Stara Planina Attract tourists
Stara planina is also known as “the Balkan”. It is the longest, the biggest and also the “most Bulgarian” of all mountains. It extends throughout the entire length of the country - from the Bulgarian border with Serbia to the Black Sea coast.
Being 550 kilometres long, like the back-bone of a fish it is such an inseparable part of the country and its history that it has long become emblematic of Bulgaria, fortress of the national spirit. The highest peak – Mt. Botev - is at 2376 metres above sea level and ranks third in Bulgaria. Stara Planina divides Bulgaria in two - Northern and Southern Bulgaria.
The name Stara Planina is derived from the age of our lands (translated as “the old mountain”). Some of the older names, which have come to us are: Haimon, Haimos, Hemus (of Thracian origin) meaning “ridge”, “division line”, “border”. In later time different parts of the mountain acquire individual names - Srebarna Planina (Silver Mountain), Matornie Gori, Zigos, Imm.
The name Stara Planina appears for the first time in 1533 in the notes of the Dalmacian traveller Antun Vranchich. The name Balkan, however, is older and there are several theories about its actual origin. In spite of the fact that this is not an official name, it has become the most popular since the last centuries. It is from the name Balkan that the name of the whole Balkan Peninsula is derived - often referred to with the collective “the Balkans”.
In spite of the meaning of its name (old), as a geological formation this mountain is comparatively young. It is based on granite but there also are lime, gneiss and schist. In contrast to Rila and Pirin, only the highest parts of the mountain were covered with glaciers. The lack of completed cirques and the existence of a single lake of glacier origin is the most obvious proof of this theory. Part of the relief of Stara Planina, however, is decisively Alpine.
Climate. Stara Planina is situated on the climatic border between the mild-continental climate of Northern Bulgaria and the softer climate, resulting from the Mediterranean influences in the south. It is a natural barrier against the influx of northern winds to the south, which, especially during the winter, are particularly unpleasant. Quite often, they are the cause of the so-called “falling winds” (bora, wild wind), which coming from the north find their way through the ridges of the mountain and literally “fall” on the Sub-Balkan Valley with great speed - sometimes up to 30 m/sec. Such winds are characteristic of the area round the town of Sliven. Stara Planina is the most windy and foggy of all Bulgarian Mountains. Average temperature values at Mt. Botev are January average temperature - 8.9°C below zero; July average temperature - 7.6°C and annual average temperature of 0.7°C below zero. Rainfalls are at their maximum in May and June and minimum (excluding the Mount Botev area) - in February. The snow cover is rather irregular not only in duration but also in territory. More snow and for a longer period of time falls and stays on the northern slopes of the mountain, while on the southern it will - in most areas - melt away quickly. Because of the powerful winds at the top of the mountain, and in particular the ridges, the formation of visors and avalanches is often not excluded.
The western border of the mountain is the Vrashka Chuka Pass while on the north the natural border is the Danube Plain. In some cases, Stara Planina is accepted by geographers to include the so-called “Pre-Balkan” while in other cases only the mountain itself bears this name. However, such a division is difficult to make. To the south, the mountain is steep and its borders are clearly defined. From west to east Stara Planina touches upon the Sofia Valley, Sredna Gora with all its parts and the Gornotrakiiska (Upper Thracian) Lowland. Its connections with Sredna Gora are Galabets, Koznitsa and Strazhata - natural orographic connections. To the east, the Balkan ends with cape Emine, falling steeply down into the sea.
Within these borders, Stara Planina covers an area of more than 25 000 square kilometres and the central chain alone amounts to 11 600 sq. km. The mountain has 29 peaks at an elevation of over 2000 metres, some of which are definitely Alpine and thus attractive for tourists and climbers.
This biggest Bulgarian mountain is divided into three parts - Western Stara Planina, Middle (Central) Stara Planina and Eastern Stara Planina. They are additionally divided into sub-parts, usually named after the settlements established there.
Western Stara Planina starts from the Vrashka Chuka Pass, which is located on the western border of the country with Serbia. It ends at the Zlatishki Pass (Kashana) which separates it from the Central part. This sector has the form of a bow opened to the east, which has a length of 215 kilometres as the bird flies. It is the longest section of the mountain and second in height with Mt. Midzhur (2168 m). Three other peaks are over the 2000-metres height – Mt. Obov, Mt. Martinova Chuka and the most popular and most often-climbed one – Mt. Kom (2016 m). The sub-divisions (west to east) along the main chain only (the Pre-Balkan part is excluded) are: Babin Nos with the peak of the same name – Mt. Baba (1108 m); Svetinikolska Planina with the highest point the – Mt. Haidushki Kamak (1721 m); Chiprovska Planina with the highest in the whole division Mt. Mudzhur (2168 m); Berkovska Planina with Mt. Kom (2016 m); Koznitsa with Mt. Todorini Kukli (1785 m); Golema Planina with Mt. Chukava (1588 m); Mourgash division with Mt. Mourgash (1687 m) with the meteorological station there; and Etropolska Planina with Mt. Govedarnika (1790 m).
In general, the relief of Stara Planina does not have a well-expressed Alpine character. The Vratsa mountain is an exception, which is within the Pre-Balkan. The karst of which it is formed, has given this particular mountain numerous Alpine formations. The natural rock phenomenon Vratsata is one supreme example and also the focal point of climbing activities in Bulgaria. The existence of many caves explains the speleological activities in this region. Here, too is the extremely picturesque Iskar Gorge, which is another true natural phenomenon. This part of the mountain has 23 tourist chalets and a great number of marked hiking tracks thus being an attraction for both Bulgarian and foreign tourists “on foot”.
Mid, or Central Stara Planina starts from the Kashana Zlatishki Pass and ends at the pass Vratnik (Zhelezni vrata, in translation “metal doors”) on the east. The length of this part of the mountain along a straight line is 185 kilometres. This is the highest and the most attractive part and it is most frequented by tourists from Bulgaria and abroad. Apart from the highest peak Mt. Botev, there are 24 other peaks at an altitude of above 2000 metres. This is the true Alpine part of the mountain along the central ridge between Mt. Ambaritsa and Mt. Botev. Mid Stara Planina is divided into the following sub-parts of the central mountain chain only (the Pre-Balkan part is excluded) (from the west eastwards) with the highest peak: Zlatisho-Tetevenska Planina with Mt. Vezhen (2198 m) - one of the most massive giants of Stara Planina; Troyanska Planina with Mt. Golyam Kupen (2169 m), which is the most Alpine in shape and the most picturesque peak in the whole mountain; this sub-part includes also Mt. Ambaritsa (2166 m), Mt. Malak Kupen (2141 m), Mt. Kostenurkata (The Turtle), as well as the narrow Alpine ridge Krastsite - one of the most emotional but also most dangerous places to cross if one wishes to discover the top ridge of the Balkan Mountain.
This sub-part houses also the Steneto Gorge (Gorge like a wall) in the valley of Cherni Osam River, which is a Nature Reserve; the Kalofer Mountain which is decorated by the highest peak in the whole of the mountain – Mt. Botev (2376 m). It is not in vain that its older name was Mt. Iumruka (The Fist) - it resembles a clenched fist, surrounded by stone cliffs and vertical walls attracting fog and tempest - as well as thousands of eager visitors. It is here than Nature has, indeed, created at will a mountain heaven - the Northern and the Southern Dzhendem, Raiski Skali (Heavenly Rocks) (a real challenge for the climber); Raiskoto Praskalo (Heavenly Springer) (the highest water-fall in Bulgaria - 124 metres) close to the small but cosy mountain Rai Chalet (Paradise). At the very top of the mountain there is a television transmitter and a meteorological station.
The Kaloferska Planina division has another 12 peaks at an altitude of above 2000 metres. Starting from the second after Mt. Botev – Mt. Golyam Kademliya (2276 m) they are: Mt. Mlechniya Chal (2252 m), Mt. Sarakaya (Zhaltets - 2227 m), Mt. Malak Kademliya (2228 m), Mt. Paradzhika (2211 m), Mt. Mazalat (2197 m), Mt. Pirgos (2195 m), Mr. Yurushka Gramada (2137 m), etc. The Stara Reka (Old River) Gorge (passing through Karlovo) has also been declared a Nature Reserve.
The Shipchenska Planina (Shipka Mountain) division of the Stara Planina is towered by the Mt. Ispolin (1524 m). The other peak - Mt. Stoletov (1328 m) is lower in the geographical sense, but unreachable in its historic importance. In August 1877 the Bulgarian volunteer army and the Russian regular forces held the most dramatic battle in the history of the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation in defence of the strategic Shipka Pass. Now, this sanctified peak hosts a 32 metre high memorial of granite - and the bones of the heroes - in memory of the days of glory. Another sacred place in the Shipchenska Planina is Mt. Bouzloudzha (1441 m) where in 1868 the volunteers in Hadzhi Dimitur’s detachment held their last clash with the Turkish regiments and together with their leader, most of them met their death. On 20 July 1891 on the peak was held the congress for establishment of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (D. Blagoev). The highest point of the Trevnenska Planina (Tryavna Mountain) part of the Central Balkan is Mt. Karadzhoolu Kula (1511 m) and the last part of it is the Eleno-Tvardishka Planina with Mt. Chumerna (1536 m).
There are 36 tourist chalets and about 10 high-mountain shelters in the Central Balkan. Hundreds of hiking tracks have been marked and most of them lead to important natural, historic and cultural places.
The Central Balkan National Park is established in this part of the mountain. Within its territory it hosts some 10 biosphere reserves, some of which have been included in UNESCO programme of preservation of nature.
Eastern Stara Planina starts from the Vratnik (Zhelezni Vrata) Pass and ends at the waters of the Black Sea. In spite of the considerable length of 155 kilometres (in a straight line) the mountain here loses its monolith shape, so typical of the other two parts. Its height drops rapidly (the highest peak is Mt. Bulgarka at 1181 metres) and there are no Alpine formations (with a few exceptions in the Sliven Mountain). Even the mountain ridges in this area are covered by broad-leaved trees.
As early as the Vratnik (Zhelezni Vrata) Pass, Eastern Stara Planina divides into two parallel chains - Udvoi Planina to the south and Mator Planina to the north, which is accepted to be the central ridge. Of Udvoi Planina the Sliven Mountain part deserves mentioning because of its height (here is the highest peak of the whole sector) and the Alpine character of the area around the Blue Rocks – the most beautiful and often visitied sub-part of Eastern Stara Planina. Along the Mator Planina range one can count: Kotlenska Planina with the Mt. Razboina (1128 m) and the Varbishka Planina with Mt. Karaborun (The Black Cape – 1053 m). From the gorge of the river Luda Kamchiya Mator Planina itself is divided in two parallel ridges, both of them reaching the sea. The northern is the Kamchiya Ridge with the highest peak Mt. Kamenyak (627 m) while the southern ridge is the Eminska Planina with the highest point being in the Mandrabair Massif (621 m). The latter is considered a continuation of the main ridge and finishes at Cape Emine with a lighthouse. Here, too ends the marked track, which follows the top ridge of the Stara Planina throughout its entire length starting from of Mt. Kom.
There are 10 tourist chalets built in this sector of the Balkan Mountain and several tourists dormitories in the towns, offering boarding and food. In comparison with the other parts of the mountain range, it is less frequented. There are marked hiking tracks - especially in the Sliven Mountain, as well as some alpine mountaineering spots. Basic hiling route in this part of Stara Planina is the well-arked track along the Kom-Emine ridge. Over the greater part of the Central Stara Planina ridge runs themain Balkan water-separation line between the water-collecting systems of the White and Black seas.
The Bulgarian rivers of greater importance, which flow from the mountain to the north and into the sea via the Danube River are the rivers (west to east): Lom, Ogosta, Skat, Vit, Osam, Yantra, Russenski Lom and Kamchiya, the last flowing directly into the sea. To the south and into the White sea flow the rivers Stryama, Stara Reka, Tundzha and Mochuritsa. In its western and eastern end the ridge is no more a water-separation line and there are rivers flowing south but pouring into the Black Sea - Nishava (in the west) and Hadzhiiska (in the east), as well as some smaller rivers. The Iskar River and Luda Kamchiya River are the two that flow right across the main mountain ridge thus creating exceptionally picturesque gorges. Both flow to the north and drain into the Black Sea.