Last update12:12:22 PM

Back You are here: Home Area Focus Rural and Authentic Vratsa: The Ancient and Young Mountain Town

Vratsa: The Ancient and Young Mountain Town

There are few people in this world who have touched anything like the beauty and nature that surrounds the mountain town of Vratsa and few outsiders realize that this town is by far one of the most picturesque towns in Bulgaria. Home to 62,909 inhabitants and located in northwestern Bulgaria at the foot of the Balkan Range traversed by the Leva River, Vratsa is a town full of spirit, art and culture, with many protected natural wonders and historic monuments. It has a rich crafts industry as well as being a commercial hub and main railway junction. The area’s extreme natural beauty has provided much in the way of recreation and the town’s motto is “Town as the Mountain - Ancient and Young!”

Getting There

Vratsa is located 116 km from Sofia, which is also the nearest international airport, 40 km from the town of Montana and 14 km to the northwest of Mezdra. It is well connected to the Bulgarian State Railway network and there are regular trains to Sofia, Lom, Vidin, and Mezdra. The public bus service operates frequent routes to local villages as well as to Sofia, Pleven, Vidin, Montana, Kozloduy, Oryahovo, Mezdra. During the summer there are bus connections to the resorts on the coast as well as international connections with Spain and Portugal although these are not as frequent and need to be booked in advance.

A Dip Back in Time

Founded by the Thracians and predominantly the Thracian Triballi tribe, Vratsa rapidly became famed for its metalwork and clay production and this legacy has remained over centuries with the people of this area. The Tribali was feared across Thrace and waged war with just about every tribe in the area. In 339 B.C. they waged war against Phillip of Macedonia and the king was badly wounded during this battle. In 335 B.C. they took on Alexander the Great and eventually became one of his best allies. By the 3rd century B.C. the Triballi fortunes waned and they were defeated by the Celts and in 168 B.C they were beaten by the Germanic tribe known as the Bastar, who left them to live in poverty.

In Roman times the city was known as Valve, which literally means "the door of a fortress" because the main gate into the city, which led into the fortress, was so narrow a passageway. This gate is now the symbol of the city and is depicted on the Vratsa coat of arms. When ancient Rome fell, the city became part of the Byzantine Empire and by the end of the 6th century it was inhabited by South Slavic tribes.
By the 7th century, Slavic Vratsa was incorporated into the newly-formed Bulgarian State. The city’s strategic location close to the country’s southern border meant that it grew in significance and at this time its name was changed to the Slavic word Vratitsa, which still means "the door of a fortress." As the town grew in importance it became famous for its trade in gold and silver and for the skills of its gold and silversmiths. The town’s craft people also produced impressive examples of good quality pottery.

Vratsa’s importance in the Bulgarian State declined during the 8th century, when the Bulgarian army invaded Sofia. The future capital was larger, better located and had a more sophisticated economy. Vratsa remained a key military location and played a leading role in resistance operations against the invasions throughout the Middle Ages.

During the Ottoman takeover, Vratsa resisted and presented a major obstacle for the invading Turkish army. The Turks subdued Vratsa by murdering all of its educated and rich inhabitants and driving the rest of the population from the fort, where they were forced to build shelters made from materials scattered around the city walls. This systematically deprived and ruined the town into submission. The legendary revolutionary Hristo Botev led an army against the Ottoman Turks here and met his untimely death in the Vratsa Mountains.

Eating, Drinking and Where to Stay

Vratsa offers some stylish accommodation with a diverse range of prices; the Hotel Hemus provides easy access to the theatre and a host of bars, restaurants and clubs. If marveling over the scenery and enjoying the peace and quiet of this wonderful area is more to your taste then try the Hotel Chaika, which lies in the Vratza Mountains close to the River Leva. The Dolce Vita Hotel complex is perfect for family visits particularly in summer as it has a large recreational pool along with a bar and restaurant. The hotel complex Hushove, which lies 3 km from the town centre close to Botev`s alley is a small hotel offering accommodation for 37 guests with a charming three-tiered restaurant, which has a beautiful open fireplace. The complex also has an outdoor restaurant with seating for 300 diners as well as two outdoor swimming pools. The Hotel Valdi Palace located in the centre has 63 rooms and 6 apartments as well as a cocktail bar, restaurant, sauna, fitness centre and a night club.

There is a variety of good traditional restaurants, plenty of cafes and night clubs.
Jazz lovers will enjoy the buzzing Vratsa Jazz Club on Ruski Square; this fun club offers entertainment by candlelight along with alcoholic drinks and a wide variety of snacks. The Verchernika restaurant in the centre and the Restaurant Borstvo in the Uchenicheski Kompleks are both worth sampling.

Pictures courtesy of Peter Petrov: