Blagoevgrad (77 368 resident population, 430 m altitude) is a town located at the foot of the Rila Mountain, in the valley of the river Struma near the river of Blagoevska Bistritza. It is about 100 km south of Sofia city, 53 km north-west of Razlog and 65 km north of Sandanski. The town is a district center and a popular balneological resort.
History - The earliest traces of settled life date from the III millеnium B.C. The town arose on the place of the ancient Thracian settlement Scaptopara (market town), built near warm mineral springs, among fertile fields and virgin woods. Scaptopara existed till VI century A.C when it was destroyed in barbarian invasions. The survived population established a new settlement, included in the borders of the Bulgarian state in IX century.
With the name Gorna Djumaya (upper market) the settlement was mentioned for the first time in 1502 (in a document of the Rila Monastery). The later name Banya was mentioned first in 1576. During the time of the Ottoman domination the settlement was an important roadside fortress which protected the roads in the south along the valley of the Struma River and the river of Bregalnitza in the west. During the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century the town developed as a crafts and trade center. After the congress in Berlin (1878) the town remained in the Turkish bounds and because of that fact it turned into a center of resistance and struggle for national union. The locals took an active part in the Gornodjumaisko rising (1902) and the Ilindensko-Preobrazhensko rising (1903). The town was liberated on the 5th of October 1912.
After the First World War tobacco production, tobacco processing, wood industry and wood-processing developed in the town. A factory for bricks and tiles was built; the production of fruit, vegetables and tobacco for export was growing. After years Blagoevgrad sprang up from craft-trading to important industrial, trading and cultural center of the Southwest Bulgaria.
The town bore the name of Gorna Djumaya till 1950 and after that it was given the present name of Blagoevgrad. The town is also famous as a balneological center.
- Preserved and restored buildings in Varosha (a former Bulgarian quarter built in the National-Revival period): the Historical Museum; the church "Vuvedenie Bogorodichno" (Presentation of the Holy Virgin) with impressive murals and iconostasis made by Dimitar Zograf and Dimitar Molerov of the Bansko School of art; the house of Georgi Izmirliev - Macedoncheto (figure of the national-liberation movement); the puppet theater; the art gallery "Stoyan Sotirov".
- The center of the old town - Macedonia Square with the monument of the revolutionary Gotze Delchev and the reconstructed cultural club and the Chamber Opera.
- The new town center with the administrative buildings along with the Drama Theatre "Nikola Vaptzarov", the American University, the Southwestern University "Neofit Rilski" the library etc.
- The Natural History Complex located in a forestry park including zoo and botanical garden with rare species and exotic greenery.
- The Park of Bachinovo is a place for relaxation, walks and row.
- The Biosphere reserve "Parangalitza is located in the Southwest Rila Mountain about 30 km far from Blagoevgrad. Parangalitza is a reserve from 1933, spreading over 1580 ha. It is created for preservation the virgin spruce woods in Rila covering 70 % of the timbered forest area. The rest of the woods of with pine, fir-tree, beech, white fir and aspen. Many of the trees are more than 250 years old and over 40 m high. There is the highest tree in Bulgaria - a spruce, 63 m high. The fauna in the reserve is various presented by bears, wolves, wild cats, royal slags, birds etc.
- The Rila Monastery - it is the largest monastery in Bulgaria founded in the 10th century by the Bulgarian monk St. John of Rila and rebuilt in the l3th -l4th century. From that time are the fortress tower (1334), the bishop's throne, richly carved doors and some manuscripts, icon-paintings and church plates. In the l5th century, when Bulgaria falls to the Ottoman Turks, the monastery was abandoned for a short time. At the beginning of the 16th century it began its activities once again and became the main scholarly and spiritual center. Later it was for several times plundered and ravaged. Its thorough renovation began in the early l9th century. It was then that the residential wings and the church of the Holy Virgin were raised (1834-1837). Its decorative murals were entrusted to icon painters form Samokov and Bansko. Among the remarkable attributes of the temple is the imposing wood-carved iconostasis. The monastery has also its own library which is very rich. There are stored lots of important Bulgarian written records - about 250 manuscript books from XI-XIX century, 9000 old-printed books, manuscripts etc. The museum which is located in the monastery has a rich exposition - historical collection of 35 000 exponents, rich collections of icons, wood-carvings, cultural and ethnographical items. The museum has a unique work of art, called the Cross of Rafail. It was made of a whole piece of wood (81-43 centimeters) and it's called to its creator. The monk used fine chisels, small knives and lentils to carve 104 religious stages and 650 small figures. It took him more than 12 years to complete his work. It's completed in 1802 - then its creator lost his eyesight. The Rila Monastery is listed as a world monument of culture.
- The Stob Pyramids - located in the neighborhood of the Stob village located some 5 km south-east of the Rila town and approximately 15 km north of Blagoevgrad (on the road to the town of Rila and the Rila Monastery). These are impressive and picturesque rock formations resembling pyramids, formed in rusty-brown, reddish and dark yellow sediments, most of them covered with stone blocks. The average height of the pyramids is between 7 and 10 meters, but some pyramids are high 12 meters. The pyramids have various forms; most of them are conical and end with stone cap, resembling mushrooms. They have different names like the Dalls, the Hammers, the Nymph's Chimneys etc. On the north slope of the hill the pyramids are better expressed and distinguished as they are considerably smaller. The greatest number pyramids are situated on the south slope of the hill. Here the pyramids are bigger and thicker. In 1964 the Stob pyramids are declared a natural landmark.
The area of Blagoevgrad is one of the fastest growing and developing regions of Bulgaria. The town and its surroundings are very attractive for local and foreign investments, tourism and holidays.