Kardzhali – Mysticism & Natural Masterpieces
This story will discover all exciting places in the region of Kardzhali, which are а unique combination of natural beauty: The Stone Mushrooms, the Stone Wedding, the mystical cave the Womb, Thracian sanctuaries: Perperikon, Tatul, and Eagle Rocks, and architectural sightseeings: Kardzhali Dam, Studen Kladenets Dam & Fortress Monyak, the Devil’s Bridge and the Historical Museum of Kardzhali.
In fact, the highest concentration of rock sanctuaries in Bulgaria is in the region of Kardzhali, and more than a hundred sacral sites are registered here.
Here is a map of all the soul-stirring places mentioned above, located in the Eastern Rhodopes mountain in South Bulgaria.
Brief History of the Region
For over three millennia, this region is the center of various civilizations and cultures. There were settlements inhabited by Thracians, Hellenes, and Romans; Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians, Byzantines, Latins, and Ottoman Turks. Not far away is the remarkable ancient city-sanctuary of Perperikon.
Because of its important strategic and economic importance, the Eastern Rhodopes have been constantly subjected to enemy invasions.
Under Ottoman domination, the Bulgarian fortresses in the region fall under the pressure of the Asian invasion, and a large part of the population was slaughtered, enslaved, assimilated.
The Kardzhali Regional Historical Museum
The museum is one of the largest and most remarkable museums in Bulgaria.
The building is designed with elements of Moroccan, Arabic and Middle Asian architecture. When I saw it for the first time, it reminded me of a palace from the tales of Sheherehaza. Due to its unique architecture, the building has been declared as a monument of culture of national importance.
It contains the finds of Perperikon and Tatul.
The Wall of Kardzhali Dam
The second important place in Kardzhali before going to the sites in the surroundings of the city, it is the impressive Wall of Dam Kardzhali. It is the only arc wall on the Balkan peninsula and one of the few in the world that towers over the city itself.
I recommend rambling on the top of the wall where you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of a part of the dam and the city and you will remain breathlessly!
The most important sightseeing in the region of Kardzhali is definitely Perperikon. It is located 20 km from Kardzhali.
It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria.
It is an archaeological complex in the Eastern Rhodopes consisting of a large megalith sanctuary from 8,000 years ago during the Stone Age, monuments of antiquity and a medieval fortress.
In the Thracian times, it was a sacred rock city, a capital, and a fortress with a royal palace.
Later, there lived Romans, Goths, Romans, and Bulgarians.
The archaeological site occupies a rocky peak, whose name is the Peak of the Gods.
The Rock Sanctuary is a massive mountain massif in which every span of the rock surface has been hand-treated.
The cult activity of the rocky peak begins with the cult to God-Sun from people of the Stone Age.
At the very top, there is a large pool and a huge circular altar used later for cult practices devoted to God Dionysus. The sanctuary has been sought for a century.
It, along with that of Apollo in Delphi, are the two most significant oracles in ancient times.
According to legends, two fateful prophecies were made from the altar of this temple. The first predetermined the great conquests and glory of Alexander the Great, and the second, which was made several centuries later, was the power of the first Roman Emperor Guy Julius Caesar Octavian Augustus.
Step by step the rock facilities grew and became a city with fortified walls, palaces, and suburbs.
At the end of the 14th century, Ottoman Turks conquered and destroyed the fortress.
The Stone Mushrooms
The natural phenomenon Stone mushrooms is located about 20 km from Kardzhali.
The mushroom rock formations are sculpted into volcanic tufts.
The pink and green colors, the blue and black spots are due to different minerals. Depending on which part of the day you visit them, their shades change.
The mushrooms were formed 20 million years ago when it was a seafloor. In addition, the influence of moisture and wind gave them strange “mushroom” shapes with gigantic proportions.
The Stone Wedding
The Stone Wedding are rock formations located 5 km from the town of Kardzhali.
Interesting is the legend that tells about these rock formations – when the wedding went, everyone who saw the face of the bride got frozen. So, at a wedding, a wind blew, took off the veil hiding the face of the bride, and all the wedding guests were frozen instantly!
Some figures are easily ruined because they are made of pure tuffs. In contrast, these rocks, which have metal impurities, are significantly healthier. Some of the figures are up to 10 meters high.
The beautiful rocks are formed from volcanic ash and rock fragments and resemble human figures, horses, birds, and obelisks.
Tatul is a prehistoric cult site – one of the most puzzling megalithic monuments on the territory of Bulgaria – a pyramid-shaped sarcophagus that has no analog among the numerous megalithic monuments registered by archaeologists on the territory of Bulgaria and the world. This is the best-preserved temple complex cut into a monolithic rock scale.
It is located 28 km from Kardzhali.
The excavations have found unique objects related to the solar cult of the Sun God as а three-wheel model for the Heavenly Chariot.
According to historians, the sarcophagus, the crossed pyramid and the side chamber illustrate the funerals of Orpheus and the Thracian king Rezos, who, according to mythology, reigned in the southern part of the Rhodope Mountains and took part in the legendary Trojan War.
Studen Kladenets Dam & Fortress Monyak
Studen Kladenets Dam is the third largest dam in Bulgaria.
There are а couple of islands reachable by a boat.
Its shores are inhabited by various rare and protected birds – vultures, eagles, falcons, and others. There are protected areas and reserves.
Fortress Monyak is located at the dam. It is one of the highest and largest medieval fortresses in the Rhodope Mountains. Access to it is difficult because the terrain is steep, somewhere almost vertical.
The fortress had an important strategic role because it guarded the passage Iron Gate and the fortifications of the medieval town, located around the monastery of Saint John Prodrom, situated in today’s town of Kardzhali.
In 1206 the fortress was besieged by the Latins during the Fourth Crusade. Here was crowned the second and final emperor of the Latin Empire, Henry (the brother of the dead Baldwin Flanders).
Once you reach the fortress, an amazing view of the Studen Kladenets Dam and the town of Kardzhali can be seen. The experience is worth the difficult climb.
The famous bridge is located in a picturesque gorge 40 km from Kardzhali.
The architectural miracle was built at the beginning of the 16th century by order of Sultan Selim I as part of a road linking the Upper Thracian Lowland with Aegean Sea. Once there was a Roman bridge, part of the important ancient Via Ignatcia, connecting the Aegean Sea and Thrace.
The legend: for centuries, the bridge has been enveloped in mysteries and puzzles. A master took the challenge of raising a bridge over the turbulent river, although all before him failed in the venture. He did it great and for a record time but soon he died.
Here the beliefs whisper that Satan had a finger in the building of the bridge. The devil promised the master to share a secret that would make his creation forever if he could finish it in 40 days. But if he fails, he will take his soul. Dimitar had dealt with the devilish task and Satan fulfilled his promise. Unfortunately soon after that, the gifted master died and carried the secret knowledge into the grave.
It is believed that from Devil’s Bridge you can see the face of Satan if you look at the waters of the Arda River between 11.00 and 12.00 at noon when the bridge and its reflection form a circle.
I tested this on my own and in fact, I was able to see such silhouette in the water!
The rock-cult complex is located 30 km from Kardzhali.
The Eagle rocks are famous for the carved trapezoidal niches, of which now are preserved 97. Under the rocks are observed traces of altars and other cult structures. Most likely the niches were used for rituals to the sun.
This type of rock niches were the main burial facilities of the Thracians where urns were laid with the ashes of ordinary people, and the rulers were in tombs.
The spectacular ensembles of hollows cut into the rocks are always carved at high heights on the vertical walls of prominent remote canaries and arrays, mostly on the sun-shaded side.
The niches symbolized the door between the world of the living and that of the dead.
Another theory is that they were used for a one-act ritual, a special act to place sacred objects inside. On the day of its initiation (ie, the ritual of transition from one status to another), a young man would pass a trial hanging over the abyss between heaven and earth, and left a gift to the Great Mother Goddess in the native niche.
Cave The Womb
The last sightseeing in the region of Kardzhali which I would like to present is the mystical Cave The Womb.
It is located 23 km from Kardzhali.
It is a natural horizontal slit in a rock that has been further cut and shaped by a human arm resembling a uterus.
At the bottom of the ancient cave sanctuary, there is a carved altar that is a bit more than a meter high. There is a crack in the upper part of the cave, where a sunbeam enters for a few minutes each day at 12 o’clock. The action embodies fertilization, the sacred marriage between the rock and the sun, the revival of life. The ritual is partial because only on a certain day of the year the sun reaches the uterine altar.
The dome of the cave gives the acoustics of the room a special sound.
According to the ancient sources, these kind of caves are the temples of the Mother Goddess. The cult is associated with the so-called “hierogamy” – the belief that in order for the Thracian New Year to begin, the king-priest must symbolically die and reborn.
The route to the cave is around 1 hour, there are steep sections and at the final part before the entrance, you need to climb a wooden ladder.
The visit of the cave is worth due to the stunning panoramic views on the way and the unique mystical character of the cave which deeply impress our mind and give us the feeling of being ‘reborn‘.