Botevgrad: Clock Towers and Fresh Bulgarian Mountain Air
Botevgrad is a town with a population of less than 20 000 people, located in the northern foothills of the Stara Planina Mountain, just 60 km east from the capital Sofia.
Getting there is easy - just go on the Sofia-Varna highway and follow the signs. Botevgrad is 30 minutes away from Sofia and 2 hours from Veliko Tarnovo (not including traffic jams).
Although there are no particularly outstanding historical monuments or architectural designs to draw tourists on a more frequent basis, seeing the town and even staying in it for a couple of days is well worth the effort.
Botevgrad has this mellow beauty of low housing and plenty of trees overhanging quiet streets, mountain ridges and deep blue skies surrounding it in every direction.
Not to disappoint those keen on historical sights, however, we must mention the Clock Tower, Botevgrad's proud symbol that dates back to 1864, which is included in the list of 100 National Tourist Sites. Its original clockwork can now be seen in the town's museum, alongside some artifacts (pieces of ancient pottery, agricultural equipment, a Thracian marble plate, a Roman Emperors' Column etc.) that prove the site had been inhabited even in the early ages of human history - the remains of the Thracian dwelling date back to 500 BC.
Botevgrad also boasts the only church in the country that was raised in the honour of a Bulgarian martyr slaughtered by the Turks, Georgi Novi Sofiiski.
Botevgrad was named after one of Bulgaria's great revolutioners, Hristo Botev, and the dedicated monument should be on your must-see list. Before receiving its name in 1934, the town was known as Orhanie, after the second sultan of the Turkish Empire, who ruled in the first half of the 14th century. It was in 1866 that the strategic military route connecting Rouse and Sofia was built through the then small village of Samundzhievo and changed the tiny settlement into a town of strategic importance.
With the advent of Communism, Botevgrad saw some serious economic development that also gave rise to a growing community, with workers being transferred there from all parts of the country. One of the largest employers until its closure in 1999, the Chavdar bus plant in Botevgrad manufactured buses every Bulgarian aged 25+ has had the not particularly exciting experience riding in. A souvenir of old times, when Chavdar was the only bus make around, in one of the town centre parks, wrapped neatly in creeping plants, is a most spectacular pub made inside and around the rusty chassis of one such bus.
Walking down streets that have not seen repair since the fall of Communism, past the colourful blend of old and new housing, enjoying the freshness of the mountain air, Botevgrad left me with the wonderful memory of a dream-like short holiday. A town that has not yet seen the invasion of chain-store supermarkets and malls, despite its proximity to the capital, Botevgrad remains a quiet resort for those hundreds of people who have already bought or built the largest out-of-town villa zone I have ever seen. And if you are lucky, your local host may treat you to the palate-tickling local specialty of Botevgradska topenitsa.
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