The name probably derives from a small, local Slavic tribe called Smolyani.
During the Ottoman occupation, the place was also named Paschmakli.
Don't confuse Smolyan with the small town of Smilyan, which is just a few kilometers
further to the south.
Smolyan nestles amidst the massive Rodopi mountain range, the Western Rodopi to be exactly,
which straddles the Greek-Bulgarian border. The highest summit of the Rodopi, the Perelik,
is only a few kilometres away and 2,191 m high. To the north, it's around 100 km to the closest big city, which is
→Plovdiv. The Greek border is in the south and only some 20 km away,
but this is of no use, since there's no border crossing in the vicinity.
Population: with around 32,000 people, Smolyan is by far the biggest city in the area.
Actually, Smolyan consists of three small towns, which have been unified in 1934. In 1960, the place was granted municipal rights.
The town stretches between an altitude from 885 m up to 1300 m, which makes it the highest town of Bulgaria. All the three
parts stretch along the river Cherna - Smolyan is many kilometres long. The town was
supposed to be a socialist model town and this involves a lot of concrete in the centre.
Therefore, the centre looks a bit different. However, people do not come to admire the town but the surrounding mountains.
The first settlement was founded around the year 1200. Due to it's isolated location and the fact that there was nothing
like a real town but only three villages, the place never gained more than local importance. The attempt to create a socialist
model town was interrupted by the political changes after 1989. Eversince, the mountainous border area around Smolyan,
with the serious drawback of having no border crossing, suffers structural problems. During the 1990ies, the unemployment
rate went up to 60 %. Officially, it dropped to around 20 % by now. Around Smolyan, tobacco is cultivated. Smolyan's
future partially lies in winter sports, since the mountains attract many skiers and snowboarders in winter.
You can get to Smolyan by bus, microbus or other motorized vehicles - there's no train at all. The easiest way
to get there is via → Plovdiv - just go south all the way along the river Vacha
direction Smilyan. The road is quite scenic, so just going there is already a highlight. The trip takes around
2½ hours. From Smolyan, microbusses frequent the surrounding winter sports resorts such as Pamporovo and
Shiroka Laka. A small, minor but landscape-wise incredibly beautiful road leads to the west
to the Pirin mountain range and further on to →Melnik and Sandanski.