Kyustendil

Kyustendil /historically Velbuzd, Velbazhd/ is a town in the far west of Bulgaria, the capital of Province of the same name, with a population of 50342. The Kyustendil province includes several settlements – Kyustendil, Dupnitsa, Bobov dol, Sapareva banja, Rila, Kocherinovo, Nevestinovo, Boboshevo and Treklyano. Kyustendil is located in the southern part of the Kyustendil Valley, in the westernmost part of Bulgaria, on both banks of the Banska river, only 27 km in the air line from the three Balkan borders junction – Bulgarian-Macedonian, Bulgarian-Serbian and Serbian-Macedonian. Kyustendil is a fruit growing region, but also the famous Bulgarian balneal spa resort with more than 40 mineral springs of the high level of sulfate at the altitude of 500 meters.

The ancient Thracian name of the town was Pautalia (a town of springs). In Thracian times flourishing settlements sprang up around the hot mineral springs and many nymphaeums were built. The Thracian settlement has been established at the place of the modern town in the 5th-4th centuries BC, and the Romans developed it into an important stronghold and trade junction called Ulpia Pautalia in the 1st century AD. In Roman times spa centers were established, among them Pautalia, where even the Roman emperors Ulpius Trajanus, Septimius Severus, Maximilianus and Justinianus sought treatment for their ailments. The Roman Baths of ancient town of Ulpia Pautalia are constructed in the 2nd and the 3rd century. The Roman Baths structure has a rectangular plan having a built up area of 3000 sq m. A total of 6 premises are studied on the area of 1000 sq m. All of the premises were supplied with a central heating system with columns and arch-vault system of corridors. The floor and the walls of the Pautalia baths halls have been faced by marble plates, profiled ledges and wall piers. Semicircular niches and pools were found in some of the premises. The combination of the different building methods and architectural decision make the baths in Pautalia one of the most interesting monuments from the Roman Ages ever found in Bulgaria. They are one of the symbols of the town of Kyustendil and a monument of national importance.

The Hisarlaka Fortress of Kyustendil has been built by the Romans in the 4th century. The name of Velbuzhd comes from a personal name of “Velbudkoje” and has been in use since the 11th century. The Battle of Velbuzd took place in the vicinity of the town on 28 July 1330 between Bulgarians, led by the tsar Michael Shishman and Serbs, led by the King Stefan of Decani. The Battle of Velbuzd was a major event in the history of the town and Bulgaria. The cause of the Velbuzd Battle was intention of the Serbian King Stefan of Decani to prevent coalition of the Bulgarian and the Byzantine armies that would jointly attack Serbia. The Bulgarians suffered the defeat and Tsar Michael Shishman was killed in the battle. After that battle, the city came under the Serbian rule that lasted between 1330-1355, with Neda on the Bulgarian throne, the first wife of Tsar Sishman and sister of Stefan of Decani. Around 1355 Velbuzhd and its region of the southwestern Bulgaria were included in the semi-independent feudal Velbazd principality of the Despot Deyan. The Turks conquered Kyustendil in 1372 and since then it was known as Köstendil which is the name derived from the name of ruler of the town of that time – Constantine Dragas. Kyustendil was the part of the Sofia sanjak until 1878 when it was liberated from the Ottoman occupation. After the establishment of the Ottoman rule, a great number of Turks from Asia Minor settled here attracted by the many mineral springs. The settlers erected 60 mosques. During the second half of the 18th century more and more Bulgarians moved to Kyustendil. Most of them came from the Bosilegrad and Kratovo area. In the 18th and 19t century the local inhabitants participated in the struggle for independent Bulgarian church and political liberation. The Ottoman troops responded by seizing the town and destroying its fortress walls. At the final stage of the Ottoman rule Kyustendil became one of the largest and richest sandjaks in Rumelia. The first primary school in Kyustendil was opened in 1820 and the first reading club was founded in 1869. Kyustendil was liberated on January 29, 1878. After the liberation the town began to develop economically. The main industries were woodworking and ore mining and agriculture.

Hisarlaka fortress is located on hill with the same name in southern part of Kyustendil, overlooking the town. It was built in the end of the 4th – beginning of the 5th century when the town was mentioned under its Slavic name – Velbuzhd. After this there were several reconstruction and extensions through the First and Second Bulgarian Kingdom and Hisarlaka became a major religious and administrative center. The fortress defended Kyustendil during the First and the Second Bulgarian kingdoms. The fortress of Hisarlaka was demolished by the Ottoman invaders in the 15th century. The Hisarlaka fortress covers an area of approximately 2000 m2 and has a shape of an irregular polygon with dimensions of 117×175 meters, following the configuration of the terrain. Hisarlaka fortress has 14 round, triangular and rectangular towers, two gates and five armies. The thickness of the Hisarlaka wall varied from 1.60 to 3.00 m and their height was about 10 meters (for walls) and 12 meters (for towers). Masonry is stone blocks cemented by the mortar with crushed bricks. Hisarlaka fortress was declared a cultural monument of national importance.

Saint George Church is situated in the southwestern part of Kyustendil, in the neighborhood of Kolusha (the medieval village of Kolasia). It is the most ancient preserved medieval church in Kyustendil. According to its architectural features and the recently discovered medieval frescoes, the Saint George church dates back to the 10th-11th centuries. It is assumed that the grave of the Bulgarian Tsar Mihail III Shishman, who was killed in the battle of Velbazhd in 1330, might be here. In the 19th century the Saint George church Kyustendil was destroyed by the Ottomans. According to some researches it is suggested that painters from Thessaloniki took part in the freso paintings. The frescoes in the vaulted part of the Saint George church were painted by masters from the school of Ivan Dospevski in Samokov. In 1878-1880 the church was reconstructed and is a representative of the rarely seen cross dome churches of the metropolitan type. The Medieval frescoes of the Saint George Church in Kyustendil are the rare records of the Byzantium art of painting in Bulgaria.  The frescoes from the Revival period expand our knowledge about the Bulgarian church art of painting from that period. Saint George Church Kyustendil is monument of culture of national importance.

Kyustendil is located at the foot of the gorgeous Osogovo Mountain, on both banks of the Banska River, 90 km southwest of Sofia and 22 km from the border with Macedonia and Serbia. The city of Kyustendil is an important road junction on the road Sofia – Skopje train station and the line Sofia – Pernik – Gyueshevo. In Kyustendil goes Pan-European Transport Corridor 8 (Vlora – Tirana – Skopje – Sofia – Burgas – Asia). Ski slope Osogovo is with a high degree of difficulty and is suitable for advanced and experienced skiers. The Osogovo ski run has a length of 910 meters and width – 45 meters.

Other sights of interest in Kyustendil and vicinity – Fatih Sultan Mehmed Mosque from 1531, Granitsa Medieval Fortress, Saint Luke Monastery, Pirkova Tower archaeological site, Skakavac Waterfall…

 

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