8 Famous People You Didn't Know Were Actually Bulgarian

Sylvie Vartan | ©  Elen Nivrae/Flickr
Sylvie Vartan | © Elen Nivrae/Flickr
Photo of Maria Angelova
28 March 2017

Bulgaria is a small country and many Bulgarians emigrate, believing they can create a better life abroad. Some of these people succeed and become world famous – either for their personal qualities or for their inventions and work. Maybe you know some of them but don’t know they are Bulgarians. Read on to find out who we are talking about.


Known for being the gladiator in charge of the biggest slave uprising in the history of the Roman Empire, the origin of Spartacus is less well known. Historians believe he was part of the Thracian tribes (Bessi, Maedi or Getae), the ancient ancestors of today’s Bulgarians, who lived in what is now Southwest Bulgaria. There’s a statue of Spartacus in Sandanski, one of the major cities in this region.

Spartacus' death by Hermann Vogel | © allposters.com/WikiCommons

Stamen Grigorov

Bulgarians are very proud of their yogurt, as well as of the name of the bacteria that turns fresh milk into yogurt – Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus. The reason why this bacteria has a “Bulgarian” name is that it was first discovered by the Bulgarian scientist doctor Stamen Grigorov back in 1905. A museum dedicated to Stamen Grigorov can be visited in the village where he was born, Studen Izvor, Bulgaria.

Yogurt and fruit I | © veganbaking.net / WikiCommons

Ralitsa Vassileva

Ralitsa Vassileva worked at CNN for 23 years before she left in 2014. During her career in the international media she interviewed world politicians such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Ariel Sharon, and others. Since 2015 she has been the Chicago department director of the Bulgarian BiTelevision company.

CNN headquarters in Atlanta | © lee_wu/Flickr

John Atanasoff

John Atanasoff credited as the inventor of the first electronic digital computer, was actually of Bulgarian descend. His father, Ivan Atanasoff, was born in a village in South Bulgaria. John Atanasoff invented his computer in 1930s while teaching at Iowa State College, together with his graduate student Clifford Berry. In 1939 the Atanasoff-Berry Computer was prototyped.

John Atansoff | © Eye Steel Film from Canada/WikiCommons

Sylvie Vartan

Sylvie Vartan was one of the first rock singers in France. Sylvie was born in 1944 in the village of Iskrets near Sofia. Her father was half-Bulgarian, her mother was Hungarian. Her family fled to France from communist Bulgarian in 1952 where she started her music and cinema career.

Teodora Stefanova

Teodora Stefanova was born in a small Bulgarian village. At the age of 23 she was seriously injured in a car accident and she was in coma for 10 days. When she woke up, she said she could speak to aliens. Teodora moved to Italy where she met Silvio Berlusconi when he was just a businessmen with no political aspirations. She told him he was going to be a prime minister of Italy. When she turned out to be right, Silvio Berlusconi started consulting her on various topics.

Silvio Berlusconi is said to follow Teodora's advice | © alession85/WikiCommons

Christo Javacheff

Christo and Jean-Claude are a married couple, both artists creating contemporary environmental works of art. They are best known for their projects, wrapping huge sites around the world. Sites they have wrapped include the Reichstag in Berlin and Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris. Christo was born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria and studied arts in Sofia but in mid-1950s he escaped communist Europe to move to Vienna and a bit later Paris where he met his future wife Jean-Claude.

Pont Neuf wrapped by Christo | © Airair/WikiCommons

Raina Kabaivanska

One of the best soprano opera singers of 20th century, Raina Kabaivanska spent most of her life in Italy, winning many opera prizes and crowned the most popular person in italy five times. She sang in La Scala, the Royal Opera House in London, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and many more.

Raina Kabaivanska | © Daznaempoveche/WikiCommons

Mark Zuckerberg

Fake news has been circulating on the internet claiming that Mark Zuckerberg is of a Bulgarian origin. The news is citing a non-existing Zuckerberg interview for Associated Press where he reveals his origins. The statement can still be found in many websites but it isn’t true. He was born in White Plains, New York to American parents.

Mark Zuckerberg is not of Bulgarian origin | © AndersFrick/WikiCommons

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