The city of Kotel

Hidden in the eastern part of the Stara Planina (or Balkan Mountains) is the town of Kotel, at 510 meters altitude, in a valley surrounded by peaks of 900 to 1128 meters. The nature in this area is still untouched, and there are many picturesque villages that exhale the atmosphere of days gone by. The town of Kotel itself has about 7000 residents, the main industry nowadays is forestry, the collection and processing of wild herbs and mushrooms and carpet weaving. The Kotel incumbent National School for Folk Arts ‘Filip Kutev’ is famous far beyond Bulgaria. Kotel is still pure, hidden and not included in the leaflets of the international tour operators.

You are in Kotel invited by the Bulgarian song artist Galina Durmushliyska and her partner Jaap van Beelen. The team of goKotel helps you to discover this town with its glorious history as the varied environments and the wide variety of residents. You won’t get a standard tourist programs from us. What we will offer you is the real Bulgarian experience through activities close to the people, their work and their daily lives.


Nature and history

In the near surroundings of Kotel there are no fewer than 66 protected natural sites with a total area of 1168 hectares, including the Kersenlika (100 ha) and the Orlitsa Reserve (566 ha), and a national park ‘Zlosten’ which contains 358 hectares. The environment is very varied: there are ancient deciduous forests, rock formations, waterfalls, caves, archaeological sites and holy places of the Thracians. Because of its location at over 500 meters height the summers are not too hot. The not to large maximum altitude difference of 600 meters makes the area ideal for light to medium hiking and cycling through the beautiful surroundings. Here are the paths not yet barbed with wire, gates, railings and steps. Kotel has a glorious history. The particular location in a valley between two mountain ridges was already in antiquity an important spot. Remnants of that time are the Thracian holy places of sacrifice Chobra Tash and Talim Tash, the Roman ruins of Diavena at the top of the Baba Vida, the Roman coin in the Urushki-rock and the Roman ruins on the top of the Hisara. In 2007, around Sliven, in the valley of the ‘Thracian kings’ again important archaeological finds from the Thracian time were done. There’s no doubt that the coming years new archaeological sites will be discovered in the region.

Golden Age

From the middle of the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century Kotel was one of the richest and most literate cities in Bulgaria after the capital Sofia, and Plovdiv, Varna and Russe. Many important ideologues, scientists, writers and revolutionaries from the Bulgarian resurrection period are from Kotel, such as: Georgi Rakovski, Peter Berón, Bishop Sofroni, the princes Bogorodi and many others. They studied in Stari Grad (Istanbul) and in Western and Southern Europe. The wealth was mainly due to the wool and wool works. The rich farmers had huge sheep herds, which the shepherds would lead to the fertile plains of Dobrudzha during the summer. The wool was transported to Kotel where it was further processed to carpets and clothing. The tailor’s guild in Kotel by itself had an annual turnover of 700 kg of gold in the 18th and 19th century.

The rich farmers went on a journey with the proceeds of the wool to an important destination which was the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After returning in Kotel they were aloud to give their self the title ‘Hadzhi’. On their travels they bought expensive gifts from Jerusalem, Damascus, Istanbul and other cities for their wives, their homes and families. These foreign influences are still clearly visible in the women's costume of Kotel, with silk and batik fabrics, and in the architecture of houses of two or three floors and fittings.

Ethnic and cultural diversity

In and around there are four groups of residents: ethnic Bulgarians, Gypsies, Karakachani (ex-nomadic and Greek-speaking) and villages with 100% Sunni and Shiite, ethnic-Turkish residents, each with their own traditions, culture and style of life. Many of the Gypsies in Kotel are musician of profession and their different sounds are sides which you regularly will respond to. In Kotel are 4 museums; the Pantheon of Georgi S. Rakovski, in which is located the historical museum of Kotel as well, and from autumn 2007, an exhibition of archaeological finds from Kotel and its surroundings. The house of Kjorpeev where an ethnographic museum is located. The School of Galata with an exhibition of antique and modern carpets and tapestries from Kotel, and the natural sciences museum with a large collection of preserved animals. In 2008 an ethnographic complex to be opened in Kotel (directly adjacent to our guest house Niric). In addition, the villages Zheravna and Medven still several small museums and an art gallery.

Music school

The National School of Folk Arts ‘Filip Kutev’ in Kotel is professional training for talented young musicians, singers and dancers from Bulgaria. The school contains about 240 pupils from 14 to 18 years old from all over Bulgaria that, given the distance from home, almost all stay in the campus of the school. At this school opened in 1967, the students can follow the following courses: instrumentalist on kaval (shepherd's flute without mouthpiece), gadulka (kind of fiddle, string instrument), Tambura (kind of long-necked lute, pluck and percussion instrument), gaida (Bulgarian bagpipe), Bulgarian song (monody as well as choral singing for girls), Bulgarian dance, and the construction of the above musical instruments. The school and the campus are located in a striking building at the top of the town. When you are walking there in the school period, at the large school square with impressive panorama’s, you can feel that the school is boiling of musical, vocal and dance talent. The school is famous far beyond the borders of Bulgaria.


The economy of Kotel was traditionally created by the carpet weavers, and still Kotel is one of the two most famous carpet centres of Bulgaria. The figures in the carpets are of geometric nature. Each model has its own name, such as the ‘Watermelon peel’, the ‘Vines’ and the ‘carnation’. In the school of Galata is an exhibition of antique carpets from Kotel, mostly from the 19th century. In front of the school women offer the woven carpets as a souvenir too. It is also possible to choose your taste of a carpet and order it for us to understand a very fair price.


Kotel has been hit three times by major fires. Since most houses are made out of wood, the flat overlapping roofs, and even the large quantities of wool what were stored in the houses, the fire quickly spread around them. Many houses were placed in the shaft. In the third and largest fire in 1894 there were as many as 117 homes destroyed by the fire. A large part of the old Kotel has disappeared ever since. Two parts of the city were spared from the fire; they still breathe the atmosphere from the past. In one of those two parts is the guest house of ‘TintJava’ of GoKotel located. In the other district, known as the Galata district, the guest house ‘Izvorska’ of GoKotel is located, directly next to the ‘School of Galata’. In the centre of the old Galata neighbourhood, adjacent to the ethnographic complex, you find the guest house ‘Niric’. All three wooden houses are built in the ‘resurrection style’ which is typical for the Kotel area. The villages Zheravna, Medven and Katunishte are architectural reserves. They are still almost entirely preserved in their original state.

Kotel now

Once an important cross road from south to north, Kotel is now a bit isolated and quiet town 40km from the two highways in Bulgaria. The residents are still proud of their glorious past and will express that at every opportunity, but the present is more modest. Kotel is now one of the poorest municipalities in Bulgaria and there is no industry other than what "nature gives". In Kotel lives relatively many youth, particularly through the music school with over 200 pupils and the large gypsy neighborhood (Magala). Despite the current poorness there is virtually no crime and you don’t have to worry when you stroll around in the city and neighbourhood. Kotel has a good position for the expansion of eco- and historic tourism, but so far, both are small developed. Bulgarians like to do a weekend Kotel to feel attached to their roots.

In Kotel you will find many shops for daily necessities and clothes, there's a good pharmacy, 2 banks and 3 ATMs, a bus station an open air swimming pool and around 10 often simple restaurants.

By clicking on the pictures placed on the left, they’ll enlarge and you can browse the album.