Garmen municipality is situated in the Southwestern Rhodope Mountains. It includes parts of the valley of the river Mesta and of the western slopes of the Dabrash part of the Western Rhodopes. It borders on Satovcha municipality in the east, on Velingrad in the northeast, on Bansko in the northwest, on Gotse Delchev in the southwest and on Hadzhidimovo in the South. The municipality includes the villages of Baldevo, Ognyanovo, Skrebatno, Osikovo, Ribnovo, Marchevo, Leshten, Gorno Dryanovo, Kovachevitsa, Debren, Dabnitsa, Hvostyane, Krushevo, Oreshe and Dolno Dryanovo, with a total population of 16 379 inhabitants (21st July 2005). The village of Ribnovo has the largest number of inhabitants (2 601) and the village of Leshten has the lowest number (9). The village of Garmen (1 810 inhabitants) is an administrative, economic and cultural centre.
Garmen municipality has an area of 388 479 decares, out of which approximately 70% are forests. The area is characterized by mountainous and hilly/mountainous relief with Mount Beslet (1 938 m) as the highest point. There are deeply cut river valleys in the southwestern and middle part of the municipality. A small part of the southwestern territory of the municipality has typical plane relief, since it forms a part of the Nevrokop kettle, through which runs the river of Mesta.
Garmen municipality is one of the warmest places in the country, regardless of the surrounding mountainous relief, because it is situated at the border between two climate zones – temperate continental and transitional Mediterranean, penetrating from the valley of the river Mesta. The average precipitation amount is 620-780 mm/m2 per year and the distribution is relatively even during the four seasons. The snow cover stays for 70-100 days and the relative air humidity is 60-75%. The four seasons are well pronounced, with a warm summer and a moderately cold winter.
The specific microclimate in the area is suitable for the development of tourism. The air is free from industrial pollution and exhausts. The climate allows for year-round balneological and climatological treatment and various forms of tourism.
The water resources in the municipality consist mainly of the river of Mesta and its Rhodopean tributaries - the rivers Kanina and Dabnishka (Varbitsa). Their high water period is in the spring (March – May) which is related to the melting of the snow and the spring rains. In the valley of the river Kanina there are hot mineral springs with a water temperature of 35oC to 40oC and a total flow rate of appr. 8 l/s for the deposit. There is historical evidence that the Romans used the mineral springs for the rehabilitation of their legions.
The forests occupy 281 228 decares (72%) of the whole territory of the municipality. The diversity of the climate conditions and the relief are factors that determine the rich variety of tree, bush and grass vegetation. Conifers are widely represented: black pine and Scots pine, spruce, fir, white fir, European larch. There is a rich variety of deciduous trees too: willow, grey and black alder, poplars, hornbeam, oriental hornbeam, downy oak, lime, sessile oak, beech, acacia, birch, plane, osier etc. The bush and grass vegetation is mainly represented by different medicinal plants (more than 50% of the varieties in Bulgaria can be found here), wild berries and fungi. There are also a number of rare and protected plant species such as Geum Rhodopaeum, Bulgarian Bush Cinquefoil, as well as endemic species such as Lathraea Rodopaea, green foxglove etc.
The favourable climate, the rich species diversity of the forests, the relatively dense hydrological network and the vast uninhabited territories, mainly in the northern part of the municipality, create favourable conditions for the breeding of red deer, roe, wild boar, there are also bears, wolves, otters and other species of large and small game. Parts of the territory of the municipality are included in the NATURA 2000 network – “Mesta zone”, in the northeast along the valley of the river Kanina. Here one can encounter black stork, short-toed eagle, golden eagle, long-legged buzzard, black woodpecker, crag martin and red-rumped swallow etc. A special place is occupied by bats, some of them placed under different types of protection (Barbastelle bat, lesser mouse-eared bat).
In ancient times the area was inhabited by different tribes, the most enduring marks having been left by the Thracians, the Slavs and the Protobulgarians. The Thracian tribe of the Bessi were the main tribe that settled along the banks of Gorna and Sredna Mesta river and on the slopes of the Western Rhodopes. The remains found in large number of mounds in the area bear witness to the rich life of the Thracians in these places. Fragments of Attic vessels, mostly in the Draacha area above the village of Garmen, have been found during excavations. There are mound necropolises in the villages of Blatska, Debren, Dabnitsa, Hvostyane.
About 146 A.D., after long battles between the Roman troops and the local Thracian tribes, the area around Gotse Delchev fell finally under Roman rule. In the Draacha area, not far from the Thracian settlement of Keyrpara, the emperor Trajan (98 - 117) built a city in honour of the victory over the Daci in Dobrudzha and called it Nicopolis ad Nestum (town of the victory at Mesta). The town was destroyed at the end of the 6th century by the Slavs and the tribe of the Smolyani, which inhabited the areas extending to the Central Rhodopes, settled here. The Slavs were farmers and stock breeders. They grew millet, wheat, flax, hemp and leguminous plants and bred birds, cattle, sheep and goats. When they converted to Christianity, they related the Perun cult with the Christian saint Elijah and built a large number of sanctuaries in his honour. A votive place of this kind has been preserved east of the village of Garmen, where sacrificial animals are slaughtered every year.
During the Ottoman rule the village was mentioned on several occasions in the Ottoman registers, which is also evidenced by the Turkish grange built in the territory of Nicopolis ad Nestum. Until the 19th century farming was the main means of livelihood for the population in the area and some men also worked as builders in the interior of the country and in the Aegean region. The first modern Bulgarian schools and churches were built in the area during the Bulgarian renaissance (St. George’s church in the village of Garmen, the Assumpion church in the village of Ognyanovo, St. Nicholas’ church in Kovachevitsa, St. Parashkeva’s church in Leshten, St. Paraskeva’s church in Skrebatno, St. Dimitar’s church in Osikovo etc. date from that period).
The population in the area joined volunteer troops during the Russo-Turkish war (1877 – 1878) and during the Balkan wars (1912 - 1913). In 1901 a volunteer “militia” was formed in the village of Garmen, led by Stoyko Pashkulev. The area where Garmen is situated was liberated from the Ottoman rule in 1912.
The centuries-old cohabitation of different ethnic and religious groups in Garmen municipality has led to an intertwining of and respect for the traditions and customs of the local population, especially of the two main cultures – Christians and Muslims. This is especially visible and impressive in mixed population villages where everyone celebrates, regardless of whether it is a Christian or Muslim holiday. Some Christian holidays that are part of the cultural events calendar of Garmen municipality are: St. Jordan’s Day (Epiphany), the first Sunday before Lent, Easter, St. George's Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as Ramazan Bayram and Kurban Bayram among Muslim holidays.
The fairs and holidays of the different villages, which have preserved their uniqueness, are also of interest. An event of this kind is the celebration of St. George's Day in the village of Skrebatno, where tourists can hear the characteristic Rhodopean two-voice accapella singing, enjoy authentic folklore and join in the holiday feast on the meadows by the village. The fair in the village of Ognyanovo, dedicated to Assumption (14th – 15th August), is a very merry holiday with the traditional fights in the stadium on 15th August. The traditional fair in the village of Baldevo on 2nd August in honour of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising is also of interest.
Perhaps what is most interesting of all local customs is the traditional Pomak wedding in the village of Ribnovo which has preserved the old Bulgarian engagement customs and the local customs influenced by Islam. The wedding season is during the autumn and winter and the holiday lasts for 5 days and is accompanied by a lot of singing and dancing on the village square. The culmination is during the second day – the painting of the bride’s face, so-called lepene na gelina.
Garmen municipality has a potential for developing different alternative forms of tourism – village tourism, cultural tourism, ecological and balneological tourism. It has a rich nature and a rich historical and cultural heritage. The favourable location, the proximity to well-established resorts such as Bansko and Razlog as well as the road Gotse Delchev – Drama through the Ilinden border checkpoint and the existing relatively well-developed hotel facilities are the main premises for the development of tourism in the area.
The Late-antique and Roman Town of Nicopolis ad Nestum – it is situated in the territory of the village of Garmen in Markov Chiflik and Hisarlaka areas, 7 km away from the town of Gotse Delchev. It site is founded in the year 106 by the Roman emperor Traian in honour of his victory over the Daci tribe. It was named “The city of the victory near Mesta”. During the Roman and the early Byzantine period Nikopolis ad Nestum is one of the most important settlements, situated on the road that connects the Aegean coast with the Thracian Valley through the main road Via Egnatia over the Rhodope Mountain. The town experienced its cultural peak in the 2nd - 6th centuries and was destroyed by Avars and Slavs at the end of the 6nd century. In the Middle Ages there arose a settlement on the ruins, which perished during the crusades. In the late Middle Ages there was a Bulgarian settlement in a part of the place and a Turkish grange – in the south-east part of the fortified town.
The late-antique and Roman town of Nicopolis ad Nestum is organized similarly to the Asia Minor agrarian towns – two central streets intersecting at a right angle in the centre of the town. It is surrounded on all sides by high fortified walls of 2.40 – 2.80 meters of thickness, built of river stones joined by white mortar mixed with large pieces of crushed bricks, alternating with horizontal rows, each consisting of 4 rows of bricks (opus mixtum). As a result of archeological excavations the southern wall with the gate and a large part of the eastern and western walls has been entirely researched. 4 round towers on the south wall, 2 nearly square towers in front of the semi-circular exedra on the south gate, 1 V-shaped tower on the west wall and 1 rectangular town on the east wall have been uncovered. A bath house (thermae) provided with a spacious changing room (apodyterium), a cold pool (frigidarium) and a hot pool (caldarium) have been uncovered right next to the inside of the south wall. A rich peristyle building with a patio, a marble colonnade and a covered portico has also been researched in the south-east corner of the fortified town. A find of 137 coins of the Byzantine emperor Justin and his wife Sophia (518 – 527), which also dates the perishing of the town, has been discovered in a clay vessel on the brick wall of the largest room in the peristyle building. Fragments from a votive relief of the Thracian Horseman, a statuette of Hermes, an old-Christian gravestone, glass, bronze and ceramic vessels, a gold ring and other objects have also been found in the excavations.
Nicopolis ad Nestum is one of the few preserved ancient towns in Bulgaria and the only one in the Rhodope Mountains from the Roman rule on the Balkans. It has been pronounced an archeological and architectural monument from the Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Tourist information centre in the village of Ognyanovo
– it is situated in the centre of the village of Ognyanovo and provides information about possibilities for alternative forms of tourism (village tourism, cultural, ecological and balneological tourism) in the municipality as well as information about the neighbouring municipalities. The tourist information centre provides information about the natural landmarks, the cultural and historical heritage, the transport infrastructure, the cultural and sports events, celebrations and festivities included in the cultural events calendar of Garmen municipality.