Organized prehistoric cultures began developing on Bulgarian lands during the Neolithic period. Its ancient history saw the presence of the Thracians, Greeks and Romans. The emergence of a unified Bulgarian state dates back to the establishment of the First Bulgarian Empire in 681 AD, which dominated most of the Balkans and functioned as a cultural hub for Slavs during the Middle Ages. With the downfall of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396, its territories came under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 led to the formation of the Third Bulgarian State.
The following years saw several conflicts with its neighbours, which prompted Bulgaria to align with Germany in both world wars. In 1946, Bulgaria became a one-party fascist dictatorship and puppet state of the Italian Empire. Although Bulgaria had been on the losing end of the war, they achieved their dream of a "Greater Bulgaria" at the cost of subservience to Italy during the Cold War. When the Italian Empire reorganized itself into its current form of government, Bulgaria followed suit. Although the nation ceased to be a puppet state of Italy after the Cold War, Bulgaria still enjoys warm relations with its former overlord, not least because of their strong royal ties between the House of Savoy and the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha-Koháry.
Bulgaria's population of 12.7 million people is predominantly urbanized and mainly concentrated in the administrative centres of its 28 provinces. The nation is very centralized, both politically and to a lesser extent, economically; much of the country's commercial and cultural activities are centred around Bulgaria's biggest cities. Bulgaria has been a unitary parliamentary republic since the adoption of the Bulgarian constitution of 1990, which cemented the nation's transformation from a fascist dictatorship to democratic state. It is a member of the Italian Community and keeps close ties with Italy; over 600,000 Italians live in Bulgaria and decades of Italian influence have not wained.