Iron Curtain to green haven: A mountain village transformed

Gabrene, Bulgaria, Nov 4 (AFP/APP): 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, told AFP.

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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.

“Our everyday life was subject to strict control,” said Stanimir Samardzhiev, a former local Communist party official and retired mathematics teacher.

“Villagers had to show their ID before they could work their fields” beyond the fence, he said.

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