Kardzhali is a town with distinctive natural phenomena and a rich historical and cultural legacy. It is unique in the fact that its population of over 45,000 is predominantly made up of Bulgarian Turks who regardless of religious differences live side by side in peace and harmony. Kardzhali is an eye-catching town close to many interesting sites; it is also the administrative and commercial centre of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains.
Kardzhali lies in the eastern Rhodopes on both banks of the River Arda. It lies on a cross roads between Thrace and the Aegean Sea in Greece making it an ideal spot for those who like to take day trips over the border. It is also 260 km from the capital.
A Dip Back in Time
Civilisation in the area can be traced back to Neolithic times and archaeologists have found a wealth of artefacts to prove this. The Thracians also settled in this area and built many places of worship to the gods of the Sun and the Earth. In 2001 archaeologists discovered a cave close to the village of Nenkovo. It is an artificial cave in the shape of a woman’s womb and on one day of each year the sun shines into it at around noon enabling a ray of light to pass through a small stone opening. This phenomenon puts the cave on a par with Stone Henge because it is believed to have considered multifaceted astronomic properties. The Thracians also built several stone palaces and castles in the area, the most noted of which is the historical site at Perperikon. During the reign of the Byzantines, Kardzhali was the epicentre of Christianity – the Monastery of John the Precursor is testimony to this. Kardzhali is first mentioned under this name in Ottoman documents – it was given to the town in honour of Kardzha Ali a 14th century leader of the Ottoman army leader. The Bulgarian name for the town, which was mentioned up until the 17th century, was Zherkovo. Kardzhali flourished during Ottoman rules because of its strategic location on a major trade route. After the liberation of Bulgaria in the late 19th century Kardzhali became part of Eastern Rumelia and in 1885 it was ceded back to the crumbling Ottoman Empire. In 1921, Bulgarian General Vasil Delov liberated the town as part of the First Balkan War. Up until 1913, nearly every inhabitant in the town was of Turkish origin, but Bulgarian refugees from parts of Thrace no longer included as Bulgarian territory began to settle there. Some Turkish people moved to the Ottoman Empire and this migration continued right up until 1989. Some of it was voluntary whilst some was forced under the treaties between Bulgaria and Turkey. Kardzhali still has the largest population of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria.
Kardzhali is also close to two large dams located on the River Arda; Studen Kladenez Dam lies on the east side and Kardzhali Dam on the west. The city is squeezed in between these two dams The Kurdzhali Dam reservoir is a great place for water sports and fishing and was recently filled with European perch from the Ovcharitsa dam and around 45,000 carp.
A site worth seeing in the town’s Vesselchane Quarter is the old Monastery of John the Precursor believed to date back to the 11th century. It has undergone some renovation, which includes a new bell tower. One site that you will be forced to take note of is the town clock. It is the only one in the country, which chimes out Bulgarian revolutionary songs on the hour. Kardzhali’s Museum of History has a large display – one of the biggest in Southern Bulgaria – of Thracian and Neolithic tools and ceramics some of which were unearthed in Perperikon. There are also many exhibits of Christian icons. The museum is housed in the 19th century Turkish town hall known as the konak, which is a prime example of Ottoman architecture. The town also has two impressive theatres; "Dimitar Dimov" and "Kadrie Lyatifova", which is a puppet theater and a museum of history as well as an art gallery. Kardzhali’s newest monument is the “Orpheus’ Lyre” plastics. This modern and unique monument is located at the point where four roads meet.
The town is bustling with entertainment with many pavement restaurants, bars and cafes and many overlook the dam. A great place to take the kids is Prostor Park where they can ride on a little train, whilst you admire the beautifully manicures gardens.
A short distance out of town, carved into the rock high above a beautiful valley the Thracian town of Perperikon is believed to have been a place of worship. It is the largest structure of stone in the whole of Bulgaria and is thought to have been built in honour of the god Dionysus.
Another site five km from the town close to a village named Zimzelen, is the badlands, which is home to a collection of white pillars dubbed as the “Kardzhali Pyramids". They were formed from consolidated volcanic ash ejected from vents during a volcanic eruption. Each rock formation has a name based on what it looks like, hence there is one called "The Mushrooms" and another called the "Stone Wedding".
Pictures courtesy of www.bulgariaphotos.net