Blagoevgrad is аn administrative centre of the Blagoevgrad Province in southwestern Bulgaria.It is located in the valley of the Struma River at the foot of the Rila and Pirin Mountains, 101 km south of Sofia, close to the Greek, Serbian and Republic of Macedonia borders.

Blagoevgrad has a rich history with evidence for human habitation dating back to the Neolithic Age. The favorable conditions contributed to the arising Thracian civilization in this area around the 3rd century BC. The hot mineral springs became a center of the Thracian settlement, to which the Roman conquerors later headed. The name of the town of that time is also known – Skaptopara (Upper Market Area), which is related to the Thracian tribe Dentelets, which inhabited the upper current of the river Struma. Around the 1st century AD the Thracians were conquered by the Romans. By the time the Slavs settled in these lands around the 6th-7th century AD, life here flourished. The area was incorporated in the Bulgarian state during the rule of Khan Presiyan in the 9th century. Bulgaria fell under Ottoman Dominion in the 14th century which interrupted the constructive attempts of the local population for as long as five centuries. At the end of the 15th century the present town was established with a the Ottoman name Gorna Dzhumaya which was changed many  times throughout the following centuries - Dyuma Bazari, Dyuma, Orta Dyuma, Dzhumaya, Gorna Dzhumaya. The city established itself as an important administrative and military centre for the Ottoman Empire. During the Revival period (the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century), Dzhumaya was recognized as a large crafts and commercial centre. This is when the Varosha Quarter was built and became known as “the Bulgarian neighborhood” and the seat of enlightenment and cultural life for the Bulgarians since the city was predominantly inhabited by Ottomans. After the Liberation of Bulgaria, according to the Treaty of Berlin (1878), Dzhumaya remained within the territory of Turkey and became a centre of resistance against the foreign rule. The population took part in all major battles for national liberation in the reagion until it was finally incorporated in the Bulgarian stat in 1912. Today Blagoevgrad is the largest and most important city in southwestern Bulgaria and serves as a cultural, administrative, and industrial center for all smaller towns and settlements in that part of the country. It also has a significant transport functions since the two major international routes connecting Bulgaria with Greece and the Republic of Macedonia pass through it.

Things to see:
In the city:
Blagoevgrad features a pedestrian downtown with preserved 19th century architecture and numerous restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and boutiques. Arguably the most interesting part of the city, where you will get a full impression of what life used to be here during the Revival times, is the Old Varosha Quarter - the heart and soul of the local Bulgarians in the times when they were fighting for liberation. Built by the traditional for the Revival epoch - wood and stone, the quarter bears an authentic atmosphere that brings out vivid images of what life must have been back in the day. Situated in the east part of the city, today the quarter is turned into an architectural reserve and while walking down its cobbled streets lined with small galleries and souvenir shops you can visit some of the open for the public Revival houses as well as the first Christian church built in town during the Ottoman rule - the “Presentation of the Blessed Virgin“ (1844 ). It is worth strolling past the old town centre - Makedonia Square, adorned by the monument of the revolutionary Gotse Delchev and lined by the reconstructed cultural clubs in which the Chamber Opera is situated. Of interest to the history lovers would be a visit of the Regional History museum which houses interesting expositions from the entire Pirin region. The Natural History Complex, situated in a beautiful park approximately 30 minutes' walk from the old Varosha Quarter, is a great place for a relaxing walk and a visit of the  zoo and botanical garden which shelters  rare and valuable species and exotic greenery. The new town centre, where the administrative buildings along with the Nikola Vaptsarov Drama Theater, the American University, the Neofit Rilski Southwestern University, and the regional library are situated, is crammed with cafes, bars and cozy small restaurants where you can try the tasty local specialties and people watch. Those interested in arts should not miss the State Puppet Theatre and the Stoyan Sotirov Art Gallery a few minutes’ walk away from the central square in the modern part of town.

Outside the city:
The Blagoevgrad area is part of the region, known as "Pirin" which is characterized by its unique geographic location, the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains, and rich flora and fauna. Three majestic mountain ranges grace the plain - the Rila, Pirin and Rhodope. Rila Mountain is famous for the highest point on the Balkan Peninsula - Musala summit, 2925m. Pirin Mountain is renowned as the most beautiful and the only one with alpine relief within the country. The Rhodope Mountains wrapped up in myths and legends and dotted with Thracian sanctuaries and ancient temples are known as the birthplace of Orpheus. The National Parks in Rila and Pirin mountains are favorite destinations for winter tourism as well as walking, biking, trekking, photo safaris and numerous extreme sports like rock climbing and cave tourism in the warm summer months.

Picturesque lakes and roaring rivers provide the region with pure, fresh spring water. The names of the local rivers Bistritsa, Glazene, Struma and Mesta echo in the songs and the local folklore. The Blagoevgrad municipality has an ample supply of pure mineral water, river systems and lush mountain forests. The beautiful and varied and landscape is widely considered an important resource and a number of national parks and protected territories are established in order to protect the biodiversity. White water rafting is available in the valley of the Struma River.

The most popular cultural and religious sight within the Blagoevgrad region is The Rila Monastery. Founded in the 10th century by St. Ivan of Rila,  it is the greatest Bulgarian monastery - unique architecture, exquisite wall paintings, brilliant iconostasis, a rich collection of icons and old manuscripts - a true masterpiece of the National Revival Period. Under UNESCO's protection, Rila Monastery is one of Bulgaria's biggest sanctuaries and a must see.

The Bachinovo Park only 3 km from Blagoevgrad, in the foot of the Rila Mountain is a great destination for a relaxing afternoon in the open. The well manicured grounds of the park feature an artificial lake where you can hire a paddle boat, facilities for picnic and a multitude of decent priced guest houses to choose from if you decide to spend the night.

The Parangalitsa Natural Reserve, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in the 1970s, is one of four nature reserves in Rila National Park. It is situated within 35 km from Blagoevgrad and its name comes from the Greek word “parangalos”, which means “forbidden”. Parangalitsa is home to one of the oldest spruce forests in Europe. The trees there are on average about 200 years old. The forests offer favorable conditions for the growth of more than 290 species of larger flora and a wide range of fauna, many of which are listed in Bulgaria’s Red Book of endangered and protected species.  It is great destination for mountaineering, walking and trekking.

The smallest town in Bulgaria (208 residents), Melnik, is nested in the south slopes of Pirin, among the Stob sand pyramids with queer forms. It is situated only 30 km from the border with Greece and the finds from antiquity discovered upon the archaeological diggings testify for its centuries-old history. The Slavs called it Melnik, because of the surrounding sand pyramids. Once a powerful trade center Melnik has preserved most of its glorious past and today it  has established itself as  a town-museum  protected by UNESCO due to its remarkable collection of architectural, artistic and archaeological monuments of major historical significance. Most important among them are the three-storey feudal castle, the mediaeval churches containing most valuable icons of the 13th to l9th century. The typical house architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries is notable indeed.  Melnik is also famous for its wine made of unique varieties of grapes.

The Stob Pyramids are exceptional geographical structures for the territory of Bulgaria - earthen pyramids with a variety of forms. Situated near the village of Stob, just outside of Melnik on the western foothills of Pirin the peculiar groupings of pyramids have been given various names by the people and are truly beautiful to visit especially at sunset.

The Rozhen monastery, situated within 5 km of Melnik is the largest religious sanctuary on the territory of the Pirin region. Erected during the Middle Ages,it has preserved its three portions added to it in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Three unique wood-carved altars and over one hundred highly valued icons have also been preserved. The monastery is a genuine masterpiece of art well worth visiting while in this area of the country.

Photos from Blagoevgrad

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