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 and continental but at higher altitudes has cold winters and fresh summers.
The region was a crossroad in the heart of the peninsula from very early times. The first European Neolithic settlers came here on migration paths 8200 years ago, the traces of invading Indo-European tribes some 6000 years ago, Celtic, Macedonian and Roman troops in the first millennium BC, and later barbaric tribes during the “great migration of peoples,” etc. Though not much remains 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 between the first century BC and 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 Migration Period, newcomers repeatedly destroyed and plundered the area which belonged to the East Roman diocese of Illyricum. The Middle Ages began in the 6th-7th century AD with an invasion by the Slavs, 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.
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: