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homeAbout BulgariaUNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Bulgaria has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

The early medieval large rock relief Madara Rider, 2 Thracian tombs (one in Sveshtari and one in Kazanlak),  3 monuments of medieval Bulgarian culture (the Boyana Church, the Rila Monastery and the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo), 2 examples of natural beauty: the Pirin National Park and the Sreburna Nature Reserve.


The Boyana Church

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979



Located on the outskirts of Sofia, the Boyana Church is composed of three parts, each built at a different period which constitute a homogenous whole.

The eastern church was built in the 10th century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two storey building to be erected next to it. The frescoes in this second church, painted in 1259, make it one of the most important collections of medieval paintings. The ensemble is completed by a third church, built at the beginning of the 19th century. This site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.

There are several layers of wall paintings in the interior from the 11th, 13th, 15-17th and 19th centuries which testify to the high level of wall painting during the different periods. The paintings with the most outstanding artistic value are those from 13th century. Whilst they interpret the Byzantine canon, the images have a special spiritual expressiveness and vitality and are painted in harmonious proportions.

From an architectural point of view, Boyana Church is a pure example of a church with a Greek cross ground-plan with dome, richly decorated facades and decoration of ceramic elements. It is one of the most remarkable medieval monuments with especially fine wall paintings.



Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979




In the valley of the Roussenski Lom River, in north east Bulgaria, a complex of rock-hewn churches, chapels, monasteries and cells developed in the vicinity of the village of Ivanovo. This is where the first hermits had dug out their cells and churches during the 12th century. The 14th-century murals testify to the exceptional skill of the artists belonging to the Tarnovo School of painting.


The frescos of the Ivanovo churches reveal an exceptional artistry and a remarkable artistic sensitivity for 14th century painting and Bulgarian medieval art; they are an important achievement in the Christian art of South-Eastern Europe. Posterior to the Khora monastery mosaics (Karia Djami) of 1303 - 10, these frescoes, by their very expressiveness surpass any other historical monuments discovered, characteristic of the Palaeologues style. Neo-classical in spirit and in elements of their subjects, the frescoes represent a departure from the canons of Byzantine iconography. They show close ties with expressive Hellenistic art and a clear preference for the nude, the landscape, an architectural background in a composition, drama, an emotional atmosphere - qualities which combine to make an exceptional masterpiece of the Tarnovo school of painting and monumental art.


The extensive complexes of monasteries were built between the time of the Second Bulgarian State /1187-1396/ and the conquest of Bulgaria by the Ottoman Empire. The five historical monuments in this group, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, the richness, the variety of the cells, chapels, churches, monastery complexes, the original architectural solutions - all of that set in a magnificent natural environment - confirm the value of this extraordinary historical grouping.


The Thracian tomb of Kazanlak

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979




Discovered in 1944, this tomb dates from the Hellenistic period, around the end of the 4th century BC. It is located near Seutopolis, the capital city of the Thracian king Seutes III, and is part of a large Thracian necropolis. The tholos has a narrow corridor and a round burial chamber, both decorated with murals representing Thracian burial rituals and culture. These paintings are Bulgarias best-preserved artistic masterpieces from the Hellenistic period.


The Thracian tomb of Kazanlak is a unique aesthetic and artistic work, a masterpiece of the Thracian creative spirit. This monument is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world. The exceptionally well preserved frescos and the original condition of the structure reveal the remarkable evolution and high level of culture and pictorial art in Hellenistic Thrace.



Rila Monastery

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983




Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th century by St. John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. His ascetic dwelling and tomb became a holy site and were transformed into a monastic complex which played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. A characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th19th centuries), the monument symbolizes the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation.


In its complicated ten-century history the Rila monastery has been the hub of a strong spiritual and artistic influence over the Eastern Orthodox world during medieval times (11th-14th c.). Under Ottoman rule (1400-1878) the monastery influenced the development of the culture and the arts of all Christian nations within the Ottoman Empire. With its architecture, frescos etc. it represents a masterpiece of the creative genius of the Bulgarian people.

Architectural styles have been preserved on the property as historical monuments of considerable time span (11th-19th c.). The basic architectural appearance is now one of the peak examples of building craftsmanship of the Balkan peoples from the early 19th c. As such it has exerted considerable influence on architecture and aesthetics within the Balkan area.


Rila Monastery is considered a symbol of the 19th Century Bulgarian Renaissance which imparted Slavic values upon Rila in trying to reestablish an uninterrupted historic continuity.


Rila Monastery is the most important spiritual and literary center of the Bulgarian national revival, with an uninterrupted history from the Middle Ages until present times. Reconstruction work was required following a fire, and sections of the monastery, a new church and other structures date to the 18th century. The property fully endorses authenticity requirements regarding location, context, concept, usage, function and tradition, where the spirit and feeling of the site are also properly preserved.



The Thracian tomb of Sveshtari

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985




Discovered in 1982 near the village of Sveshtari, this 3rd-century BC Thracian tomb reflects the fundamental structural principles of Thracian cult buildings. The tomb has a unique architectural decor, with polychrome half-human, half-plant caryatids and painted murals. The 10 female figures carved in high relief on the walls of the central chamber and the decoration of the lunette in its vault are the only examples of this type found so far in the Thracian lands. It is a remarkable reminder of the culture of the Getes, a Thracian people who were in contact with the Hellenistic and Hyperborean worlds, according to ancient geographers.


The discovery in 1982 of the Thracian tomb of Sveshtari was one of the most spectacular archaeological events of the 20th century. The tomb itself is a unique artistic achievement with its half-human, half-vegetable caryatids enclosed in chitons in the shape of inverted palmettes. The fact the original polychromy has been preserved with its ochre, brown, blue, red and lilac shades adds to the bewitching charm of an expressive composition where the anthropomorphic supports conjure up the image of a choir of mourners frozen in the abstract positions of a ritual dance. The tomb is an exceptional testimony to the culture of the Getae, a Thracian people living in the north of Hemus, in contact with the Greek and Hyperborean worlds according to ancient geographers.


The tomb is located in a region declared an archaeological reserve, near the town of Razgra between the villages of Malak Porovetz and Sveshtari in Isperih municipality, in the river Krapinetz canyon and on the hills around. The time when the Sveshtari tomb was built (mid-3rd century BC) coincided with the period of a great political, economic and cultural upsurge of the Thracian tribe of the Getae. The rich decoration and perfect architecture of the tomb demonstrate the political power of the ruler.


Under a tumulus 11.5 m high and roughly 70 m in diameter, geophysical prospecting revealed, to the south-east, the monumental entrance to a hypogeum of exceptional interest, including a dromos, an antechamber, and two rectangular funeral chambers. The layout of this Thracian king's tomb, which is very different from that of Thracian tombs with cupolas such as that of Kazanlak, fits a Hellenistic model to be found in Macedonia, Asia Minor and Egypt. The tomb of Sveshtari is, however, unique in its architectural decor and in the specific character of funeral rites revealed by the excavation.


The tomb consists of a corridor (dromos) and three square chambers: antechamber, lateral chamber, and main burial chamber covered by a semi-cylindrical vault. The plan of the building provides a new interesting example in Thracian building practice. The decoration of the tomb is executed in the spirit of the contemporary Hellenistic architecture. Its entrance is flanked by two rectangular columns (antae). Above them there is an architrave plate with a frieze in relief, consisting of stylized bovine heads (bucrania), rosettes and garlands. Ten beautiful female figures with hands raised high like caryatids are impressive. The figures are about 1.20 m tall, presented frontally, wearing long sleeveless dresses (chitons) tied with a thin belt below the breasts.


Two funerary beds, human bones and grave offerings were discovered in the central chamber. From the scattered stone details it was possible to reconstruct the facade of the tomb (aedicula), consisting of pilasters, cornice and a pediment, and closed with three stone doors. Being situated in front of the large funerary bed as a symbol of the boundary between life and death, the aedicula isolated the grave of the deified ruler (the most sacral part of the tomb) from the rest of the place. In the centre of the composition the goddess is offering a gold wreath to the ruler, depicted as a horseman facing her. On both sides of them there are processions of servants and armour-bearers carrying different gifts in their hands.


The layout of the central chamber which contained two stone funeral beds and an aedicula imitates the arrangement of a peristyle house: five half-columns and ten sculpted feminine caryatids in high relief on limestone flagstones support the architrave barrel-vaulted Doric frieze with its triglyphs and metopes spanning the room at mid-height.

In the north-west lunette, on the wall opposite the entrance, there is a painting depicting the deceased as hero, who, in the presence of several protagonists, is advancing on horseback towards the central figure of a deity extending a laurel wreath. Skeletal material found during excavation bears witness to the horse sacrifices that accompanied the funerary rites.


The Madara Rider

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979




The Madara Rider, representing the figure of a knight triumphing over a lion, is carved into a 100-m-high cliff near the village of Madara in north-east Bulgaria. Madara was the principal sacred place of the First Bulgarian Empire before Bulgarias conversion to Christianity in the 9th century. The inscriptions beside the sculpture tell of events that occurred between AD 705 and 801.


The Madara Rider is a unique relief, an exceptional work of art, created during the first years of the formation of the Bulgarian State, at the beginning of the 8th century. It is the only relief of its kind, having no parallel in Europe. It has survived in its authentic state, with no alternation in the past or the present.


It is outstanding not only as a work of Bulgarian sculpture, with its characteristically realist tendencies, but also as a piece of historical source material dating from the earliest years of the establishment of the Bulgarian state. The inscriptions around the relief are, in fact, a chronicle of important events concerning the reigns of very famous Khans: Tervel, Kormisos and Omurtag.


The Ancient city of Nessebar

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983




Situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, the more than 3,000-year-old site of Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement (Menebria). At the beginning of the 6th century BC, the city became a Greek colony. The citys remains, which date mostly from the Hellenistic period, include the acropolis, a temple of Apollo, an agora and a wall from the Thracian fortifications. Among other monuments, the Stara Mitropolia Basilica and the fortress date from the Middle Ages, when this was one of the most important Byzantine towns on the west coast of the Black Sea. Wooden houses built in the 19th century are typical of the Black Sea architecture of the period.


The Ancient city of Nessebar is a unique example of a synthesis of the centuries-old human activities in the sphere of culture; it is a location where numerous civilizations have left tangible traces in single homogeneous whole, which harmoniously fit in with nature. The different stages of development of its wooden houses reflect the stages of development of the architectural style on the Balkans and in the entire East Mediterranean region. The urban structure contains elements from the second millennium BC, from Ancient Times and the Medieval period.


The medieval religious architecture, modified by the imposition of the traditional Byzantine forms, illustrates ornamental ceramics art, the characteristic painted decoration for this age. The town has served for over thousands of years as remarkable spiritual hearth of Christian culture.


The Ancient City of Nessebar is an outstanding testimony of multilayered cultural and historical heritage. It is a place where many civilizations left their tangible traces: archaeological structures from the Second millennium BC, a Greek Black Sea colony with surviving remains of fortifications, a Hellenistic villa and religious buildings from the Antiquity, seven preserved churches from the Middle Ages. Nessebar has demonstrated its historical importance as a frontier city on numerous occasions. Having been a remarkable spiritual centre of Christianity for a thousand years, today it is a developing and vibrant urban organism.


The Ancient City of Nessebar is a unique example of an architectural ensemble with preserved Bulgarian Renaissance structure, and forms a harmonious homogenous entity with the outstanding natural configuration of the rocky peninsular, linked with the continent by a long narrow stretch of land. Its nature and existence is a result of synthesis of long-term human activity, which has witnessed significant historic periods - an urban structure with elements from 2nd millennium BC, classical antiquity, and the Middle Ages; the development of medieval religious architecture with rich plastic and polychrome decoration on its facades in the form of ceramic ornamentation typical for the period; the different stages in the development of the characteristic wooden houses, which testify to the supreme mastery of the architecture of the Balkans as well as the East Mediterranean region. The vernacular architecture of the urban ensemble, dominated by medieval churches and archaeology, together with the unique coastal relief, combine to produce an urban fabric of the high quality.


Pirin National Park

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983




Spread over an area of over 27,000 ha, at an altitude between 1008 and 2914 m in the Pirin Mountains, southwest Bulgaria, the site comprises diverse limestone mountain landscapes with glacial lakes, waterfalls, caves and predominantly coniferous forests. It was added to the World Heritage List in 1983. The extension now covers an area of around 40,000 ha in the Pirin Mountains, and overlaps with the Pirin National Park, except for two areas developed for tourism (skiing). The dominant part of the extension is high mountain territory over 2000m in altitude, and covered mostly by alpine meadows, rocky screes and summits.


The mountain scenery of Pirin National Park is of exceptional beauty. The high mountain peaks and crags contrast with meadows, rivers and waterfalls and provide the opportunity to experience the aesthetics of a Balkan mountain landscape. The ability to experience remoteness and naturalness is an important attribute of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.


The principal earth science values of the property relate to its glacial geomorphology, demonstrated through a range of features including cirques, deep valleys and over 70 glacial lakes. The mountains of the property show a variety of forms and have been developed in several different rock types. Functioning natural processes allow for study of the continued evolution of the landforms of the property, and help to understand other upland areas in the region.


The property is a good example of the continuing evolution of flora, as evidenced by a number of endemic and relict species, and the property also protects an example of a functioning ecosystem that is representative of the important natural ecosystems of the Balkan uplands. Pirins natural coniferous forests include Macedonian Pine and Bosnian Pine, with many old growth trees. In total, there are 1,315 species of vascular plants, about one third of Bulgarias flora, including 86 Balkan endemics, 17 Bulgarian endemics and 18 local endemics. The fauna of Pirin National Park includes 45 mammal species, including brown bear, wolf and pine marten, and 159 bird species. Pirin is also home to eight species of amphibians, eleven species of reptiles and six fish species. Although the forests are affected by some historical use, the natural functioning of the ecosystem ensures the protection of its regionally significant biodiversity values.



The Srebarna Nature Reserve

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983




The Srebarna Nature Reserve is a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha. It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered. Some 80 other bird species migrate and seek refuge there every winter. Among the most interesting bird species are the Dalmatian pelican, great egret, night heron, purple heron, glossy ibis and white spoonbill.


Srebarna Nature Reserve protects a lake and wetland ecosystem of 638ha located near to the village of Srebarna on the west bank of the Danube River. The reserve includes the lake and the former agricultural lands north of the lake, a belt of forest plantations along the Danube, the island of Komluka and the aquatic area locked between the island and the riverbank.


Srebarna Nature Reserve is an important wetland on the Western Palaearctic bird migratory flyway. It provides nesting grounds for 99 species of birds and seasonal habitat to around 80 species of migratory birds. The property is surrounded by hills which provide a natural boundary and offer an ideal means for observing the waterfowl.


Srebarna Nature Reserve protects an important example of a type of wetland that was widespread in Bulgaria in the past. It shelters a diversity of plant and animal species, which are increasingly threatened. The wetland is an important breeding, staging and wintering site for a large number of birds. Floating reedbed islands and flooded willow woodlands provide important bird breeding areas. In the lake's northern end the reedbeds gradually give way to wet meadows. In the north-western end of the lake and along the Danube there are belts of riverine forest with single old trees of White Willow.


The rich bird life supported by Srebarna Nature Reserve is the basis for its international significance. The property holds populations of birds that are considered critical to species survival. It hosts the only colony of Dalmatian Pelican in Bulgaria, as well as the largest breeding populations of four more globally threatened species: Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck, White-tailed Eagle and Corncrake. Srebarna is also of European value importance in supporting Little Bittern Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Glossy lbis, Spoonbill and Ruddy Shelduck. Three species of terns also occur here. Globally threatened Pygmy Cormorant and Red-breasted Goose winter in the Reserve, and the wintering populations of White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose and Fieldfare are also notable.


In total the property provides critical habitat that supports 173 bird species, 78 species of which are of European conservation concern, and nine being listed as globally threatened.


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