Blagoevgrad (formerly known as Gorna Dzhumaya) is a town in southwestern Bulgaria, the administrative centre of Blagoevgrad region, with a population of about 75,000. It lies on the banks of the Blagoevgradska Bistritsa River.
The city is unarguably the economic and cultural centre of southwestern Bulgaria. It is located in the valley of the Struma River at the foot of the Rila and Pirin Mountains, about 100 km south of Sofia, close to the Greek, Serbian and Republic of Macedonia borders.
Blagoevgrad features a pedestrian downtown with preserved 19th century architecture and numerous restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and boutiques. Blagoevgrad is home to two universities, the South-West University "Neofit Rilski" and the American University in Bulgaria.
Attractions in the surrounding area include the resort Bodrost, 27 km to the northeast.
The relief of the Blagoevgrad District is predominantly mountainous, the highest parts being alpine. The exceptions are the river valleys of the Struma and Mesta and their tributaries where the majority of the population resides. The region covers the area of the mountains of Pirin, Ograzhden, Vlahina and Maleshevska, Belasitza, Slavyanska, parts of the Rhodopes and the Rila Mountains. The beautiful and wild nature of the region kept untouched in the national parks and reserves is considered to be one of the greatest treasures of the region. The Pirin National Park is of worldwide importance and is on the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage.
The climate is temperate-continental, due to air masses that enter from the south in the valley of the Struma River.
The numerous mineral springs (40 % of all mineral springs in Bulgaria), the beautiful nature and the rich cultural heritage determine the successful development of winter sports and resorts as well as ecotourism, balneological and cultural tourism.
The region has had eventful history, traces of which can be found in the archeological, architectural and ethnological heritage. There are remains from Thracian mounds and antique settlements. The mountainous roads had been once guarded by majestic medieval fortresses. Exquisite examples of architecture from the National Revival period created by gifted masters can be enjoyed in the reserve villages of Kovachevitza, Pletena, Dolen as well as in the towns of Bansko and Melnik. After the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the Treaty of Berlin Contract bestowed Pirin Macedonia to Turkey. The unhappy destiny of the population and its fight for freedom found a vent in the folk songs in the region sad and melancholic or pugnacious and militant. The region was liberated as late as 1913 following the Balkan Wars. A lot of areas in the region have preserved authentic customs and traditions.
An ancient Thracian settlement called Scaptopara emerged on the site around 300 BC and was later conquered by the Roman Empire. The settlement was known for the hot springs in the vicinity. Although the history of the settlement in the Middle Ages is not known, during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans it was initially a Muslim-majority town called Cuma Bala that means Lower Juma in Ottoman Turkish. A Bulgarian quarter called Varosha was formed during the Bulgarian National Revival, with many of its typical houses and the Church of the Presentation of the Mother of God from 1844 being preserved to this day. A chitalishte was founded in 1866 and the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 saw the occupation of the area from Ottoman rule and its integration in the Bulgarian state. Before the Balkan Wars, Cuma-ı Bala was bounded as kaza to Serez sandjak in Selanik vilayet.
Many Bulgarian refugees from Aegean and Vardar Macedonia arrived in the town in the subsequent decades as the town, then known as Gorna Dzhumaya (a partial translation of the Ottoman name), continued to grow in size and importance.
The town was renamed Blagoevgrad in 1950 after the founder of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Dimitar Blagoev, a Bulgarian from Aegean Macedonia.
In Blagoevgrad are settled Southwestern University "Neophyte Rilski", the first in Eastern Europe, "American University", Medical Institute, College of Electronics and microelectronics. Annually the city draws about 10,000 students from home and abroad.
There are 6 primary and 5 secondary schools, Mathematics High School, Language School, few secondary schools and private high school.
Because of the large number of students (in part due to the American University in town), crossroad geography, nature and number of social factors, the city has a relatively thriving economy. Found many clothing stores, cafes and restaurants. A large number of unskilled labor force is employed in construction companies and textile companies.
Currently, the city has six hypermarkets: Metro, Technopolis Technopolis Europe, Mr. Bricolage, Kaufland, Commercial Chain Europe (TV Europe) and Billa (BILLA). In 2007, opened its first shopping mall, Mall of Blagoevgrad.
Hospital for Active Treatment "Pulse" with Medical Center "Pulse", Specialized Hospital for Active Treatment of pneumatic diseases, Center for Skin and Venereal Diseases, Center for Mental Health and others.
Blagoevgrad is known for its beautiful center, made of marble. Blagoevgrad is a wealth of cultural attractions. Of particular interest is culturally quarter "Varosha" with its unique Renaissance architecture, Historical Museum, the church "Virgin" and many other attractions that make it a favorite spot for tourists and citizens of the city.
Very interesting is also the museum-house of George Izmirliev-Makedoncheto, art galleries "Stoyan Sotirov", "Stanislaus", "Pjoti Biju". The city has erected monuments of Ilyo Voyvoda, Gotse Delchev, Peyo Iavorov, Cyril and Methodius, also of all died in the First Balkan War (1912-1913). Moreover, the city has a drama theater "NIkola Vaptsarov", puppet theater and opera.
Blagoevgrad is a major and important transport centre in this part of Bulgaria. It is the main stop on the international motorway and railway line Sofia-Koulata-Athens. It maintains regular bus connections with Sofia and many of the towns in Southwestern Bulgaria, as well as with the villages in the region. It has a regular bus line to the Bulgarian sanctuary - The Rila Monastery. The bus station (tel.: 073 22348, 23750) and the railway station (tel.: 073 22286, 23695, 22174) are situated close to each other at the southwestern end of the town. Blagoevgrad has a developed and well-organised bus transport within the town.
Sources: The official web-site of Blagoevgrad