Rhodopes is one of the most isolated regions of Bulgaria. Famous for its traditional throat singing the region keeps its unique culture and traditions. Several natural amphitheatres were used since the ancient times for singing contests. Additionally almost every village claims to be the homeland of Orpheus, a legendary Greek singer.
Devil's Threat Cave is one of the largest and most famous caves in the Rhodopes. These natural underground system tunnels have been known since the time of the Antiquity. Ancient Greeks believed that it was one of the entrances to the Underground Kingdom of the Hades. People believed that legendary Thracian singer Orpheus once lived here. He fell in love with a lovely Euridice. They intended to get married, but on the wedding day angry gods send a poisonous snake to kill the bride. She died and her soul went in Kingdom of the Dead deep underground. Orpheus descended there and tried to convince God of the Dead, Hades, to give back his loved one. Orpheus beautiful voice and his ability to play his lyre persuaded god to let Euridice go. There was only one condition. Euridice was suppose to follow her groom, but Orpheus couldn't look back until he reached the light of day. Orpheus was too tempted to look back at the love of his life and he turned around. Euridice slipped from the embrace of her lover and returned to the Kingdom of the Dead deep in the Devil's Threat Cave. She stayed there for good this time.
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Yagodina Cave is situated near a small village of Yagodina in the Buynovo Gorge. It is one of the most famous caves in the Rhodopes mountains and Bulgaria in general with a total length of 8.5 km, although only a small portion is open to the general public. The temperature inside the underground tunnels range between 6 and 8 degrees Celsius, so dress warmly. Modern visitors get inside the cave through an artificial entrance that was cut in the 20th century, however the natural entrance of the cave lies few kilometres down the Buynovo River Gorge. Several archaeological digs conducted here by Bulgarian scientists discovered remains and artefacts from the Neolithic times.
The name of the Rhodope Mountains is of Thracian origin. It was first discovered in Herodotus (5th century BC). In the ancient tradition is preserved only one etymological legend, which clarifies (according to the notions of the era) the name and appearance of the mountain. It is known through Trasil of Mendes (1st century AD) and Pseudo-Plutarch (3rd - 4th century AD): “The Rhodopes and Hemus were brother and sister and began to desire each other, as Hemus called her. Hera, and she named her beloved Zeus. Because the gods felt offended and suffered so much, they turned them into the mountains of the same name. Undoubtedly, the same legend is meant by Ovid when he speaks of "the Rhodopes and Hemus, now icy mountains, but once mortal, who claimed the names of the greatest gods." Variants of this legend come to life in Bulgarian folklore.
It should be noted that it is more correct in relation to antiquity to use the name Rhodope (Rhodope), instead of the Rhodopes, because in ancient texts the oronym always appears in the singular. This is also proved by the appearance of a personification of the mountain on the reverse of four Philippopolis coin issues, representing a female image with the Rhodope inscription clearly referring to it.
In the Middle Ages the mountain was known as Slaveevi forests (Slaveevi mountains), and during the Ottoman rule - as Dospatski mountains.
Geographical location, area, altitude distribution, peaks
The Rhodopes occupy the eastern part of the Rila-Rhodope massif, in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula. The mountain stretches over the territory of Southern Bulgaria (parts of the districts of Blagoevgrad, Pazardzhik, Plovdiv and Haskovo and entirely of the districts of Smolyan and Kardzhali) and Northern Greece.
Their length from west to east is about 240 km, and the width from north to south - exceeds 100 km. The total area of the Rhodopes is about 18,000 km², of which 14,738 km² are on Bulgarian territory, which represents 81.88% of its entire territory.
The average altitude of the mountain is 785 m - it is a medium-high mountain. More than ⅓ of the mountain area (36.45%) is occupied by low and hilly hills with an altitude of 200 to 600 m, the other close ⅓ (30.83%) is occupied by medium-high parts (between 1000 and 1600 m), and the rest of the mountain falls at the lowest (from 0 to 200 m) and above 1600 m altitudes.
The borders of the Rhodopes are the following:
Western border - From the Greek village of Statmos, located 10 km southwest of the town of Xanthi, the border climbs northwest along the valley of the Mesta River, near the Bulgarian village of Godeshevo crosses our state border and continues north along the river valley through the Gotse Delchev Gorge. Maiden gorge and reaches the Razlog valley. This border separates the Rhodopes from the Urvil and Bozdag mountains in Greece and Pirin in Bulgaria.
Northwestern border - To the northwest the Rhodopes border Rila. From the village of Banya the border ascends along the valley of Mesta and its left tributary Dreshtenets, passes through the saddles Avramova (1455 m) and Yundola (1400 m) and along the valley of the river Yadenitsa descends to the river Maritsa near the town of Belovo.
Northern border - To the north, the Rhodopes border the Upper Thracian lowland, and here its slopes are significantly steeper than the southern ones facing the Aegean Thrace. The border starts from the town of Belovo and follows the northern slopes of the hills Alabak, Karkaria, Besaparski, Chernatitsa, Dobrostan, Dragoyna, Mechkovets, Haskovo hilly region, Huhla, Gradishte and Gorata and reaches the town of Svilengrad.
Eastern border - The eastern border of the mountain is on Greek territory and is very indefinite. In general, it follows the extreme eastern low branches, which almost reach the valley of the lower reaches of the Maritsa River.
Southern border - The southern border of the mountain starts west of the Maritsa delta, passes north of the city of Alexandroupolis, follows the southern, western and northwestern slopes of Mount Ovcharitsa and the western slope of Mount Butterfly. from there it continues west, following the foothills of the Maglenik ridge and the Gyumyurjinski Snezhnik, Momchil and Ruyan mountains, and reaches the village of Statmos by the Mesta River.
According to geological-tectonic and morphographic features, the Rhodopes are divided into two parts - Western (high) and Eastern (low). The border between these two parts starts at the village of Iskra, ascends along the Kayaliyka River (right tributary of the Maritsa), passes through the Kitkata saddle and descends along the Borovitsa River valley to the Arda River at the Kardzhali Dam. From there it climbs up the Arda Valley and its right tributary Madanska River, crosses our state border and along the Sushitsa River (flows into the Aegean Sea) reaches the Greek village of Poliantri, 15 km west of Gyumyurjina.
The Western Rhodopes cover an area of 8732.1 km2 (or 59.25%) and the higher part of the Rhodopes. Their average altitude is 1098 m, and more than half of their area (51.9) is occupied by lands with an altitude between 1000 and 1600 m. They have a mid-mountainous appearance with a highly indented, dense and deeply dug river network. The valley of the river Vacha divides them into two parts - western Dabrashko-Batashka and eastern Perelik-Prespa. In the first part the highest peak is Golyama Syutkya (2186 m), and in the second part is the peak of the Rhodopes in the Mursalitsa ridge - Golyam Perelik (2191 m). The western part has an asymmetric orohydrographic plan with a well-developed ridge system, delineated by deep valleys to the north and a very narrow area to the south. The main watershed between the catchment areas of Maritsa and Mesta is shifted to the southwest along the wide and powerful ridge of the Velijsko-Videnishki section. The Alabak hill deviates from the main watershed hill to the north, Batashka mountain is its extreme branches Karkaria and Besaparski hills. To the south of the main hill stretches the wide hill Dabrash. The eastern part of the Western Rhodopes comprises two powerful watersheds: in the northwest Pereliksko-Prespanski and in the southeast Ardinski part, separated by the valley of the river Cherna (left tributary of the Arda). The powerful hills Chernatitsa, Radyuva Mountain and Dobrostan deviate from the Perelik-Prespa part to the north. To the west are the Chepinska, Batashka and Dospatska valleys, and to the east are the high Chepelarska and Smolyanska valleys, as well as the small Hvoynenska valley. The largest Rhodope rivers originate from the Western Rhodopes: Vacha, Chepinska, Chepelarska, Arda, Dospat, Stara Reka and others, which flow into deep gorge valleys.
The Eastern Rhodopes cover an area of 6005.4 km² (or 40.75%) and the lower part of the Rhodopes. Their average altitude is only 329 m, ie. they are more than three times lower than the Western Rhodopes. Nearly 3/4 of their area (71.5%) is occupied by lands with an altitude between 200 and 600 m. Unlike the Western Rhodopes, the Eastern Rhodopes are lower, with a low mountain and hilly appearance. Although they retain their massive mountainous character, they are divided by wide valleys in which gorges narrow alternate. The ridges of the mountain are less torn and have a flattened appearance. In their orographic plan there are three central mountain ridges: to the west between the valleys of the rivers Arda and Varbitsa the mighty Yellow section; to the north of the Arda valley alternate low, rounded and mostly elongated hills - Dragoyna, Mechkovets, Chukata, Gorata, Gradishte and Huhla and the low Haskovo hilly area. In the southernmost part of the Eastern Rhodopes are the northern slopes of the high border hills Maglenik and Gyumyurjinski Snezhnik, where Peak Veikata (1463 m) is located, which is the southernmost Bulgarian point and the highest peak in the Bulgarian part of the Eastern Rhodopes. The highest peak in the eastern part of the Rhodopes is Orlitsata peak (1482 m) in Greece. From the Maglenik ridge to the north to the Arda valley, the mighty Steep Hill and the Black Mountain deviate along the lower Irantepe and Sirte. In this part the larger valleys are the Valchepol and Dzhebel valleys.
The Arda River flows through the Eastern Rhodopes from west to east, and its main tributaries here are: Perperek, Varbitsa, Krumovitsa and Byala Reka. In the past, the Eastern Rhodopes were occupied by a water basin with active underwater volcanism, so in addition to sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks were formed here - andesites, rhyolites, tuffs and others. As a result of the external relief-forming forces, bizarre rock forms have formed from these rocks.
Geological structure, geomorphological features, minerals
The Rhodopes are built of metamorphic rocks - gneisses, shales, marbles, amphibolites, and others, among which are embedded serpentinites, granites and other intrusions. Slightly metamorphosed Mesozoic rocks (shales, quartzites, diabases) have been found in the Eastern Rhodopes. Above the metamorphites lies a powerful cover of Young Paleogene sedimentary and volcanic rocks - sandstones, marls, conglomerates, limestones, andesites, latites, rhyolites, tuffs, tuffs and others. Pliocene lake sediments are deposited on the periphery of the mountain.
The formation of the modern appearance of the Rhodopes is carried out during the late Tertiary. During the Miocene, Pliocene and Quaternary the mountain was subjected to cyclic denudation, as a result of which four main denudation levels were formed - flat surfaces (four in the Western Rhodopes and three in the Eastern). The oldest and highest denudation level - the Old Miocene is represented only in the Western Rhodopes and occupies the vast ridge plains between 1800 and 2000 m, above which rise the secluded fortresses of the highest Rhodope peaks. The second denudation level in terms of height and age - the Young Miocene level is observed in both parts of the mountain, as in the Western Rhodopes it is located at an altitude of 1300 - 1600 m, and in the Eastern Rhodopes it is the highest at 1000 - 1100 m and occupies the ridges. of Gyumyurjinski Snezhnik and Maglenik. The third level in height and age is the Old Pliocene (Pontic). It is also observed in both parts of the Rhodopes, as in the west it is at an altitude of 1000 - 1200 m and occupies the ridges of the lower hills, and in the Eastern Rhodopes it is 550 - 800 m and covers the tops of the hills Yellow part, Steep hill, Irantepe and Sirta and the ridges of the lowest hills Chukata and Gora. The last lowest and youngest denudation level is the Young Pliocene (Levantine), which in the Western Rhodopes is at an altitude of 700 - 900 m and is a typical mountain slope step, covering mainly the northern slopes of the Rhodopes facing the Upper Thracian lowlands. In the Eastern Rhodopes this level is located at 350 - 550 m and covers the lower parts and the foothills of most of the hills in the eastern part.
During the Quaternary the river network is cut rhythmically, due to which a series of river terraces is formed in the valleys of the main rivers - from 5 to 7 in the Western Rhodopes and 6 - 7 in the Eastern.
The mountain is rich in minerals: lead-zinc, iron ore, asbestos and others. Volcanic tuffs, marble, etc. are exploited for construction needs.
In the Western Rhodopes, due to the higher altitude, a mountainous climate prevails. The climate there is mitigated by the warm Mediterranean air masses penetrating the rivers. This climate mitigation is more noticeable in the Eastern Rhodopes, because there the altitude is lower and the river valleys offer an easy way to the warmer air from the south. In the Western Rhodopes the Mediterranean influence is weaker, and in the Eastern - stronger, which is evident from the average annual temperatures and the average annual amount of precipitation for five meteorological stations: Velingrad 9 ° С, 550 mm; Smolyan 8.5 ° C, 981 mm; Zlatograd 10.9 ° C, 986 mm; Kardzhali 12.5 ° C, 663 mm; Ivaylovgrad 12.7 ° C, 736 mm. In the Western Rhodopes the precipitation is mainly during the summer months, and in the Eastern - in the winter.
The Rhodopes are a mountain with a dense and complex river network. The mountain belongs entirely to the Aegean watershed, as the rivers springing and flowing through it flow to two main rivers (Maritsa and Mesta) or flow directly into the Aegean Sea. In almost 80% of the territory of the mountain, except for its southwestern and southern parts, the outflow is directed to the Maritsa River through its right tributaries Chepinska River, Stara Reka, Vacha, Parvenetska River, Cherkezitsa, Mechka, Kayaliyka, Banska River, Harmanliyska River, Biserska Reka, Arda, Luda Reka and other smaller ones. The southwestern parts of the mountain belong to the catchment area of the Mesta River and its left tributaries - Zlataritsa, Kanina, Chechka Bistritsa, Dospat, Dyavolska River and others. In the southernmost parts of the Rhodopes (in Greece) the rivers flow directly into the Aegean Sea - Xanthi River, Sushitsa, Aksu, Tarnava and others.
In the high belt of the Western Rhodopes the large amount of
precipitation, the manifestation of prolonged snow retention,
insignificant evaporation, the large slope of the relief and the
predominant waterproof geological base are prerequisites for the
high value of the runoff module (over 25 l / s / km2). Within the
average altitude zone of the area, due to the lower amount of
precipitation and the stronger evaporation, the runoff modulus
decreases to 10 - 15 l / s / km2. In the low belt and at the foot of
the mountain slopes, at the contact with the Upper Thracian lowland,
its value is the lowest (2 - 3 l / s / km²) due to the small amount
of precipitation, the significant evaporation, the small slope of
the relief and the permeable geological base.
In the Eastern Rhodopes, the rivers have a predominant rain-snow supply and a pronounced winter maximum of the outflow. Due to the significantly lower altitude, the much stronger Mediterranean influence, the exposure of the slopes and in this connection different evaporation and different water permeability of the geological base, the modulus of river flow in the Eastern Rhodopes varies widely, ranging from 5 to 25 l / s / km².
Most of the rivers in the Rhodopes flow into deep gorge valleys, which is a prerequisite for the construction of hydraulic facilities and the utilization of their large water resources. Some of the largest Bulgarian and Greek dams have been built in the mountain: Dospat, Shiroka Polyana, Batak, Golyam Beglik, Vacha, Krichim, Tsankov Kamak, Kardzhali, Studen Kladenets, Ivaylovgrad, Tisavros, Platanovrisi and many other smaller ones.
The soil cover in the Western Rhodopes is significantly influenced by the nature of the climate, the geological base and the peculiarities of the relief. The foothills and the main belt of the mountain slopes are occupied by cinnamon forest soils, higher in the middle belt and above all on the northern slopes light brown soils predominate, and even higher between 1500 - 1900 m are distributed mainly dark brown forest soils. In the valleys and valley bottoms the young accumulative deposits are accompanied by alluvial soils. In the eastern Rhodopes along the valley of the Arda River and on the other larger rivers the alluvial soils are widespread, and in the other higher parts of the district cinnamon forest soils predominate. On the northern slopes of the hills in the eastern part there are also light brown forest soils. Much of the Haskovo hilly region is occupied by smolnitsa.
Flora and fauna
The great climatic and soil diversity determine the great plant diversity in the Rhodopes. More than 2,000 species of higher plants have been identified on the territory of the mountain, of which 90 are Balkan endemics and highly endangered species. In the lower parts of the Eastern Rhodopes the forests give way to the sub-Mediterranean low-stem species - Virgil oak, breccia, hornbeam, wild pear, dracaena, red juniper and others.
At an altitude of over 800 m, forests of common sessile oak, Moesian beech, hornbeam, ash, maple, six, etc. In the coniferous belt, which is developed mainly in the Western Rhodopes, there are common spruce, white pine, black pine and beech. Shrub vegetation and alpine meadows predominate at higher altitudes.
The ethnic composition (Thracians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Vlachs, Armenians, Turks, Cumans, Pechenegs, Tatars, Latins and Jews) of the old population of the Rhodopes is described in detail in the following title by Catherine Asdrasha, who, however, failed to consider separately the presence of the Thracians and the Slavs, and the Paulicians - Armenians is included in the Bulgarian ethnic group. By the way, in the modern historiography as a whole there are no studies on the ancient population of the Rhodopes.
Places related to the Rhodopes: Smolyan, Vievo, Madan, Chepelare, Momchilovtsi, Stoykite, Gela, Shiroka Laka, Bachkovo, Asenovgrad, Zlatograd, Momchilgrad, Garnati, Bostina, Kardzhali, Nedelino, Ardino, Devin, Buynovo, Dospat, Sarn Batak, Krichim, Rakitovo, Velingrad, Bratsigovo, Peshtera, Rudozem, Lucky, Selcha, Startsevo, Borino.
Ski resorts: Pamporovo, Tsigov Chark, Chepelare.
Mineral baths and spas: Velingrad, Narechenski Bani, Devin, Banite, Haskovo Mineral Baths.
Beautiful places: Yundola, Trigrad Gorge, Wonderful Bridges, Belintash, Devil's Bridge, Buynovo Gorge, Wolf's Leap, Kastrakli Reserve, Kemerov Bridge and others.
Caves: Snezhanka, Devil's Throat, Yagodinska Cave, Uhlovitsa, Martsiganitsa (1412 m), Topchika (727 m), Ivanova Dupka, Hralupata, Yamata, Biserna, Olimpiyska, Lednitsata, Gargina Dupka (524 m), Vodna Cave, Troitsata 
Christian places of worship: Bachkovo Monastery, Cross Forest.
Archaeological sites: Perperikon, Belintash, Tatul, Tsepina, Ustra fortress, megalithic and rock sanctuaries, Goz Tepe - the oracle of Dionysus, Assen's fortress.
In the Rhodopes are developed the mining and ore processing industry, logging and woodworking, electricity generation, metalworking, machine building, light industry.
The predominant transport in the mountains is road. Sections or the entire routes of 29 roads of the State Road Network pass through it on the territory of Bulgaria: 2 first-class roads with №№ 5 and 8; 5 second-graders with №№ 37, 58, 59, 84 and 86; 22 third graders with №№ 197, 375, 376, 377, 505, 506, 507, 508, 509, 591, 597, 598, 593, 808, 842, 843, 861, 862, 863, 865, 866 and 867.
In the Eastern Rhodopes from north to south, from Dimitrovgrad to Podkova passes a section of the route of the railway line Ruse - Gorna Oryahovitsa - Stara Zagora - Podkova, and in the Western Rhodopes - part of the route (station Krichim - station Peshtera) of the railway Stamboliyski - Peshtera and part of the route (Varvara station - Avramovi kolibi station) of the narrow-gauge railway line Septemvri - Velingrad - Dobrinishte.