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Pauthalia, Velbujd and Kyustendil – a Short Walk in History

Georgi Georgiev

Nestled in the picturesque, fertile lands, at the foot of the outstanding Osogovo Mountain, Kyustendil city fascinates with its natural beauty and a thousand-year old history.
In ancient times it was known as Pauthalia, later on, in the early antiquity – as Velbujd and finally was renamed Kyustendil, after the name of the local feudal lord Konstantin Dragash.
The road from the capital city of Sofia to Kyustendil is very pleasant, not long (just an hour drive) and definitely picturesque.

I have never been in Kyustendil before, but I can surely say, that in the middle of the spring season it is simply enchanting. The whole valley is sunk in bright green fresh colour, giving stroke to the tiny white and rose flowers and orchards.
It is a well-known fact, that Kyustendil is an ancient city, which has a rich historical past, but this cannot be truly felt until you stand up in front of some of the millenary ruins, the city hosts. Therefore before check in at the hotel, inspired by the morning coolness of the air, I headed towards Hissarluka Park, where the Medieval Hissarluka Fortress is found. The park is situated in immediate proximity to the city, in the lower parts of the Osogovo Mountain. With its virgin nature and small, cosy restaurants around, he park itself is a wonderful place for walks and relaxation. I was particularly impressed by the nice children’s area, which was attracting not only the kids, but the elderly nature-lovers as well.

After I enjoyed the bright picture for a while and walked amongst the ancient ruins of the stronghold, I felt so energetic and inspired by the songs of the cheerful birds and the breezy air that I set off for the city in expectation of more pleasant experiences. And, of course, I didn’t get disappointed.

Usually I do not cherish the escorted, organized sightseeing trips, but I will definitely recommend you to use the services of the Museum of History, if you really want to see Kyustendil. I personally came upon the museum by chance, while I was walking on the main street of the city. But when I got in there, I was impressed by the kind people, who met me. When they understood that I am a reporter for tourism media, a woman, who was a museum representative set out with me to show me the most interesting sightseeing spots of the city.

The tour started from “Asklepii” Hall. It hosts an archeology exhibition with ancient tools and instruments, objects from the style of living and weapons from different epochs, found in the region. Then we headed off for “Saint George” Church in “Kolusha” quarter, which proved to be a real masterpiece of the medieval architecture and artistry. Here I learned that during the Ottoman Rule, the building was ruined, but the wall paintings and the frescoes in the lower parts survived. They actually date from the 10th - 11th Century and give important information about how the medieval art of painting developed in Bulgaria those days. The church was restored in the period between the years 1878 and 1880.

In “Kolusha” Quarter is also located the “Emfedjiev’s” House, which hosts an ethnographic exposition. The exposition presents the style of living of the wealthy Kyustendil families, who lived at the end of the 19th Century. The house was also home of the head of the Russian Detachment, which was quartered in Kyustendil during the Russian-Turkish war of liberation.

From the Emfidjiev’s House we made our way towards the house-museum of Ilyo the Voivode. Unfortunately it was closed, but my kind guide told me about the owner of the house. Ilyo Markov, known also as Ilyo the Voivode was one of the most notable leaders of the Bulgarian National-Liberation Uprising. It was on his initiative that the Russian commanders sent a liberating detachment in the city during the war. That is why his house hosts an exposition, named “National-Liberation Movement of the people from the region of Kyustendil”. The exposition traces through the struggle of the Bulgarian population from the 15th Century to the Liberation.

The other remarkable museum-house is the house of Dimitar Peshev, which is located right in the centre of the city. Actually the present house is an exact copy of the old-time house, which belonged to the famous Bulgarian politician. In the museum are exhibited personal belongings of Dimitar Peshev, as well as other exponents, connected with his life and work. Dimitar Peshev used to be prime-minister in Bulgaria in the 40s. In 1943 he writes a letter, which is signed by 43 deputies and thanks to it the Bulgarian Jewish are saved from Holokosta.

Close to Dimitar Peshev’s House the art gallery “Vladimir Dimitrov – Maistora” is located. Here visitors can see canvas paintings of the great Bulgarian artist, as well as many other masterpieces of popular Kyustendil authors.
In front of the gallery I said good-bye to my guide and she sees me off with a smile.

I took the direction she showed to me and found myself in the centre of the city. The centre itself is a unique mixture of ancient ruins, medieval memorials, and symbols of Christianity and Islam.
For me the most impressing sightseeing spot was the “Askelphion of Pauthalia”, also known as the “Roman Thermal Spas”. Nowadays there is not much left from the imposing temple and the hydropathic establishment, but it is more than obvious that back in times the centre used to be spectacular – 3500 square metres, heating system, water-main canals and architecture fragments, which all bring evidence for the construction genius of the ancient people.
Next to the thermal complex, a medieval defensive tower raises. “Pirokovata Tower” is 15 metres high and is supposed to have been constructed in the 14th – 15th Century. The tower gives clear idea of the architectural and construction technique of the fortifying system of the medieval Velbujd.

Again in the centre of the city, the Orthodox Temple “St. Mina” and the “Assumption” Church are situated. The “Assumption” Church is listed under the cultural heritage of UNESCO. There is also evidence for the Ottoman rule over the Bulgarian lands in Kyustendil. Today the “Ahmed Bey” Mosque hosts different thematic exhibitions.

Of course, Kyustendil is not only rich in culture and history city. It has unique nature, wonderful city centre, lively park and many good restaurants and attraction places.
I recommend you to try at least one of the wonderful mehanas in Kyustendil, where except for tasting the delicious traditional meals, you will also have a lovely rest from the emotional walk through time and space – through different epochs and different times, that Pauthalia, Velbujd and Kyustendil have experienced.



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