Ruse is a cosmopolitan city at a crossroads. In its more than 20 centuries of history, a variety of ages have left an imprint on a variety of cultural strata. The spirit of the city, however, always remains unchanging, everlasting and free like the big European river – a river that generates influences, connects, inspires life and promises a future…
Ruse is the biggest Bulgarian city on the Danube River and the most significant transport, logistics, business and cultural centre of North Bulgaria. The number of the population is 150 000.
23 centuries ago, an ancient Thracian port marked the beginning of the town. In the late 1st century, the Roman fortress of Sexaginta Prista (from Latin “port for 60 ships”) became part of the Roman Danube Limes, the northern frontier of the empire. Today, the ruins of Sexaginta Prista are an open-air museum exposition.
In the Middle Ages, Ruse and the Romanian city of Giurgiu on the opposite river bank existed as one settlement. In the early 17th century, Ruse developed into a centre of trade; the port played an important role in the commercial exchange between Central Europe and the Balkan area. That is why the city can be found on all geographical maps from that period.
In the 1860s, the city became the administrative centre of the Ottoman Danube Province, which covered a territory of the size of Bulgaria today. That was the time when for the first time in Bulgaria industrial companies were started in Ruse and the first railway line between Ruse and Varna was built. In the second half of the 19th century, the city was the seat of 11 European diplomatic missions. That accelerated the inflow of European influences, which triggered changes of the day-to-day routines of its residents. Ruse’s history is related to national heroes from the Bulgarian National Revival period. A large number of events that were pioneering to Bulgaria happened in Ruse, and that made the city one of Bulgaria’s major centres of cultural development.
Ruse welcomes its guests with an impressive architectural heritage inspired by the progressive European spirit of its citizens, who invited eminent European architects at the turn of the 20th century to build the architectural environment of the city. Today, dozens of heritage-listed buildings have the European Heritage label.
In the 1950s the largest bridge across the Danube River in its Bulgarian section, and the only one until recently, was built. That bridge opened new prospects to the development of the city. Furthermore, the city is the place wherefrom the democratic processes in Bulgaria started a quarter of a century ago in response to severe environmental problems in Ruse and Giurgiu. The striking film Breathe about the environmental drama of Ruse and Giurgiu in the 1980s became a national symbol of the protest against the political hypocrisy of the totalitarian government.
Ruse is a bridge that delineates and overcomes borders; moreover, in the run of its existence, it has been a centre and a capital. Ruse was the place where the first tokens of Modernity and the industrial age of Bulgaria got born. It is also the place that helped the ideas of humanism, technical and economic development to reach the Southeast of Europe.
The history of the city is an exciting tale of the emergence and the ups and downs of a community that is united by the enterprising mind-set of its freedom-loving people, a community that has been defined as Danubian. Because of dramatic turns of history, it has been challenged to shelter borderers and welcome newcomers. Obsessed with the dream to communicate with the world, it has always appreciated diversity and longed to accommodate progressive ideas.
Ruse is a port on the Danube, where cultural traces from the West and the East, from the North and the South have landed and got rooted. The people living here, equally with the strangers, see Ruse’s identity as a bridge between cultures.
“Anything I subsequently experienced had already happened in Ruschuk” is the summary the Nobel Prize winner in literature Elias Canetti has given about his birthplace. The free spirit of Ruse mirrors a kaleidoscope of languages, traditions, religious beliefs, communities, artistic and architectural works. Like the case with other big European cities, the spirit of Ruse of today was shaped at the turn of the 20th century by a prospering intercultural community. Now, it is still a place of peaceful coexistence of Bulgarians, Armenians, Jews, Turks, Roma and other people; Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims enjoy the freedom to practice their religions. Today, after so much suffering to leave separation behind, and when Europe is so close to the desired goal to share common values, the story of Ruse is still inspiring.
The Statue of Liberty at the central square of Ruse is an embodiment of the citizens’ determination to defend their freedom and civil rights as supreme European values and as energy, paving the path to constructive change. Ruse citizens were the first to initiate civil protests against the totalitarian communist regime in 1987 and to voice aspirations for democratic changes in Bulgaria.
With the European Union experiencing enlargement, the Danube River is becoming a symbol of the united European countries, a metaphor of a European river par excellence. Over 60 years ago, the economic and political ideas of the Rhine Strategy found a solution to the post-war problems, opening prospects for the European Union. Today, the EU Strategy for the Danube Region seeks to overcome post-totalitarian problems. Ruse is a part of their solution and is committed to contribute.
Highly motivated to keep and develop its salient identity of a Free Spirit City and a bridge between cultures, Ruse - being the biggest Bulgarian port on the Danube – declares with self-confidence its sense of belonging to the assets of New Europe.
Representing the multifaceted and multicultural Danubian space, jointly with Giurgiu, its Romanian twin city, Ruse is determined to become a highly visible European centre and a cross-border cooperation leader.