The Pirin Mountains (Bulgarian: Пирин) are a mountain range in southwestern Bulgaria, with Vihren at an altitude of 2,914 m being the highest peak. One hypothesis is the mountain was named after Perun, the highest god of the Slavic pantheon and the god of thunder and lightning. Another version is that the etymology of the range derives from the Thracian word Perinthos, meaning “Rocky Mountain”.
The range extends about 80 km from the north-west to the south-east and is about 40 km wide, spanning a territory of 2,585 km2 (998 sq mi). To the north Pirin is separated from Bulgaria’s highest mountain range, the Rila Mountain, by the Predel saddle, while to the south it reaches the Slavyanka Mountain. To the west is located the valley of the river Struma and to the east the valley of the river Mesta separates it from the Rhodope Mountains. Pirin is dotted with more than a hundred glacial lakes and is also the home of Europe’s southernmost glaciers, Snezhnika and Banski Suhodol.
The northern part of the range, which is also the highest one, is protected by the Pirin National Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Pirin is noted for its rich flora and fauna, as well as for the presence of a number of relict species. Much of the area is forested, with some of the best preserved conifer woods in Bulgaria, holding important populations of the Balkan endemic species Macedonian pine, Bosnian pine and Bulgarian fir. Animals include many species of high conservation value, such as brown bear, gray wolf, wildcat, European pine marten, wild boar, red deer, roe deer, chamois, etc.
The combination of favourable natural conditions and varied historical heritage contribute makes Pirin an important tourist destination. The town of Bansko, situated on the north-eastern slopes of the mountain, has grown to be the primary ski and winter sports centre in the Balkans. A number of settlements at the foothills of Pirin have mineral spring and are spa resorts — Banya, Dobrinishte, Gotse Delchev, Sandanski, etc. Melnik at the south-western foothills of the mountain is Bulgaria’s smallest town and is an architectural reserve. Within a few kilometres from the town are the Melnik Earth Pyramids and the Rozhen Monastery.
There are two peaks above 2,900 m, Vihren and Kutelo; seven above 2,800 m; 13 above 2,700 m; 32 above 2,600 m and 60 above 2,500 m. The highest granite peak is the Banderishki Chukar (2,732 m). Some of the highest peaks are:
Vihren, 2,914 metres (9,560 ft)
Kutelo, 2,908 metres (9,541 ft)
Banski Suhodol, 2,884 metres (9,462 ft)
Polezhan, 2,851 metres (9,354 ft)
Kamenitsa, 2,822 metres (9,259 ft)
Malak Polezhan, 2,822 metres (9,259 ft)
Bayuvi Dupki, 2,820 metres (9,252 ft)
Yalovarnika, 2,763 metres (9,065 ft)
Kaymakchal, 2,763 metres (9,065 ft)
Gazey, 2,761 metres (9,058 ft)
Todorka, 2,746 metres (9,009 ft)
Banderishki Chukar, 2,732 metres (8,963 ft)
Dzhengal, 2,730 metres (8,957 ft)
Momin Dvor, 2,723 metres (8,934 ft)
Malka Todorka, 2,712 metres (8,898 ft)
Chengelchal, 2,709 metres (8,888 ft)
Disilitsa, 2,700 metres (8,858 ft)
Kamenishka Kukla, 2,690 metres (8,825 ft)
Zabat, 2,688 metres (8,819 ft)
Kuklite, 2,686 metres (8,812 ft)
Bashliyski Chukar, 2,683 metres (8,802 ft)
Kralev Dvor, 2,680 metres (8,793 ft)
Muratov Vrah, 2,669 metres (8,757 ft)
Dzhano, 2,668 metres (8,753 ft)
Bezbog, 2,645 metres (8,678 ft)
Hvoynati Vrah, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft)
Sivria, 2,591 metres (8,501 ft)
Sinanitsa, 2,516 metres (8,255 ft)
The favourable natural conditions for winter sports, spa and recreation combined with the architectural heritage make Pirin a popular tourist destination. Bansko is by far the most developed winter resort in the mountain range, being also Bulgaria’s most popular one for foreigners — over 79,000 foreign tourists have stayed in Bansko for the 2016/17 winter season spending an average of four nights. Bansko has 75 km ski runs equipped with artificial snow machines as well as 22 km lifting facilities and provides conditions for alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, snowboard, etc. The top elevation is 2560 m while the lowest is 990 m. Bansko regularly hosts European alpine ski and biathlon cups. Another much smaller resort is Dobriniste with 5 km of ski tracks.