Sacred Rocks 1 – Big Tulpan
Hard to find megalithic sanctuary at the Greece-Bulgarian border
For this episode of the series Sacred Rocks, we plan to visit the megalithic sanctuary called “well” near the village of Garlo (Throat). The bad weather almost forced us to give up, but the desire for adventure and discovery prevails. Again we are a group of three – me, Krassimir, and Diana.
We leave Sofia at 10:00, this time on Saturday. The sky is dark, the forecast is about 2-3 degrees Celsius and snowfall, but we hope that the bad weather will give a specific atmosphere to the places we will visit.
We take the road through Bozhurishte and the surrounding villages in the direction of Breznik. Here is our first stop – the church “St. Petka” also named “St. Mati”(Holy Mother), which clearly shows the connection of Christianity in these lands with the cult of the Mother Goddess.
The clergywoman greets us very warmly, explains to us about the self-service candles and even notes that it is not a problem to take pictures inside the church, because she sees that Krassimir and I are carrying cameras.
The oldest parts of the church are from the XV – XVI century. The temple was demolished and rebuilt. There is nothing left of the mediaeval frescoes. The ones that can be seen at the moment are from the 18th and 19th centuries. Even they intertwine in an interesting way and in some places it is difficult to say which fresco is old and which is newer. The church has a number of interesting features – according to the plan it consists of three parts, each located at a different level from the others and descends several steps from the newest through the middle to the oldest part. The oldest (eastern) part is covered with a wooden vault, which probably replaced an older domed roof. It strikes me that in many places in the church the double-headed eagle is present as an element – in the carpet in front of the iconostasis and in the wood carvings of the wooden chairs arranged along the walls. According to some sources on the Internet, the appearance of the double-headed eagle in some Bulgarian churches can be explained as part of the symbolism of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Specifically, the one depicted on the round carpet holds two swords – to be honest, I could not find an equivalent image on the Internet. Most of the images I have found hold one sword and one sceptre, but an eagle holding 2 swords – there is none. A mystery!
A unique feature of the church is its second iconostasis, from which I apply several photos below. For me personally, some of the icons look a little strange and unorthodox, especially against the background of those I am used to seeing in our churches.
The carvings in the middle and newest part of the church are also impressive, but the artificial flowers… why should there be artificial flowers next to the altars ??
We say goodbye to the cleric and jump back in our car parked in front of a sign, which reads “WIFI4E Free Internet Zone. Free internet for Europeans.”
On the way out of Breznik we decided to take a look at the new church, which is located not far from the old one. The facade looks interesting, it is made in neo-Byzantine style, I like it and take some shots, then we continue to the megalithic well, which is our main goal today.
We turn towards the village of Garlo and after the end of the village we take a rather muddy and in some places snowy dirt road. My two companions have to step out of the vehicle near one of the last houses in the village to keep the branches of two nearby trees aside, which otherwise will definitely peel off the paint on the entire right half of the car. The road is not very hospitable, but we are boldly moving forward.
If you travel by car in this section, you must look carefully to the right so as not to miss the so-called mediaeval Christian cemetery, also called by locals “Latin Cemetery” (if you are on foot, you can not pass it unless it is summer and the grass has covered everything). There is a blue sign that reads “MONUMENT OF CULTURE. PROTECTED BY THE LAW” which itself looks quite archaic. The sign is hidden among the bushes and grasses, so one can easily overlook it.
In fact, this is not a cemetery, but a consecration place. Some of the crosses here (round, with the simplest forms) are from the VI century, and others are newer – from the XVII-XIX centuries. Two of these crosses are built into the interior of the church in Breznik, where we were less than an hour ago. There are many theories about these crosses – that they are associated with the Celts, Templars, Bogomils. If you are looking for more information, the most reliable source in my opinion at the moment is an episode of the bTV show “Mystical Bulgaria”, dedicated to the cemetery and the church in Breznik.
There is also a Thracian rock sanctuary nearby, but we were unable to visit it. The sun alternately hides and shows among the clouds and we shoot quite good photos of the crosses, irrelevant to whether they are Celtic, Templar or Bogomil. They are definitely very interesting and worth a visit (while there are still some).
The muddy tracks become deeper and deeper and after the next turn we reach a very deep and wide puddle, which deters us from continuing by car. There is another kilometre to the Krasava dam, which is the starting point for reaching the megalithic well, which we decide to walk. After a short climb through a pine grove we reach the shore of the dam. The bridge to the guard tower attracts us irresistibly, so we take a slight detour to cross it and look down at the frosty waters blown by the wind. Then we return to the wall of the dam and along it we reach the neighbouring hill, which leads to the well.
If I say that the path is clearly marked and you can’t go wrong, I will be lying big time. We wandered up and down for 5-6 minutes, after which Krassimir noticed a barely perceptible path that cuts diagonally along the slope of the hill through the surrounding pine forest. With a little effort we climb the path, the beginning of which is about 1.5 m higher than the wide and well-trodden road, leading in the opposite direction of our choice. Along the path there are signs with blue plastic thread knots on some of the trees and bushes, there are also wooden signs, which, however, blend so skillfully with the environment that any self-respecting chameleon would blush with anger at the sight of them.
We emerge on a platform overlooking the dam, again there is a difficult section and then a relatively wide, but quite overgrown path that runs parallel to a barbed wire fence. After less than a kilometre we enter into an open area with water catchment, behind which according to the descriptions of other visitors there is a path. We ignore their instruction and continue straight, more on intuition, following the terrain and partly with the available maps in Google Maps, then in one place we debate again for a while where to continue, until we see another hidden wooden sign that clearly indicates the right direction (namely – turn 90 degrees to the left and return in the direction of the dam). After another 200-300 metres the path goes directly to the megalithic well.
I describe the route in such detail in case someone decides to use my description as a guide to get to a place that, believe me, is really hard to find. I will also attach a map with a route, which can be loaded into Google Maps if necessary.
At the time of the site’s discovery in the 1970s, additional walls and sheds were apparently built, which collapsed over time and now, apart from bringing confusion as to whether it is a megalithic site or something else, play no other role. My first reaction when I saw them was: “This is it”, because I remembered the walls from the photos I had seen on the Internet, while Krassimir was much more sceptical and categorically rejected the possibility that this was the object until he saw the well and the stairs to it.
And indeed, the seemingly neglected remains of the walls do not in any way speak of the 30-century-old treasure they preserve. Much has been written about the well on the Internet (although the same material has been copied over and over again), so I will not describe it here, but I will give the floor to Krassimir, who summarises the facts quite well in the 4th episode of our series “Sacred Rocks”.
It is worth saying a few words about the discoverer of the place – Prof. Dimitrina Mitova-Djonova (1924-2015). She dedicates a large part of her scientific career to the Proto-Sardinian Nuraghic culture, which is believed to include the megalithic well we visited.
I can only share my indignation and despair that such an ancient architectural monument, the only one of its kind in the Balkans, has been left at the mercy of natural disasters and casual tourists who are struggling to reach it. It is inconceivable that neither the state nor the archeological science in Bulgaria is interested in such a site, otherwise I cannot explain the neglected state in which it is at the moment.
This applies in full force to the other rock sanctuaries that you will find in our series and in general to the megalithic structures in Bulgaria.
As we take pictures and look at the well, single snowflakes begin to fly, which gradually become more and more and towards the end of the trip form a heavy snowfall.
We return on the way back, misreading the direction AGAIN! The whole area is very desolate and overgrown and even in winter, when the bushes and trees are not deciduous, it is difficult to follow the right direction.
We return to the car, trying to move mainly on the snowy areas, because the mud is serious and sticks quite hard on our hiking boots.
Our next stop is the mediaeval church “St. Nikola ”in the village of Lilyantsi. There is no way you can come here by chance, unless you are planning a purposeful visit. In one of the Breznik villages we came across a rather pompous stop sign and a traffic light in the middle of nowhere, where the traffic definitely does not suggest such facilities, so at the entrance to Lilyantsi we joke that there is probably a roundabout. And, oh, surprise – in the centre of the village there is really a widening, and in the middle of it is a pile of wood, which we have to go around to choose one of the four possible road branches. We turn right and soon see the church and the village cemetery on a hill by the road. The church dates back to the 16th century, was buried underground during the Ottoman Empire, and rebuilt in 1870. During our visit, it was locked and we could not see it from the inside, but according to svetimesta.com, there are valuable frescoes that are in need of urgent recovery.
We return in the direction of Breznik to visit the last site planned for today’s tour, namely the ruined church in Konska village. There are no signs, we rely on descriptions from other tourists on the Internet and Google Maps and boldly embark on a dirt road through rural fields, as a result of which the car is skillfully masked with mud up to the roof. However, we do not find the church, so we return to the asphalt road and enter the village to ask someone. We find a young man who is so kind as to accompany us in his car and show us the ruins that we have just passed. Only one facade of the church has been preserved, and it is so densely overgrown with trees that it is impossible to see it from the road if one is not familiar with its exact location. The sky is pressed by dark clouds, snow is falling down and the atmosphere is very gothic – perfect for taking pictures of ruins, which of course we do, despite the already quite low temperatures and our frozen fingers and cameras.
We are going back to Sofia, but not before our return we fulfill the promise we made during our last tour – to eat in one of the local pubs. We stop at the “Babino Hanche” tavern (Old Granma’s Pub) and rush into the well-heated single room (if I don’t count the kitchen) with relief, because we are already seriously frozen. The wood stove is booming, almost all the tables are occupied and (maybe) the grandmother of the same name, the owner of the restaurant, greets us with a smile and talkativeness. With an appetite that probably does not meet our real hunger and our group of three, we order a lot of things that we surprisingly eat without leftovers – beans, meatballs, burgers, leek eggs, ribs, bread. Everything is extremely tasty, the atmosphere is unadulterated and non-touristy, a fat cat sleeps blissfully on the bench next to me, and then crawls into my lap and begs for a meal from the table. If there is still such a thing as a rural idyll, then here, in “Babino Hanche” you can find it unchanged from the time of Vazov and Elin Pelin.
Well eaten, we reluctantly dive into the early March evening and through the shifting snow, we head back to Sofia.
Hard to find megalithic sanctuary at the Greece-Bulgarian border
Extraordinary megalithic ritual space, which is not scientifically explored till today
These medieval churches are not megalithic, but most of them are positioned near ancient megaliths
The megalithic complex Cherna Niva (Black Field) has not been studied till now and is very mysterious and full of artefacts.
First ever detailed video footage from this ancient sacred place.