Blagoevgrad Province , also
known in certain contexts as Pirin Macedonia , is a province
(oblast) of southwestern Bulgaria. Part of the wider Macedonian
region, it borders four other Bulgarian provinces, as well
as Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. It has 14 municipalities
with 12 towns. The province's major city is Blagoevgrad, while
other significant towns include Bansko, Gotse Delchev, Melnik,
Petrich, Razlog, Sandanski and Simitli.
The province has a territory of 6,449.5 km² and a population
of 341,245. It is the third largest in Bulgaria after Burgas
and Sofia Provinces and comprises 5.8% of the country's territory.
Blagoevgrad Province includes the mountains, or parts of,
Rila (highest point of the Balkans — Musala summit,
2925 m), Pirin (highest point — Vihren summit, 2914
m), the Rhodopes, Slavyanka, Belasitsa, Vlahina, Maleshevo,
Ograzhden and Stargach. There are two major rivers —
Struma River and Mesta River — with population concentrations
along their valleys, which are also the main transport corridors.
|Map of Blagoevgrad Province showing
the municipal subdivisions and centres
||Vihren Peak in Pirin mountain
|Tevno Vasilashko Lake in Pirin
||Kamenitsa Peak and lake Tevno ezero
|Bansko Ski Zone as seen from Razlog
||Dzhengal Peak in Pirin up-close in
|The defeat of the army of Tsar Samuil
of Bulgaria in the medieval Battle of Kleidion
||Fresco from the Church of Theodore
Tyro and Theodore Stratelates in Dobarsko, 1672
|The Rozhen Monastery from the outside
||The Rozhen Monastery, inner yard
|Melnik and the famous sand pyramides
||The Church of the Holy Trinity in
|Varosha, the old quarter of Blagoevgrad
||View from the center of Blagoevgrad
The climate varies from temprerate continental to Mediterranean
in the southernmost parts. Natural resources are timber, mineral
springs, coal, construction materials, including marble and
granite. The beautiful and preserved environment is widely
considered an important resource. A number of national parks
and protected territories care for the biodiversity. Arable
land is 38.8% and forests constitute 52% of the province's
Blagoevgrad Province is divided into the following municipalities:
- Gotse Delchev
The region is characterized with diversified economic branch
structure: food and tobacco processing industries, agriculture,
tourism, transport and communications, textile industry, timber
and furniture industries, iron processing and machinery industry,
construction materials industry, as well as pharmaceuticals,
plastics, paper and shoes production. Approximately 10% of
the population is unemployed (close to the national average).
There are 4 major hospitals in the province.
With its railway line and
road connection, the region forms the heart of the land-based
trading route between northern Greece, Bulgaria and Romania.
Since the early 2000s the province enjoys a mini boom in trade
from thousands Greek day-trippers from across the border,
purchasing cheaper goods and services (dental, opticians,
etc.). The region has also attracted Greek manufacturers who
moved their production line from Greece, especially to Petrich.
It was an important tourist destination during the communist
years for East Germans and is slowly picking up again. The
unique town of Melnik was once a wealthy centre built on the
back of exiled phanariots from Constantinople. Now it is a
centre for wine production and offers eco-tourism.
Infrastructure remains relatively
underdeveloped, especially regarding road and rail communications.
It remains an important target for potential EU funding. There
are two major infrastructural projects in the region. The
Struma motorway, which is planned connect the capital Sofia
and the Greek border, is going to run through the valley of
the Sruma River, and will be ready in a few years. The second
project is the airport of Bansko. The cost is estimated at
Historical and archaeological monuments include the ruins
of antique Thracian and Roman settlements, Early Christian
basilicas, medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian towns, monasteries
and fortresses, as well as many preserved buildings and whole
villages — examples of the architecture from the Ottoman
period (like Melnik, the Rozhen Monastery and Bansko).
A theatre, a library with
345,000 tomes, and an opera house are situated in the provincial
centre, Blagoevgrad. There are art galleries in Bansko, Blagoevgrad
and Sandanski. Many small cultural institutions, chitalishta,
are dispersed around the province. The Pirin State Ensemble
is the most prominent among the numerous folklore and music
bands. There are 10 museums in the province that preserve
the rich historical, ethnographic and archaeological heritage.
Cultural events include the Theatre Festival in Blagoevgrad,
the Jazz Festival in Bansko and the Melnik Evenings of Poetry.
The Southwestern University
and the American University in Bulgaria are situated in Blagoevgrad;
the latter is the second largest American university campus
in Europe and is located in the former headquarters of the
communist party. Annually the city draws around 10,000 students
from the country and abroad. The number of schools in the
province is 182.
According to the 2001 census, the population of the province
consists of 286,491 Bulgarians (including a number of Muslim
Bulgarians), 31,857 Turks (also including a number of Muslim
Bulgarians), 12,405 Roma and 3,117 ethnic Macedonians, among
others. 4,242 people did not specify their ethnicity.
268,968 of the province's
residents are Eastern Orthodox, 62,431 are Muslims, 1,546
— Protestants. 7,018 people did not idenfity their religion
in the census.
Bulgarian is the mother tongue
of 306,118 people, Turkish is spoken by 19,819, while 9,232
identified as speakers of Romany. 2,921 specified their mother
tongue as "other" and 2,424 did not identify their
Blagoevgrad Province is currently one of the best-represented
provinces in Bulgarian football, with 3 teams playing in the
Bulgarian A PFG (second only to Sofia with 4) — FC Vihren
Sandanski, PFC Belasitsa Petrich and PFC Pirin 1922 Blagoevgrad.
One more team from the province, PFC Pirin Blagoevgrad (as
distinct from Pirin 1922), began the 2005/06 season in the
highest Bulgarian division, but disbanded shortly afterwards
due to financial problems.
Owing to the alpine features
and accessible location, the northern and eastern regionof
Blagoevgrad Province is also a centre of winter sports. The
main centre is Bansko which is becoming a leading skiing resort
at European level with rapidly rising property prices.
This province roughly corresponds with a region also known
as Pirin Macedonia, which is regarded by some nationalists
from the Republic of Macedonia as a foreign-occipied part
of their irredentist concept of United Macedonia. Nevertheless
most of the Macedonian mass media (source) and major political
figures (source) systematically spread information with two
basic elements - denial or negativization of the Bulgarian
past in slavic Macedonia (some key examples for such denial
of any bulgariannes are cases like Saint Clement of Ohrid,
Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria, Miladinov Brothers, Internal Macedonian
Revolutionary Organization, Gotse Delchev, etc.) and claims
for recognition of vast ethnic Macedonian minority in Pirin
Macedonia with accusations of violations of its human rights.
Today the idea of “united”
Macedonia is espoused only by more marginally nationalistic
parties and organizations in the Republic of Macedonia. According
to Macedonian ethnic human rights activists Chris Popov and
Michael Radin the probable number of ethnic Macedonians is
about 200,000, after Krasimir Kanev from Bulgarian Helsinki
Committee it is between 15,000 and 25,000 (source) and according
to personal evaluation of a local ethnic Macedonian political
activist, Stoyko Stoykov, it is between 5,000 and 10,000 (source).
Only a negligible 3,117 of
the province's population of 341,173 described themselves
as ethnic Macedonians in 2001, Bulgarians being an overwhelming
majority of 286,491 (the official data in Bulgarian here).
However, some have complained that in recent censuses the
option "Macedonian" is not listed as an option (only
the three major ethnic groups are), although people are allowed
to write it in themselves (the questionary could be seen here,
see section ?14), which means that the actual number is disputed
by Macedonian nationalists or their supporters.
This low number of ethnic
Macedonians in the region is explained by supporters of Macedonism
as being a result of repression. They also assert that the
number of Macedonians in the province was much larger as recorded
by the 1948 and 1956 censuses, claiming that then-Stalinist
Bulgaria recognised a distinct Macedonian minority and allowed
free self-determination (and implying this is not the case
today). This is explained by Bulgarians as being part of the
Comintern's and the Bulgarian Communist Party's policy of
the time, which supported a USSR-backed admission of Bulgaria
to Yugoslavia with the corresponding incorporation of Pirin
Macedonia into the Macedonian Socialist Republic. With the
easing of this trend the idea of promoting a separate national
consciousness in Pirin Macedonia lost support from the authorities.