Rousse is the largest Bulgarian city on the Danube river. It is situated in the north-eastern part of Bulgaria, 300 km far from the national’s capital Sofia. Rouse’s rich historical past shows that the Danube river was the basis of existence. From it’s foundation up to now, in spite of the names the town had through 19 centuries, it was a Danubian harbour.
The town was founded at the time of the Roman emperor Vespasian over the period of 69 – 79 AD as a fortress called Sexaginta Prista, meaning The harbour of the sixty ships. The fortress lasted for almost six centuries and then perished under the storms of the Barberian invasions.
In the Middle Ages the Rousse region was among the most developed areas of the Bulgarian state. At the time of the Otoman Yoke Rousse was an important fortress and the maingate to the north of the Turkish empire. It was called Rouschouk.
In the nineteenth century, Rousse was the first town in Bulgaria to aquire a pronounced European look which came an illustration of its economic prosperity at the turn of the century. The first and only newspaper printed in Bulgaria in Bulgarian came out in Rousse in 1865. The building of the Rousse – Varna railway which was the first of its kind in the Balkan lands largely contributed to the growing significance of the town. The first public pharmacy and the first bookshop were opend in Rousse. In 1871 the first teachers’ association was set up here.
After the Liberation in 1878, Rousse continued being one of the largest towns in Bulgaria. It became the craddle of the Bulgarian shipbuilding when the first iron ship was built in 1881. The first private bank ”Girdap” with authorized capital of 5 million golden francs and the insurance company ”Bulgaria” were established in 1881. The first Chamber of commerce and industry in Bulgaria was established in Rousse in 1895. In 1897 just two years after the show of the Lumiere brothers in Paris, the residents of Rousse were the first to see the motion pictures.
Rousse is the most active and authoritative cultural centre on the Bulgarian part of the Danube. It is the host-town of several significant annual cultural events – The March Music Days International Festival of symphony, cantata and oratorio music, International Jazz Festival, Golden Rebec Folk Festival and International Theatre Festival ”Danube – European river, Danube – Balkan river”.
In Rousse there are state cultural institutions of regional and national importance – Rousse Opera House, Rousse Philharmonic Orchestra, Dramatic Theatre and Puppet Theatre. They succesfully perform on international stages.
The Rousse District Library was established in 1888 and up to now actively participates in the town’s cultural life. It helds British, French and German informational centres. The library possesses today over 700 000 books and documents in 18 languages.
The Rousse Museum of history was established in 1904. It has five departments – Archaeology, Nature, Ethnography, Bulgarian history of the XIV – XIX century and New history. In the town there are three permanent exhibitions: in the Museum of XIX – XX century town’s life and culture; in the House-museum ”Zahary Stoyanov” and in The National Revival Pantheon. The Rousse Art Gallery was opened in 1933 and it preserves and exhibits national and foreign art works.
The Folk Dancing Theatre ”N. Kirov” is a favourite beyond the country’s boundaries. Very successful in their work are the children’s ensembles ”Zornitsa”, ”Rouschukliice” and ”Zdravetz”. The Rousse choirs ”Dounavski Zvoutsi”, “V.Arnaudov” and “Rodina” have an international reputation.
Some 23 kilometres south-west of Rousse there is an unic archeological reserve – the remarkable Ivanovo rock monasteries. Located at a height of 6 to 8 metres, the cells have been inhabited by monks until the 17th century. Chronicles and the preserved church murals show that the community of hermits also created a blossoming literary center during the 13th – 14th century. The rock monasteries have been evaluated as an important stage in the development of European culture and recorded on the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage.
The Ivanovo churches contain some of the best frescoes of Bulgarian religious art.
7 kilometres south-west of Ivanovo is the Fortress of Cherven, dated from the Middle Ages. It was one of the most important military, economical, cultural and religious centres of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The ruins are restored and can be visited.
The river Rusenski Lom is a flow into the Danube river south-west of Rousse, hewing out a picturesque canyon in the Danube valley with its meanders and vertical rocks. To preserve this natural wealth, the area was pronounced a Roussenski Lom National Park. The biggest treasure of the Park are the birds, so it is included in the List of European's most important ornitological sites.
Festivals and Fairs
The Great Koprivshtitza Folklore Festival
The Great Koprivshtitza Folklore Festival is Bulgaria's largest gathering of traditional musicians and singers and is a cross between a pop festival and a medieval fair. It is a sight that knows no equal: thousands of musicians and singers making the hillside above the picturesque village of Koprivshtitza their home for a few days. Coupled with this you have the colourful stalls of the traders and the thousands of visitors who come for the festival.
This is Bulgarian music as it was always played, played by the ancestors of those who first played it. But perhaps it is what happens on the periphery that is the most authentic. Strolling players or soloists, simply playing for the sheer enjoyment. forming new bonds with other musicians or just letting their music ring out over the hillside.
The Bourgas International Folk Festival
The Bourgas International Folk Festival, held annually, attracts a host of Bulgarian and international artists and is held in the second half of August.
The Kazanluk Festival
The Kazanluk Festival of the Roses is held annually in early June, and has grown from a local to an international event. Not only are the roses, Kazanluk's main industry, in full flower. but the town itself blossoms while visitors enjoy the "Rose Picnic" and all the fun of a folklore festival, with its costumes, songs and dance. Should you still have the energy left, you can always visit the old factories where the rose oil is extracted.
St. Trifon's Day
In the agricultural calendar, St. Trifon's Day celebrates the pruning of the vines, and is held on February 14.
On the first Sunday before Lent, Kukerov Den celebrates the start of the agricultural year, and all over Bulgaria you can witness processions led by the dancing. leaping Kukeri dressed in colourful masks and costumes.
Baba Marta is celebrated on March 1 when peasant house-holds brush out the winter cobwebs with a traditional spring clean. and people offer each other tokens of good luck called martenitsas.
Like western countries. the Bulgarian calendar is dotted with important feast days and festivals. The festival of the Kukeri re-enacts ancient surovaki rites to ward off evil spirits and Kukeri fertility rites. Although only held once every five years, it brings together dancers from all over Bulgaria in a rainbow of colours and styles.
St. Lazarus Day
Lazaruvane is also celebrated in spring on St. Lazarus Day, and here village girls considered fit for marriage perform ritual songs and dances.
St. Konstantin and St. Elena Day
The coming of summer is traditionally celebrated on St. Konstantin and St. Elena Day on May 21, and in some of the remoter villages in the Stranzha hills fire dancing, dancing on heated coals, is still practised in celebration of summer's arrival. Ethnologists have suggested that this practice is directly descended from Dionysina rites of the ancient Thracian.