Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria.

Balkan Mountains

Often referred to as Stara Planina or "old mountain," the Balkan Mountains are a range of mountains that are situated in the eastern portion of the Balkan Peninsula, in Southeastern Europe. The Balkan Mountains have been colloquially known by their Thracian name, Haemus Mons, since ancient times. However, the term "Balkan" is a Turkish word that refers to a chain of wooded mountains. The Balkan geographic region has been named after the Balkan Mountains.

Where Are The Balkan Mountains?

Map of Bulgaria and the Balkan Mountains.

The Balkan Mountain range stretches for about 557 km eastwards from the Vrashka Chuka Peak located on the boundary between Bulgaria and Serbia and through the central portion of Bulgaria ending at Cape Emine on the Black Sea coast.


Botev Peak, the Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria. Image credit: yakinii/Shutterstock

The Balkan Mountains cover a total area of about 11,596 km2 and the width of the mountain chain varies between 15 to 50 km. Located in the central part of Bulgaria is Botev Peak, which rises to an elevation of 2,376 m and is the highest mountain peak in the Balkan Mountains. It also makes the Balkans Bulgaria’s third-highest mountains range after the Rila and the Pirin ranges. The Balkan Mountain range divides Bulgaria into two halves, namely the Northern and Southern halves. The mountain range can be further divided into three broad sections: The Western Balkan Mountains, the Central Balkan Mountains, and the Eastern Balkan Mountains.

The Western Balkan Mountains stretch for about 190 km and extend from the Vrashka Chuka Peak on the Serbia-Bulgaria border to the Arabakonak Pass. Midžor Peak which rises to an elevation of 2,169 m is the highest mountain peak in the Western Balkan Mountains.

The Central Balkan Mountains stretch for about 207 km and extend from the Arabakonak Pass to the Vratnik Pass. The Botev Peak, the highest peak in the entire Balkan Mountains, is located here.

The Eastern Balkan Mountains stretch for about 160 km and extend from the Vratnik Pass to Cape Emine on the Black Sea coast. It forms the lowest portion of the entire Balkan mountain range. Balgarka Peak which rises to an elevation of 1,181 m is the highest point of the Eastern Balkan Mountains.

Geologically, the Balkan Mountains are a chain of young fold mountains and form a continuation of the Alpine-Carpathian system. Together with the Alps and the Himalayas, these mountains form the youngest fold mountain ranges on the planet. The Balkan Mountains form a major division between the Danube River in the north and the Maritsa River in the south. The Iskar River, the widest river in Bulgaria, runs through the mountains and forms the 70km-long Iskar Gorge. The rivers Archar, Timok, Lom, Osam, Ogosta, and others rise in the Balkan Mountains and flow into the Danube River. Many waterfalls have been observed in the central and western portions of the Balkan Mountains. Some of the significant waterfalls include Borov Kamak, Raysko Praskalo, Babsko Praskalo, and the Karlovsko Praskalo. About 20 passes are situated in the Balkan Mountain ranges. Some of these are Shipka Pass, Petrohan Pass, Vratnik Pass, and Beklemeto Pass.


A golden jackal in the Bulgarian mountainside.

The Balkan Mountain ranges are famous for their varied flora and fauna. Vast uninterrupted swathes of coniferous and deciduous forests and Alpine meadows have been found across the mountain ranges. Trees such as Bosnian pine, Macedonian pine, and King Boris fir are endemic to the Balkan Mountain ranges. Several important mammals like the brown bear, boar, chamois, deer, and wolf are found here. Many significant protected areas and nature reserves are also located in these mountain ranges.

Brief History

Since the foundation of the Kingdom of Bulgaria in the year 681, the Balkan Mountain ranges have historically been important for the nation and served as a natural fortress for the Bulgarian Empire. Several battles between the Bulgarian and the Byzantine Empires have been fought in these mountain ranges. The mountain town of Kalofer located near Botev Peak is the birthplace of the famous Bulgarian national hero and poet Hristo Botev. Shipka Pass also served as the location for many battles during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.


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