A Brief History of Bankso, Bulgaria’s Premier Ski Resort
The area around Bansko has been inhabited for centuries by the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and Slavs. There are many ruins of old fortresses and burial grounds around the town.
Bansko first became a settlement in the 9th to 10th century when several neighbourhoods joined together and it is mentioned in the Ottoman register under the name Baniska.
During the 18th Century Bansko was mainly the home of agricultural workers and craftsmen, who worked in the forests and fields around. Many mills were built along the river. Wood products, leather manufacture and fish, olives and tobacco were traded with settlements in the Aegean, Serresa and Drama. Horse drawn caravan trains would take goods across the country and further afield. Those living and working in the Bansko became wealthy and many travelled abroad or sent their children abroad. This led to a wise cultural diversity in Bansko. It also meant that the residents of Bansko were able to build magnificent houses; high stone houses with wooden beams and cladding and heavy fortified gates. The ceilings and walls of the rooms would be covered in colourful murals and religious paintings.
It was not until 1912 that Bansko was freed from Ottoman rule, the day the Balkan war was announced. Bansko’s council or local government was set up in about 1850 and consisted of local elected officials from the various local tradesmen. In the 1860’s and 1870’s the local municipality was particularly involved in fighting against the Greeks for independence for the Bulgarian church and attempting to bring education to the village. The first school was built in 1857. During the Balkan war the Bansko council collected food and clothes for the Bulgarian army.
Due to its location at the base of the Pirin mountains, skiing developed above the town, but initially was only accessible by a mini-bus taking skiers up the steep hillside to the base of the small ski area. It was not until 2003 when the gondola was put in, that skiers could access the skiing directly from the town. Bansko quickly developed into a more modern winter holiday resort with an explosion of hotels and apartment blocks. Marketed as a cheap alternative to skiing in France and Italy, it soon became a popular destination for British.
The old part of Bansko still retains its character and authenticity. There are cobbled streets, traditional stone and wood houses and lively local bars with local musicians. There are over 120 cultural and historical monuments in Bansko old town, including the Holy Trinity Church with its 30 metre high clock town, built by donations from local towns folk in 1835 to 1837 and decorated with murals done by the local art school.
This contrasts drastically with the large number of new developments that have sprung up in the last few years to cater for the number of skiers and holiday makers. The ski area has around 75 kilometres of runs with close to 30 ski lifts and the highest accessed point being at 2,600 metres.
Bansko hosts a number of events each year from music festivals to chess tournaments as well as large sporting events. There is also a golf course and several lakes in the area, as well as the famous Bear sanctuary close by. The next door village of Banya, now more or less joined to Bansko by all the developments, is known for its thermal mineral springs. There is also a narrow gauge railway line running from the village of Dobrinishte to Septemvri and taking a scenic few hours to complete the journey.
Bansko is situated in the south western corner of Bulgaria, right at the bottom of the Pirin mountain range, fairly close to the Greek border. It has an elevation of 925 metres. It is around a two and half hour drive from the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia.