Location:The town of Kardzhali is situated in the lower eastern part of the Rhodope Mountain, in the middle of the Arda River's valley between the Kardzhali dam to the West and the Studen Kladenets dam to the East. Within 259 kilometres from Sofia, it is inhabited by about 76 000 people.

History:The town has preserved traces of various ages and cultures - prehistoric, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval (from the time of the First and Second Bulgarian kingdoms), and Ottoman. The first inhabitants of these lands were Thracians, subdued later by the Romans. After them came the Slavic tribe of Smoleni. During the Middle Ages the settlement often changed hands. At the time of the creation of the Slavo-Bulgarian state, it was within the territory of the Byzantine Empire. It became part of the Bulgarian state during the rule of Tsar Simeon. The Ottoman Turks conquered it during the 14th century and populated it with colonists from Asia Minor. Many are the legends and the stories about how Kardzhali got its name, but the most famous one is about Kardzha Ali – a holy warrior. It is said that when the Ottoman Turks attacked the Rhodope Mountains at the time when Sultan Murad I (1360-1389), the army was guided by the warrior Kardzha Ali. He was killed in a battle and the new settlement was called Kardzhali in his name. After the town was liberated from Ottoman rule in 1912, it flourished as a trade and agricultural centre.

Things to see:
In the city:One of the landmarks of Kardzhali is the Regional History Museum located in a well manicured park and housed in a beautiful building, from the 1920s. The cultural artefacts, exhibited there, have been collected for almost 50 years and are presented on three floors. The city’s Art Gallery, converted from the former konak (Ottoman police-administration centre) is well worth visiting, too. It preserves a unique collection of icons, made by distinctive artists from the Rhodope Mountains and Thrace, along with artworks of three generations of Bulgarian artists, graphics and sculptors. The building itself is an architectural and cultural monument of local importance. An important medieval monument located in the town of Kardzhali is the temple “St. John the Baptist”, located in Veselchane quarter. It was a part of a medieval monastery complex that existed throughout the 11th - 14th century, when the monastery fortress became an Episcopal residence. Even though today it is closed for public, it still is a significant part of the cultural heritage of the town. The monastery complex “St. Mary’s Assumption” situated in Gledka quarter preserves  a small piece of Christ’s cross, which was found in a relic sit and it is believed to possess miraculous powers. 

Outside the city:
Arguably the most famous tourist site in the region is the sanctuary Perperikon. The remains of the city of Perperikon, perched on a rocky mountain peak within 15 kilometres of Kardzhali dated to the Neolithic times are unique in archaeological, historical, natural and multi-religious aspect. This ancient city is one of the Bulgarian and World Wonders and in the recent years it has been among the most visited tourist sites in the country. In general terms, Perperikon consists of four sections - a mighty fortress (acropolis) on the highest part of the hill, palace-sanctuary just below the acropolis, plus northern and southern lower towns. The interior of the acropolis is built up with many chapels and civil structures. Despite the fact that a significant part of the complex is still underground you can find many places permitting walking on wide streets, cut directly out of the rock, and also to enter into well preserved whole homes. It is suggested that the palace is possibly a monumental temple ensemble to the god Dionysus, which reached its zenith during the Roman era. The buildings of Perperikon amaze with the incredible talents of the creators. According to specialists, this grandiose archaeological complex could be compared to world monuments like Mycenae, Delphi or Crete.

Interesting landmarks in the region are the Rock niches situated near the village of Dazhdovnitsa, 10 kilometers northwest of Kardzhali. Dated back to the period between 1,200 and 550 year BC, they are still wrapped in legends and various hypotheses exist about the reasons why they are there.  According to some theories, the niches are places, where urns with the ashes of common people were placed in ancient times, while the rich and senior people were buried in carved rock tombs, which can be seen in many places in the Rhodope Mountains. Other hypothesis exist that the niches used to have small doors, and small statues of gods were placed in them. There are also claims that the young people, who were dedicated to the Orphic Thracian cult, carved the niches at difficult to reach places, and in this way they were proving their manhood. Whatever the origins of this peculiar rock – carved niches, they are for sure an intriguing phenomenon to be explored.

The Utroba (Womb) cave is situated at a distance of about 17 kilometres from Kardzhali. Its name has to do with the shape of the cave resembling a woman’s womb. Water constantly flows on the walls of the cave and an altar carved in the southern inner end was used in Thracian times for special rituals and ceremonies. 

A great natural rock phenomenon to visit near the villages of Zimzelen, Povet and Dobrovolets are the Rock pyramids – formed by volcanic tufts in various colours due to the numerous oxides, mainly iron and manganese, in their composition. Among many of them, the nature has carved out geological fairy-tale characters that can’t fail to fascinate you.

The Monyak fortress located 11 kilometres east of Kardzhali, near the village of Shiroko pole was built in the 12th – 13th century and is one of the highest-located medieval fortresses in the Rhodope Mountains. The view towards the rolling mounts and valleys in its surroundings is stunning.

The Devil's Bridge (Dyavolski Most) on the Arda River is a triple-arched bridge approximately 10 km from the town of Ardino.  The name of the bridge comes from an old picture by an unknown artist, in whom a reflection of the rocks is seen in the water, above the highest arch: the image appears as the Devil's head. The natural phenomenon appears annually on a certain day, at a certain time and at a certain level of water and position of the sun. The bridge was built during the 14-15th century on an ancient trade route that connects Thrace and the Aegean region. It is made of stones held together extremely tightly - its lime mortar is purported to be mixed with egg and olive oil.

The Eagles' Cliff's (Orlovite Skali) is a picturesque area about 2 km from Ardino where a Thracian sanctuary dating from the 1st century B.C. is situated.  In 96 varying in size niches carved out in the sheer cliffs urns were placed as a part of ancient burial rituals.

The Zhenda State Wild Game Reserve covers an area of 16 118 ha and features low mountainous (from 400 to 1 100 m), crossed by steep and rocky gullies.  Red deer, fallow deer, roe deer and wild boar are the main representatives of the wildlife that inhabit permanently or temporarily the territory of “Zhenda”. Two hunting lodges maintained to very high standards - “Zhenda” and “Bolyartsi”, provide an opportunity for combined hunting for two hunting groups.

The two large dams located in close proximity to Kardzhali – Studen Kladenets and Kardzhali, which are preferred fishing and recreational destinations for people from all over the country and offer a multitude of walking, biking and trekking trails, as well as various opportunities for photo and bird-watching safaris.

Photos from Kardzhali

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