Situated in Southwest Bulgaria, Petrich belongs to the Blagoevgrad province and is the administrative seat of the Petrich municipality. It lies in the southern parts of the Petrich hollow and the northern foothills of Belasitsa Mountain, about 200m above sea level.
Petrich is located about 185 km from Sofia and 93 km from Blagoevgrad. It is close to the Bulgarian-Macedonian and Bulgarian-Greek borders. Flowing through the town is the Luda Mara River, a right tributary of the Strumeshnitsa River.
Petrich has a transitional Mediterranean climate, with a mean annual temperature of 13, 7 degrees C. The mean temperature in January is 1.6 degrees C, in July – 25.6 degrees C. Winters are dry and mild, summers are hot.
Petrich accommodates the following industries: instrument-making, metalworking, tobacco-growing, canning industry, leather working, tailoring, textiles, knitted goods, shoemaking, raw materials handling etc.
In the 4th century B.C. a Thracian settlement was founded in the foothills of the eminence of Kozhuh, in the vicinity of what is today the town of Petrich. Its inhabitants were the Maedi tribe. In the 1st century the area was conquered by the Romans. They fortified the small settlement and named it Petra. The fortress protected the territory along the middle course of the Struma River and the Rupel Gorge.
In the 6th century the town was burned down by the Slavs. It is believed that the survivors, along with Slavs, moved to the nearby Belasitsa Mountain and laid the foundations of the present-day town.
Petrich became part of the Bulgarian kingdom in the 9th century during the reign of Tsar Boris I. Its strategic geographic location made it an important military and strategic center both for Byzantium and Bulgaria. A bloody battle took place between the two states near the village of Klyuch.
During the 12th-14th century Petrich was well fortified.
The earliest record of Petrich is a deed of the ruler Constantine Dragash granting land to the Russian Monastery of St. Pantaleimon in Mount Athos in 1376-77.
Petrich was seized by the Ottoman conquerors in 1395 and included in the Kyustendil Sandjak as a center of a nahia – the smallest administrative division in the Ottoman Empire. Gradually, many Bulgarian families left the town and settled in the Ograzhden Mountain.
According to travelers that visited Petrich, the town consisted of two neighborhoods, a mosque, a chapel and a public bath. The local inhabitants grew wheat, barley, rye, oats, cotton, rice, tobacco and fruits. Handicrafts also developed and the population increased. A great number of Bulgarians returned to their native place, together with settlers from Negush, Gostivarsko and other areas. New houses were built, made of large stone blocks bound by mud and straw. The citizens of Petrich took part in the struggle for independent Bulgarian church and national liberation. In 1857 the Church of the Holy Mother was built and a Greek school was opened in its courtyard. A few years later, in 1868, another church was erected, the Church of St. Nicholas, where religious services were performed in the Bulgarian language. In 1873 Hierodeacon Agapii Voinov opened the first modern Bulgarian school. Among the teachers were Eftim Poptrayanov and Dimiter Filipov. In 1882 the teacher Kocho Mavrodiev introduced grades in the school.
Petrich was liberated in 1878 but after the Berlin Treaty it was returned to the Ottoman Empire. During the Balkan War, in October 1912, the town was liberated by Nikola Parapanov’s detachment.
After the liberation from Ottoman domination, the local population continued to develop livestock breeding and farming. The lands of the Turks who had left the country were granted to Bulgarian families.
During the period 1920-1934 Petrich became a district and administrative center of Pirin Macedonia. Between the two World Wars the town was laid out and supplied with electricity. Schools were built and the Miladinovi Brothers reading club was opened to the public. A monument was erected in memory of the Petrich citizens who had perished during the two Balkan wars and WWI.
In 1925 the so called Petrich incident happened. After a shooting on the Greek border, a Greek customs official was killed. Greece responded by a military campaign and entered Bulgaria occupying ten border villages. The Greek troops attacked Petrich but were driven back by border sentries and members of the Internal Macedonians Revolutionary Organization (IMRO). The Greeks were forced to retreat to their territories.
The Samuil Fortress
Samuil’s Fortress is located between Belasitsa and Ograzhden Mountains, in the so called Lyuchka Gorge, above the bank of the Strumitsa River. It is believed that it was built during the Middle Ages in the period 1009-1013. At that time Samuil was the Tsar of the Bulgarians. He built a fortification system between the two mountains to ward off Byzantine attacks. The fortifications occupy an area of 8 sq km.
The stronghold is only a part of the whole system. It was erected on the site of an ancient Thracian settlement. Archaeologists have found dwellings and everyday items, e.g. vessels, pieces of bracelets and spindles, arrowheads, stone weights etc. There are two moats and three ramparts. One of the moats is located in the middle of the hill; the other is at its base. The first inner rampart is made of stone, earth and wooden beams. There was a wall at its end made of stones bound by mud. On top of the hill were a wooden watch tower and a defensive tower.
The location of the fortress afforded good visibility so that the entire gorge could be watched and controlled. This made Samuil’s stronghold the main military and strategic point of the whole system.
The fortress is associated with the blinding of Tsar Samuil’s Bulgarian soldiers by the Byzantine Emperor Basil II. The Belasitsa battle took place here in 1014. The Bulgarian troops were led by Tsar Samuil. On July 29 the Byzantines attacked the Bulgarians in the rear and won the battle. After the battle Basil II ordered all 14 000 Bulgarian captives blinded, with one in every hundred soldiers left one-eyed to guide the others. Tsar Samuil could not get over the tragedy and shortly afterwards died.
Today the historic stronghold is part of Samuil’s Fortress National Park-Museum. It was opened on October 23, 1982. A landmark of the park is the life-size bronze figure of Samuil created by Professor Boris Gondov. In 2003 the fortress was included in the list of the 100 Tourist Sites of the Bulgarian Tourist Union.