Melnik (Мелник, Μελένικο, Meleniko) is a town in Blagoevgrad Province, southwestern Bulgaria (sometimes referred to as Pirin Macedonia), in the southwestern Pirin Mountains, about 440 m above sea level. The town is an architectural reserve and 96 of its buildings are cultural monuments. With a population of 385, it is the smallest town in Bulgaria, retaining its city status today for historical reasons.
According to archaeological evidence, the first to settle in the area were the Thracian tribe Medi to which the famous rebel Spartacus belonged. Centuries later, the presence of the Romans left the town one of its landmarks — the Ancient Roman bridge, which is still preserved. The Slavs who later came in these parts named the settlement Melnik after the sand formations surrounding it on all sides (the Slavonic word "mel" means "white clay, chalk"). Melnik became a part of the First Bulgarian Empire under the rule of Khan Presian I (836-852) and prospered greatly in the period. Melnik became the capital of an independent feudal principality ruled by Despot Alexius Slav, a descendant of the Asen dynasty, in 1209, and passed through an economic and cultural upsurge during his reign. The town continued to flourish under Tsar Ivan Asen II because of the duty-free trade with Venetian-ruled Dubrovnik.
The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the 14th-15th century resulted in a long period of decline, but Melnik was once again a thriving city in the 17th and 18th century, the time of the Bulgarian National Revival, due to the tobacco and wine production, with wine being exported abroad, mainly to England and Austria. In that time Melnik was also a centre of craftsmanship, particularly church decoration and woodcarving. Many Bulgarian schools and churches were built in Melnik in that period.
Melnik was liberated by the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, but was given back to the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Berlin. During the First Balkan War, Melnik was ultimately liberated and became once again part of Bulgaria. In the late 18th century, the town had 1300 houses, seventy churches and a population of some 20, 000 people, but a fire largely destroyed it. Since then it has been restored and rebuilt, and still, the current population of 400 is nowhere near the one from the beginning of the 20th century, when it primarily consisted of Bulgarians and Greeks, but also of Turks, Vlachs and Roma. Melnik is the subject of Yuri Trifonov's short story "The Smallest Town on Earth" (1967).
The Greeks left Melnik and moved to Greece by the express orders of the Greek government; the order being given when it was known that Melnik was to remain Bulgarian. Automobiles and carts were supplied to enable the Greeks to take all their goods with them to Demir Hisar (Sidirokastro). An order was given and executed at Nevrokop, where force had to be employed to make the Greek inhabitants depart. By order of the officers, all the contents of the big Bulgarian shops in Melnik belonging to Temelko Hadzhiyanev and Konstantin Poptachev, were seized. The little Bulgarian shops and private houses were left to be pillaged by the population. On their way, the Greeks burnt all Bulgarian villages they passed through, leaving intact only remote small hamlets in the mountains. The refugees went primarily to Sidirokastro and fewer settled in Serres and Thessaloniki.
Famous people that were born in Melnik were the Greeks Anastasios Polizoedis, Anastasios Palatidis and Konstantinos Christomagnos, the Bulgarians Emanuil Vaskidovich and Ivan Atanasov.
Interesting architectural landmarks include the Byzantine House, one of the oldest civilian buildings in the Balkans (built probably in the 12th or 13th century as a Bulgarian fortress), the Kordopulov House (named after the merchant Manol Kordopulov to whom it once belonged), which also has one of the largest wine cellars in Melnik, the Pashov House (1815), which houses the Historical Museum of Melnik and the Pasha's House, built by Ibrahim Bey, one of the richest beys in the region, during Ottoman rule. Some of the old churches in the town worth visiting are St Nicholas (built in the 13th century), SS Peter and Paul (1840), St Nicholas the Thaumaturge (1756) and St Anthony.