Located almost half-way between Sofia, Bulgaria and Thessaloniki, Greece, the town of Blagoevgrad is synonymous with youth and tradition alike.
Home to about 70,000 people, Blagoevgrad welcomes thousands of college students each year in one of its two universities – Southwestern University “Neofit Rilski” and American University in Bulgaria. Coffee shops, fast food spots, a modern movie theater, a bowling alley, a casino, and numerous footwear and apparel shops, big chain stores and small kiosks vie for the population’s attention. At Christmas a big tree is decorated and lit in front of the municipal building, and in the summer the water fountains bubble happily in the town’s squares. The city garden park, recently renovated, welcomes kids and their parents with benches and playgrounds. Natural park Bachinovo is located approximately 5 km from downtown Blagoevgrad and it offers a pond, walking alleys amidst green trees, and playgrounds for children. There is also a café for the grown-ups.
The Legend of the Horse
Approaching Blagoevgrad from the South, one is greeted by a statue of a horse hovering over the highway. Legend has it that where the city lies today there used to be only fields. A young and strong horse came through these lands and as he hit the ground with his hoofs, hot mineral water started springing up. This is why a town was built in this place, to harness the wellness of the mineral springs, where Blagoevgrad stands today. This is why the horse is the symbol of the town today.
Blagoevgrad lies 100 km (60 miles) South of the capital, Sofia, and 155 km (96 miles) North of the second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki. Blagoevgrad offers a wide range of day trips to various near and distant places of interest in Southwest Bulgaria. It takes only a 40-minute car drive to the Rila Monastery – an impressive spiritual cloister for Bulgarians over the centuries. Excellent roads in the South lead to the pyramids of Melnik (the smallest city in the country), and to the Rozhen Monastery. And the popular winter resort of Bansko is located only within 50 km.
A fair walk along the Bistritsa riverside leads to the new modern Aqua Park, tennis courts and Bachinovo Park. The road continues on to Bodrost restort – the perfect place for the nature lovers and winter sports fans. Here Kartala ski-center is being developed and modernized according to European standards – with a gondola ski lift, new ski areas, hotels, and holiday villages. The sport area is located in the proximity of the biosphere reserve Parangalitsa and Macedonia chalet, a point of departure to the most beautiful spots of the Rila National Park.
The center of the district offers a variety of cultural options. Theater, opera house, cinema, history museum, and concert hall are available to the region’s residents. With more than 10 elementary and 10 secondary schools, the town prepares students in areas such as foreign languages, mathematics, natural sciences, computers, arts, economics, and technology / engineering. The Pirin Ensemble is a center of folklore art that delivers unforgettable dance shows in Bulgaria and in 60 countries over all continents. It is the true cultural ambassador of Bulgaria all over the world.
Large chains such as Kaufland, Metro, Technopolis, Technomarket, Mr. Bricolage, and Billa offer more choices for the shoppers, but also employ a large number of residents. Even though it is among the biggest cities in Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad struggles with a relatively high unemployment rate, low salaries, and comparatively high cost of living. Real estate prices are comparable to those in the capital, while income is approximately 3 times as low. One of the more desired employers in the town still is Blagoevgrad BT, a tobacco company. The town is also famous for its brand of beer – Pirinsko Pivo, and for producing great football (soccer) players.
Varosha, the Old Town
The Varosha district nestled at the foot of the eastern hill of the town is a quarter of some twenty completely restored old houses, most of them used by children for crafts and other creative activities. These architectural monuments of the Bulgarian national revival are built up on a strong bed of stone, coated in white, decorated with wooden ornaments. Varosha attracts the townsfolk with its atmosphere of a cherished past. Cobblestone streets lead to the house of birth of Georgi Izmirliev – Makedoncheto, an apostle of the movement of liberation in Veliko Tarnovo.
“Presentation of the Blessed Virgin” church (1844) is next to it. Two of the icons: “Christ – the Good Shepherd” and “St. Cyril & St. Methodius”, and the iconostasis are praised as remarkable works of the then masters.
Museum of History
The Southern part of Varosha ends at the imposing building of the Historical Museum. The spirit of eternity lives in it; it preserves unique evidence of the glorious history of the Southwest Bulgarian lands. This museum exhibits and preserves in its stock more than 116 000 articles – cult figures from the prehistoric age, finds of Thracian coins, gorgeous vessels, adornments, pottery, icons, household utensils and tools.
This town, so vibrant and youthful, changes with the seasons yet stays the same. Its history and traditions are embodied in the life and minds of its residents; its future is being written every day. It is a special place that feels like home for all.