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An unremarkable village. However there's something to it. As you drive 40 kilometers south of Kyustendil, driving towards adventure, this is one of the last villages before you're on dirt roads and in deep forests. Just one remote corner of Bulgaria that nobody ever visits. The Tsarvaritsa area is part of the Piyanets region, which of itself consists of 26 areas. Most of these are largely abandoned. Tsarvaritsa is surprisingly large by surface, leading all the way from the Rechitsa River and its tributaries - the Suha river and Vetrenska river. The area borders both North Macedonia and Serbia. 

Within this region is the Gabra nature reserve, bordering the Osogovo area, which is a ski resort. The Black Rock Pass is a historical pass right through the mountains here, that was used even in ancient times. The black pine forests give this area a mystique. The flora and fauna is rich, even for Bulgarian standards. It is probable that the name Tsarvaritsa originates from the colour of the ground and that resulting in the colour of the flood water, being orange-ceramic, and back in the day was referred to as red. The name for this colour was intertwined with the word for church, eventually becoming Tsarvaritsa.

This being a trading route for thousands of years, remains of fortified posts and even fortresses were found in the area. As none of these are really mapped or signed, you need local knowledge on where to find them. And even then you'll be lost for directions. There are remains of a fortress near the school in Tsarvaritsa, which lays in the center of the villahe. Although I wasn't aware of that and also didn't search for it, I do find some photos in Google Maps showing a large stone cross, an obrok. The location is not known to me. The fortress has been dated to Late Antiquity (4th-VI century). It was demolished in most probably the 18th Century. It is possible that the obrok - the cross - was placed only after the demolishing of the fortress, probably for remembrance or to harvest the energies still present within its former ruins. Crosses manage to transfer this energy - at least it might have been believed so. Many crosses were placed upon older remains of ancient structures.

The above theory cannot be confirmed by me though, as right next to the cross is a stone baptismal cauldron. This is an interesting sight relatively rare in Bulgaria, many were demolished or just lost in time. As it is right next to the cross, it might have been 'saved' from what was once the fortress church.


Tsarvaritsa appears in the Ottoman tax register of 1576 as Tservariche.  In a short period, between 1878-1912, the village was cut in half by the border between the Principality of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. It is said that the local people still know where the border crossings were. Collectivization of farms led to a dramatic decrease of the population. Tsarvaritsa once had pubs, little stores, pharmacies and a school. Now, only the post office works. Everything else is closed, probably forever.

As you continue south from Tsarvaritsa, you'll pass several more shepherd settlements. Although I haven't been, most of these must be abandoned, but be not surprised if several pensioners are still living there, even entirely on their own and self-sustaining. Then, as you wander south, you'll end up in Gabra, as said a terrific wild reserve, and one of Bulgaria's most untouched and underexplored areas. You'll be on the border with North Macedonia but as the terrain is quite inaccesible, you probably won't make it that far through the mountains. It is an excellent place to sense the remoteness and mystique of Bulgaria, though.


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