Smolyan is a town picturesquely nestled in the narrow valley of the river Cherna in the coziness of the Bukova Mountain in the West Rhodopi. It is 260 km south-east of Sofia, about 100 km south of Plovdiv city, 45 km south-east of Devin and some 18 km south of the top ski resort of Pamporovo. The town is a district and a municipality center.
The Smolyan municipality is occupies the central part of the Rhodopi and a territory of 879 sq m and 67% of them are covered with age-old coniferous forests. The town is located on 800 to 1000 m altitude and the resident population is around 34640. It was formed by the union in 1960 of three villages - Smolyan, Ustovo and Raikovo which became its quarters today.
The earliest archaeological evidence from the Smolyan region are from the end of the Bronze Age - XIII century B.C. The antique authors perceived the Rhodopi as a sacred Thracian mountain and the birthplace of Orpheus.
IV-V century A.D. was the time when the Rhodopi Thracians were converted to Christianity as many early basilicas testify. At the same time the Bulgarian nationality was in the process of forming in the region.
After the fall of the Bulgarian state under Ottoman rule, the area of the Middle Rhodopi was granted with a sultan's decree from 1519 to the court physician Aha Chelebi and then the lands were known as Ahachelebi.
Smolyan sprang up like a heritance of the medieval Ezerovo that had been located 3 km above the present town after the Smolyan lakes. During the time of the forcible convert to Mohammedanism the people in XVII century put up strong resistance against the Turks and because of that the settlement was destroyed by them. Part of the people died other run in the mountain and third ones settled along the Cherna River where the present quarter is. The new settlement was called Pashmaklu. The name Smolyan was given after the Liberation.
Today's quarter of Raikovo also was an old settlement. The first written information about Raikovo was discovered over a stone on a Mazolska tap (1572). The former settlement reviled as a craft center with good markets in Drama, Constantinople and Smirna. The two- and three-storey houses that were built there distinguished with beauty and grace. Visitors still admire many of the survived revival houses.
Ustovo arises as a Bulgarian settlement in the inside of the Rhodopi. The name of the village (later quarter) is connected with its geographical location - where the White River flows in the Cherna River. It is located on a crossroad where cross the roads from Plovdiv to Ksanti and Gumurdjina and from Drama through Nevrokop (present Gotze Delchev) to Kurdjali and Odrin. Ustovo became an important market center and craft settlement. Because of the magnificent architecture of the houses in Ustovo built in the Bulgarian Revival the town was called "the Rodopean Koprivshtitza".
In the beginning of the XIX century the settlement reached big economic and cultural bloom.
After the Liberation the Smolyan region remained under Ottoman rule up to 1912. 34 years after the National Liberation of Bulgaria, during the First Balkan War of 1912, the region was liberated.
In the Smolyan quarter:
- National Revival houses: Meramova, Sarieva, Prisadova;
- The Historical museum and the Art gallery;
- The arched bridge (Beiska Kyupria) on the river Cherna, built at the beginning of the XVIII century.
- The Rozhen National Observatory - the largest planetarium in Bulgaria;
- "Chinarat" - a 250-year-old sycamore tree;
In the quarter of Raikovo:
- The Pangalova House (1860) - architectural monument;
- Ali Bei Konak (the Ottoman police and administrative headquarters) - old residential and farm complex located in the upper part of the quarter;
- National Revival houses: Cheshiteva, Gyordzheva etc.
- Cheshitska Fountain; Mazoleva Fountain;
- The Memorial ossuary to residents of Raikovo who died for freedom;
- St. Nedelya's Church (1836) with precious icons.
In Ustovo quarter:
- National Revival houses: Sheremeteva, Takova, Hadji-Chonova, Vidrova and Kelyavska;
- Mednikarska Charshia (the old coppersmith's marketplace);
- The Traditional Orpheus Children.
Smolyan is a starting point for tourist routes in the West Rhodopi. Here are several attractive places where you can go:
- The Smolyan waterfall (north-west of the town) located on the Kriva River; 20 m high. It is a natural sight from 1965.
- The Smolyan Lakes - called "the Emerald Eyes of the Rhodopi"; located about 10 km far from the town. Formed in the big Smolyan landslide they are located one above other. They had been 20 in the past but now 7 are left and the others have become marshland. At the altitude of 1500 m is located the bigger one - Bistroto (clear); also considered the most beautiful. The other ones are: Mutnoto Lake, Trevistoto Lake, Lagera, Milushevia Gyol etc. The area of the lakes spreads over 49,5 ha and it's declared a natural sight in 1982. The tourist hut is located in the area of the lakes. There is also a chair lift towards Snezhanka peak and the ski resort of Pamporovo.
- The village of Mogilitza - located 22 km south of Smolyan in the valley of the river Arda. In the village there are houses in good shape from the time of the Bulgarian Revival. The most interesting is definitely Agushevi konatzi - one of the largest feudal residential ensembles (not only for the Rhodopi region but for the entire Balkans). It consists of 2 residential and several commercial buildings constructed between 1820 and 1842.
- The cave Ultza (Uhlovitza) - located about 3 km far from the village of Mogilitza; on the left bank of the river Arda, in the place called Sinite virove (the blue pools). Nature has carved out in its bosom beautiful crystal forms, which resemble sea coral, a true spectacle of corallites and helicites. The underground palace culminated in seven lakes; a waterfall sweeps down from the largest of them.
- The village of Momchilovtzi - about 17 km far from Smolyan and famous for its houses in traditional Rhodopi architecture. The village is one of the most preferable places for tourism because of the well arranged hotels, hospitality of the locals, mild mountainous climate and beautiful unspoiled nature.
- Srednogoretz Peak (1262 m) - some 15 km away from Smolyan. It is connected with the epic battle for the liberation of the Central Rhodopi from the Ottoman rule in 1912.
- Pamporovo ski resort (1650 m above the sea level) - 10 km far from Chepelare, 18 km north of Smolyan, 75 km from Plovdiv and 240 km from Sofia. It is one of the most popular mountain resorts in Bulgaria with modern ski center; located at the foot of the Snezhanka peak. The average annual temperature is 8.5 °C, the snow coverage is up to 1.4 m and the sunny days are more than 240. There are wonderful conditions for skiing and snowboarding; ski schools and ski wardrobes are available. In the luxurious holiday complexes built in the complex you can enjoy various facilities and entertainments.
Almost the whole area falls into the temperately continental climatic area, but the climate considerably varies because of the relief's influence.
The average annual temperature is between 7 and 9 °C. The main precipitation maximum is in November and December. The climate is mountain, with an Aegean influence, which shows up to the Rozhen Saddle and the resort Pamporovo. The winter is soft and snowy and the summer is cool and damp, while the autumn is long and warm.