The Strandja Mountains
In the southeast of Bulgaria, bordering European Turkey, one finds the most remote and mysterious Mountains in Bulgaria, beautiful Strandja Mountains that are characterized by a mystical atmosphere. This is the place where the ancient traditions such as walking on fire, consecration of stones, and the primacy of women were preserved.
The center of the Mountains is the town of Malko Tarnovo, where there is an important local Museum. A few kilometers from it is a cluster of ancient sites from the Thracian period and earlier. The most mysterious site is called the “Temple of Bastet”. Bastet was one of the most important ancient Egyptian deities, who could appear as a cat or as an angry lioness. Temples were built in her honor, and special priestesses performed her worship.
Surprisingly, the face of the same Goddess appears on a rock cliff at the top of a Mountain near Malko Tarnovo, on the rock wall of a Sinkhole at the end of which is a cave and a kind of sanctuary. Many of the ancient sacred sites were in Sinkholes (a Karst cave that collapsed and created a kind of large crater with a diameter of tens of meters) of this type, which have a special earth energy, where the presence of water adds to their sanctity.
Several decades ago, the “Prophet of the Balkans” – Baba Vanga revealed to Ludlmila Zhivkova that an enlightened Egyptian princess, who embodied the powers of the Goddess Bastet and was a high priestess, arrived in Thrace with a mask of Bastet in the form of a cat. According to her, she brought with her the hidden knowledge from Egypt to the new land, as well as energetic devices that combine extraterrestrial metals, and after her death she was buried in the Strandja Mountains. At the place of her burial, a face of the Goddess appeared resting on the rocks, visible mainly on full moon nights.
Baba Vanga showed Ludmila an old map of the area and guided her how to get there. She told her that if she came with pure intent she might find a treasure hidden in a sarcophagus made of materials we don’t know today. Lyudmila saw two figures of the pharaoh, one standing and one sitting, and then the face of the cat-ela on the rock. But she didn’t find the treasure, just as Vanga predicted, because there is too important information there, and in her words: “This spoon is too big for your mouth.”
A man named Karstyo Mutafchiev, who was part of Lyudmila’s group, wrote a book on this subject, in which he argued that the origin of Homo Sapiens and humanity is extraterrestrials that came from space. According to his version, the sarcophagus had tablets with all of human history on them, and in the hand of the princess buried in it was a staff of extra-planetary metal.
A few kilometers from Bastet Temple is a circle of stones and the mausoleum of Mishkova Niva, hidden among the woods. On the gable at the entrance there is a statue of two hands, symbolizing a prayer position. The site itself is a circle of large stone walls about 2 meters high and about 25 meters in diameter, inside it is a kind of circular inner initiation room that a corridor leads to, The inner initiation room is round and the corridor leading to it is paved and covered with an arched roof, but the inner room is not in the center of the circle but a few meters in front of it. On its side there are the remains of a small square room that is also made of granite and it was probably a kind of holy of holies or treasure room.
In the center of the circle itself is a huge flat granite stone (the stones in the walls are marble) with triangles coming out of it and forming a kind of sun with rays. Apparently there was an ancient Dolmen around which the temple was built.
The structure of Mishkova Niva dates from the 5th century BC. It was not a funerary temple and its function is unclear. The marble stone wall circle that surrounds it rises to the height of a man and consists of three rows of stones. Around the central circle there are other buildings that stand out for their large stones and the quality of their construction. The Circle It is part of a much larger site that includes the nearby Mountaintop, where remains from 2,000 years earlier have been discovered. Some say the remains of the existing temple are an ancient observatory.
A little further from Malko Tarnovo is the sacred site of Indipascha. It is a healing place with refined and magical energy, where prophecies were made in ancient times. According to the Christian tradition, the mother of the Emperor Constantine took water from this place because she believed that it was good for the eyes. The place was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century when a blind and sick cow was left in the wild to die, but after two days she returned to her owner in good condition after drinking from the water. The search revealed the small spring in a hidden valley. The Thracians carved bowls in the rocks next to it, and came here on pilgrimage on the longest day of the year.
In other words, the Strandja Mountains are a magical place, hardly visited, that preserves the ancient atmosphere. It has other Megalithic sites such as the stones of Kamaka. In addition to all these there are the rich forests, the generous nature, and the local Folklore tradition that preserves the ways of the past, altogether it makes the Mountains a wonderful place to visit.
Bagliktesh is a huge Megalithic site near the Black Sea, which is considered the oldest Megalithic site in Europe and one of the most impressive. The place was already sacred in prehistoric times, but some archaeologists say it is “only” from the 10th century BC. It is based on huge natural rocks that were shaped and carved by an unknown culture, perhaps the one that sank in the waters of the Black Sea.
The site covers thousands of square meters. At the beginning of it there is a kind of bridal bed between two rocks, or in another interpretation – an altar, and at its heart is a womb-like cave under one of the rocks. At the end of the cave there is a stone surface that the sun penetrates only once a day at noon, and thus the sun’s rays fertilize the “womb of the earth.” The cave is formed by a huge rock cliff weighing hundreds of tons that rests on the bedrock in only two places, creating a kind of arch – a female vagina, through which you can see another rock in the shape of a phallus penetrating the space and impregnating it. In other words, there is symbolism here of the connection of the male with the female and the place was probably used for sacred marriage rituals.
In the heart of the complex there are parts that were probably intended only for devotees, such as the labyrinth – an arrangement of giant stones that you have to enter in between not knowing where the way will lead you, or the sundial – a row of giant stones leaning on each other and each of them symbolizes an hour, when a shadow falls on them from Menhir (a large standing stone) that is next to them.
The site is large and has many huge standing stones, in a general arrangement of two circles. The question arises, were the stones found there naturally and only shaped by the ancients, or were they brought from elsewhere and arranged artificially by a culture with better abilities than ours, which could have moved such huge stones. If the second option is correct, then the site is older than you think.
According to some archaeologists, the stones are indeed natural, but some of them were shaped 2,500 to 3,000 years ago by the Thracian people who lived in the area and treated the place as sacred. According to others such as Anna Raduncheva, the stones were shaped much earlier, in prehistory, and were only “remodeled” by the Thracians.
A site in Begliktash is located near the town of Primorsko, on the shores of the Black Sea, in the place where the hunting estate of the communist ruler Zhivkov was, so it was not known to the public until 1991, the time of the fall of communism. Zhivkov’s daughter, Lyudmila Zhivkova, was a well-known mystic and one of the believers and seekers of unknown ancient cultures in Bulgaria. I have no doubt that she knew about the existence of this site, but she may have chosen for some reason to keep its existence a secret.
The site of Begliktash is not far from the old City of Sozopol as well, which is one of the most picturesque cities on the Black Sea coast. It has been used as a port since the Neolithic period and was established as a Greek City called Apollonia by Greek settlers in the 7th century BC. Today it is a beautiful tourist town, surrounded by a wall, on a peninsula jutting into the sea.
Dolmens in the Sakar Mountains
Between the Eastern Rhodope Mountains and the Strandja Mountains, on the Turkish border, there is another Mountain range, not particularly high (up to 800 m), where you can find the most impressive and important Dolmens in Bulgaria and perhaps even in the entire Balkans. Over 500 Dolmens of a special structure, tomb-like, with a circular opening, were found. Dolmens of this type can only be seen on the other side of the Black Sea in the Mountains of Abkhazia. According to archaeologists, the age of the Dolmens is relatively late – from the 1st millennium BC, but alternative theories such as that of Vladimir Megre claim that they are much earlier, and that these Dolmens were a place of worshipers who sacrificed themselves in order to preserve the connection between the earth and the universe. For this reason there is an aura of thoughts around the Dolmens and staying in them can help in channeling and healing.
The most famous Dolmens are near a village called Hylabovo, not far from there is a town called Topolovgrad and there is a regional Museum of history, the director of the Museum Veselin Kulvachev agrees that the Dolmens are older than usual and claims that they were built to enhance the energy of the earth in places where there are veins of quartz.
Near Topolovgrad there is a Megalithic temple where more than 100 spherical disks of stone were found symbolizing the sun. It is a one-of-a-kind ancient sun temple called the Paleocastro Religious Complex.
Svilengrad and the Thracian tomb in Mezek
The Maritza River, which begins in the Rila Mountains, makes its way northeast and then southeast towards the Mediterranean Sea for 500 km. along its way; it passes through fertile valleys where the main cities of Bulgaria are located, including Svilengrad, which is not far from the Turkish border. There is a beautiful long Ottoman bridge designed by the architect Sinan in the 16th century in the middle of the City, a small and inviting pedestrian street, and a park along the River. After Svilengrad, the River crosses the border into Turkey and reaches the City of Adrianople, which was the capital of the ancient Thracian Ordisian confederation.
About 10 km from Svilengrad is the special Thracian tomb of Mezek which dates to the 4th century BC. This tomb was probably also a Heroion (place of commemoration of heroes) and many important treasures were discovered in it which are displayed in the Museums of Bulgaria. It has the longest entrance corridor a tomb temple (over 20 meters), leading to two passage rooms in the shape of tombs, leading to a typical round room with a typical elliptical ceiling. A number of benches symbolizing tombs were found in it and therefore it is thought that it was used as a family burial tomb. Inside there is a special phenomenon of canceling the magnetic field and probably some ancient ventilation system.
Next to the tomb temple of Mezek there is another Thracian tomb and in the nearby village remains of a well-preserved and beautiful citadel from the Middle Ages.
The Anstanaria is a ritual of walking on coals that takes place at the end of May, beginning of June. This is an ancient Thracian tradition established by devotees, probably as part of the Orphic ritual, which thereby proved their supernatural power, strengthened their process of consecration and is related to entering trance states.
The Anstanaria ceremonies put the environment and the participants through a process of cleansing and purification that enabled the renewal of the year after the spring. Fire has two faces: the physical side – heat and the spiritual side – light. The Anstanaria connects the two and introduces a dimension of light into the world of heat – the physical.
The ceremony is preserved in its ancient form in the Strandja Mountains in southeastern Bulgaria and is also held in villages in northern Greece. It was adopted by Christianity and attributed to Emperor Constantine (the man who converted Rome to Christianity and moved the capital to nearby Constantinople) and his mother Helena.
In the days before the Anstanaria, the Anstanari, women and men who were chosen for the position, gather in a special house called “Konaki”, where holy Icons (pictures) of Helena and Constantine are kept. Tradition says that these Icons were miraculously discovered many years ago and are kept on a shelf designed for this purpose. Each Icon has a carrying handle and is covered in fabric.
The main ceremony lasts for three days, it starts on “Constantine and Helena Day”, the Anstanari meet in “Konaki” and there they start playing the Thracian lyre and a big drum, dancing and entering into trance states. In this state they believe that St. Constantine calls them and takes over their bodies and as long as they dance he controls them. The ceremony lasts until midnight and includes a cycle of dancing that lasts about half an hour, a break, after which the dancing starts again.
When the dancers gather in “Konaki” it begins with a sad song about a woman who was separated from her family and captured by a Turk, the song accompanied by the playing of the lyre causes a feeling of sadness and sometimes even tears, the tension builds and causes all kinds of physical reactions in the dancers and at some point someone jumps up and starts dancing and the lyre plays faster to the rhythm of two quarters The drum starts beating and everyone starts dancing. At first these are wild and violent, sporadic movements. Some dancers get into trouble and others try to help them. Little by little the struggling dancer manages to dance in response to the music, and receives the Icon of St. Constantine. The dancer dances proudly, holding the Icon in his hands, and this symbolizes receiving the saint’s supernatural powers, the dance now expresses joy and health.
The next morning, they gather at the konaki house and go with musicians and candle holders to a holy well at the edge of the village, where they sacrifice a black sheep to St. Constantine and continue to dance all day. After dark, everyone approaches the remains of a large bonfire that burned for several hours and left embers. Thousands of people come to watch the spectacle in which the Anastanaris walk on the fire coals, back and forth, and sometimes also touch the burning coals with their hands – shouting “I wish the coals would turn to ashes!”, they don’t stop until the entire bonfire turns to ashes, and then they all go together to the Konaki house, where a meal is served.
While the Anastanari are walking on the road they dance to the rhythm of seven eighths, when they are at home they dance to the rhythm of two quarters. The rhythm of seven eighths is related to the spiritual path and it is the one that opens before the new Anastanar (sanctified). The goal of the Anastanar is to reach spiritual light and the way is to be controlled by the saint. Many times the dancers are people who were called to this path by suffering, the saint punished them in order to direct them to their destiny, and there is a connection to the existing group of Anastanars. After passing through initiation they become an Anastanar themselves, suffering becomes happiness, they receive the power of healing and are able to teach, heal and pass on the knowledge to other people. The walking on the fire coals is only a proof of the power of the saint who gets a hold on them, that shows they are not in their own possession.
Anastanars have a special power of St. Constantine that allows them to practice healing. A person who suffers from weakness, lack of appetite, insomnia, depression, is told that this is the curse of the saint because he did not respect him properly, and then the Anastanars come into action.
During the ceremony there is a transition of Saint St. Constantine from a punishing personality that causes illness, to a benevolent figure that restores a state of health and protection. The apprentice adopts the morality and the example of the saint, “comes out” of himself and becomes an Anastanar.
The famous Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek), tells in his excellent book “THE FRATRICIDES” about the Anstanaria ceremony performed by the Greek population of the Strandja Mountains in southeastern Bulgaria. I highly recommend reading this book.
t he descriptions of the ceremonies as recorded in the 70’s in Greece by Loring Mendel, in the Anstaneri festivals that are held today in the Strandja Mountains the format is slightly different
Danforth, L. M. (1978). The Anastenaria: a study in Greek ritual therapy. Princeton University.