Historical Landmarks Antiquity
Perperikon is an 8000-year-old megalithic Thracian sanctuary perched on a rocky hill in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. Originally it functioned as a fortified royal palace and a religious centre with a temple of the ancient Thracian god Zagreus. Centuries later, when the Thracians eventually lost their power in the region, many different peoples started coming to this place, settling down, most notably Romans, Goths, Byzantines and Bulgarians, of course. All of them left traces of their own cultures and turned the area into a living historical encyclopedia. No wonder that this is where one will find the remains of the oldest church in the Rhodopes built in the 5th century AD. There Saint Nicetas, Bishop of Remesiana, translated the Bible into the language of the Bessi (a surviving Thracian tribe) and started Christianising the local population. Those of you who wish to visit the ancient complex should bear in mind that the hill which it stands on rises 470 metres above sea level and is generally pretty steep, so you should get in shape before you undertake this endeavour. Moreover, it tends to get quite hot in the summer and it is imperative to bring a lot of sun block and water with you. Perperikon is located 100 km southeast of Plovdiv. It is also not very far away from Pamporovo mountain resort, Shiroka Laka Village, a folklore and architectural reserve, the Devil’s Throat Cave and Trigrad Gorge.
According to the legend, this is the place where mythical singer Orpheus was buried… Well, even if you don’t believe this story you will find plenty of interesting things to see there. This megalithic religious complex is situated just outside the village of Tatul in the Eastern Rhodopes, approximately 130 km south of Plovdiv and just 15 km away from the town of Momchilgrad. It consists of an ancient sanctuary with several graves and a medieval fortress. The archaeological evidence discovered there points that it was built in the 12th century BC and was used by Thracians as a sacrificial ground where they paid their dues to the merciless pagan deities they worshipped. But it wasn’t just that. Tatul was also a popular sun observation spot. This is proved by the simple-looking, yet sophisticated stone contraption located at the highest point of the sanctuary. You can combine your visit to Tatul with a thematic trip to the nearby ancient town of Perperikon. Alternatively, you can just go and enjoy some of the other tourist attractions the Rhodope Mountains have to offer.
The large number of Thracian burial mounds around the village of Sveshtari, 90 km east of Ruse, suggests that the area was a major civic and religious centre before the Roman conquest. The largest cluster of barrows was found west of the village, in an area that is now known as Sboryanovo Historical and Archaeological Reserve.There are 26 burial mounds in the region in total. Ginina Mogila, a 3rd-century BC tomb excavated in 1982, seems to be the most famous and most important one of all from an archaeological point of view. The richly ornate entrance is followed by a tunnel-like passageway that leads to the burial chamber of a Thracian nobleman and his wife. Ten caryatid-like figures, which probably represent and archetypal mother goddess, line the walls. A mural just below the barrel-vaulted ceiling depicts the deceased on horseback receiving presents from a goddess and her servants. On either side of the main chamber there are two smaller chambers where the skeletons of ritually slaughtered horses were discovered. The tomb of Sveshtari has been one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 1985.The access to the tomb is currently limited so tourists must check the opening times of the site before visiting it.
Of the 120 tumuli discovered in the region around Starosel Village, 100 km southeast of Sofia and 40 km west of Plovdiv, only few have been fully excavated and explored and six of them are certain to have served as Thracian temple-tombs. Their arrangement suggests that the area was sacred to the tribes who constructed them. Today only two of the tombs are open to the public.The Horizon Tomb lies just outside the village of Starosel. In 2002 archaeologists uncovered a rectangular Thracian temple with steps leading to the entrance and ten stone pillars that once supported the roof. The experts claim that the tomb was set up in the 5th century BC for an unknown Thracian ruler who was later buried there with a collection of arrowheads, silver beads and leather armour covered with plates of beaten gold. Chetinyova Tomb, discovered in 2000, is also not very far away from the village. It dates back to the 6th century BC and is thought to have been the burial place of the legendary Thracian ruler Sitalces. The entire hilltop site is encircled by a wall of dressed granite. Granite stairs lead up to the tomb’s outer entrance where a corridor opens onto a burial chamber that is 5.4 metres in diameter, the largest so far discovered in Bulgaria. Apart from its rich historical heritage, Starosel is also famous for the wine it produces, so whenever you are in the neighbourhood, make sure you join one of the many tours around the village’s best wine cellars. You won’t regret it, we promise.
The Kazanlak Tomb:
In 1979 the Kazanlak Tomb became the first Bulgarian historical landmark to be included in the prestigious World Heritage List of UNESCO. It was discovered in 1944 near Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria by some soldiers who were digging trenches. Historians believe that it dates back to the period 4th-3rd centuries BC. Although access to it is now restricted, it is not denied altogether. The more eager tourists will be allowed to get inside but in exchange for a higher entrance fee and at specific times only. While in there, they will also be asked to be extremely careful and follow a set of strict rules so as not to break or damage anything. However, you will still have the chance to feel the essence of this place even if you are not a hardcore history fan - an exact replica of the Thracian vault was built not very far away from the original site for those like you. The tomb comprises three chambers: an antechamber made of stone and clay, a narrow brick hallway and a funeral chamber. Its murals painted in white, yellow, red and black are especially impressive. The artifacts discovered in the tomb point that it was designed for an affluent local couple. Their remains were found in the funeral chamber together with some jewellery, pottery and ritual objects.But this is not the only landmark to see in the region of Kazanlak: the historically important towns of Koprivshtitsa, Karlovo, Kalofer, Sopot and Kotel are all there and so is the Valley of the Thracian Kings
The Valley of the Thracian Kings:
The so-called Valley of the Thracian Kings is a historical region in the Kazanlak Valley comprising about a dozen tumuli dating back to Thracian times. All the sites are visible from the road and although most of them are still being explored and are not open for visitors there are a couple that catch people’s attention and must definitely be given a try. Golyama Kosmatka is the most famous one of them. With a height of approximately 20 m and a diameter of 90 m, it is one of the three biggest tumuli discovered on the Balkan Peninsula. It consists of several chambers connected by a broad 13-metre-long corridor. Archaeologists discovered over 20 gold objects there, including some jewellery, a large wreath and a richly ornate harness. The most valuable artifact found in the tumulus, however, is the bronze head of Seuthes III. According to experts the magnificent sculpture was made in the second half of the 5th century BC by Phidias, a great Greek sculptor, artist and architect. The more curious tourists should also check out Svetitsata and Ostrusha Tumuli, for they are just as impressive as Golyama Kosmatka.
Nikopolis ad Istrum:
The ruins of the ancient Roman town of Nikopolis ad Istrum lie 18 km north of Veliko Tarnovo on the left bank of Rositsa River. It was founded in 102 AD by Emperor Trajan who had just defeated the Dacian army. The archaeological research conducted on this site showed that the ancient settlement spread on a territory of 21 hectares and was divided in two parts: the northern one was fortified and was considerably bigger than the southern one. Experts also believe that the area was full of busy markets and was mainly inhabited by well-to-do craftsmen and farmers who lived in spacious villas. In 447 AD Nikopolis ad Istrum was reduced to ashes by Attila’s Huns. The best time to visit this Roman monument is from April to November. And if you are keen on history, don’t miss Veliko Tarnovo, the former capital of Bulgaria.
Armira Villa is located in the southeastern part of Bulgaria, 190 km away from Plovdiv. It was built in the 1st century AD for a rich Roman nobleman who, according to some theories, was also governor of the region. The building was discovered in 1964 during construction works. It was a two-storey construction with more than twenty rooms that sprawled over an area of 3600 sq m. However, its gigantic size is not what impresses the most. The special thing about this historical monument is its decoration - it flaunts some of the best Roman mosaics ever discovered on the territory of Bulgaria. Their patterns are varied and innovative: the image of the Gorgon Medusa is a running theme all across the villa and the mosaic portrait of the owner’s family found in the master’s chamber is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of ancient Roman art. The Thracian sanctuaries of Perperikon and Tatul are relatively near Armira Villa and Kardzhali Reservoir is just a couple of hours away by car - it is for those who love peace and nature.
One of the most important historical landmarks ever discovered on the territory of Bulgaria lies at the very heart of Sofia, the country’s capital. The remains of the ancient Roman town of Serdika were found a couple of years ago during the construction of the second line of the Sofia Underground in the region of Knyaginya Maria Luiza Blvd. near the Presidency and the Mineral Baths. The archaeological site comprises a large complex of houses, churches, fortification walls and… a sophisticated system of water closets. Yeah, you got that correctly. What makes this 2nd-century AD sewerage so special is the fact that it was perhaps the first one of its kind in this part of the world. And if by now you are laughing your heads off at this "ridiculous" feat of Roman engineering we would kindly as you to stop. For this is no laughing matter. Just think about the Palace of Versailles and the Sun King who had everything at his disposal… except a loo. But let’s not digress. By the year 2014 this site will become the largest open-air museum in Sofia. It will spread over an area of 19 000 sq m and will turn into one of the capital’s hottest tourist attractions. But you can check it out even today if you feel you cannot wait until 2014. There is free access around the place so the curious ones can sneak a peek. And just for the record… this is not the only historical landmark from this period that one will come across in Sofia: don’t forget the 4th-century AD Church of St. George.
Photos by E.Bliznashka, D.Alexov, A.Alexov, A.Tanev