The Cave Beauty of North-West Bulgaria
Make an intriguing trip around impressive caves, medieval fortresses and amazing rock formations in a little bit unknown part of Bulgaria – Nort-West region. Here you can see Prohodna Cave, Ledenika and Magura Caves, Baba Vida Fortress and Belogradchik Rocks!
Brief History of the Region
North-West Bulgaria is surprisingly the home of the earliest evidence of occupation in Europe found in the cave Kozarnika close to Belogradchik where the archaeologists discovered human bones 1.6 million years old!
In the epoche of the Thracians, these lands have been inhabited by a very powerful and invincible tribe called the Tribals. They fought bravely against the Thracian Odrysian Kingdom, Alexander The Great and even the Roman empire!
The Belogradchik Fortress was built in the period of the Roman Empire. It was used also as a strategic defense point in the First and Second Bulgarian Empires. Due to its geographical position, it was the last land to be occupied by the Ottoman Empire.
Baba Vida Fortress
Baba Vida is a medieval fortress in Vidin and is said to be the only entirely preserved medieval castle in the country.
The building of Baba Vida is tied to a legend, according to which a Danubian Bulgarian king who ruled at Vidin had three daughters: Vida, Kula, and Gamza. Prior to his death, he divided his realm among the three. Vida, the eldest, was given Vidin. Gamza and Kula married to drunkard nobles. Vida who was very beautiful vowed to choose the perfect man for herself.
Years went by, and she couldn’t like anyone. She built a castle for her and her people, which defended the city against enemy attacks in the time. The ruler lived to old times, but still alone. After her death, the grateful citizens gave her name to the castle, Baba Vida ( Granny Vida).
Baba Vida served as Vidin’s main defensive installation during the course of the Middle Ages. It served the capital of the last Bulgarian Kingdom led by Ivan Stratsimir before the fall under Ottoman slavery.
The fort is surrounded by a moat that once filled with water from the Danube River, and the bridge was mobile.
There is a prison in the fortress where torture devices can be seen. You can see the figures of executioner and prisoner, with whom tourists often take pictures. On one of the terraces are exposed tops and hair.
“Baba Vida” is one of the most preserved medieval defense facilities in Bulgaria.It is no coincidence that it is a movie-making decor for over 50 Bulgarian and foreign films.
The total length of the 15 million-year-old Magura cave is 2.5 km ( one of the largest in Bulgaria). The average annual temperature of the cave is 12 °C except for one room where the temperature is always 15 °C. I recommend to visit during the summer.
The very spacious site hosts music concerts during Christmas and Easter. You can enjoy the summer oper shows when Wagner giants, dwarves, gods come to live.
The Stunning Art of Magura Cave
The cave masterpieces are paintings dating from the Epipaleolithic, late Neolithic, and Early Bronze Age. This is the largest site of prehistoric rock paintings in all of Europe. The frescoes have been estimated to be made between 10.000 and 8.000 years ago. The drawings represent important events of the society that had occupied the Magura cave: religious ceremonies, hunting scenes and depictions of deities. They are unique on the Balkan peninsula.
The Fertility Dance and the Hunting Ceremony rank among the most noteworthy paintings.
One grouping from the Bronze Age has been interpreted as a solar calendar and this is the earliest solar calendar ever found in Europe.
The medium used to create the art was bat guano. More than 750 images have been identified.
Impressive in size is the “Great Stalacton” with a height of more than 20 m and a diameter of the base of 4 m.
The “fallen pine” is the largest stalagmite in the studied Bulgarian caves with a length of over 11 m and a diameter at the base of 6 m.
The cave is also used for the production of champagne wine, which matures under natural conditions similar to those used in the production of French champagne.
Belogradchik Fortress and Red Rocks
The fortress’s walls are reaching up to 12 m in height. Three separate fortified yards exist that are connected with each other through gates. The fortress has a total area of 10,210 square meters.
The initial fortress was constructed during the time when the region was part of the Roman Empire.
Initially, the Belogradchik Fortress served for surveillance and not strictly defense. Bulgarian tsar of Vidin Ivan Stratsimir extended the old fortress in the 14th century. He built fortified garrisons in front of the existing rock massifs. During Stratsimir’s rule, the Belogradchik Fortress became one of the most important strongholds in the region, second only to the tsar’s capital fortress of Vidin, Baba Vida.
During the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria, the fortress was captured by the Ottomans in 1396. They were forced to further expand the stronghold due to the intensified hajduk and insurrectionist activity in the region.
Belogradchik Rocks in their red magnificence
The Fairytale Rocks
The Belogradchik Rocks are a group of strangely shaped sandstone and conglomerate rock formations. The rocks vary in color from primarily red to yellow; they cover an area of 90 square kilometers and reach up to 200 m in height. Their reddish hue is due to the content of iron oxide.
Many rocks have fantastic shapes and are associated with interesting legends. They are often named for people or objects they are thought to resemble. This delightful natural phenomenon has been sculpted by the flowing rainwater and winds for 200 million years. This turned the shapeless stone into sculptures resembling mythical creatures, human silhouettes, animals and birds.
In the central group of rocks there are several notable formations: Adam and Eve, the Mushrooms, the Schoolgirl, the Bear, the Dervish, the Shepherd Boy, the Lion, the Camel, the Madonna, the Horseman, the Monks, the goddess Bendita, the Rebel Velko, and many other stone figures.
If you go out into the quiet city square at dusk and listen, you will hear the cry of a cuckoo – the Cuckoo rock is called. It really makes a sound similar to the bird whose name it bears.
The Belogradchik Rocks have been declared a Natural Landmark by the Bulgarian government and are a major tourist attraction in the region.
In the summer, the spectacular rocks are a background for oper shows of Verdi and Puccini.
Ledenika cave is about 300 m long and contains ten separate halls.
Its name, Ledenika, comes from its exquisite ice decoration formed during the winter at the beginning of the cave near the entrance.
Visitors enter through the Antechamber. The most popular hall is the Concert Hall. It is smaller but has an enormous variety of stalactites and stalagmites. A concert is conducted in it every year during the Days of Botev. The visitors pass a corridor called the Curtains, in order to reach the White Hall. The highest point of the cave is called the Seventh Heaven.
53 species live inside it, among which is the insect Light-hater, a small and blind cavernous beetle. It has adapted so well to the darkness, that if it goes out in the light, it dies.
Don’t forget to leave the coins in a small, not very deep pond. The belief is that it fulfills the desires of everyone who has a hand in it.
The Ledenika Amusement Park is located next to the cave and includes a visitor center with expositions and a 5D cinema, a rope garden, a climbing wall, an amphitheater, and a theme park. The visitor center offers walks on eco trails, sports games, and competitions for all ages, artistic events related to the natural features of the Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park, quizzes, carnivals, and many other entertainments.
One of the most reachable and impressive caves in Bulgaria is Prohodna Cave or God’s Eyes Cave.
Prohodna is the best-known attraction in the Karlukovo Gorge, one of the largest karst regions in Bulgaria and a popular location for speleology. The cave itself is quite different from the caves we usually visit. The sheer size makes it extremely impressive.
Prohodna is 262 meters long, which makes it the longest cave passage in Bulgaria.
The cave has two entrances which lie opposite one another, known respectively as the Small Entrance and the Big Entrance. The size of the Big Entrance of Prohodna makes it suitable for bungee jumping. It is among the popular spots in Bulgaria for that activity.
Prohodna is most notable for the two equal-sized holes in the ceiling of its middle chamber. The holes, formed through erosion, let in light into the cave. The formation is popularly known as God’s eyes or Devil’s eyes. The phenomenon was featured in the 1988 Bulgarian film Time of Violence.
When viewed from a certain angle, they even resemble a face that looks down sharply, and in wet weather, tears seem to flow from them.
According to archaeologists, in ancient times the cave was an important occult site for the locals, where various rituals were performed. On March 21, when the equinox was springtime, a fertility ritual was performed. On this day, a ray of sunlight passes through the interior of the cave, which warms it at a specific angle.
Prohodna can be reached from the National Cave House. A walkway starting from home leads to the large entrance of the cave. The building of the Cave House is unique in its location. It is built in a slit on the rock, and its shape, viewed from above, resembles a bat. The natural rock was used for some of the walls. The Cave House Restaurant offers unforgettable views of the Iskar River Valley and the Prohodna Cave.
It is best to take the table on the far right of the terrace!
The mountain lodge is from the communist era – which you can quickly feel when you enter the premises.
As a conclusion, examining North-West Bulgaria is as a must-see trip, which will open your senses for the invigorating power of nature and the impressive examples of mediaeval architecture in our lands.