Vitosha (311.28 km2 or 120 miles2 in area) is the fourth highest Bulgarian mountain. This is the cradle of Bulgarian mountaineering – on August 27, 1895 three hundred men and women climbed its highest peak -Cherni Vrah (2290 m or 7443 ft). That was the first example of organized tourism in Bulgaria. The initiator was the patriot Aleko Konstantinov. Today it is still the most visited Bulgarian mountain and a symbol of the capital city Sofia.
It is supposed that its name is of Thracian origin and means double-peaked, two-sectioned. Older names (Skopios, Skombros, Skomios) have the general meaning of steep mountain, which is certainly justifiable! This is the only Bulgarian domed mountain of volcanic origin. It was formed as a result of turbulent tectonic processes on the floor of a sedimentary lake that existed here. The Vitosha moraines (rivers of huge granite rocks, reaching up to 2 km long and 50 m wide or 1.2 miles x 160 ft) are unique.
The small, two-headed peaks of Kominite (the Chimneys), the cliffs of the Boyanski Waterfall and the eastern face of the Greater Rezen peak are all well known to Sofia’s mountaineers. The caves warrant huge interest (around 40 are known until now), the undisputed favorite of which is Duhlata – the longest cave in Bulgaria. Its galleries are situated over seven levels and have a total length of 18 km (11 miles). There are six underground rivers, numerous small lakes, stalactites, stalagmites and many other whimsical forms.
Among the natural phenomena of Vitosha are the karst springs, the best known of which is the Living Water. It is connected underground with a smallish cavern, which fills and overflows, causing a pulsating stream of water. First, gurgling is heard from the mouth of the stone dragon, then a distant bubbling and, finally, with a type of semi-whistle, the water pours out. It flows for a while, then lessens and stops. Later, everything begins again, infinitely, as if the water were really alive! Vitosha is rich in water. Coming from the plateaus and peat fields, its full rivers form many beautiful valleys. One of them, Boyanska, has formed a waterfall of the same name, whose water falls at the foothills of the hanging cliffs from a height of 15 meters (50 ft). During the winter the waterfall freezes and its ice towers become a climbing object.
On the mountain’s territory 1800 species of higher plant (half the flora of Bulgaria) have been confirmed along with 50 species of mammals, 1800 species of invertebrates, 10 species of amphibians, 12 species of reptiles and over 200 species of birds. In order to protect the natural wealth Vitosha was declared a national park as early as 1934. Now it has the status of a natural park, which includes two reserves – Torfeniya (Peat) Reserve and Bistrishko Branishte (a biosphere reserve included in UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program).
Nevertheless, the mountain has been urbanized: over 290 km (175 miles) of walkways have been laid, more than 100 shelter sites exist, plus two cabin lifts, chair lifts, ski runs, tow lifts, eating establishments, stores, rest spots, etc. There are two large tourist centres, Aleko and Zlatnite Mostove (Golden Bridges). A smaller one exists in the locale of Kopitoto, where there is a television tower.