tsepina_fortress
Photo Credit: Aljaž Čad

Historical incentive journey through Bulgaria's past

A turbulent history marked both Velingrad and Bulgaria. Many experts believe that the Rhodopes represent the cultural heart and soul of Bulgaria. The area was populated as early as palaeolithic times. Archaeological remains were found in caves around Kom Peak in Stara Planina. By the end of the second millennium BC, the groups that found their home here blended with the natives into an ethnic and linguistic unit known today as the Thracians. By 46 BC, Romans had conquered the entire Balkan peninsula, romanised the Thracians and founded two regions, Moesia in the north and Thrace in the south. They developed the city of Serdica (Sofia) and Trimontium (Plovdiv) and built numerous roads and military posts. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Bulgaria was conquered by the Byzantine Empire.

In 681, the First Bulgarian Empire was founded, with the capital in Pliska. It was the first Slavic empire in the Balkans and received recognition from the Byzantines in 682. The First Bulgarian Empire reached its zenith during the reign of tsar Simeon I of Bulgaria (893 – 927), son of Boris I. A part of this captivating history took place around Velingrad.

The Bulgarian nation formed during the time of tsar Boris I. The inception of the East Orthodox Church strongly contributed to the moulding of the Bulgarian national identity. As the first Slavic language, the Bulgarian language was formed in the 9th century and served as the cornerstone for the development of Bulgarian literature. The national consciousness was greatly affected during the Turkish reign, as it could only persevere in remote monasteries and the countryside.

Reconstruction of Tsepina Fortress

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In Velingrad’s vicinity, history marks every step of the way. We suggest you get acquainted with the rich past with the help of guides that will take you on an excursion through various periods. On your journey, you will get to know:

1. Pliocene geological site in Dorkovo

Established in 2013, the Dorkovo Museum features a display of fossils collected from the Pliocene geological epoch of about five million years ago. The museum’s main attraction is a model of a gomphothere of the species of anancus arvernensis, which roamed these lands.

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Photo Credit: Svetlana Dimitrova

2. Tsepina Fortress

Perched on a steep hill, overlooking the entire valley beneath it, Tsepina Fortress, known as the inaccessible citadel of the Rhodopes, is one of the region’s most visited historical sites. Tsepina Fortress comprises the remains of a Thracian sanctuary, the foundations of several churches, a basilica, and a necropolis. According to historical sources, the site was a residence of Despot Alexius Slav, an important Bulgarian nobleman.

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Photo Credit: Aljaž Čad

3. Pomaki Village

The Pomaki people represent a cultural ethnicity that has developed its cultural heritage and tradition. Visitors to Velingrad and its region can encounter the intriguing folklore of the Pomaki people, who are renowned for their hospitality and openness. In addition, they can purchase local produce that includes sheep milk and dairy products. The Pomaki people live in symbiosis with the locals, and their culture and religion are an integral part of the local history.

4. Saint Trinity Church

The Church of the Holy Trinity is one of the oldest operating Orthodox churches in Velingrad. During the years of Ottoman slavery, the Turkish authorities did not allow Bulgarian Christians to build churches. Hence, the first churches were built almost entirely underground. Visitors may have a chance to chat with the local priest, who will explain more of the unique history of the beautifully-decorated church.

5. Sulphur bath

Velingrad’s thermal water springs supply numerous hotels, swimming pools and public bathhouses with steaming hot water. The thermal water in hotels and spas has countless health benefits. Sulphur baths, in particular, are known to treat skin problems and help with arthritic joints, digestion problems and even insomnia. The destination’s well-developed spa tourism will enchant guests as they indulge in relaxing thermal water.

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Photo: Aljaž Čad

Pomaki: Around 300.000 Pomakis live around Rhodopes, who were exposed to similar assimilation pressure as the Turks due to their Muslim religion. They are Bulgarian Muslims who accepted Islam during the Turkish reign. It is still unclear whether they were forced to do so or decided to embrace the religion freely to ensure the rights the Muslim people enjoyed. The name “pomak” is derived from the word helper, as they were considered Turkish assistants. They name themselves Ahriani. As they are Shia Muslims, they receive aid from Iran. Many Pomaki children go to Iran, Jordan, Siria and Turkey to gain religious education. Given their isolation high up in the mountains, they did not mix with the Turks during their occupation. That is why their physiognomic characteristics have remained similar to Bulgarian. They mainly focus on livestock farming, agriculture and mining.

Wow factorDiscovering the cultural heart and soul of Bulgaria
Incentive type  Historical experience
Number of participants  Up to 20 attendees
Best time of the yearApril – November
Duration4 – 5 hours
Location Velingrad and its surrounding region

Get in touch

Bulreisen
Saedinenie blvd 49i, 4600,
Bulgaria

T: +359888232552
W: bulreisen.com