Pirot, Stara Planina

Traditional Rugs and their Secrets

Nestled between the Pannonian basin in the Danube River valley and the Timok basin at the eastern edge of Europe, Pirot is located in the heart of the Balkans. This beautiful area, which is one of Serbia’s largest municipalities, is halfway between Niš and Sofia in the Nišava River valley.

The ancient settlement of Tures (Latin for flowers) was first cited in the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 4th century Roman map.  Today, this comprises the area of modern day Pirot.  The settlement was established to control and protect the main road in this part of the Empire. Travelers would stop in Pirot to rest and to change horses and carriages. Since Tures was not mentioned again in the centuries that followed, there is very little that is known about the region during that time.

It was not until the 15th century that written records referencing Pirot began to appear. The town was originally known as Pirgos, which originates from Greek.  Several different armies conquered the region. Judging by the architecture of the monasteries in the region, Pirot was part of the Stefan Nemanja state. In 1877 it was liberated from over five centuries of Turkish occupation.

Explore Pirot and you will discover the Pirot fortress perched on a hill overlooking the city. Some believe the fortress once belonged to Duke Momčilo, as described in an epic poem. The walled fortress, which was called Momčilov grad (Momčilo’s Town), was in use from the 14th century until the end of WWII.

The Nišava River divides Pirot into two parts. Pazar, which is on the left bank of the river, was a mixed community of Turks and the Serbs. On the right riverbank, Tijabar was an exclusively Serb community. If you visit the area, you will discover the two neighborhoods each have an Orthodox church dating back to Turkish power. The oldest, built in 1834 is in Pazar. The church in Tijabar dates back to 1869. Interestingly, both churches feature icons that are believed to have healing powers.

The 1848 House of Hristić is located in Tijabari and is one of the most beautiful Balkan town houses from the 19th century. It has been converted into the Museum of the Niš River valley. Visit the museum and marvel at the rich collection of traditional costumes, Pirot rugs and pottery. Just a few steps away you will find the beautiful Bela mačka (White cat) building, which is named after the tavern that once stood in its place. Stroll down Srpskih vladara Street and you will find several stunning structures built following the Turkish occupation. At one time, the street was part of the road heading to Constantinople (Istanbul). Walk down Dragoljub Milenković Street and you will discover the 1907 high school and the L-shaped town court building.


Pirot’s tradition of rug making goes back several centuries.  The locals specialize in making these original woven rugs, which were highly valued by the Turks. Sheep farming was a key factor in the development of the rug industry in Pirot. The high quality wool used to create the rugs is sourced locally. As opposed to the Persian rug, the Pirot rug is silky on both sides, features contrasting colors patterns and geographic shapes. Red is the prevailing color in most of Pirot’s rugs. The various patterns have specific names, including gugtće na direci (turtledoves on pillars), zvezda (star), đulovi (round flowers), venci (wreaths), bombe (bombs) and grozdovi (clusters of grapes). The weaving process is quite laborious. The weaver assumes a sitting position as she creates the rugs on the Pirot loom. If you visit Pirot, make certain to take the opportunity to observe this centuries old tradition.

The state border between Serbia and Bulgaria is formed by the natural boundary of the Stara Planina Mountain. This hundred-meter stretch from Zaječar to Pirot arches slightly before it continues into Bulgaria. This mountain is also known as Balkan Mountain, which inspired the name Balkan Peninsula.

The area surrounding the mountain is rich in sediment from various periods in history. The Bigar Spring Valley follows the Temštica. The Midžor and Babin Zub (Grandmother’s tooth) Mountains are located nearby. The eye-shaped Jelovička spring is the largest in the region and features a small basin.

More than 1,190 plant species have been identified on Stara Planina Mountain. It is one of the more important regional centers of native plant species.  Specific plants include the krilasti zvoničić (winged bell) and the Pančić common groundsel, which grows only on Stara Planina. The mountain bog can be found on Jabučkom plateau, Babinom Zubu Mountain, and the territory of Arbinje.

There are 116 species of butterflies, 18 species of amphibians and reptiles, 203 species of birds and over 30 species of mammals in Stara Planina. The mountain is the natural habitat of long-legged buzzard, the skylark, and the woodcock. The Stara Planina II hunting ground, which stretches across 40,408 ha, is located on the southeast side of this mountain. It abounds with deer, roe deer, wild boar, bear, wolf, rock partridge and wild wood pigeon.

Explore beyond the Stara Planina and you will discover a number of cultural monuments in the area. They include the 14th century Saint John the Theologian monastery and the 16th century Saint George monastery. Zavojsko Lake, and the Visočica and Toplodolska Rivers, which abound with trout, are ideal for fishing.

The cheese from Stara Planina and Pirot is renowned across the region. It is made from sheep’s milk and produced according to the local tradition. Vurda is a type of cream cheese made from sour milk. The milk is fermented for a month and mixed with paprika. Vurda is one the region’s most high quality dairy products. Sample these delicious dairy delicacies for yourself!

If you are looking for a place to relax, head to the popular Zvonačka Banja (Zvonačka Spa), which enjoys ideal climate conditions.  It lies 30 km from Pirot.

The nearby Asenovo Kale Cliff is the one place in Serbia where you can still see the nest of the golden eagle.

When in Pirot, we recommend:

– Observing the work of a Pirot weaver

– Sampling some delicious cheese andVurda (a type of cream cheese with paprika) at Stara Planina Mountain

– Marveling at the view from Babin kuk (Grandma’s hip)


The 13th century Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church is located inside a cave in Kamik Hill not far from the village of Rsovci. The exquisite church lies 22 km from Pirot near the Stara Planina Mountain. This sanctuary is known for the unique fresco of Christ depicted as a bald young man on its north wall.


Tourist Organization of the Pirot Municipality
77 Srpskih vladara Street, 18300 Pirot
Tel: +381 10 320 838, 320 839
e-mail: topirot@cnps.co.rs