Jewish Heritage in Bulgaria 9 days

Highlights

9-day /8-night cultural tour.

You will get acquainted with the history of Bulgarian Jews, with the religious tolerance of the people here and find out why Bulgaria is proud with saving its Jewish population from extinction during World WarII.

Highlights include visits to the largest Sephardic Synagogue on the Balkan Peninsula, to Arie's House in the small town of Samokov and to the Synagogue in Plovdiv.

Itinerary - Jewish Heritage in Bulgaria 9 days

9-day /8-night cultural tour.

Day 1: Sofia

Our guide and driver will meet you at Sofia airport and assists for a transfer to your downtown hotel. Check in, followed by short familiarization tour of hotel’s vicinity, showing places of interest – banks, post office, restaurants and shops. Overnight at hotel in Sofia.

Accommodation in Sofia in Thracia best Western 4*hotel or similar.

Day 2: SOFIA (50 km)

After breakfast, start your morning sightseeing tour of Sofia, a city with 7000-year long history. In the city centre, three splendid buildings – a cathedral, a mosques and a synagogue – form a triangle that helps explain why Bulgaria became the only European country, apart from Denmark, to save its Jews. Visit the Synagogue and its museum. Bulgarian Jews like to point out that Jews arrived in the country as early as the second century C.E., long before the proto-Bulgarians. Although small, this museum will tell you the long history of Bulgarian Jews.

Proceed with a visit to the Basilica Hagia Sophia. On the north side of the building you will see a monument, dedicated to the saving of Bulgarian Jews in World War II. Bulgaria, although part of the Hitler’s coalition, managed to rescue about 48,000 Bulgarian Jews from sending to the concentration camps. The period 1940-1944 is full of controversial events and shameful facts (10,000 Jews of Macedonia, Aegean Thrace, and Pirot was expelled and died), but due to widespread dismay and disapproval in Bulgaria, the officials were forced to stop deportations. You will hear the names of ordinary Bulgarians, who were brave to stand the official Government’s politics and became the “unsung heroes of the Holocaust” as Sir Martin Gilbert put it. Tour of the city includes a visit to the Roman ruins and the Rotunda of St. George, the impressive Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, followed by panoramic sightseeing of the University, the National Assembly, and National Palace of Culture. In the afternoon you will drive to visit the National History Museum en route to Vitosha Mountain and take a bird’s eye view over the capital. Only few European capital cities can boast the proximity of a high mountain. Sofia is at the foothills and the most exclusive residential areas are slowly creeping uphill. Late afternoon you will return to the hotel.

Accommodation in Sofia in Thracia best Western 4* hotel, or similar.

Day 3: SOFIA – Samokov – Borovets - Rila Monastery (UNESCO) – Sofia (280 km)

After an early breakfast drive to Samokov. About 150 years ago, 120 Jewish families lived here and Samokov was a busy industrial town. Since the arrival of the rich Arie family in 1793, the Jewish community in Samokov gained great importance. Visit the Arie's House, see the wonderful 19th century architecture and feel the atmosphere of every-day life of a rich Jewish family.(Museum is closed on Sat-Sun.). Proceed to Rila monastery. It is located some 120 km to the south of Sofia, in the heart of the Rila Mountain. Founded in the 10th century, it has been the biggest spiritual and cultural centre in Bulgaria for hundreds of years. On a number of occasions it was destroyed and burnt down, only to rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. The visitor’s first sight of Rila monastery huge towering walls gives the impression of a fortress. However, a step through the archway produces a wonderful surprise. Visiting the Monastery is a must. The Monastery’s unrivalled architecture and murals will captivate you. The Rila monastery is the largest in the Balkans and included in the List of World Cultural Heritage. Tour of the monastery includes a visit to the Monastery Church, which is of particular artistic value, for it was adorned by the foremost 19-century masters of the Samokov, Bansko and Debar schools of painting and woodcarving.

Late afternoon drive back to Sofia.

Accommodation in Sofia.

Day 4: SOFIA –Pazardzhik  - PLOVDIV (150 km)

Following breakfast, drive to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city and one of the oldest in Europe. Stopover in Pazardzhik. Once a bustling market town, Pazardzhik today is not a tourist destination, but still guards some Jewish  heritage hidden treasures.  The first Sephardic Jews arrived here in the 15th century. In the 19th century there were 60 Jewish families living here and you can still see the buildings of the 2 synagogues, surprisingly well preserved. Proceed to Plovdiv, a worthy rival to Sofia. Its location astride the river Maritsa, and its six hills, which are prominent features on the Thracian plane, indicates the strategic significance of the city. It is one of the oldest and most colourful towns in Bulgaria. No one can tell exactly when the foundation stone was laid here, although it must have been over 5000 years ago. Old Plovdiv on Trimontium hill is the centre of Bulgarian national revival architecture at its height.

Afternoon at leisure and independent time to stroll the quaint town. In the evening there are often special events at the Amphitheatre from late May through September-October. You may decide to attend such an event optional (extra fee) should there be one during your visit. 

B, Accommodation in Trimontium Princess 4* hotel, or similar.

Day 5: PLOVDIV - Bachkovo monastery – PLOVDIV ( 50 km)

After breakfast, meet the Plovdiv’s Rabbi and visit the Synagogue, the only functioning synagogue outside Sofia. Evening service is held here every Friday and you may attend, should you be in Plovdiv on Friday. Proceed your tour and visit the Old Town, the 2000yrs old Roman Theatre; the Byzantine and medieval fortifications. Walk along the narrow cobbled streets and admire the silence and tranquility of this historic town.

Enjoy an afternoon tour to Bachkovo Monastery. Visit the monastery, founded in the 11th century. Bachkovo Monastery is valuable primarily for its ossuary and its church, in which 11th to 14th century frescoes are preserved. 

On every March 9th, local Jews perform a most unorthodox ceremony. Here the Patriarchs Cyril and Stefan lie buried. They played major role in the dramatic days of May 1943, declaring the doors of every Christian church and monastery open to all Jews. After a Bulgarian Orthodox mass for the souls of the two clerics, the Jews say Kaddish for them, paying tribute to their countrymen for saving Bulgaria’s Jewish population from the Nazi camps. En route back to Plovdiv visit a local winery for a wine-tasting session.

B, Accommodation in Trimontium Princess 4* hotel, or similar.

Day 6: PLOVDIV- Kazanlak (UNESCO) – RUSE (350 km)

Leave Plovdiv after breakfast and drive to Kazanlak, the main city of the Rose Valley. Sightseeing tour in Kazanlak includes: the Thracian Tomb, Museum of the Rose and Rose Oil. The Kazanlak Tomb is a Thracian Tomb from the late 4th - early 3rd century B.C. and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The funeral objects and frescoes depicting hunting scenes and the funeral suggest that a Thracian king was probably buried here. The frescoes are the finest masterpiece of Thracian art discovered to date. The original tomb is housed in a special building, but there is a replica for tourists.

Next, a pleasant quick stop in Shipka - the peak where the most decisive battles were held in 1877-1878 for the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman domination. There is a monument on the top, a wonderful panorama of the Central Balkan Range and a very beautiful memorial church.

Continue on to Etara in town of Gabrovo to visit the Ethnographic Open-air Village Museum. Everything surrounding the visitor brings him/her back to the period of Bulgarian Revival with numerous workshops where even today the craftsmen work, using the same instruments and techniques. Drive onward to Ruse (150 km - 2 hrs.).

B, Overnight in Ruse in 4* Cosmopolitan hotel.

Day 7: Ruse

Enjoy a morning walking tour of Ruse, the largest river port in Bulgaria and one of the cities with years-long European cultural traditions. Ruse was home to Bulgaria’s most prosperous Jewish community. Ruse has been even referred to as “Little Vienna” in the past, for its Neoclassicism style of buildings. Stunning and brilliant Austrian style architecture abounds, particularly around the city’s main square which features the Statue of Liberty, erected in honour of the Russian Liberators (1878).  The first Jewish families arrived here relatively late – at the end of the 18th century, sharing periods of prosperity and decline of this city.

Elias Canetti, the famous Nobel Prize winner (1981) was born in Ruse (Roustchouk) in 1905 "All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk" he used to say. You can see the “Canetti House”, described in his novel “Die gerettete Zunge. Geschichte einer Jugend“ (or "The Tongue Set Free"). You can still see the long disused Jewish Obstetrics House, Jewish Library and Community house. In the afternoon - meet the local Jewish community.

B, Overnight in Ruse in the 4* Cosmopolitan hotel.

Day 8: RUSE –Ivanovo (UNESCO) – Arbanassi - VELIKO TARNOVO (120 km)

You will leave Ruse after breakfast and head to Veliko Tarnovo. En route you can stop for a visit of Ivanovo Rock Churches (12th-14th century A.D.) Located 18 km south to Ruse, they were part of a mediaeval monastery of St. Archangel Michael. High in the rocks, 40-50 m above the ground, natural caves were transformed into churches in the 12th century. The best preserved murals are in the Church of the Holy Mother (14 c). The original frescoes were made by artists from the Tarnovo School of painting and impress with the elegant figures and original colours, proof of exceptional artistic skills. The site is included in the List of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Note! You need comfortable shoes to climb the 100 stairs up to the entrance of the site.  Drive to Veliko Tarnovo and stop for a visit of the museum village of Arbanassi, rich in churches, monasteries and Old Bulgarian houses. 

B, Overnight in Veliko Tarnovo in the 4* hotel Yantra, or similar.

Day 9: VELIKO TARNOVO – Sofia (230 km)

Following breakfast, enjoy a morning sightseeing tour of Veliko Tarnovo, the capital city of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (12-14th c.). Visit the fortress on Tsarevets Hill, the hill where Baldwin's Tower still rises. Enjoy walking downtown in Samovodene market place, brought back to life by artists and craftsmen, who create and sell exquisite items in their small workshops. After a lunch break, drive to Sofia airport (3 hrs.) to catch your connecting flight.

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