Earthquakes in Bulgaria: A Look Back in Time

The last relatively strong earthquake rattled western Bulgaria on May 22nd, 2012, in the early morning hours. Residents of Sofia, and especially inhabitants of Pernik, a town close to the epicenter, were literally thrown out of their beds.

Books and other objects fell out of shelves, millions of lamps fixed to ceilings swung back and forth for a while. The earthquake also caused pretty weird noises. And everyone affected understood these were strong forces nobody could control, which usually is a scary aspect.

Once it had happened, thousands of people in the Bulgarian capital left their apartments, due to the fear of aftershocks, and roamed the streets. At Boulevard Czar Boris III, a pizzeria opened at 4 a.m.. The owner probably thought if he and everyone else was awake, he might as well offer food and drinks.

“I never want to experience that kind of quake ever again.” This was the comment of an apartment owner in Sofia’s Mladost district. He lived on the 8th floor and said, from his perspective, the building had behaved like a ship in a stormy sea.

But what Sofia went through that night was harmless, compared to Pernik, a poor town of around 80,000 inhabitants. This is where countless buildings and houses were damaged. The situation was far more serious there.

One person died in that earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6. The tremor was registered in a depth of only 10 kilometers, which might be one reason why it did so much damage.

But Bulgaria has had earthquakes which were a lot stronger. On October 14th, 1802, well over 200 years ago, an extremely strong one hit neighboring Romania, at 7.9 on the Richter scale. This one was not only felt all over Bulgaria, but it did damage in northern part of the country.

According to a French publication entitled “Etude comparative sur quelques tremblements de terre de Roumanie”, the Bulgarian towns Ruse, Silistra, Varna and Vidin were almost completely destroyed.

Three more strong tremors, with magnitudes from 6.0 to 7.5 hit Romania and Bulgaria during the 19th century. It is unclear how many people were killed or injured in those two countries.

The 20th century started with a strong earthquake the epicenter of which was registered close to the Kaliakra peninsula at Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast. It happened on March 31st, 1901. The magnitude was 7.2.

In this case, 1,200 houses in Bulgaria and Romania were destroyed. There was even a Tsunami with waves in heights of up to 5 meters, which hit the coast line.

One of the most terrible earthquakes in Bulgarian history happened on April 4th, 1904. It had a strength of 7.2 and epicentered in western Bulgaria, near the town of Krupnik. More than 200 people lost their lives. The damage must have been extensive, considering this tremor was even felt in Hungary, which is located hundreds of kilometers north-west.

Two strong quakes, both of them had a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter Scale, hit the Gorna Oryahovitza region in 1908 and 1909. In 1913, another one hit the region around Ruse, a larger town at the Danube river in northern Bulgaria.

The 1913 quake also hit Veliko Tarnovo very hard. Andrew Searly, a British expatriate who lives in the region, remembers an exhibition during the 100th anniversary of the town, in 2013, which contained information about the tremor. He says 80% of Veliko Tarnovo’s Old Town was destroyed “and it cost more than 12 million Leva to re-build.”

“Soon after the anniversary I bought an apartment in the old town”, Searly told Magazine79. “And the workers renovating it for me told me that some of the damage on the outside wall of the apartment was done during the earthquake.”

Then, on April 14th of 1928, another strong tremor struck Bulgaria, with a magnitude of 7.1. The epicenter was located near Chirpan, between Sofia and Plovdiv. At least 107 Bulgarians were killed that day, 500 were injured.

In a large region around the epicenter, a total of 26,000 buildings were destroyed, and thousands more severely damaged. The Catholic Hospital in Plovdiv (see photo at top of page) partially collapsed. An aftershock, which developed the same magnitude as the actual earthquake, happened four days later.

Razgrad was damaged by an earthquake which took place on March 17th, 1942, during World War II.

Just like 175 and 137 years before, yet another quake in the Romanian Vrancea Mountains affected Bulgaria too, on March 4th, 1977. In this country, which was ruled by a communist regime at the time, 120 people died and 165 were injured, when the earthquake hit with a magnitude of 7.2.

Only a few months later, in November of 1977, hundreds of buildings were damaged in yet another tremor which epicentered near Velingrad. In 1986, three people died during another moderate quake near Strazhitsa, in northern Bulgaria, and a 1990 quake, another one of those which originated in the Vrancea Mountains next door, did damage.

Since the new millennium dawned, a fifth Vrancea earthquake was felt across the border, in northern Bulgaria. Then, in 2012, the Pernik earthquake happened, the one which was mentioned above. Yet another one in the Aegan Sea, in 2014, was felt in Bulgaria too.

The tremor measured today, at 4.1, with its epicenter near Gotse Delchev, was harmless compared to the strong earthquakes Bulgaria suffered in the past 200 years.

Bulgaria is located in an earthquake region. The Bulgarians, and whoever else lives here, will have to expect earthquakes. So do those who want to build another nuclear power plant in Belene, where tremors could do damage. A grand idea.

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