Bulgaria Developing Jewish Heritage Route

BBC New reported that the Bulgarian tourism ministry and the organization of Bulgarian Jews are collaborating on the development of a tourism route through Bulgaria. The project is meant to encompass landmarks of Jewish interest in 13 countries.

Our annual Jewish Heritage Tour of Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Greece is focused on the rich Jewish heritage, history, and tradition of the region. Our Jewish city tour of Sofia, for example, takes us to the sumptuous Sephardic Sofia synagogue, important Jewish monuments and memorials, the historic Jewish neighborhood of the capital, and the Jewish community center. Outside of Sofia, our itinerary includes a visit to Samokov, the historic home of the most affluent Sephardic dynasty — the Arie family. We also spend two nights in Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv, home to the country’s second largest Jewish community. The Zion synagogue in Plovdiv is the only other active one in Bulgaria, dating back to the late 19th century. In 2003, the Plovdiv synagogue was beautifully restored.

In western Bulgaria, we make a stop in the lovely mountainous town of Kyustendil, birthplace of Dimitar Peshev. Peshev was the Bulgarian politician who deserves the greatest amount of credit for his selfless actions in defense of Bulgaria’s Jewish community. It was in large measure due to Peshev’s March 1943 political intervention that the Bulgarian Jewish community survived.

The North Macedonian portion of our journey is also rich in Jewish heritage. In Skopje, the country’s capital, an important trip highlight is the Holocaust Memorial Center, which details not only the tragic fate of the Macedonian Jews, but also the long and rich Sephardic history of their presence on the Balkans. Before departing Skopje, we also visit the Jewish community center and the Bet Yaakov synagogue. Bitola, North Macedonia’s second largest city, is another important stop along our route. Bitola — or Monastir — was home to a sizeable and very active Jewish community, whose graveyard, the Bitola/Monastir Bet Haim Jewish cemetery, dates back to 1497, making it the oldest Sephardic cemetery in North Macedonia.

Further southeast, we spend three nights in Thessaloniki (Salonica / Salonikia), the second largest city in Greece, and the historic home of one of the most important and influential Sephardic communities in the Ottoman Empire. For centuries Salonica was a majority Jewish city, popularly knows by its moniker ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ and ‘Madre de Israel.’ Our Jewish city tour of Thessaloniki includes the 1927 Monastirli (Monastirioton) synagogue as well as the 1984 Yad Lazikaron synagogue, located on the ground floor of the Jewish community center. The latter synagogue underwent a recent renovation. The Jewish museum of Thessaloniki offers an excellent panoramic view of the long history of Jewish presence in the city. While in Salonica, we also take a scenic drive through the Upper City and appreciate a slew of architecturally stunning sumptuous villas, built by some of the most affluent Jewish industrialists.

Some historic Jewish communities in the region remain outside of the itinerary we travel, but we also speak at length about the Romaniot and Ashkenazi communities, the important Jewish presence in Bulgaria’s medieval capital — Turnovo, the Jewish communities of Russe (Ruschuk) — the main Bulgarian port town on the Danube, and much, much more.

Learn more about all our Jewish heritage tours here.

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