Situated in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula and stretching 225 kilometres from west to east, and up to 100 kilometres from north to south, the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains straddle the border between Bulgaria and Greece, and have an average altitude of 785 metres. There are several peaks over 2000m, the highest being Mount Golyam Perelik (2191m). The Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains are bordered by the Upper Thracian Lowlands to the north and the Aegean Lowlands to the south. The eastern boundary is marked out by the Maritsa valley, whilst to the west, the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains are separated from the Pirin Mountains by the river Mesta and from the Rila Mountains by the Avramova Saddle (1295 metres) and Yundola Saddle (1375 metres). Of the 14,737 square kilometres encompassed by the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains, a total of 12,233 square kilometres lie within Bulgaria and only 2,505 square kilometres in Greece. Topographically, the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains can be subdivided into two parts: the Western Rodopi (Rhodope) and Eastern Rodopi (Rhodope).
The Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains are an ancient block of crystalline schists, limestones and granite which was first uplifted during the Palaeozoic era. Later, after a long quiet period during which it was gradually levelled, the range was raised again, this time at the end of the Tertiary period. However, not being uplifted to the same degree as the Rila Mountains and Pirin Mountains, the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains were too low to experience the effects of glaciation, and so lack the alpine form and features of their neighbours. Naturalists visiting the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains will notice a definite contrast between the Western Rodopi (Rhodope) and Eastern Rodopi (Rhodope). In the Western Rodopi (Rhodope) you encounter typical karst terrain, limestone rocks pitted with caves and gashed by deep gorges. In the Eastern Rodopi (Rhodope), however, it is younger igneous rocks which form the most striking features in the landscape, having been weathered by wind and rain into characteristic rock mushrooms and pinnacles.
The Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains are highly diverse both in terms of vegetation and flora. Indeed the flora of the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains is exceptionally rich with over 2000 species and sub-species of higher plants, making it one of the most important floristic regions on the Balkan Peninsula. Here one finds an interesting mix of Central European, Boreal, Alpine and Mediterranean species. There are several reasons for this including the geographical location, the climate, the geological history and the land management practices of the local inhabitants of the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains.
As well as an outstanding flora, the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains can also boast one of the richest and most diverse faunas on the Balkan Peninsula, the result of its exceptionally varied terrain, vegetation and climate. The fauna of the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains comprises at least 80 species of mammals, including 31 species of bat, over 300 species of birds, including 37 species of raptors, 47 species of herpetofauna, including 14 species of amphibians and 33 species of reptiles, more than 40 species of fish, some 65 species of damselflies and dragonflies, and at least 180 species of butterfly. The invertebrate fauna also comprises a myriad of other amazing creatures, many of them endemic to Bulgaria or the Balkan Peninsula.