The landscape of the area is a mixture of low and
medium height mountains and highlands as well as the valleys of the Struma and
Nishava River basins. The climate is moderate continental but at higher
altitudes it has cold winters and fresh summers.
The region was a crossroad in the
heart of the peninsula from very early times. Through the migration roads came
the first European Neolithic settlers 8200 years ago, the traces of invading
Indo-European tribes some 6000 year ago, Celtic, Macedonian and Roman troops in
the first millennium BC, and barbaric tribes during the Great migration of
peoples etc. Though not much has remained standing, the earth still hides many
uncovered treasures and monuments in these areas which, due to their position
near the country’s border in the last century, remained remote and abandoned.
The written history of the area started in the first millennium BC when it was
the border between the Thracian and Illyrian tribes and kingdoms.
The Romans, after having conquered
the area in the first century BC - the first century AD, brought with them
relative peace and stability for several centuries. They developed urbanization
and the infrastructure of the region. The Roman highway Via Militaris –
from Vindibona (Vienna) – Aquincum (Budapest) - Singidunum (Belgrade) to
Byzantium (later Constantinople and Istanbul) - crossed the area along with
other important Roman roads, bringing funds and goods to the local population.
The prominent Roman cities of Serdica (Sofia), Pautalia (Kyustendil), and
Naisus (Nish) influenced the economic and cultural development of the region.
During the Great migration of peoples, newcomers repeatedly destroyed and
plundered the area which belonged to the East Roman diocese of Ilyricum. The
Middle Ages began with an invasion by the Slavs in the 6-7 century AD who
settled down and formally recognized the authority of the East Roman Emperor
although they lived almost independently until their lands were incorporated in
the emerging Bulgarian Empire in AD 809. From that time on, the area remained
ethnically and culturally connected with the Bulgarian people until the end of
the 19 century, no matter who ruled it formally.
History facts in brief:
First century AD – 809 AD - the region is part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
809 - 1010s – the region is part of the First Bulgarian Empire.
864 – Baptizing of the Bulgarians.
1110s - 1180s - the region is part of the Byzantine Empire.
1180s - 1330 - the region is part of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
1330 – 1380s – Ponishavie remains part of the Second Bulgarian Empire but Kraishte was conquered by the emancipated Serbian Kingdom (inherited after 1355 by Despot Konstantin Dragash).
1380s - 1390s – The region was conquered by the Ottomans who, despite some Christian reconquista trials, remained there until 1878.
1680s – Rebellions by the Bulgarians in support of the Anti-Ottoman powers (Austria, Poland, Venice etc.) in the Holy war against the Sultan.
1809 - 1821- Rebellions by the local Christians were brutally smashed by the Ottomans.
1870 – Christians from Ponishavie and Kraishte join the Bulgarian Orthodox Exarchate.
1878 – The Russo-Turkish war liberated the region from Ottoman rule and it became a part of the Bulgarian Kingdom except for the areas of Nish and Pirot - which were occupied by Serbia as a reward for participating in the war on the Russian side.
1919 – Bulgaria loses WW I. The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes ( Yugoslavia) annexed additional parts of the region: the municipalities of Tsaribrod (now Dimitrovgrad) and Bosilegrad.
1944 – The Soviet army occupied Bulgaria and the Communist coup d’état turned the country into a socialist republic and a Soviet ally. The iron curtain split the region between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. In the 1950s, the 20 km “Cordon sanitaire” built by Bulgaria, additionally isolated both parts of the region and economic reasons pressed the locals living in the banned area to leave their homeland forever.
1989 – The breakdown of the socialist system opened new horizons for the people on both sides of the border.
Major towns of the area are:
- Kyustendil is an old town and Spa resort with 60 000 inhabitants. There are many sites from the Roman, Medieval and Ottoman periods.
- Pernik is an industrial town with 90 000 inhabitants – the medieval Krakra fortress and Kukeri winter festival are worth seeing.
BHFS PROJECTS IN THIS REGION: