Pirin National Park, Bulgaria


The rugged Pirin Mountains (41°26 to 41°54’N and 23°12’ to 23°44'E) is a World Heritage Site located in south-west Bulgaria, reaching 2,900 meters (m) high. Pirin National Park has beautiful limestone and granite-based landscapes with alpine peaks, 176 glacial lakes, waterfalls and pine forests sheltering many endemic and rare species, many of which are relicts of the Balkan Pleistocene flora.

Threats to the site

Destruction of old-growth forest for the construction of two new ski runs, a ski lift within the Park and a cable car connection to the nearest town have been approved, and three further runs are planned.

Geographical location

caption Pirin National Park Mountain range, a World Heritage Site. (Source: Bluelink)

In the Pirin mountains of south-western Bulgaria, south of Bansko, between the valleys of the rivers Strouma and Mesta: 41°26 to 41°54’N and 23°12’ to 23°44'E.

Date and history of establishment

  • 1934: Bayuvi Doupki Nature Reserve established at the north end of the Pirin range; 1976:extended;
  • 1962: Vihren National Park (6,212 hectares (ha)) established in the north part of the Pirin range by the Committee of Forestry and Forestry Management by Decree # 3074/1962;
  • 1976: Enlarged to 27,000 ha and renamed Pirin National Park by Ministry of Forestry decree # 1036;
  • 1977: The Doupki-Dzhindzhiritza Reserve designated a Biosphere Reserve; 1979: renamed Bayuvi Doupki-Dzhindzhiritza Natural Reserve;
  • 1987: The Park extended to its present size by the Committe of Environemental Protection Council of Ministers decree # 1036; 1989: transferred to the Ministry of Environment and Waters;
  • 1994: Yulen Reserve established within the Park.


40,332.40 ha. Includes Yulen Reserve (3,152.2 ha), Bayuvi Doupki-Dzhindzhiritza Reserve (2,873 ha), the Malka Dzhindzhiritza-Segmentepe and Tissata reserves; and 11 nature sites (19.6 ha).

Land tenure

State owned, in Blagoevgrad district. Administered by the PPD of the Ministry of Environment and Waters.


950 m to 2,915 m (Vihren).

Physical features

caption Pirin mountains, in south-west Bulgaria, Pirin National Park has a limestone Balkan landscape, with lakes, waterfalls, caves and pine forests. (Source: UNESCO-World Heritage)

The Pirin Range runs northwest-southeast between the valleys of the rivers Strouma on the west and Mesta to the east. The Park is in the north half of the range and covers very varied country. Much of its very scenic northern quarter between the summits of Vihren and Kaminitza is composed of a karst landscape of limestone developed predominantly in Proterozoic marbles; the lower southern three quarters are of South Bulgarian granites (55% of the park) and gneiss (20%). Together these form a vast alpine landscape of crags, caverns and waterfalls, with gorges and deep valleys which divide both sides of the mountains into long steep ridges. The high ridges and sharp peaks, 81 of which rise over 2,500 m, are the remains of an old Miocene peneplain; the lateral ridges are of Pliocene age. The area was widely denuded and differentially glaciated in the Quaternary period, and above the 2,000 m level there are 176 mostly glacial cirque lakes, the largest being Popovski, Vasilashki, Bunderishki and Demianishki. There are more than 70 hot springs in the foothills. Where not skeletal most of the soils are rich forest soils. Those over the limestone are droughty.


The mountains are in the South Bulgarian climatic sub-region, influenced by a northern Continental Mediterranean climate on their southern flanks. Temperatures differ markedly with altitude. Winter in the high mountains is long and cold with snow cover for five to eight months, strong winds and intense solar radiation. Summers are cool and short though the climate of the southern foothills is sub-Mediterranean: the town of Sandanski at 190 m has a mean annual temperature of 14°C.

On the northern side the average annual temperatures range from 0°C to 8°C, the average January temperatures from -12°C to -1.4°C, and the absolute minimum temperatures from -24°C to -20°C. The average number of days with 10°C varies between 78 and 178 and the growing period is between 1.5 and 5.5 months. The absolute maximum ranges between 25°C and 36.5°C. The average annual rainfall varies from 714 millimeters (mm) to 1,500 mm, falling heaviest in winter and in the mountains.


The presence of limestone, the location of the range close to the Aegean, and its relative isolation have made Pirin Mountain an important refuge. The three climatic zones, alpine, mid-montane and foothill have a mixture of Alpine, central European, Balkan mountain and sub-Mediterranean species. Mainly coniferous forests cover 52.5% of the Park. The endemic Macedonian pine Pinus peuce is widespread and forms the treeline in the granite half of the mountain. Some broadleaf forest exists between 1,000 and 1,500 m, mainly beech Fagus sylvaticawith hornbeam Carpinus spp and oak Quercus spp.

Endemic Rumelian pine Pinus heldreichii occurs in the highest zone of the karst area. Unique stands of Macedonian pine Pinus peuce and Bosnian pine P. leucodermis, up to 250-300 years old and 30-45 m high, are found in Bayuvi Doupki-Dzhindzhiritsa Reserve, on limestone. Some individual P. leucodermis trees are over 500 years old. On the granite, there are forests of silver fir Abies alba, Bulgarian fir A. borisi-regis, black pine Pinus nigra, spruce Picea abies and white pine Pinus silvestris which form a mixed coniferous forest. Generally, the treeline has formed as a result of man's interference over a long period. In some places it reaches 2,200 m - 2,300 m, in others it is as low as 2,000 m. In the subalpine zone there are widespread thickets of dwarf mountain pine Pinus mugo and Siberian juniper Juniperus sibirica. Between 2,400 m and 2,600 m is a zone of alpine meadows, stony slopes, screes and rock. The flora, especially on the limestone which is one of the most active centers of floristic speciation in the Balkans, includes many rare species such as the Pirin poppy, Papaver pirinica, golden aquilegia Aquilegia aurea, yellow gentian Gentiana lutea and edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum. There are 1,089 species of vascular plants in the Park, 30 being locally endemic, over 10% endemic to the Balkans, and about 20% of all plant species listed in the Bulgarian Red Data Book are found in the Park.


caption Polcate (Source: Cheshire Wildlife Trust, UK)

174 vertebrate species breed within the Park, with 42 mammals, 10 amphibian, 14 reptile and 4 fish species of which 114 species are under some degree of threat. 2861 invertebrate species, 122 being endemic and 162 glacial relicts, are cited in Chilikova et al. who also record 43 mammals and 6 fish species. Mammal species include brown bear Ursus arctos (40 + pairs), grey wolf Canis lupus, jackal Canis aureus, pine marten Martes martes, rock marten Martes foina, polecat Mustela putorius, badger Meles meles, otter Lutra lutra (VU), wild cat Felis silvestris, wild boar Sus scrofa, red deer Cervus elaphus, roe deer Capreolus capreolus and Balkan chamois Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica (250-260); also the greater mouse-eared bat Myotis myotis, longeared bat Plecotus auritus and Greek tortoise Testudo graeca (VU). Among the 102 species of birds are spotted eagle Aquila clanga (VU), golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos, capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, hazel grouse Bonasa bonasia, eagle owl Bubo bubo, black woodpecker Dryocopus martius, three-toed woodpecker Picoides trydactilus and Alpine chough Pyrrhocorax graculus.

Cultural heritage

The Rhodope Mountains were known to the ancient Thracians but to Bulgarians the mountains are famous for having sheltered and been the base for historic freedom fighters.

Local human population

The immediately surrounding towns of Bansko, Sandanski, Kresna, Razlog, Gotsi Delchev and Simitli, and villages have a total population of over 140,000.

Visitors and visitor facilities

The Pirin mountains offer good hiking, skiing, mountaineering and some ecotourism and wine-tasting trails. Ski slopes with four slopes, two chair and two t-bar lifts were constructed at Chiligarnika-Tadorna in the Banderitsa river valley above the town of Bansko on an 818-hectare area within the national park, before its inscription, dividing the site in two. The recreational capacity of the Park in summer is 14,096 persons per day, in winter 10,000. Hotel and hut accommodation for 3,300 visitors is available along tourist routes. Convenient roads lead into the park from Bansko, Razlog and Gotsi Delchev in the Mesta valley to the north and from Kresna, Stroumiani, Sandanski and Melnik in the Struma valley in the south. The park receives between 300,000-500,000 visitors annually. There is no entrance fee.

Scientific research and facilities

Botanical investigations have been carried out in the nature reserve by the Institute of Botany, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. A research team of two zoologists and a botanist carry out observations. An administration building with information center and natural history exhibition and five research stations were planned, and the establishment of a scientific council.

Conservation value

The Park contains striking snow-covered karst and granite mountain scenery, 186 glacial lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, pine forests, and a rich flora containing many endemic plant species. Three animals are listed in the 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species plus 76 plants, 30 locally endemic, and 20 bird species from the Bulgarian Red Data Book.

Conservation management

At present the Park is managed as a special park project the terms of which are updated every 10 years. It has four different management zones: Strict Protection Reserves above 2,000m, where human activity is prohibited (16% of the park area) with temporary Protection Reserves where the natural environment is slightly modified (3.1%); a Protection zone at about 2,000 m for water catchment and erosion control where no construction is allowed and only traditional managed pastoral activities are permitted (24.4%); Recreational and Tourist zones (41.8%) and Administrative zone (14.6%) which includes chalets. The duties of the park administration are to promote the protection and maintenance of wilderness and biodiversity, scientific research, education and recreation, sustainable tourism and the livelihood of local people. To prevent unauthorized camping, chalets have been renovated and new chalets, camp sites and furnished recreation sites built along tourist routes. In the future the Park with the western Rhodope mountains could become part of a trans-boundary reserve with Greece, Macedonia and Albania, a plan supported by OECD and Council of Europe funding.

Management constraints

caption Controversial construction of new ski centers within Pirin National Park are causing major destruction to the forests. (Source: Bluelink)

Production of a management plan has been delayed and there is a lack of organized planning to resolve the several conflicts caused by proposed tourist developments. In 2001 a Territorial Development Plan proposed a concession area of 100 hectares within the site in order to add five new ski runs within the World Heritage Site and enlarge two near Bansko, grading the surface of 900 vertical meters of ski-run and clear-cutting 20 ha of old-growth forest which shelters many rare plants. The destruction of these areas with erosion, visual, water and soil pollution and degradation by tourists will probably ensue. 1,400 people are expected to move into the Park in connection with the development which is supported by local people and the tourism industry but opposed by the country’s NGOs. Problems of ski-tourist traffic, overcrowding and littering already occur near the huts and chair lifts around Banderishka Poljana and Tzarna Mogilla. Pollution already leaks from a cellulose mill in Razlog to the north-east, and illegal logging occurs. In 2002 a WHC mission urged the production of an interim management plan, effective management controls, clearer and updated details of the development and its boundaries, provision of measures to mitigate and reforest disturbed land around abandoned ski-runs, and the creation of a scientific advisory body.


Total 41 including administrative, control, reserve and park management personnel, university-trained scientists and 21 rangers. Seasonal staff include part-time wardens, fire watchers, afforestation and construction workers. The Park has five regions with a main office in the town of Bansko and others in the towns of Sandanski, Kresna, Razlog and Dobrinishte village.


A general account for financing the organization of the park at 2,000,000 Leva (~US$ 1,000,000) has been established. Additional funds are raised for individual small-scale projects.

IUCN management category

  • II (National Park) Biosphere Reserve (part)
  • Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed 1983. Natural Criteria i, ii, iii

Further reading

  • Anon. (n.d.) Le Parc National Pirin - Partie Intégrante du Patrimoine Culturel et Naturel mondial. Report. 10 pp.
  • Chilikova, A. et al. (2001). Pilot Area: W. Rhodope, Pirin and Slavianka (Orvilos) - Bulgaria. Youth Environmental Organisation - Rhodope, Shiroka Luka 4710, Smolianska, Bulgaria.
  • Ikonomov, K. Pirin National Park. (n.d.).Brochure. Bansko, Bulgaria.
  • IUCN (2001). Report on the State of Conservation of Natural and Mixed Sites Inscribed on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger. Gland, Switzerland.
  • IUCN (2002). 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland & Cambridge, U.K. ISBN: 2831705657.
  • IUCN (2002). Report on the State of Conservation of Natural and Mixed Sites Inscribed on the World Heritage List. Gland, Switzerland
  • Simeonov, S. (1986). Ptitzite na Pirin Planina (Birds of Pirin Mountains). In: Fauna na jugozapadna Bulgaria (Fauna of South-west Bulgaria), Part I. Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia (Bulgarian, English abstract).
  • Stoyanov, N. & B. Stefanov (1922). Phytogeographical characteristics of Pirin Mountains. In: Annual of Sofia University School of Physics and Mathematics, Vol. XVIII (in Bulgarian).
  • Tjufekchiev, A. (1978). Prouchvane na divata koza (Rupicapra rupicapra) v Pirin (Research on Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) in Pirin mountains). Dissertation, Institute of Forestry, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia (in Bulgarian).
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2002). Report on the 26th Session of the World Heritage Committee, Paris.
  • Urumoff, I. (1912). Floristic materials from Macedonia. Periodical of the Bulg. Acad. of Sciences 5 (in Bulgarian).
  • Urumov, I. (1923). Materiali za florata na Pirin (Materials about the Flora of the Pirin Mountains). Periodical of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences 286 (in Bulgarian).
  • Yordanov, D. & B. Kitanov (1951). Novi materiali za florata na Bulgaria za Pirin, dolinata na Struma i Ali Botush (New materials for the Flora of Bulgaria from the Pirin Mountains, the valley of Strouma River and Ali Botus Mountain). Proceedings of the Institute of Botany 9 (in Bulgarian).

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Pirin National Park, Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155252


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