Attractions, museums, and eco-routes built with European funding are attracting visitors to border towns.

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Over BGN 619 million has been invested in the development of Bulgaria’s border regions through the territorial cooperation programs.

These funds were allocated for the development and unlocking of the potential of the border areas and regions in Bulgaria under the 12 territorial cooperation programs for the period 2014-2020, managed by the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works. A total of 833 projects have been approved and financed, with the majority successfully completed by the end of the program deadlines on December 31, 2023. A few projects are still in the process of implementation, but there is no risk of fund loss, as each program has been finalized over 95%, according to the managing secretariats.

The highest number of completed projects, a total of 172, were realized under the INTERREG Romania – Bulgaria program, where nearly BGN 259 million were invested in Northern Bulgaria. The INTERREG Greece – Bulgaria initiative implemented 133 projects in the areas of Smolyan, Kardzhali, Blagoevgrad, and Haskovo, providing investments of over BGN 125 million. The cooperation program between Bulgaria and Serbia saw the realization of 110 projects, with an investment of nearly BGN 69 million. In the border areas of Bulgaria and Turkey, 109 completed tasks received over BGN 61 million. Between Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia, 78 projects were implemented, securing investments of nearly BGN 39 million. Additionally, 231 projects, totaling over BGN 66 million, were completed under previous territorial cooperation programs in which Bulgaria participated, such as “Balkans – Mediterranean,” “Danube,” “Black Sea Basin,” INTERREG Europe, and URBACT III.

A significant portion of European investments through these programs is directed towards revealing tourist and natural landmarks, cultural and religious sites, with the aim of developing tourism. With funding from the INTERREG Romania – Bulgaria program, an archaeological park called “Bridges of Time” was established in the town of Nikopol. It includes precise reconstructions of elements from coastal fishing settlements from the Stone, Chalcolithic, Bronze, Roman, and Medieval periods. The project also enhanced the path to the historical site “Rock Church.” Tourism infrastructure at the Zaldapa fortress and the Dry River area in the municipality of Krushari was improved, and an open-air museum showcasing columns, capitals, and other findings from archaeological excavations at the fortress was built.

A completely new tourist route, “Zaldapa – Dry Valley – Carsium,” was created with the possibility of hosting archaeological camps, meetings, and more. With the help of the program, the municipality of Shabla modernized the “Archaeological Park Durankulak – Hamandzhi” and developed new tourist routes. In the municipality of Ruse, the Pantheon of the Renaissance Heroes was reconstructed. The largest paleo-park in Bulgaria was built in Vratsa, showcasing the natural environment in this part of the Balkans around 2.5 million years ago. The park features various extinct species of vertebrates known from findings near Vratsa, such as rhinoceroses, ancient wild horses and cloven-hoofed animals, cheetahs, hyenas, saber-toothed cats, large vultures, eagles, falcons, as well as bustards, partridges, owls, and many other extinct bird species, along with antelopes and monitors. An information center is also present.

Renovated museums and new attractions under the INTERREG Greece – Bulgaria program delight residents and guests of Chepelare and Madan. With over BGN 2.4 million in funding, the old mine in Madan has been transformed into a tourist attraction, where visitors can learn about the history of mining in the region and the extraction of ore. The project included the rehabilitation and securing of the Sharenka cave, where ancient Thracians also extracted and processed valuable metals. Wax figures were used to recreate an ancient cave family working underground. Visitors can explore the renovated Crystal Hall, displaying unique crystal formations found deep underground during ore extraction in the region. In Chepelare, with funding from the program, the Museum of the Rhodope Karst was modernized with an entirely new design. It is unique in its kind and is the only cave museum in Southeastern Europe.

With funding from the program, the building of a former barracks in Petrich was transformed into a new home for the historical museum of the city. It houses collections of valuable archaeological, historical, and other objects that visitors can now explore. The increased space of the institution allows for the exhibition of gold jewelry, old coins, statues, inscriptions, which were difficult to see in the previous small building. The halls showcase unique exhibits from excavations in the region and objects preserved for millennia. Additionally, visitors to the new museum building can observe the work of restorers, and the park space where it is located is a pleasant place for a stroll in the city.

Under the Cross-Border Cooperation Program between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, a new eco-path connecting the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary” Church in Kyustendil with the nearby Skakavitsa waterfall has been constructed. This link between the two sites has revealed new destinations, with the goal of making them even more attractive to visitors in the region. In Dupnitsa, accessibility to natural heritage has been improved, and the space around the Clock Tower has been enhanced with funding from the program. A platform has been created where visitors and tourists can find information about cultural monuments, events, and other attractions in the municipality in three languages – Bulgarian, Macedonian, and English.

Attractive projects have also been implemented under the Interreg – IPA Bulgaria – Serbia 2014-2020 program. In the village of Kosharevo, the “Mask Museum” has been built, preserving local traditions in mask-making and the Kukeri heritage, which holds a significant place in the region’s traditions since ancient times. For this purpose, a folk house in the center of Kosharevo, where the masquerade tradition is alive, has been restored. The “Surva” ritual, a mass masquerade performance, takes place there. The venue includes a visitor center, a workshop for Kukeri masks, exhibition halls with historical artifacts from the region, the “Surva” ritual, and a museum for Kukeri masks. A photographic center has been set up, allowing guests to take pictures with the displayed Kukeri masks as a souvenir.

With funding from the program, the Clock Tower in Botevgrad has been reconstructed, and new attractions have been created around it. The advertising center has been equipped with exterior and technological improvements, a portion of cultural heritage has been digitized, and museum space has been built for various outdoor activities behind the Historical Museum – Botevgrad. A Popularization Center has also been created in Botevgrad.

Numerous initiatives have been realized in the border region between Bulgaria and Turkey under the joint program. In Tsarevo, a part of the “Tsarevo” park between the “Summer Reading Room” and the new children’s playground on “Kraymorska” street has been renovated. New alleys, relaxation and entertainment areas, a pétanque court, a large chessboard with figures for children, as well as tables for backgammon and chess for older visitors to the park, have been built. With funds from the program, the Clock Tower in Yambol has been reconstructed, and architectural and artistic design around it has been created. A platform has been provided for visitors and tourists to find information about cultural monuments, events, and other attractions in the municipality in three languages – Bulgarian, Macedonian, and English.

Tourist potential has been increased in Nessebar as well. Streets such as “Mesembria,” “Metropolska,” “Ribarska,” and “Mena” have been authentically renovated, creating an environment close to the natural atmosphere of the old town. Areas for street artists, actors, and musicians have been formed. Restoration, conservation, and the creation of accessible tourist infrastructure have been funded for the archaeological excavations at the medieval fortress “Aque Calida Therma” near Burgas. The cold pool from the Roman era has been drained and restored, passages between the main parts of the facility and structures on the lowest levels have been built. These allow visitors to explore previously hidden areas, illuminated by decorative lighting. Special 3D scanning equipment and a powerful server for digitizing artifacts from Aque Calida have also been provided. Today, the museum’s digital library contains over 15,000 objects representing a 2,000-year history of the site – from Thracian settlers to the Ottoman Empire.

A zone for active recreation and outdoor activities has been created in the “Plochest” area near Topolovgrad under the program. The traditionally used area for games and events in nature, covering an area of over 12 acres, located in close proximity to the city, has been equipped with seating, shelters, a children’s playground, and barbecue facilities. Volleyball, basketball, and football fields have been built, alleys have been formed, and a model of a Thracian sanctuary has been created.

Source- Ministry of Regional Development

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