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 and villages – Kyustendil, Dupnitsa, Bobov dol, Sapareva banja, Rila, Kocherinovo, Nevestinovo, Boboshevo and Treklyano. Kyustendil is located in the southern part of the Kyustendil Valley, on slopes of the Osogovo Mountains, 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 present Kyustendil was Pautalia – meaning 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 Dejanović Family or the Dragaš Family was the Serbian medieval royal dynasty who ruled the area around the three countries of present Serbia, Bulgaria and North Macedonia in the second half of the 14th century. The founder of the Dejanovic-Dragash Family was sebastokrator Dejan, one of the most prominent Serbian lords during the reign of Tsar Dusan, who /lord Dejan/ ruled in the zhupas of Žegligovo and Preševo and who was married with Teodora – the sister of tsar Dushan /king 1331-1345, tsar 1346-1355/ who /Teodora/ was daughter of King Stefan Decanski /1322—1331/ from his second marriage with Maria Palaeologus from the side Byzantine line of the Palaeologus Dynasty, in monastic life nun Evdokia. During the reign of tsar Uros /1355-1371/ from whom he received the title of despot and after death of Jovan Oliver, Dejan Dragas extended his administration to the areas around Velbuzd and Radomir. After his death, he was inherited by sons despot Jovan Dragas and lord Konstantin Dragaš, who together ruled the area they have extended so to include the wide area from Vranje and Preshevo to Radomir and Stip and Radoviste and Strumica in the south. After the Marica Battle in 1371 /Maritsa/ they became vassals of the Ottoman Empire, while after death of Jovan Dragan in 1377 or 1378, lord Konstantin continued to run his administration area within the Ottoman Empire. He gave his daughter Jelena /from the first marriage/ to marry with the Byzantine tsar Manuel II Palaeologus 1391-1425 and from this marriage origin the last Byzantine tsars Jovan VIII /1425-1448/ and Konstantin XI /1449-1453/ and the Morean despots. The last Byzantine tsar Konstantin XI was heroically killed in attempt to defend Constantinople – Tsarigrad from the Ottomans in 1453 was known under the family name of his mother Dragash which he carried. When in the Battle of Rovine in 1395 Konstantin got killed, as well as his neighbor Marko Mrnjavcevic /1371-1395/, Jakub – son of Konstantin who converted to Islam continued to rule the area his father ruled previously. Konstantin Dejanović Dragaš is mentioned as bey Kostadin in the Serbian epic poetry and as friend of Marko Mrnjavcevic Kraljevic /the Prince Marko or King Marko/. Beside this, the name of Konstantin is preserved in the present name of historical Velbuzd which he ruled, today Kyustendil, and comes from the Turkish name of  Kjustendil, meaning the Constantine Spa”.

The Battle of Velbuzd took place in the vicinity of the town on 28 July 1330 between the Bulgarians under leadership of the tsar Michael Shishman and the 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. The famous historical church of Church of the Holy Ascension of the Lord  – Spasovica Church is endowment of tsar Stefan of Decani – Stefan Decanski located in Kyustendil – the Constantine Banja Spa that was the seat of Constantine Dragash. The Spasovica Church commemorated the memory on the bloody Velbuzd Battle in 1330 when the Bulgarians were defeated with tsar Michael killed as it is positioned in the place of the tsar’s headquarters. The Spasovica church was demolished to the ground by the Bulgarian army after the defeat in the Battle of Bregalnica in 1913.

After that bloody Velbuzd 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 village (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 in Kyustendil was destroyed by the Ottomans. According to some researches it is suggested that painters from Thessaloniki took part in the fresco 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 Saint George 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 Mountains, 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.

The Church of Saint Demetrius is situated at 4 km from the small town of Boboshevo, some 45 km southeast of Kyustendil. It is a small one-nave structure with internal dimension of 4,15 m to 2,66 m and height of 5,50 m. The Saint Demetrius Church features a semi-round apse which is 1,38 m wide and 0,70 m deep. On the eastern side to the left of the apse there is a semi-round niche (0,45 x 0,52 x 0,37 m) and on the northern side – a rectangular one (0,20 x 0,20 x 0,25 m). The entrance is to the west and is 1,85 m high and 1,25 m wide. The vault is semi-cylindrical. A narthex was added in 1864 with entrance to the north and five arched windows. The floor of the naos of the Saint Demetrius church is covered with stone plates. The church was named after Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki – one of the most important Eastern Orthodox saints born in the 3rd century in the city of Thessaloniki.

The whole interior of the Saint Demetrius church in Boboshevo village, with exception of the narthex, is covered with frescoes which is traditional for that type of church. Several artistic traditions have been applied; the figures are dynamic, the characters are emotional and the faces – vivid. The shades are dark, saturated and harmonized. On the vault there are three medallions – one the central one is painted Christ with four angels. On its sides in the two smaller medallions are the images of the prophets – Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel and others. Under them are depicted two layers of scenes: upper layer which includes the big holidays – the Birth, Baptism, Crucifixion and others; and a lower layer with the Passion of Christ. On the northern and southern walls of the church under the Passion there is another frieze of medallions depicting the warrior saints, the three men in the Babylon furnace and others. In the bottom parts of the walls are depicted full-length portraits of saints. On the western wall is depicted the Assumption of Mary and under that scene on the two sides of the door are the images of the sainted rulers Constantine and Helen and Archangel Michael. The church was built after 1481 and the frescoes were made after 1488 as seen by the inscription on the door of the naos.

The icons in the iconostasis of the church (dated from 1729) are kept in the crypt of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, and part of the surviving manuscripts of the monastery are kept in Ecclesiastical Museum of History in the capital. The Saint Demetrius church in Boboshevo was declared an architectural-artistic monument of culture with national importance (DV, is.38/1972). The church was part of the medieval monastery of St Demetrius. The monastery was established in the 10th century and its initial position was above the village of Skrino. The famous Bulgarian saint John of Rila became monk in that monastery. The monastery of Saint Demetrius was destroyed after the Bulgarian-Ottoman wars and the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It was rebuilt during the reign of the Ottoman sultan Bayazid II (1481-1512) but not in its original position but to the south-east near Boboshevo village. Throughout the following centuries the monastery was an important literary center for the Bulgarian people. After the Liberation, the Saint Demetrius Monastery declined and became deserted, its control was first taken by the Municipality of Boboshevo and later by the local priests. Around 1930 the monastery of Saint Demetrius included dwellings, kitchen, bakery, granary and other buildings. At that time the monastery owned large estates and land in the eastern slopes of the Ruen Mountain which included forests, lawns, fields, orchards and vineyards. Only the church has been preserved today and has undergone a comprehensive restoration.

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…