The town of Smolyan is located in the Middle Rhodopes, Southern Bulgaria. It lies 104 km south of Plovdiv and 98 km west of Kardzhali. The town stretches over a huge part of the valley of Cherna River (Black River). The town of Smolyan was founded in 1960 when the three large hamlets Smolyan, Raykovo, and Ustovo merged. The population of the town is approximately 32 000 people.
The oldest archaeological evidence discovered in Smolyan Region date back to the end of the Bronze Age – 13th century BC. The Rhodopes are believed to be a sacred Thracian mountain, the birthplace of Orpheus. Evidence of this period (11th century BC) is provided by the studied sanctuaries on Kom Peak (1570m), the mound necropolis near Gela Village, and the unique flat necropolis at Stoykite Village.
The Thracians converted to Christianity in the 4th – 5th centuries, a fact proven by the presence of many early Christian basilicas (7th – 9th centuries).
After Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottomans, the region of the Middle Rhodopes was given to court physician Aha Chelebi with a decree issued by the Sultan in 1519. That is why this area is also known as Ahachelebi.
Smolyan Region remained part of the territory of the Ottoman Empire until 1912.
The Old Houses Architectural Complex in Cheshitska Quarter attracts the tourists’ attention. This is the oldest quarter in Raykovo Housing Estate, where the most impressive houses built after 1835 can be found. The semi-detached houses are very popular there. In its essence, a semi-detached house consists of two house units divided by a party wall. They are not functionally related to one another. Cheshitevs’ Semi-Detached House was built at the end of the 19th century by an unknown master. It is a typical example of a symmetrical semi-detached house. Its owners – brothers Georgi and Todor Cheshitev were wealthy craftsmen.
Milyon Chesitev’s House is an example of a single symmetrical house that belonged to a rich merchant.
Gyordzhev’s House was constructed in 1873 to meet the household and business needs of a craftsman’s family. The house was initially owned by Raycho Gyordzhev who was a wool producer. In 1984 the house was donated to Smolyan History Museum and was used for the staging of an exhibition dedicated to Hungarian poet and translator Laszlo Nagi.
Chesitska Fountain was built around 1870. According to local legends, its water has healing powers.
Stoyu Shishkov Regional History Museum is one of the most attractive places of interest for the tourists and guests of Smolyan. The Cultural and Historical Wealth of the Rhodopes from Ancient Times Until the Present Day Permanent Exhibition of the museum provides detailed information about the history of the region.
The biggest Planetarium with an astronomical observatory in Bulgaria is located in Smolyan. It started operations in 1975 and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the town. Opportunities for telescope observations are provided there, sessions are held in the stellar hall, performances-tales are available for the youngest children, etc.
The largest Orthodox temple in Southern Bulgaria is also situated in Smolyan. The church was consecrated on 2 July 2006. It is named after Vissarion of Smolyan, a local 17th-century bishop, and martyr.
Smolyan Lakes lies on the left slope of the valley of Cherna River (Black River) and below Orpheus’ Rocks and Snezhanka Peak (Snow White Peak) to the north. There used to be around 20 lakes in the past, but now only seven of them have remained as the others have become swamps. The first lake, Keranovia gyol Lake (also known as Platenoto Lake), is situated at the end of Smolyan, on the left side of the road to Pamporovo and Plovdiv. The lake area provides suitable spots for camping and fishing.
The 750 m-long Nevyastata Eco-Trail (the Bride Eco-Trail) is built outside the town. It leads to Nevyastata Rock (Sokolitsa, Turluka) – one of the symbols of Smolyan. It starts about twenty metres away from the Smolyan – Pamporovo road. The starting point of the route is to the right of the entrance arch of St. Pantaleimon Monastery. The trail wands its way through many picturesque spots – bizarre-shaped rocks overgrown with wild geraniums, moss, and fern.
Soskovcheto Reserve and the Waterfall Canyon Eco-Trail start at the end of Sredok Housing Estate in the western part of Smolyan. The highest point of the trail is at about 1800 m above mean sea level and has a vertical drop of approximately 700 m. The trail goes up the river and crosses a number of water cascades forming a system of small and medium waterfalls that pour their waters from one to the other. The trail crosses metal and beautiful wooden bridges built over Elenska River. They are always followed by rest and picnic spots.
Smolyan offers a warm welcome to its visitors. There are small hotels in the town, but accommodation is also available in the neighbouring villages and Pamporovo Resort. The restaurants serve delicious local dishes.
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