Rila National Park, the largest national park in Bulgaria, is located about 100 km. south of Sofia, in the central and highest regions of the Rila Mountains. The Park contains rare and endangered wildlife species and communities, self-regulating ecosystems of biological diversity, as well as historic sites of global cultural and scientific significance.
Some of the largest rivers in the Balkan Peninsula originate here. The name Rila is derived from the Thracian word “roula”, meaning ‘lots of water.’
The Park was established on February 24, 1992, to conserve the natural heritage of the Rila Mountains as well as the local traditions, culture, and livelihoods linked with the area. The National Park Directorate, a regional body reporting to the Ministry of Environment and Waters, manages the Park. The Directorate engages local organizations and volunteers to pursue its goals.
- Area: 81,046 hectares
- Highest elevation: Mussala peak at 2,925 meters above sea level
- Lowest elevation: the area above Blagoevgrad, at 800 meters above sea level
- Wooded area: 53,481 hectares
- Treeless areas: 27,565 hectares
- 90% of all ecosystems are natural
- There are four nature reserves, with a combined area of 16,222.1 hectares
Rila National Park is one of the largest and most valuable protected areas in Europe—listed as Category 2 by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The Park and all four of its nature reserves are on the UN List of Representative Protected Areas. The Parangalitsa Reserve and the former Marichini Ezera Reserve (now incorporated in the territory of Central Rila Reserve) are part of the World Biospheric Reserves Network under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program.
Rila National Park ranks among the most significant of protected areas in Bulgaria and Europe. Its territory is an extremely diverse network of habitats, most of which have remained practically untouched by human activity and preserve diverse and wholly natural animal communities. In addition, the Park provides a major ecological corridor between the European, Mediterranean, and pre-Oriental fauna.
Most of Rila National Park is covered in thick forests—primarily spruce, white fir, and Macedonian pine. The higher plant species identified thus far, within the park, constitute 38.35% of the higher flora of Bulgaria. There are:
- 57 endemic species (of limited geographic range)
- are local endemic species
- 18 are Bulgarian endemic species
- 36 are Balkan endemic species
- 105 relict species (survivors from past geological ages), of which 74 dating from the Ice Age, and 31 from the Tertiary Age.
- 98 are listed in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria (13% of all those listed).
Of the 141 species of medicinal plants, 20 are listed in the Red Data Book, while 8 are protected under the Environmental Protection Act. In addition, Rila National Park is home to 282 species of moss, 233 species of mushrooms (11.6% of all identified in Bulgaria), and 130 species of freshwater algae.
This part of Rila Mountain is home to 2,934 invertebrate and 172 vertebrate species of the Bulgarian fauna. There are 99 species of nesting birds (30% of all known in Bulgaria), of which all but 5 are protected. Many of the vertebrate species within the Park are protected:
- 121 species are listed in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria
- 24 are on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List
- 158 are on lists under the Bern Convention.
Of the invertebrate fauna, 41 organisms are included in the world or European lists of endangered species.
Location and Terrain
Rila National Park is located in the Rila Mountains in the southwestern region of Bulgaria. It comprises the treeless areas along the mountain ridge and sections of the coniferous forests below it. Its territory occupies 30% of the entire mountain. The mountain peaks along the main ridges rise to an average height of 2,700 meters above sea level and includes the highest peak in the Balkan Peninsula: Mussala (2,925 meters).
The Park contains large meadows, over 100 peaks rising above 2,000 meters, as well as a variety of rock faces, precipices, caves, deep canyons, and waterfalls. Its territory is dotted with about 120 lakes—70 date back from the Ice Age.
Along with its diverse natural heritage, Rila National Park is also rich in cultural and historical landmarks, affording excellent opportunities for showcasing local culture and traditions. The hot mineral springs around the Park are an additional tourist draw and provide opportunities for spa resorts and treatment. The Park Directorate cooperates actively with gateway communities toward the development of ecotourism.0