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Rila National Park

Rila National Park, the largest national park in Bulgaria, is located about 100 km. south of Sofia, in the central and highest regions of the Rila Mountains. The Park contains rare and endangered wildlife species and communities, self-regulating ecosystems of biological diversity, as well as historic sites of global cultural and scientific significance.

Some of the largest rivers in the Balkan Peninsula originate here. The name Rila is derived from the Thracian word roula, meaning "lots of water."


The Park was established on February 24, 1992 to conserve the natural heritage of the Rila Mountains as well as the local traditions, culture, and livelihoods linked with the area. The National Park Directorate, a regional body reporting to the Ministry of Environment and Waters, manages the Park. The Directorate engages local organizations and volunteers to pursue its goals.

Park Statistics

Area: 81,046 hectares
Highest elevation: Mussala at 2,925 meters above sea level
Lowest elevation: the area above Blagoevgrad, at 800 meters above sea level
Wooded area: 53,481 hectares
Treeless areas: 27,565 hectares
90% of all ecosystems are natural
There are four nature reserves, with a combined area of 16,222.1 hectares

Protected Area

Rila National Park is one of the largest and most valuable protected areas in Europelisted as Category 2 by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The Park and all four of its nature reserves are on the UN List of Representative Protected Areas. The Parangalitsa Reserve and the former Marichini Ezera Reserve (now incorporated in the territory of Central Rila Reserve) are part of the World Biospheric Reserves Network under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program. Central Rila is the largest nature reserve in Bulgaria and covers a total area of 12,393.7 hectares. Parangalitsa, designated in 1933, is one of the oldest Bulgarian nature reserves.


Most of Rila National Park is covered in thick forestsprimarily spruce, white fir, and Macedonian pine. The higher plant species identified thus far, within the park, constitute 38.35% of the higher flora of Bulgaria. There are:

  • 57 endemic species (of limited geographic range)
    • 3 are local endemic species
    • 18 are Bulgarian endemic species
    • 36 are Balkan endemic species
  • 105 relict species (survivors from past geological ages), of which 74 dating from the Ice Age, and 31 from the Tertiary Age.
  • 98 are listed in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria (13% of all those listed).

Of the 141 species of medicinal plants, 20 are listed in the Red Data Book, while 8 are protected under the Environmental Protection Act. In addition, Rila National Park is home to 282 species of moss, 233 species of mushrooms (11.6% of all identified in Bulgaria), and 130 species of freshwater algae.

This part of Rila Mountain is home to 2,934 invertebrate and 172 vertebrate species of the Bulgarian fauna. There are 99 species of nesting birds (30% of all known in Bulgaria), of which all but 5 are protected. Many of the vertebrate species within the Park are protected:

  • 121 species are listed in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria
  • 24 are on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List
  • 158 are on lists under the Bern Convention

Of the invertebrate fauna, 41 organisms are included in world or European lists of endangered species.

The EU-funded CORINE BIOTOPS Project created a habitat classification methodology and 60 of the CORINE classified types of habitats are represented in the Rila National Park. Of these, 29 are included on the List of Endangered Habitats, requiring special protection measures pursuant to the EU Convention on Habitats and Resolution # 4.

Location and Terrain

Rila National Park is located in the Rila Mountains, between 41 53 and 42 19 north latitude and 23 07 and 23 55 east longitude, in the southwestern region of Bulgaria. It comprises the treeless areas along the mountain ridge and sections of the coniferous forests below it. Its territory occupies 30% of the entire mountain. The mountain peaks along the main ridges rise to an average height of 2,700 meters above sea level and includes the highest peak in the Balkan Peninsula: Mussala (2,925 meters).

The Park contains large meadows, over 100 peaks rising above 2,000 meters, as well as a variety of rock faces, precipices, caves, deep canyons, and waterfalls. Its territory is dotted with about 120 lakes70 date back from the Ice Age.

Lake "The eye"

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