Kyustendil region occupies parts of South-western Bulgaria and extends on area of more than 3 000 sq.km. The population is approximately 170 000 people organized in 9 municipalities – Kyustendil, Sapareva Banya, Dupnitza, Bobov Dol, Rila, Kocherinovo, Nevestino, Boboshevo and Treklyano.
It borders on the regions of Sofia and Pernik to the east, on Blagoevgrad district to the south, while to the west, its limits coincide with the state borders between Bulgaria and Macedonia, and Bulgaria and Serbia. The district includes parts of several cross-border mountains, which altogether form the so-called “Kyustendilsko kraishte” (Kyustendil Corner-land). To the south, the territory of the region reaches the ridges of the Osogovo, Vlahina and Rila Mountains. The Kyustendil province also includes the Dragovishtitsa and Bistritsa river valleys, which additionally diversifies the terrain.
Kyustendil region is most popular for its fertile valleys and the Bobov Dol coal mines. Mild climate and favorable soil composition are the key prerequisites which have enabled this area to develop a successful agriculture in the context of Bulgaria’s economy. Kyustendil has deep traditions in growing various vegetables, but is most famous for the considerable fruit growing.
The region has also exceptional nature resources. There are numerous thermal mineral springs in the towns of Kyustendil, Nevestino and Sapareva Banya. The mineral water of Sapareva Banya reaches up to 103°C and is among the hottest in Europe. The Stob pyramids and the 70-meter-high waterfall of the Golemi Dol River near the village of Kamenichka Skakavitsa attract many adventurous hikers and tourists who have the desire to explore and conquer the heights of the Rila Mountain and the frozen waterfalls of Skakavitsa.
As far as the economy is concerned, the region falls into cross-border relations with the Republic of Macedonia and Serbia. Dupnitza is often referred to as the business capital of the region. It is popular for the pharmaceutical production outlet which is one of the biggest in Bulgaria.
One of the greatest symbols of Bulgarian faith and religious devotion is situated in Kyustendil province. The Rila Monastery, nestling in the heart of the Rila Mountain only 120 km south from Sofia, is the most impressive monuments from the Bulgarian Renaissance period. Internationally renowned for its unique architecture, mountainous setting and legendary history, the monastery is a must-see for every Bulgarian and foreign tourist.
Situated 1147 meters above sea level on the steep slopes of the narrow Rilska river valley, the monastery has sustained the wear and tear of time becoming an important centre of Bulgarian language, culture, education and spiritual growth. The monastery is believed to have been built by the disciples of Ivan Rilski shortly after his death. Ivan Rilski was a hermit who lived in the tenth century (during the reign of Tsar Petar) in a cave just 2 km from today’s monastery. The cave is considered to have been St. Ivan Rilski’s original hermitage.
Since its establishment, the monastery has been one of the most respected centres of Christianity – generous donations were made by Bulgarian tsars from 1210s to 1380s. Later, despite the destructions done by the Ottoman invasions, the monastery started its revival in the beginning of the fifteenth century thanks to donations provided by the Russian Orthodox Church. In the XVII and XIX century, the recovery and renovation of the monastery was done with donations from wealthy Bulgarians from all over the country.
As an architectural monument, it has the outward appearance of a fortress, but the inside reveals splendid black-and-white patterns and bold red stripes of the graceful arches and balconies. The monastery’s church has a solid iconostasis which is almost 10 m wide and has massive gold carvings most of which made by Zahari Zograf.
Nowadays, the monastery has a museum with a rich collection of manuscripts, documents, jewelry and a library with more than 16 000 books and is included on the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage.
The monastery is a starting point for hiking routes to Mount Mayovitsa (2975 m) and Mount Mousala (2925 m), which is also the highest peak on the Balkans.