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Pernik, the Old Fortress Town

Straddling both banks of the Struma River in the beautiful Pernik Valley, Pernik is the capital of the municipality of the same name. It has a population of 91,883.

Its scenic location between the Vitosha, Viskyar and Golo Bardo Mountain ranges makes it an ideal place for those who want to work in the capital Sofia, yet find cheaper accommodation away from the city’s hustle and bustle. It is also close to the borders of Serbia, Greece and Macedonia making it a great base to explore some of Bulgarian’s neighbours.

Getting There

Pernik lies in Western Bulgaria just 30 km south west of the capital, 59 km north east of Kyustendil, 70 km north of Blagoevgrad, 52 km from Vidin, 42 km from the spa town Sandanski and only 50 km from Nis in Serbia. Its ideal location means that there are plenty of places to visit for shopping and recreation. Sofia is home to the nearest international airport and there are also good bus and rail links to the capital and to Greece.

A Dip Back in Time

Pernik was the site of a Thracian fortress and its history can be traced back to the 4th century BC. The Roman colonized the area and in the 9th century it became part of the First Bulgarian Empire.  Its name is known to have been derived from that of the Slavic god Perun, although it was once called Krakra after a governor man who ruled here. The town played a significant role as a stronghold against attacks from the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. The Ottomans took control in 1396 and ruled until 1878 and the town lost its importance and was no more than a small stockbreeding area. However, after the liberation, Pernik became industrialized and developed its role as a centre for coal and heavy industry and miners homes were built on the banks of the Struma River. It name changed to Dimitrovo after the Bulgarian Communist chief Georgi Dimitrov but reverted back to Pernik in 1962.

Must See

Whilst Pernik is the country’s foremost mining towns there is some great architecture nestled among the new, modern buildings of the city centre. The Palace of Culture designed by architect Alexander Doubovik and built in the Fifties has a neoclassical appearance and its huge floorspace also houses the Boian Danovski Theatre, the Svetoslav Minkov research library, the city art gallery and art school and the Orpheus orchestra chamber. The sombre Mining Administration building built in the early Thirties is a key landmark as are the miners’ houses on the banks of the river. There is a mining Museum boasting this areas heritage and the Church of St John of Rila also has associations with the towns mining heritage in that it was built in 1919 under the direction of Ivan Simeonov who was the director of the mines at the time. Pernik also hosts a major festival each January known as the Surva International Festival of the Masquerade Games. It is a celebration to welcome in the New Year very similar to kukeri celebrations in other towns.

The History Museum is home to many of the archaeological findings gathered in the area particularly many pieces found around the fortress from the Neolithic era. The museum is also home to the richest exhibition of Thracian pottery in the Central Balkans and a spectacular collection of ancient reliefs and sculptures dedicated to pagan gods Asclepius and Hyigeia, both of whom were said to bring good health particularly in this region, which was rich in mineral springs. The remains of the medieval fortress, with its thick impenetrable walls, is one of the city’s best sites. The old statue of nobleman Krara is also present in the town – a reminder of its dignified past and there is a beautiful park perfect for relaxation and recreation.

There area surrounding the city is perfect for eco tourism and is host to lots of mineral spas near neighbouring towns of Rudarzi and Breznik. The beautiful natural Ostritza Reserve located in the mountainous area of the Golo Bardo is well worth visiting and provides some great hiking territory. Other natural wonders are the cliffs of Zemen, the gorge of the Erma River and the Duhlata Cave the longest cave on the Balkan Peninsula at 17, 500 m in length located at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain near the village of Bosnek. Obviously a trip out to the Vitosha Mountains is well worth the effort be it in winter when the ski season is underway or in summer for the many great hiking and walking routes.

Pictures courtesy of www.bulgariaphotos.net