The town of Kotel (population: 7433, 527 m above sea level) is situated in a picturesque small valley (kotlovina - that is where its name derives from) in the Kotel Balkan (Eastern Stara Planina Mountain. It is 328 km east of Sofia, 49 km north-east of Sliven, 38 km and 62 km south of Omourtag and Turgovishte, respectively. Kotel is an old town from the Revival Period.
At the beginning of the Ottoman Rule Kotel was inhabited by Bulgarians from the adjacent towns and villages in search of rescue. A Turkish register of 1486 contains the earliest information about the town. During the first centuries of the foreign domination it was inhabited by the so-called derventdgii (special Bulgarian guards of the mountain passes and roads) and dzhelepi (traders of cattle, sheep in particular). The already mentioned obligations of Kotel towards the central authority compensated for a relative independence - municipal self government, independently elected local governor, exemption of some taxation, and prohibition of Turkish settling there. All these, as well as the economic growth in 18th - 19th centuries, the commercial contracts, the passionate Orthodox belief of the inhabitants of Kotel (many used to travel to Jerusalem and Sveta Gora) contributed to the transformation of the town into a lively centre of Bulgarian culture and education, to the struggle for church independence and national freedom. Kotel is the native place of Captain Georgi Mamarchev (officer in the Russian Army), Georgi Sava Rakovski (one of the main ideologists of the movement for national liberation), the Revival men of letters Neophyte Bozvelli, Dr. Peter Beron (the composer of the famous “Riben Boukvar” textbook), Sofronii Vrachanski (the most outstanding representative of the literary school of Kotel who copied “Istoria Slavyano¬bol¬gar¬ska” (Slavonic and Bulgarian History) brought by Paisiy Hilendarski himself in 1764), Stefan Izvorski, Ivan Kishelski, Vassil Beron, the socially active men Gavril Krustevich, Aleko Bogoridi, Stefan Bogoridi, etc.
In 1812 the first Bulgarian elite secular school was opened here. The town is a native place of a number of voivodi (leaders of revolutionaries - haidouts), revolutionaries, volunteers, members of in Hadzhi Dimitur’s, Panayot Volov’s, Hristo Botev’s detachments. Vassil Levski set up a revolutionary committee in Kotel. The town suffered hard times during the kurdzhalii (Turkish brigands) raids. Indzhe attempted to attack and rob the town but its inhabitants erected a three meter high wall and drove back the brigands. Nevertheless, in 1848 and 1863 Kotel was put on fire. During the Russian- Turkish War of Liberation battles were held in the immediate vicinity of the town. The town itself accommodated the volunteer detachments, the volunteers’ headquarters with general Stoletov, as well as the Hussar regiment from Narvsk with A. Poushkin at the head, who was son of A. S. Poushkin, the genius Russian poet. After the liberation in 1894 Kotel suffered the most devastating fire in its history when the bigger part of the town was ruined down. Only the quarter called Galata survived and today it renders an approximate idea of what the old town looked like.
The craft of carpet weaving is very typical for the town and the region, which makes Kotel the oldest centre of artistic fabrics in the country and abroad, having a unique weaving school. The town has preserved precious relics of the past - sarcophagus with Georgi Sava Ra¬kov¬ski’s skeleton in it, Dr. Peter Beron’s heart, manuscripts of Levski and Sofronii Vra¬chan¬ski. Its rich history, Revival architecture and marvellous vicinity make this picturesque Balkan town a desired place for national and international tourism.
The town of Kotel has been declared an architecture and historical reserve. There have been preserved about 110 houses from the Revival Period in the quarter of Galata that survived the fire in 1894, as well as in those at Durlyanka street. They are Kamchiya-style, one or two storey houses, made of stone and wood, with brilliant wood carvings, huge eves, curved roofs and fantastic yards.
The Galatan School (17, Izvorska Str., tel.: 0453 2316, working hours: 8.00 a.m. - 12.00 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. - 6.00 p.m.) is an architectural monument from 1869. There is a museum exposition of brilliant fabrics - symbol of the ancient craft of carpet weaving - so typical of Kotel. The Kyopeev’s House - Ethnographic museum (4, Altunlu Stoyan Str,, working hours: 8.00 a.m. - 12.00 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. - 6.00 p.m.). The visitor finds himself in the romantic atmosphere of the old Kotel home, feeling its whole beauty, utility and coziness. The Pantheon of Kotel’s Renaissance men and women (Vuzrazhdane Sq., working hours: 8.00 a.m. - 12.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m.) is an imposing building made of stone, iron, copper and wood, giving the impression of contact with the glory of the past epoch. Georgi Sava Rakovski’s sarcophagus lies here.
The Museum of Nature and Science (situated in the park called Izvorite (the Springs), tel.: 0453 2355, working hours: 8.00 a.m. - 12.00 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. - 6.00 p.m.) preserves approximately 30 000 exhibits which show the natural variety of the area. The museum exposition has been arranged by in accordance with ecological principles and occupies 1 000 square meters. It is the only one of its kind in south-eastern Europe. Vassil Georgiev, a local teacher at the time, is credited for its establishment.
The Izvorite Park (the Springs), situated in the northern part of the town, is unique with its three springs (output flow of 2 000 litres per second). The Sveta Troitsa (St. Trinity) Church and St. St. Apostles Peter and Pavel Church preserve beautiful wood-carvings representing the Tryavna School of Art.
Philip Koutev High School of Music in Kotel is the first high school for folk singing and instrumental music in Europe (the other school of this type is located in the village of Shiroka Luka in the Rhodope Mountains).
Apart from the town itself, there are four more architecture and historical reserves: the villages of Zheravna, Medven, Katounishte and Gradets. The village of Zheravna is 14 km south of Kotel and a regular bus runs to and from it. It is one of the pearls of Bulgaria. Every building in the village is in itself a unique cultural monument. It has been preserved almost in its authentic appearance and atmosphere. The most interesting sights are: the House-Mouseum of Roussi Chorbadzhi, the House-Mudeum of Sava Filaretov, the House-Museum of Yordan Yovkov (the native home of the great Bulgarian writer), the houses of Dimo Kehaya and Todor Ikonomov, respectively. The village preserves remarkable ensembles of Renaissance town lay-out and architecture like the church complex with St. Nikolai Church built in 1932. It is worth mentioning the remarkable Hilendar Convent where “Slavonic and Bulgarian History” was copied (this particular copy is the so called Zheravna manuscript). The class school from 1867 houses an art gallery. The village is the native place of many outstanding Bulgarians as Yordan Yovkov, Raiko Popovich, Sava Filaretov, Todor Ikonomov, V. Stoyanov, Dr. V. Sokolski, D. Stoyanov Bradata (the Beard), etc.
The village of Medven is 12 km south-east of Kotel and there is a regular bus line to it. There are more than 120 cultural monuments dating back to the Revival Period. The most famous one is the House-Museum of Zahari Stoyanov - the native home of the remarkable Bulgarian revolutionary and writer. Of special interest are the Yurta and Cherni Dol Architectural Ensembles, as well as St. Marina Church built in 1882. There are remains of a big medieval fortress.
The village of Katounishte is 15 km south-east of Kotel. About 80 buildings in the village have been declared cultural monuments. There is a regular bus line from Kotel.
The town of Gradets is situated 17 km south-east of Kotel, regular buses run to the latter and Sliven. It is rich in architectural Revival monuments - houses, a church, a school. There are remains of the medieval fortress of Grameni near the village.
There are more than 30 caves that have already been investigated (non-electrified) in the region of Kotel. Most interesting are Ledenika Cave (1111 m long and 242 m deep), Dryanovska Cave (in the area of Pizdra, one of the most easily accessible and much visited by tourists, with numerous beautiful mineral formations), Kurvavata Lokva Cave (The Bloody Puddle, 134 m deep, the legend tells of the murder of many soldiers of Emperor Nikifor’s), Rakovski Cave (in 1854 Georgi Sava Rakovski started writing his poem “Gorski Putnik” (“Traveller in the Forest”) nearby), etc.
Very interesting are the Skokovete (Jumps) Waterfall (situated on a left tributary of the Medven River; there is a marked tourist route from the town to the waterfalls), Sini Vir Waterfall (at the Medven River just above the village of Medven), and Medven Springs.
Some 7 km south of Kotel is the antique dividing wall at Zhelezni Vrata Pass (Vrantik, Demir Kapiya - Iron Gates) that had once been connected with the Vida Fortress on the peak of the same name. At the foot of the peak is the area called Grutski (Greek) Dol where the Byzantine were defeated by Khan Kroum’s armies in 811, and by Ivailo on 17 July, 1280. The remains of the medieval fortresses of Kozyak, Haidout Vurban, Ticha, Acheras and other are to be found in the environs of the town. Kotel is the only town in the country that is a point of the longest mountain tourist route in the country, that of Kom - Emine, starting at Mt. Kom (near the border with Serbia) and running along the ridge of the Balkan Mountain to Cape Emine at the Black Sea coast.