The Rhodope Mountains cover a large area, approaching 15,000 square kilometers, and they separate the Aegean Sea from the Balkans. In the past, these Mountains were sacred to the Thracian tribes, and also to ancient mysterious peoples who inhabited Bulgaria before them, and erected impressive stone monuments on top of the cliffs and in the most beautiful places in nature.
These are very green and rugged Mountains, with a rocky Karst landscape and dense forests, which make the large massif of Mountains almost impenetrable. At the entrances to them there are several impressive Fortresses such as Asenovgrad. The length of the Mountains is about 250 km, from the Sakar Mountains in the east to the Pirin Mountains in the west, and their width is about 100 km, from the plains of northern Greece to the Thracian plain. Within them are some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Balkans, lakes, waterfalls, ski resorts, canyons, sites and rocky peaks. The Mountains are relatively low and allow farming and grazing. Despite the traffic difficulties, and perhaps because of them, the Mountains are inhabited and one finds in them an interesting ethnic and cultural mosaic. A person can “forget himself” in these Mountains.
A large population of people called Pomaks (about 250,000) lives in Rhodope. These are Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam and began to forge a separate identity for themselves. Some claim that they are a continuation of the ancient Thracians, while others claim that they were medieval Bogomils who became Muslims during the Turkish occupation. Either way, the Pomaks live in their own villages and towns, sometimes mixed, and have a local dialect, tradition of poetry, Folklore and local beliefs, many of them believe in Orpheus as a prophet.
The musical instrument of the Rhodope Mountains is the great Kaba Gaida flute. The local tradition developed a wonderful Singing that is known today as the secret of Bulgarian singing voices – women who produce voice from their throats, the most powerful sounds that echo the expanses of the Mountains and their landscapes.
Here are some important Megalithic sites in the Rhodope (Especially in the East):
“The Deaf Stones” (Gluhite Kamuni)
It is the easternmost Megalithic site in the Rhodope Mountains, and one of the most beautiful among them, and called “Deaf Stones”. It has hundreds of trapezoidal niches engraved and carved into giant rocks tens of meters high, stairways leading to the tops of the rocks, a pool carved into the rock, and a kind of tomb with a rock bed. But all this is null and void compared to the combination of the giant rocks with the forest and the ancient grandeur of the place.
In sites like these, it seems as if the rocks are towering – emerging above the trees like ancient figures. The archaeologists attribute the place to the Thracians, and certainly they sanctified it and used it, but its sanctity is probably much earlier. There are many other places where such rock-cut niches appear, and this is one of the great mysteries of the Megalithic culture: who carved them? For what Reason? They are usually about a meter wide and more than a meter high, and about half a meter or more deep.
The groups of trapezoids number several tens to more than a hundred trapezoidal niches, and they are located on impossible cliff heights, but those that are visible from a distance. They look a bit like old computer cards. No one knows how the people who carved them (whoever they were) did it, how they got to these places.
It is possible that the phenomenon of trapezoidal niches carved into the rock is related to unknown past cultures. One of the places where there is a large collection of trapezoids is near the village of Lubmites and it consists of a large complex where, in addition to the trapezoids, there are rock-hewn stairs to the top of the rocks, tombs, a mausoleum and more. Another collection of trapezoids can be found on the way to the vagina cave Utroba and in other places such as Ardino near Kardzhali. The “Deaf Stones” site is the easternmost point where the trapezoids appear and one of the impressive one among them.
Dolni Glavanak stone circle
In the Eastern Rhodope region, in the drainage basin of the Arda River, is the only free standing stone circle in Bulgaria that has been discovered so far. One of the things that characterize the Megalithic cultures in the rest of the World is the construction of stone circles. Everyone knows the stone circle of Stonehenge, but did you know that there are also stone circles in Spain, France, Scandinavia, Italy, Greece, and even in distant places such as Armenia and Georgia, Jordan and Israel? It seems as if for some reason the ancients chose to build the same type of huge Megalithic Monuments all over the world, some say it’s to channel the earth’s energies and intensify them.
The stone circle of Dolni Glavanak is at the top of a rocky hill and is not very large; Its diameter is 10 meters and it consists of 12 stones reaching a height of 1.5 meters, some of which are pyramid shaped. According to the archaeologists, it is nearly 3,000 years old, but the dating is based on findings from the place that might belong to people who arrived there in other periods after its construction. Next to it there are two smaller circles with a diameter of 3 and 6 meters, together they form an array of three stone circles that possibly reflect in their relationships and dimensions some sort of arrangement of stars.
Most of the stones are local basalt stones, but I also found stones of another type – marble stones and not only black volcanic rocks, which may have opened the energy of the circle, as it also exists in other places in the world, where between a circle or a complex of stones of one type there is a stone of another type.
The eastern region of the Rhodope Mountains is low and warm relative to the rest of the Mountain regions in Bulgaria; it has fertile valleys and abundant Rivers, so it was suitable for early human settlement. In the past the area was a center of gold mining and wine growing. It was the Land of the Bessi tribes, which consisted of a class of warrior priests who believed in the God Dionysos Sabazios, and cultivated his sacred center at the site of Perperikon.
In Perperikon there is a hill that rises above its surroundings and is characterized by prominent rocks, and on it there was initially an ancient Megalithic site, on which a Thracian City of temples was established, which was a kind of “Jerusalem” of the Bessi tribes, the place of the central temple to Dionysus Sabazios.
At the top of the hill is the Acropolis, a thousands-year-old sacred complex surrounded by walls with temples and government buildings. Below the Acropolis on the south side is the ancient temple of Dionysus, in the most dramatic area of the cliffs, at the edge of the Mountain. The entrance to the temple is from the east between the rocks, through an opening leading to rooms carved into the rock. On the border of the cliff are a kind of large hewn chests covered with flat stones that makes the floor, where the treasures of the temple were probably stored.
From there, stairs lead to a hall open to the sky where a king or priest sits, and then there are more stairs to a courtyard under huge rocks, in the center of which is a circular altar that rises to a height of 3 meters and on which a sacred fire was always burning. According to the descriptions of the classical writers, the Thracian Priests would pour wine on the fire, and by the smoke coming out of the fire they could predict fortunes. Alexander the Great came here and so did the father of Augustus.
A processional way carved in the rock between two natural stone walls leads to the temple, in the areas below the temple you find water pools carved in the rock, and the remains of an ancient lower City.
From the temple there is an exit to a room that looks like a small Odeon (room for listening to music) and next to it another room that stores huge and ancient wine jars. From there, the stairs lead to an impressive Megalithic gate passing through a thick wall on the way to the upper City – Acropolis, which was inhabited until the Middle Ages. You can see remains of temples and ancient ruins, water pools, and above them remains of Churches and buildings, and even a corner tower from the Middle Ages. The view from the top is astonishing and extremely impressive.
According to the archaeologists, the place began to be sacred already 8,000 years ago and maybe more, because in the River at the foot of the Mountain they found gold in large chunks already in ancient times.
Perperikon is a huge site reminiscent in its size, shape and beauty of Delphi and other sacred sites in the Hellenic world. The multitude of wine presses at the site strengthens the hypothesis that it was the temple of the “disappeared” Dionysus, the second most important prophetic center in the Hellenic-Greek world. The crushing of the grapes in the process of making wine symbolized the dismemberment of the body of Dionysus Zagros by the Titans, and the formation of the drink symbolized his rebirth and final victory. The Thracian God Sabazios was identified with Dionysus.
About 20 km from the City of Kardzhali is one of the most mysterious sites in the Rhodope Mountains, a place considered to be the tomb of Orpheus, an ancient giant Megalith that looks like a human head from the air. According to the archaeologists who excavated the place, the beginning of its use as a sacred place is 6,000 years ago The site was probably a natural sacred place that was designed into an ancient temple, perhaps the legendary Mount Pangaion on which Orpheus would climb to see the sunrise and bow to Apollo. If this is the case, then the legend of Orpheus is much older than people think and he lived and worked 6,000 years ago, as claimed by the “The White Brotherhood”, and not at the time of the formation of Greek mythology.
Tatul is actually not a high hill, but it offers amazing views, and there is a large block of rock on top of which is an empty grave, which is a kind of depression open to the sky. Only heads of Thracian tribes would be buried in such places. According to the legend, Orpheus was buried at the top of the Mountain and was the son of the king of Thrace, a fact that strengthens the identification of the place in connection with him.
On the side of the empty tomb on the rock at the top of the hill, there is a semi-circular alcove in the shape of a rising sun. The empty tomb and the alcove, which is also a type of empty tomb, are connected by a drainage channel. The empty tomb and the alcove of the shining sun on its side hint at the afterlife expected for those who follow the Orphic path. On the narrow side of the rock of the tomb is a rock-hewn chair, of a priest or king, and in front of it a square where perhaps sacred music and dance ceremonies took place.
A ceremonial road leads to the tomb at the top of the hill and it passes through a set of stairs, lower terraces, and a water facility that was probably used for bathing and purification. It was a purification of one kind, and in addition to it there were rituals of fire which constituted a purification of another kind. Purification and refinement, the distillation of the divine element in man from the titanic creational element, constituted the essence of the Orphic way.
In later times, during the kingdoms of the Ordisians and the Bessi in the 4th century BC, a small temple building was built next to the hill, the foundations of which still exist today.
Not far from Tatul, near the village of Raven, on top of a high rock saddle, surrounded by forests, there is another ancient and mysterious Megalithic complex, where you can find two lowered rocky plazas with grooves in them and stones and royal thrones around them. Similar to other sites in the Balkans (such as Kokino in Macedonia) the place was used as an ancient sun and star observatory, directed towards the solar days (the equinoxes, the shortest and longest day of the year). The ancient Thracians were engaged in sun worship and probably also in star gazing.
In addition to the plazas (one is elliptical with a diameter of 10 meters and the other is circular with a diameter of 15 meters), you can find a cult cave that apparently symbolizes the womb of the earth. In addition, there is a cliff with trapezoidal niches carved on it, rock altars, stones and shaped rocks. It is a magical place that was a focus of human worship starting from the 5th millennium BC to the 2nd century AD, and today is used by followers of the “New Age” in Bulgaria to celebrate the short day and the long day of the year.
In front of the hill there is a center, a great Sufi Monastery (taka) of the Bektashi order and the Turkish Alevi movement, built in honor of the saint Elmali Baba. The road to the Megalithic site of Herman Kaya leaves from the Tekke gate.
Sites near Kardzhali
Kardzhali is a relatively large City in the southeast of the Rhodope Mountains, not far from the Turkish border. It is a low-lying area centered on the fertile valleys and lakes of the Arda River, which are used as resorts.
The drainage basin of the Arda River was considered sacred in ancient times because its tributaries produced gold and metals. Up the River is a site of huge rocks called Dazhdovnitsa, the rocks are decorated with typical trapezoidal niches and among them a rock with a woman’s face carved into it. The site is special in that the niches are very high above the ground (up to 45 meters, it is not clear how they got there) and the rocks near it contain metals and also ammonium nitrate which is used to produce gunpowder (there is a theory that the ancient Thracians knew how to produce gunpowder and used it in their rituals).
The giant woman’s face on the rock at the site of Dazhdovnitsa leads – directs the way to one of the most mysterious and thought-provoking places in Bulgaria – the Utroba Cave. This is a natural cave that was designed and expanded by the ancients at the top of a cliff and it looks like a Vegina – a huge womb. The Thracian king would enter the cave once a year while a ray of sun would penetrate inside at noon on the longest day of the year, in order to be reborn and confirm his rule and kingship. He returned as it were to the womb and was reborn on this particular day.
Under the cave there is a kind of place of worship, and on the Mountain above it there are other places of worship carved into the rock. This type of womb caves is typical of the Goddess culture in the Balkans and is also found in other places such as Lepenitsa Cave in the Belogradchik Hills. The cave is natural but the ancients designed it to look like a female genitalia. The only way to reach the cave is by climbing on foot for an hour from the nearby valley.
The center of the Rhodope Mountains is a beautiful and wooded area, high Mountains cut by deep canyons, where the largest fir forests in the Balkans exist, hundreds of bears, and some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe are found. In the northern part of it one finds the Megalithic site of Belintash
The meaning of the name “Belintash” is “the rock of knowledge” in Turkish, it is a large rock at the top of the Mountains with engravings and depressions made (cut) thousands of years ago; one of the theories about the place is that the etchings, especially of the cups, reflect constellations of stars, and the place was a kind of ancient observatory. On clear nights they would fill the goblets cut in the rock with pure water, and the stars in the sky would be reflected or captured in them, and so the arrangement of the cups is similar to arrangements of important star constellations. Another suggestion is that they would fill the recesses with oil and burn it in such a way as to resemble stars. The idea of capturing cosmic energies in the earth by building receptacles with the same frequency is very ancient, and appears in the pyramids in Egypt (the Giza pyramids are built like the stars in Orion’s belt).
Even if the cups were not filled with water or oil, and the stars were not reflected in the rock etching, there were more than 300 small cup-shaped cutting on the rock surface arranged in the form of the constellations that were significant to the ancients such as the Little Bear, Orion, Leo, and more. There are those who say that the alcoves in the tops of the rocks were made in honor of the dead and offerings were placed in them to the Sky God, and there are others who argue that they are connected with offering to the dead.
Both ways, the site is connected to the summit of a nearby volcano crater called Karadjov, and there are two tumulus (burial mounds) at the entrance to the large rock plateau that towers over its surroundings. The rock has energetic properties which mean that in the cold winter days it remains free of snow whilst the surrounding Mountains are covered. The Belintash rock plateau is several hundred meters long and part of it is artificially shaped. People report supernatural phenomena in the place, legends tell of alien landings on it and connect the place to biblical flood. The scientists, on the other hand, argue that it is a Thracian site from the 5th century BC associated with the God Sabazios.
The Belintash site is one of three apexes of an energetic triangle in the center of the northern Rhodope Mountains, the other two apexes are the Cross Mountain (which is described in the Christian route part), and the Thracian Karadzhov Kamak site. The three apexes are located on three Mountain peaks that are at the same height (around 1,400 meters), and when connected by a straight lines they form an equilateral triangle. Legends say that Belintash belongs to the people and is the positive vertex; the Cross Forest belongs to the Gods and is the neutral vertex, while the rocky peaks of vertex Kamak belong to the dead and are the negative vertex of the triangle.
Yagodina and Trigrad
In the Rhodope Mountains there are several mighty canyons with caves, flowing water, waterfalls, and rock walls that are a paradise for Mountaineers. Yagodina is one of the most beautiful of them all, an impressive canyon where the width between the walls reaches only a few meters, and yet there is a road and a River inside it. In the middle of the canyon is a stalactite cave which is the most beautiful in the area, and inside it were discovered the remains of a prehistoric human settlement. From the cave area you can go up to the picturesque villages and the plateaus above the canyon, where there are wonderful observation points such as the “Eagle Observation”. It is a bridge hanging over the abyss from which you can look down to a depth of 300 meters. Further up the canyon there is another cave of the ancient man from the Neolithic period, where ancient grains of wheat were found. At the top of the Mountains there are sacred Megalithic sites of rock-hewn bowls, which were also used by the Thracians.
Near Yagodina is the Trigard Canyon with vertical stone walls hundreds of meters high and cave openings inside on of them. As in Yagodina, a River flows Inside the canyon and there is a road leading to the village of Trigrad adjacent to it, the name Trigrad implies that the village is made out of combining three villages (tri – three, grad – village) and the interesting thing is that like other places in the Rhodope Muslims and Christians Bulgarians live together in peace. At the beginning of the canyon is the “Devil’s Throat” cave, a huge Karst cave where the Trigard River disappears in the bowls of the earth, creating on the way a loud waterfall inside a hall in the cave called the “Hall of Thunder”.
Through this cave system, according to the local legend, Orpheus went down to Underworld. The River disappears in the thick of the earth and emerges further down the canyon only after two hours during which its course is unknown, and everything it sweeps away remains in the thick of the earth (boards, etc.). According to the belief of the ancients, it reaches the River Styx which is at the border of the underworld, and therefore it is possible, if you follow its course, to reach the gates of the underworld.
At the bottom of the cave is the fountain of tears where Orpheus cried after finally losing his beloved Eurydice. From this place the light of the opening is already visible in the distance, just as described in the mythological story. Below the spring you can see the flow of the River and the rocks that closed the opening over Eurydice forever.
In front of Devils throat Cave, in the massive cliff walls on the other side of the canyon, there is a large Karst cave in which prehistoric human remains were found. In the valley that opens up the River is the village of Trigard and above it in the wooded Mountains Megalithic sites of worship and rock cut sanctuaries were found.
The canyons of Trigrad and Yagodina are one of the highlights of a visit to Bulgaria. In this high area of the Mountains is also the town of Devin, where you can find hot springs and several good spa hotels. From Devin there is a route along the Devin River that goes into a beautiful canyon with a series of waterfalls and ponds, suspension bridges, and amazing natural landscapes. If you continue with the paths up the Mountains, you will discover remains of ancient places of worship and remote Christian chapels.
Gradishte Thracian Sanctuary
In the western Rhodope there are several Megalithic sites hidden among the extensive fir forests, and most they have a common characteristic: these are groups of huge upright rocks that rise to heights of tens of meters, which look like figures standing together, which the ancients designed as enormous animals or humans.
One of them is the complex of Gradishte, located on the main road from the Rhodope Mountains to the Pirin Mountains, immediately at the beginning of the descent towards the valley of the Nestos River and the town of Goce Delchev. These are three high rocky peaks at a height of nearly 800 meters, overlooking a wonderful landscape. The place was already consecrated in the 5th millennium BC. The rocks resemble various life forms and are arranged according to sacred geometry, on one of them a huge ancient human face can be seen, some claim that they were designed by aliens.
The site was discovered in the 2000s by Professor Todor Boyadzhiev, who saw a narrow opening in the rock shaped like a gate, which he called the Purgatory. It turned out to be a sun gate (or womb) directed towards the sunrise on the equinoxes. The women from the nearby village of Dolno Dryanovo still use the place to ask for fertility, healing and success, they arrive early in the morning, when the first rays of the sun illuminate the gate, and pass through it to receive the blessing.
Near the gate is a kind of rocky hill that looks like a human head and is named after the God ‘Tangra’. According to the professor, after passing through the purgatory we continue to the Mountain range which is a kind of open temple consisting of several parts, but most of the objects in the open temple are only revealed at a certain angle and in a certain light, and it takes time to connect with the spirit of the place. In the center of the site, ceremonies (perhaps sacred marriages) were held by an ancient and unknown Goddess culture that existed before the arrival of the Thracians, they only adopted the place and therefore it is mistakenly attributed to them.
Not far from Gradishte is a large rock called Skribina with an opening at the top, like the eye in the Pervartnica tower near the Prohodna Cave. People pass through this opening to be healed; there is a black snake that guards the place and a woman witch who helps him from the nearby village. People Climb to the opening with a ladder, and those who pass through it shed their tears and troubles there and leave behind their old clothes instead of themselves.
Goat Rock (Kozia Kamak)
When you travel west from Lake Dospat, to the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains, you reach an area of beautiful villages built of slate stones, in a traditional way that has not changed since the 19th century. One of the most beautiful villages is Kovachevitsa, a village founded by refugees who fled the horror of Ottoman persecution in the 17th century, probably from the Veliko Tarnovo area. They settled in the place because of its remoteness and because of its good water. Since then, the village has maintained its traditional Bulgarian character and has never had Ottoman or other foreign dominance. The meaning of the name Kovachevitsa is “the blacksmith’s wife”. There are many guesthouses in the village and it is a good starting point for jeep tours and hikes in the area.
Above the village there is an ancient Megalithic site called the “Rock of the Goat” (Kozi Kamak), a group of prominent rocks located in the area of Mount Beslet. Near it there are four other similar Megalithic sites. These are high rocky peaks at a height of 1,400 meters overlooking a wonderful landscape; there are huge rocks in those sites, Tens of meters high, sculptured in shapes reminiscent of all kinds of animals. The Goat Rock site has a rock with a shape of a goat (of course), but also a rock with a shape of a giant human face.
According to Professor Vasil Markov from Balgoevgrad, who also specializes in astro-archaeology (there is such a thing!), on the surface of the central rock of the site, more than 300 cups (a similar number to Belintash) were cut into the rock, in the arrangement of star constellations, among them he identified the constellation of the Cassiopeia.
The central rock rises about 30 meters above its surroundings and a narrow and dangerous road leads to its top, at the top there is a platform with a baptismal basin and bowls, where ceremonies (perhaps sacred marriages) were probably held by an ancient and unknown Goddess culture that existed at the dawn of history. When the Thracians came to the area, they adopted the place, so from the point of view of archaeologists, it is identified with them.
It is interesting to note that about 20 km as the crow flies from there is the Gradishte site, which also has a huge human face that appears in on the rocks. In order to reach Kozia Kamak one needs a jeep and as you get closer to walk the last part for about an hour.