Kardzhali (57 720 inhabitants, 240 m above the sea level) is the natural centre of Eastern Rhodopes. The region is a unique mixture of historical monuments since ancient times until nowadays, exceptional natural phenomena, mountain massifs with difficult routes and enormous water areas. Kardzhali is settled in the heart of Eastern Rhodopes, along the two banks of Arda River, on both sides of which are the two big water dams – Studen Kladenets to the east and Kardzhali – to the south. The town is situated at the distance of 250 km southeast of Sofia, 100 km from Plovdiv and 50 km from Haskovo. The town is a regional administrative centre.
Some 15 km from Kardzhali, in the Eastern Rhodopes, on a rocky peak at 450 m above the sea level, is the sacred Thracian Palace of Perperikon. Here Alexander the Great learned about his fate to conquer the world. The palace and its fortress were the capital of the mightiest state of the Thracians - that of the Odris Kingdom.
The place had been a settlement as early as 6 000 years ago. Prehistoric remains of human life, ample examples of the presence of Thracian, Roman and Byzantine culture, mediaeval Bulgarian and late-Ottoman remains have been found here. The first historical traces date from the days of the Thracian tribe "koelaleti, subdued by the Romans in the 1st century. Then came the Slavic tribe "smoleni" and during the Middle Ages the town often shifted between Bulgarian and Byzantine rule. Today’s town is the heir to the mediaeval "Manyak" that demonstrated an architectural style, similar to that of Preslav, Messemvria and Tarnovo.
In the middle of the 17th century, Kardzhali Alla – a noted war chieftain – ruled the town and it is considered that the town is named after him. The first mosque was raised here in 1750. During the 18th century the town was roamed by the bloodthirsty Kardzhali gangs, which ruined not one and two prosperous Bulgarian villages. In January 1878, the Don Cossacks of General Chernobouzov freed the town. On 8th October 1912, the soldiers of colonel Delov’s regiment freed the town for the second and last time. Gradually, Kardzhali became the "tobacco warehouse" in Eastern Rhodopes and later a centre for the development of Bulgarian nonferrous metallurgy.
The Bulgarian basilica St. John the Precursor (11th – 12th century) is located in Vselchane quarter. At the end of 1998 after continuous excavations a unique find was brought to the surface – the burial tomb of a senior Christian bishop, wearing his gold-knitted clerical attire. Only three more dresses of this kind have been found in the world but this has proved to be the first find of its kind in a burial tomb. In the former Konak (the Turkish town-hall built around 1870) with its interesting exterior architecture one can visit the History Museum. The Art Gallery hosts the works of such painters as Vladimir Dimitrov – the Master, Kiril Tsonev, Dechko Uzunov and others. Kardzhali has two theatres – Dimitar Dimov Theatre and a puppet theatre.
Regular bus lines connect Kardzhali to: Plovdiv, Haskovo, Smolyan, Ardino, etc. The central bus station is next to the railway station. Kardzhali is a stop along Ruse – Tulovo – Podkova railway line.
The two big dams on the both sides of the town are excellent places for recreation, sport, tourism, and entertainment. Numerous country houses, restaurants and many other facilities have been built there. Next to the wall of Studen Kladenets Dam one can see the incredibly narrow canyon of Arda River, called Devil's Bridge. Close to Zimzelen village, 5 km north-east of the town, visitors can see another natural wild whim – Kardzhali Pyramids. The mediaeval fortress of Perperikon is located in the valley of a small river, only 7 km south-east of the town.
The rock formations situated on the land of the villages Zimzelen, Povet and Dobrovolets, have been formed 50 million years ago from volcanic tufts. The different colour of the rocks is due to their saturation with iron and manganese oxides. The stone figures have been formed as a result of the effect of the sun, the wind, the snow and the rain. The nature has sculptured from the formless stone unique whimsical shapes: Kamennite Gabi (Stone Mushrooms), Skalen Prozorets (Rock Window), Vkamenena Gora (Stone Forest), Skalite na Ustra (Ustra’s Rocks), Gubata (The Mushroom), Lavat (The Lion), as well as Hladilnata Peshtera (Fridge Cave) and another 6 caves. The most popular of all is the rock group called Kamennata Svatba (Stone Wedding), situated close to the village of Zimzelen. This group of rocks can be reached on foot from the town of Kardzhali.