Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria 

Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria

The Rhodope Mountains are a mountain range in Southeastern Europe. stretched between Bulgaria and Greece.  About 80% of the Rhodope mountains are in Bulgaria and 20% in Greece.

 

The Rhodopes are a complex system of ridges and deep river valleys and are particularly notable for their karst areas with large caves, sculptured rock formations, and beautiful canyons, such as the Trigrad and Buynovsko Gorges. 

The Rhodopes are very pleasant mountains to walk. Their mild relief, lush vegetation, amazing panoramic views (almost everywhere you look), long trails passing through flowering meadows and ancient forests, make them perfect for day trips and multi-day hikes alike.

But there is more than just beautiful nature. The sparsely populated area of the Rhodope Mountains has been a place of ethnic and religious diversity for hundreds of years resulting in the creation of unique cultural heritage you can't see anywhere else in Europe.  

 

During the Cold War, the Rhodope Mountains formed part of the boundary of the Iron Curtain and pieces of evidence from it and the Second World War, like trenches, watchtowers and barbed wire can still be seen along the border.

Peaks, Nature Reserves, Climate

The highest and best-known peaks are located in the West Rhodope Mountains - more than 10 are over 2,000 meters 6,562 ft high - including the highest one, Golyam Perelik (2,191 meters, 7,188 ft). Other popular peaks are Orpheus Peak / Shirokolashki Snezhnik (2,188 meters, 7,178 ft), Golyam Persenk (2,091 meters, 6,860 ft), Batashki Snezhnik (2,082 meters, 6,831 ft), Turla (1,800 meters, 5,906 ft).

Fifteen reserves have been established in the Rhodope Mountains, some of which are under UNESCO protection programs. The mountains are famous for being home to the largest coniferous woods in the Balkans. 

The climate is to a great extent determined by its location in the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is influenced both by the colder air coming from the north and by the warmer breeze entering from the Mediterranean, creating a favorable microclimate in many areas of the mountains. An example of such microclimate is Pamporovo, one of the biggest ski resorts in Bulgaria, only an hour and a half drive from Plovdiv. Pamporovo is known for being the sunniest ski resort in Bulgaria. The ski season in there starts from early December and lasts until April. 

The Rhodope Mountains have abundant water reserves with a dense network of mountain springs and rivers. And while there are only a few natural lakes, some of the largest dams in the country are located in the Rhodopes including the Dospat DamBatak DamGolyam BeglikKardzhali DamStuden KladenetsVacha DamShiroka Polyana, and in the Greek Rhodope Mountains the dams of Thisavros and Platanovrysi.

Photos: 1- Slow Tours Bulgaria; 2- Wikipedia; 3-VisitBatak

History​, Myths & People

The sparsely populated area of the Rhodope Mountains has been a place of ethnic and religious diversity for hundreds of years. Apart from the Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians and Greeks, the mountains are also home to a number of Muslim communities, including the Pomaks, that predominate in the western parts and a large concentration of Bulgarian Turks, particularly in the Eastern Rhodopes. The mountains are also one of the regions associated with the Sarakatsani, a nomadic Greek people who traditionally roamed between Northern Thrace and the Aegean coast.

The Rhodope Mountains were inhabited since the Prehistoric age, but the first people known to have lived in the area were the Thracians. The most famous Thracian town Perperikon, and the ancient temple Tatul are both located in the Eastern Rhodope mountains, near the town of Kardzhali. 

 

The frequent mention of the Rhodope Mountains in Ancient Greek and Latin sources indicates that the mountains had played an important role in the political and religious life of the Thracian tribes that lived in it.

 

There are many rock shrines and ritual sites related to the cult of Dionysus and Zagreus, and some researchers believe that Belintash is indeed the temple of the famed Oracle of Dionysus, which Alexander the Great and later the father of Octavian Augustus visited to ask what their future holds. 

During the Cold War, the border between Bulgaria and Greece along the Rhodope Mountains formed part of the Iron Curtain. Pieces of evidence from it and the Second World War, like trenches, watchtowers and barbed wire can still be seen along the border today. The multi award-winning book "Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe" by Kapka Kassabova is a perhaps one of the most astonishing books written about what the Iron Curtain border did to the people who live along it. It is a powerful book with a strong message. We highly recommend it. 

This page is still work in progress, Please come back soon to read more interesting things about the Rhodope Mountains or contact us if you would like us to plan the perfect hiking trip in the Rhodope Mountains for you. 

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