Since time immemorial every year at the beginning of August local families have gathered on the Ilinden Meadows near Gela Village in the Rhodopes to chat and rejoice. The tradition has been kept alive until this day and it has preserved the songs of the Rhodope Mountains.
This centuries-old tradition played a crucial role in the conception of the idea and the setting up of a bagpipe contest on these meadows.
The first bagpipe contest took place in 2002.
The goal of the festival is to promote authentic Rhodope folklore. The Bulgarian contestants must play the pieces on low-voiced bagpipes.
The contestants are divided into three age groups and have to meet the following requirements:
- First age group – up to 14 years of age – perform a piece of their choice up to 5 minutes long;
- Second age group – between 15 and 20 years of age – must perform a slow and a fast piece up to 6 minutes long;
Third age group – over 21 years of age – perform a slow and a fast piece up to 7 minutes long.
The performances are rated by a competent panel of judges. There are cash prizes and material awards, and each contestant receives an honorary diploma.
Gradually the event grew enough in popularity to become an international festival. Bagpipers from Japan, Holland, Hungary, France, and Great Britain have participated in the contest. The number of contestants varies between 40 and 60 every year. The youngest bagpiper who participated in the contest was 5 years old, while the oldest was 85.
The interest in this event gets bigger and bigger. People from all parts of Bulgaria gather together on the Ilinden Meadows. The number of people who come to see the bagpipe contest varies between 8 000 and 13 000 every year.
Gela Village is very popular among fans of rural tourism. Accommodation is available in hotels and guesthouses.