by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders

Cats in Gabrovo have no tails, according to an ancient joke, because the people there are so cheap they don’t want to lose a second of heat when they open the door. Instead of being defensive, Gabrovians have embraced their stereotypical frugality: declaring Gabrovo the International Capital of Humor and hosting the annual International Festival of Humor featuring a tailless cat as the carnival mascot. The city has also been steadily turning its energy-miser image from a punchline into a reality and now shares the 2021 European Green Leaf Award with Lappeenranta, Finland.

Gabrovo, Bulgaria, flanks the Yantra River, which was once lined with water-powered mills that at one time made this city a center for the manufacture of clothing, carpets, and other textiles. Today it is recognized for its architecture, livability, and, recently, its commitment to sustainability.

The Technical University of Gabrovo deserves much of the credit for this successful transition. The university fosters cutting-edge research and development, particularly in the field of intelligent, energy-saving systems and technologies. It also partners with the city and local industries, many of which are involved with energy efficiency, clean technologies, environmental protection, sustainable transportation, and the protection of green space.

The city itself leads by example in energy efficiency. Schools, nurseries, group homes, sports venues, clinics, and cultural facilities here have been put on a strict energy diet, including a kindergarten that won ‘Building of the year 2015’ for being the first public passive building in Bulgaria. To motivate widespread conservation, the city rewards residents who turn in obsolete appliances and electronics with vouchers for discounts on new, power-minimizing models.

More than half of Gabrovo’s territory is forest and a third is part of Natura 2000, the European Union’s network of nature protection areas. Bulgarka Natural Park preserves almost 54,000 acres of beech ecosystems on the slopes of the Balkan Mountains and is home to over 1,300 plant species including 32 protected species. Just outside the city, hikers can climb through a forest to the ruins of a 5th-century castle that once guarded the pass above Gabrovo and now offers spectacular views of the region.

As of now, Gabrovo plans to go forward with its Carnival and International Festival of Humor and Satire this May. If the pandemic permits, Gabrovo also will likely host events celebrating its European Green Leaf 2021 Award. Stay tuned.


European Commission. 2020. Expert Panel Technical Assessment Synopsis Report: European Green Leaf 2021. Accessed at  Report (

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz, FAICP, is Vice President of the Ecocity Builders Board and an urban planner who writes about sustainability, most recently Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places and Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights.