THE CENTRAL BALKAN

The Central Balkan is the highest and the most attractive section. It begins from the Zlatitsa Pass and ends at the Vratnik, or Zhelezni Vrata, (Iron Gate) Pass. The highest Balkan peaks are situated here starting with the leader, Peak Botev (2376 m or 7722 ft). Twenty-eight other giants go over 2000 meters (6500 ft) – Vezhen (2198 m or 7143 ft), Greater Kupen (2169 m or 7049 ft), Lesser Kupen (2141 m or 6958 ft) and Ambaritsa (2166 m or 7039 ft) among others. Three National Parks are situated in this Central Balkan (71669.5 hectares or 277 miles2) section. There are 9 reserves on its lands, most of which are included in UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program – Boatin, Tsarichina, Kozia Stena, Steneto, Northern Dzhendem, Singing Cliffs, Sokolna, Dzhendema and Old River. The Boatin Reserve (1597.2 hectares or 3950 acres) is the kingdom of beech trees. Approximately 600 species of higher plants, all the typical animals for a mountainous region in this moderate zone, and 64 species of nesting birds inhabit the reserve. The Tsarichina Reserve (3418.7 hectares or 8448 acres) contains the tree species of beech, spruce, fir, elm, white fir (endemic to the Balkans) and many grasses. One of them, the fire-red Boris’s Aven (called “tsariche” by the locals), gave its name to the reserve. The fauna includes 15 species of amphibians and reptiles, more than 30 species of mammals and over 90 species of birds. The Kozya Stena (Goat’s Wall) Reserve (904.3 hectares or 2235 acres) is home to more than 40 species of rare and protected plants (among which is the white star of the mountains, the Balkan Edelweis) and over 60 species of birds, some of which are included in the Red Book of Bulgaria. The Steneto Gorge covers an area of 3602.4 hectares (8900 acres) and was created to protect the ecosystems on the upper reaches of the Cherni Osam River. It preserves rare plant and animal species and the number of confirmed bird species is larger than all the other Balkan-Mountains reserves. The karst formation known as Markova Dupka is situated here along with one of the longest (1656 m or 5382 ft) water caves in Bulgaria, Kumanitsa, and the deepest (377 m or 1225 ft) chasm cave in Bulgaria – Raichova Doupka – among others. The Biosphere reserves of Northern Dzhendem (1610 hectares or 3978 acres) and Dzhendema (4220 hectares or 16 miles2) protect sub-alpine rock and forest habitats – beech and beech-and-fir forests, Siberian juniper, the sole source of in the world of the Urumov campion, etc. It shelters plant species, which do not exist anywhere else in the world, as well as endangered and extinct (in Europe) species. The highest of Bulgaria’s 300 waterfalls is situated in this central section, the Raisko Pruskalo (Paradise Spray) at a height of 124.5 meters (405 ft), flowing from near the very top of Botev Peak. Just below is the Rai (Paradise) Chalet, a real mountaineering nest. Peeshtite Skali (The Singing Cliffs) and Sokolna are refuges for rare animal species included in the Red Book of Bulgaria and natural botanical gardens among ash, beech, hornbeam and sycamore forests. Stara Reka (The Old River) consists of the natural resources of one of the most beautiful mountain rivers and over 100 species of vertebrate animals and birds of prey. The historical peak of Stoletov Peak looms over the Central Balkan; the most dramatic battles of the Russo-Turkish War of Liberation (1877-78) were fought here. The other sacred place situated in the Shipka Mountains is the Buzludzha Peak, which is connected with the death of the detachment of Hadzhi Dimitar in battle with a pursuit-party of Ottoman soldiers.

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