| Velingrad Velingrad is situated in the west part of Chepino valley next to the border between Rodhopa and Pirin Mountain. Velingrad is about 49 kilometers away from Pazardjik , 85 kilometers away from Plovdiv and about 133 kilometers away from Sofia – the capital of Bulgaria. Septemvri town is about 31 kilometers away from Velingrad – there starts the first station of the railway to Velingrad. Throughout the railway and a network of tarmac roads Velingrad resort connects to the following towns: Septemvri and Pazardjik to the north, Batak, Peshtera and Dospat to the East, Jundola and Kurtovo to the west and Sarnitsa to the south. The well marked roads lead to different historical and natural sights.
The municipality of Velingrad is famous with a great number of hot springs. Thanks to the natural resources, Velingrad reaches the first ranks of the Bulgarian balneological resorts. Total capacity of the 80 hot springs is about 170 liters per second. Because of the healing property of the water, there have been built a lot of balneological centers. During the last 10 years of the past century, a lot of SPA centers and modern hotels have been built in Velingrad.
Velingrad is located in the central part of Chepino valley – the best part of West Rhodopi Mountain. According to the legends, Orpheus had lived there. Orpheus was the son of Calliope and either Oeagrus or Apollo. He was the greatest musician and poet of Greek mythology, whose songs could charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. According to the greatest annalists, the west Rhodopi Mountain was the place where the legendary Spartacus –leader of Roman slaves, had obtained power and energy.
On the grounds of the cultural beds, we can affirm that the region of Chepino has been inhabited by the ancient Thracian tribes. The strongest evidence of this are the detected traces of Bessie tribe – hills, mounds, necropolis and signs of fortresses. Documentary evidences for that period have been described by the historians Heredity and Tukidit.
Around Velingrad is the Batak swamp, where we can find about seven mounds dated as far back as Thracian tribes. Ruins of Thracian villages can be found at “Pechkovets” neighborhood, which is situated at the flood of the ancient Tsepina fortress.
Rhodopi Mountains have been conquest by the Romans. That was the beginning of the Thracian-Roman period, which continued untill Slavs came to power. A lot of archeological findingss date from the time of Romans, has been found on the land of “Bivolichino dere” and “Removo” – a clay pipelines, road surfaces, coins…etc.
In the beginning of VI century, the area of Chepino was inhabited by Slavs. According to Professor Peter Petrov and professor Drinov, “dragovitchi” tribe had leaved here. Most of the traditions and habits of Thracians have been inherited by Slavs.
Chepino valley has been integrated to the Bulgarian state during the administration of khan Malomir, later on his inheritor – Persian, includes the entire region of Rhodopa Mountain.
A traditional holiday calendar:
The traditional holiday calendar of Chepinsko coincides with Bulgaria’s calendar to a great extent. Here one can trace holidays and prevailing traditions in the twentieth century, which are key for the region and attribute to it some specific characteristics. For each special holiday settlements and regions will be specified where great importance is ascribed to the holiday. It should be noted that according to the traditional calendar two religious layers function in parallel – a Christian layer and a Muslim layer.
Dimitrovden, Kasam ( 26.Х./8.ХI.) marks the beginning of winter. On that day accounts are settled with herdsmen. In Draginovo young people leave the village, pick geranium and autumn flowers (fruits), then play, dance, and have fun during the night.
Niculden (6.ХII.) is celebrated by women at the Nikulyiva church near Kamenitsa. Candles and bread are lighted at the church. There is a wooden chapel near the church, which has been constructed near the Sveti Nikola chapel.
Christmas (25.ХII.) is one of the most solemn winter holidays. In Kamenitsa it is known as the first of the three evenings of Christmas Eve. The holiday includes the ritual fire – lighted on Christmas Eve (24.XII), the lunch – Christmas Eve and Christmas itself. At Christmas start the so-called Kurukondzhovi Days, which continue until the christening of the water – St Jordan’s Day; in Muslim communities those days go on from 6.I – till 19.I. They are accompanied by bans and beliefs, related to demonic creatures wandering about.
The New Year, St Vasil’s Day (1.I) is the second Christmas Eve. Ritual bread is baked on that day, called bogovitsa. In the morning the children tap the backs of Christians and Muslims, wishing them health and a fruitful year. Vasilyovden is celebrated by the Roma community in the region.
St Jordan’s day (6.I) is the third Christmas Eve. In Kamenitsa the evening of 5.I is called Popova Koleda (priest christmas in traslation), because this is the time when a priest goes around the houses and sprinkles with holy water. St Jordan’s Day includes throwing a cross in the river and is related to traditions typical of young couples. St Jordan’s Day is celebrated in the valley of Chepino – Velingrad, Rakitovo, Kostandovo, Dorkovo.
Midwives’ Day (21.I.) is a holiday to which special attention has been paid in the XXth century. Over the 70's and 80's it was officially announced as a holiday for the entire region. The holiday includes the rituals “watering”, ritual dishes and a ritual bathing of the wildlife.
The first Sunday before Lent is preserved as a traditional holiday in XXth century. A characteristic feature of this holiday are the fires, called ‘gagnitsa’ or ‘garo’. Feasts are arranged beside them. The masked participants in the plays call that ‘carnavale’.
St 40 Martyrs is a holiday which has nearly been forgotten by the Christians, but its traditions are preserved and observed by Muslims in the region, especially in Draginovo. Young people go out of the village collecting greens – geranium, they swing in swings, over the day until late night. They go to working-bees, where they play and sing.
Easter – alongside with traditions characteristic of Easter, a specific characteristic of Chepinsko is writing over Easter eggs with a pen and wax. Geometric ornaments made from plants attribute great attraction to Easter eggs from the region of Chepinsko – Velingrad and Rakitovo. That is why they are preserved as ornaments inside the houses of Christians and Muslims, they are included in traditional rituals for fruitfulness, prevention of hailstorms and other health rituals. The tradition is preserved until this day. In Kamenitsa on Good Friday the church hands out geranium, that is why this day is known as Zdravkov den.
St Petka, Zhivopriemni lake is marked on Friday in the temple in the res. Area of Ladzhene, Velingrad by baking ritual soup.
Spassovden is a local holiday of Chepinsko (a res. Area of Velingrad) and is celebrated in the region of St. Spas. Some of the elements of the celebrations are a water ritual beside the church, cutting bread, boiled mutton, having fun beside the holiday table. Festivities start at the beginning of XX century by the village’s newly-formed Christian community after the place appears in a dream of a selected community representative.
St Troitsa and the Holy Spirit is the celebration of Kamenitsa. On the first day the church is decorated, the ritual is performed by means of a triple round of the temple, a horo dance and a song, afterwards a liturgy is done. On the next day, the Holy Ghost, is the holiday of the village, which now is part of Velingrad. In the middle of the XXth century tables were laid and there were celebrations, fairs and games.
Ramadan Bayram is a month for cooking – a dire fast to Bulgarian Muslims. Seferdzhii – boys with drums and a decorated fir tree mark the beginning of the fast. The tradition has been kept in Draginovo but spreads over to other settlements in the region. On the last three days khalva, baklava and sweets are made and handed out to the neighbours – Muslims and Christians (Rakitovo, Chepino).
Kurban Bayram is the most important holiday in the year of Bulgarian Muslims from Chepino. On the day before the celebrations sweets are handed out. On the first day following the prayer in the mosque the ritual victim is killed by applying the respective ritual practices. On the second and third day the victim is handed over to Muslims and Christians (Velingrad, Rakitovo, Dorkovo, Kostandovo), the parents, relatives and friends are visited. All sorts of men’s dances are organized (Chepino).
Ashure is a holiday of Bulgarian Muslims, based in the marked regions (Draginovo, Sarnitsa). The hostess boils all types of grains, part of the baked grains are handed out a couple of grains are thrown over the roof and in the garden for fertility.
Gergyovden is one of the largest and richest holidays in Chepinsko. The ritual bathing has been changed to fit the specific circumstances – women bathe on 6.V early in the morning before the sunrise in mineral baths and throw geranium in the pool, there is a common table, songs and people after the bathing. The naming of flowers is popular in Velingrad’s quarters – Kamenitsa and Chepino among Christians and Muslims. Mutton soups are made in the yard of the St George’s temple – Chepino, gergevana – by the mid-XX-th century, Gergyovitsa – next to the St George’s temple beside Kamenitsa. The last holy place is celebrated after someone dreams it in a dream. The temple was constructed twice – in the 20-ies and in the 90-ies. In Draginovo swings and turns are made, people sing and play around them, the bridegrooms give away painted eggs by the groom’s family. The cutting of the lamb follows the general tradition. The holiday is marked by all confessional and ethnic community in Chepino – Christians and Muslims, Bulgarians, Romanians, Roma – in accordance with their calendars.
St Ilya, Ilinden (20.VII,2,VIII.) – Celebrated in three sites in Chepinsko – a temple celebration in Dorkovo, which turned into a folklore celebration in the 90's of the XXth century, Ilin top – the St Ilya church near Kamenitsa, marked by means of a mutton soup after the place is dreamt in a dream in the 20-ies of the XXth century, St Ilya near Chepino (over Kleptusa) by means of ritual practices for praying for rain.
St Petka (14.X.) marked at the Sveta Petka Undola temple by baking a mutton soup.
Velingrad’s Day (1.VII.) Celebrated since 1988. That is the day when Velingrad’s cultural holidays begin (in July and August). The date is changed into the first Sunday of July.
Folklore festivals in the Northwestern Rhodopi mountains:
Kostandovo – within the town’s celebrations – one day with the visit of bands from the Western Rhodopi mountains and Pazardzhik, May 21 (or the Saturday/Sunday closest to the holiday).
Velingrad – within feasts in Velingrad folklore groups from the region and from abroad have been invited – July 1-15.
Rakitovo – within the town’s holiday bands from the regions and guests from abroad have been invited to organize concerts and folklore shows.
Dorkovo – international folklore festival, 1-5 august, the biggest folklore festival in this region of the Rhodopi mountains.
Tsigov Tchark (Batak) – a regional folklore festival of the region of Pazardzhik, August 15 (Saturday and Sunday after the Assumption)
Undola – a traditional get-together of settlements from this region of the municipality – the third Sunday of August
Tsigov Tchark – an International folklore festival of the Armani, with guests from all Balkan countries, the next Saturday and Sunday of September
Velingrad’s mineral waters basin is one of the biggest and well investigated in south
thermal region. Mineral waters in Velingrad are carrying the qualitative and quantitative features of the waters in Hisar, Bania,
and Narcheski mineral waters.
The mineral waters in Velingrad are rich of nitrogen, flour, and have no constant anion components and minerals as well as great variety of rare elements. Water sources are grouped into four hydrothermal sources – Chepeno, Lyjene, Kamenica, and Draginovo. In their location there is
rature and chemical regions. From south to north there are increased levels of saltiness,
rature, sulfates, sodium, flour, and SiO2. Investigations show that these elements have positive effect on human organism. They cure infections over the whole body – muscle tissues, bone fractures, gynecological problems, nerve system, kidney diseases, stomach aches, hypothermia, respiratory tract.
Mineral waters in Chepinska Kotlovina are mostly (80%) concentrated in Velingrad. In CHepino neighborhood there is one of the biggest thermal sources in the country. Waters are alkaline (carbonates, sulfates, sodium) and flour with low mineralization state. They are distinguished for their for their higher radioactivity (about 70 emons) . They have increased levels of Wolfram, silver and others. The hottest mineral waters are 91 degrees C and are located in Kamenica region – hydro carbonated, flour, sodium, Si, and with high mineralization state. Some of the water basins have hydrosulfates.
Hunting and Fishing
Sports fishery is held down Chepinska river and its feeders - Matnica, Grancharica, Ablanica, Dospat river, TMC near Dragodanovo village, Dospat dam lake, Batak dam lake, Belmeken dam lake.
A full-system trout outfit that is built near Chepinovo neighbourhood, satisfies the needs of trout breeding material . Except in natural water basins, fish is bred artificially in Batak dam lake, Dospat dam lake and other water basins near Velingrad.
The most frequent and important fish species are: freshwater trout, black barbell, carp, chub, rudd, perch, etc.
“Batak” dam lake and “Cigov Chark” countryside are 21 km away from Velingrad. They are wonderful resting places during the whole year. The resort itself has a good accommodation base including all kinds of categories, many cafeterias and restaurants-“Panorama” hotel, “Olimp” hotel, etc. ”Danoto” resort settlement is located near the dam. It has 3 Canoe Kayaks, 3 fishing boats, water wheels, and a motor yacht as well as fishing tools. Dam-lake waters give a wonderful fishing opportunities-there are perches, grey mullets, and carps.
“Belmeken” dam lake which is located 30 km away form Velingrad is another wonderful opportunity for practicing water sports and fishing. The highmountain sports complex, which has the same name is located 3 km to the west of “Belmeken” dam lake. Its altitude is 2050m. It gives a wonderful bases for relaxation and training activities of all kinds. There are trouts and other small fish in the dam-lake waters.
Kara Tepe countryside which is located 28 km to the south of Velingrad offers the tourists extremely beautiful nature. 8 km away of it is located Selishte countryside - a picturesque valley where the sunny days prevail all the year round. These countrysides and forestries offer very good conditions and various kinds of game for the tourists who enjoy hunting too.
“Dospat” dam lake and Sarnica town are located 50 km away from Velingrad. There are perches, carps, grey mullets, and trouts in dam-lake waters. There are wonderful conditions for developing sports and industrial fishing. Several kinds of fishery are practiced: on swimmer, at the bottom. Holiday houses, villas, motels, and cafeterias are built near the dam lake and offer all kinds of comforts for the tourists, as well as fishing boats and equipment - e.g. ”Iva” vocational settlement, “Chaika” resort place, “Romantica” resort place.
Jundola - its industry has wonderful game stores - stags of a fallow deer, wild-boars, roes, bears, wood-grouse capercalzies, ring-doves, etc. The build-up fishing-industry tackles and the cares for wild fauna are a precondition for successful practicing and organizing of fishing tourism.