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The close identification of the Bulgarian Orthodox religion with the nation was a thread that wove through much of the country's history, as the Church repeatedly found itself shouldering the burden of nation-building and acting as sanctuary to Bulgarian culture.Under the reign of Boris I's son, Czar Simeon (893-927), the First Bulgarian Empire reached its maximum size and its golden age of art, literature, and commerce.The famous crop of the dry and dusty Tundzha Valley, or the "Valley of the Roses," makes Bulgaria the world's largest exporter of attar, or extract, of roses.

The Bulgarian flag is composed of three horizontal stripes, white, green, and red in color.

The country's main agricultural regions—the Danubian and Maritsa plains—grow large quantities of corn, tomatoes, tobacco, wheat, barley, grapes, sugar beets, oil-seeds, potatoes, and soybeans.

Bulgaria's population numbered about 8.9 million in 1990.

Two-thirds of the populace is urban, with over one million people living in the capital city, Sofia.

What evolved was a unified kingdom whose cultural and military achievement, at its height, rivalled that of Byzantium.

The First Bulgarian Kingdom arose in the early ninth century.

A handful of monasteries still bear frescoes dating from this period. It was plagued by constant warfare against the Byzantines, the Magyars, and the Kievan Russians and by internal disarray.

In 1014, the Bulgarian czar Samuel lost a decisive battle to the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, who ordered the mass blinding of 14,000 Bulgarian prisoners.

But as the fourteenth century neared its end, a new threat stood poised at the southern frontier of the Bulgarian kingdom—the armies of the Ottoman Empire, which had already gained a foothold on the European shores of the Aegean.

In 1385 Sofia became the first major Bulgarian city to fall to the Ottoman Empire.

The kingdom extended from the Adriatic to the Black Sea, touching the Aegean at its southern frontier and enveloping Belgrade in the north.