzanna (a straw doll) to throwing colored powder at each other in India’s Holi, the celebration of spring after a long winter is important in cultures across the globe.

The Balkans has its fair share of spring traditions as well. Many of them share characteristics of their neighbors, no doubt from centuries of cross-cultural contact. From giant vats to scrambled eggs to red and white woven bracelets tied to trees, the coming of spring is a time for celebration across the Balkans.

A Large Pot of Cimbur (scrambled eggs) | Travel Channel

Continue reading “Eggs, Bracelets, and Grass: Spring Comes to the Balkans”

Caught in the Middle: The Historical Conundrum of Macedonia

In the age of nationalism, many groups across Europe started to fight for their right to national self-determination. Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, to name but a few, rose up against the empires that ruled them to try and carve a place for themselves on the world stage. But this was far from a simple matter: different peoples settled on the same land, both at the same time and at prior moments in history. And one of the worst disputes over land was what is now the tiny Republic of Macedonia.

Continue reading “Caught in the Middle: The Historical Conundrum of Macedonia”

Re-emergence of the Balkans: Independence from the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire had dominated the Balkans for centuries, from the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 all the way into the 20th century. But while the Ottoman sultan may have still controlled a significant amount of land in the Balkans through the end of the First Balkan War (1912-1913), his hold on the region was severely weakened during the 19th century.

The unique cultures of the Serbs, Greeks, Romanians, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, and Albanians had not been submerged over time, and memories of their former medieval states still remained, along with a rising sense of nationalism. Rebellions in the Balkans against the Ottomans had happened before, such as the Banat Uprising by Serbians in 1594 and the Orlov Revolt in Greece in 1770, but none were successful until the 19th century. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the peoples of the Balkans took advantage of Ottoman decline and the interest of the Great Powers to gain their independence from the Ottoman Empire.   Continue reading “Re-emergence of the Balkans: Independence from the Ottoman Empire”

The Power of an Alphabet: The Enduring Legacy of Cyril and Methodius


Born Constantine and Michael, the two brothers are more commonly known today by the names they took as monks, Cyril and Methodius. Their missionary activities among the Slavic peoples of Europe earned them a lasting place in history and an important role in Orthodox Christianity. Continue reading “The Power of an Alphabet: The Enduring Legacy of Cyril and Methodius”

The King Who Would Become Prime Minister

When Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha left Bulgaria in 1946, it was unlikely he would ever return. The nine-year old, who up until one day prior had been Simeon II (1943-46), had been deposed by a Soviet-backed referendum and was exiled from his Bulgarian homeland. But with the fall of communist power in Bulgaria over the course of 1989-90, the opportunity for Simeon to reenter his home country increased dramatically.

Simeon II
Simeon II

Continue reading “The King Who Would Become Prime Minister”

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