Gordon: To break up the ride from Kazanlak to Plovdiv we spent a night in the town of Karlovo. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Karlovo is located at the base of the Stara Planina Mountains, so close that an hour’s walk from downtown would find you scaling a steep mountainside. Indeed, there is a street that is being pedestrianized that leads straight from downtown to a waterfall at the base of the mountains. From there, the range rises 1,500 metres within a few kilometres.
Karlovo has a good collection of 19th century National Revival houses, including several that have become museums. It also has an active artisan community. Karlovo’s real claim to fame, however, is as the birthplace of Vasil Levski, a national hero from the liberation struggle with the Ottoman Empire. His surname at birth was actually “Kunchev”, “Levski” which means “lionlike” in Bulgarian, was a nickname he acquired from admiring comrades. (The names of the currencies in both Bulgarian and Romanian, “lev” and “leu”, mean “lion” in their respective languages.)
Sadly, the 35 year old Levski was executed by the Ottomans in 1873, so he did not live to see an independent Bulgarian state. However, he remains the best known of the revolutionary figures, and we have encountered his name throughout the country. Many villages and monasteries still proudly claim that they harboured Levski at some point during the struggle for independence.
Here’s an interesting fact about Bulgaria that I learned today: in percentage terms its population is shrinking faster than that of any other nation. At the end of the communist period Bulgaria’s population was about 9.0 million, while today it is about 7.1 million, a loss of over 20 percent. Through emigration and a low birth rate, the population continues to decline by about 60,000 each year.