Iron Curtain to green haven: A mountain village transformed

  • Tuesday 05, November 2019 10:40 AM
Sharjah24 – AFP: Where 30 years ago barbed wire guarded the Bulgarian border, tourists now hike in a nature park filled with rare flora and fauna, part of a surprising legacy of the Iron Curtain which once ran across this region.
Sweet chestnut forests and meadows cover the northern slopes of the Belasitsa mountain range in the EU member's southwest, where access even for locals was once subject to special permission from the authorities.

As a result, nature was left to rule untroubled for 45 years until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

"After the border fences were removed, they revealed the area's well preserved biodiversity heritage," Dobriel Radev, the nature park's director said.

Nestled under the 1,880-metre (6,170-feet)-high border peak of Tumba, on the crosspoint of Bulgaria, Greece and North Macedonia, the village of Gabrene has been completely transformed from a strictly guarded outpost to a tourist attraction.

A patch of the old border fence and a rusty army observation tower can still be seen on Gabrene's outskirts, and elderly villagers eagerly share their memories of that time.

Belasitsa, which was declared a nature park in 2007, boasts 1,591 plant species, including 28 which are protected, as well as foxes, roe deer and wild boars.

Rare plant species found in Belasitsa's grassy meadows include the wild lily with its bright yellow flowers.

Just across the border in neighbouring Greece, where Belasitsa is called Belles, lies another protected area that also benefited from the Iron Curtain era -- the Kerkini Lake national park.