Valley of the Kings and roses
To the north of the City of Kazanlak, hundreds of huge Thracian tomb temples in the shape of a huge round mounds were found, including paintings, gold treasures, and monumental architecture. They are in a valley also called the Valley of the Roses, which was the settlement of the ancient Thracians, a sacred area where they used to bury the kings and nobles. The most famous tomb is that of King Seuthes, called Kosmatka and located near the village of Shipka
About 50,000 people live in the City of Kazanlak and it became famous thanks to its arms industry on the one hand, and the production of rose oil on the other, that is why it is called the “City of Roses and Guns”.
On a hill in the heart of the City, a Thracian tomb was discovered with unique paintings from 2,400 years ago, in which processions and acts of worship are seen and sacred figures appear, chariots with horses (which were considered the connectors between this world and the next) and a sun circle. According to Lyudmila Zhivkova, the paintings depict a burial ceremony of a royal couple holding hands in an intimate and sensitive farewell pose. The woman sits on a royal throne reminiscent of the Empress’s playing card; the man is dressed in a white toga and on his head is a crown of golden oak leaves, like those found in tombs; another woman serves them fruits – pomegranates, a fruit associated with the world beyond, and behind her they play music.
Other interesting tomb temples in the Valley of the Kings from the 4th-5th centuries BC are the Shushmanets Tomb Temple, the Helvetia Tomb Temple, the Golyama Arsenalka Tomb Temple, and especially the Ostrusha Tomb Temple. In this temple, a central chamber was discovered which is actually a monumental sarcophagus made of granite stone One that is cut and smoothed perfectly and weighs 60 tons, and on top of it is a cover stone that weighs 30 tons. At the bottom of the roof stone are squares with colorful paintings, one of which shows a woman covered in gold. It is difficult to understand how the ancients carved the huge granite stones (in the shape of the room) and how they were brought from a distance, and it is somewhat reminiscent of the huge granite stones in the monuments in Egypt.
South of Kazanlak, at the bottom of the nearby lake, there is an entire City in the Greek hippodamian design style called Suethopolis, which was built by King Seuthes and was the capital of the Thracian kingdom. Findings and a model of the City can be seen in the City Museum in Kazanlak, south of Kazanlak is the Megalithic Sun Gate in Buzovgrad.
The most famous tomb temple in the Valley of the Kings is that of the Thracian king Seuthes III, which is located near the village of Shipka and is called Kosmatka. The place was closed for 2,300 years, and was discovered by the Bulgarian archaeologist Kitov only in the 80s of the 21st century. A treasure in the style of Tut Ankh Amon was discovered inside it, but no bones were discovered, indicating that the “tomb” was not a tomb, but an initiation temple or a spiritual place of commemoration of the king.
It is an artificial mound supported by a wall with a diameter of 150 meters, to the south of which is a platform of worship, probably for the purpose of Orphic dances and music, followed by a long corridor in the shape of a tomb leading to a rounded inner room, from which one exits to a sort of huge sarcophagus room on the north side (as mentioned, no bones were found). At the entrance to the “tomb” was found a cast of the face of King Seuthes, a kind of mask warning the diggers not to enter the place. The identification of the figure was made according to coins from the period on which the name of Seuthes appears and his face which resembles the face on the mask.
In the central round room of the “tomb” there is a special sound effect, and probably also an energetic effect resulting from the dimensions of the room and the construction materials. The diameter is 3.60 which is twice the height of the king, or the measure of the energy field around him (aura, which reaches to the fingertips when the hands are spread out to the sides). The stones are basalt stones that were brought from a distance. The place was probably an initiation room that intensified the feelings and thoughts of those who entered it, and allowed communication with the worlds beyond, to die and be resurrected again and to connect with the spiritual light in man, so that he could rule in a divine way. In addition to this, a ray of sunshine would penetrate the inner room on a certain day of the year and resonate the connection of the male with the female.
In the sarcophagus room, adjacent to the central round room, treasures were found: a gold crown of crumbled oak leaves (a symbol of death), knee pads with the image of Hermes on them (leading to the next world), and other objects designed to help in rebirth into the world beyond such as wine goblets from silver. The treasures found in this room are displayed in the municipal Museum in Kazanlak.
Seuthes ruled parts of ancient Thrace that were freed from Macedonian rule after the death of Alexander the Great in the late 3rd century BC, early 2nd century BC. He brought about the revival of Thracian worship and culture on the one hand, adopting Greek culture on the other. The expression of this was in the construction of the first Thracian City of its kind according to the Hippodamian plan (crossing streets) named after him – Seuthopolis, and in it Greek inscriptions were discovered. The City was a place of temples where the great Gods from the sacred center on the island of Samothrace were worshiped. Seuthes was a priest-king who promoted the cult of Dionysus Sabazios.
10 km south of Kazanlak, in the foothills of the Sredna Gora Mountains, on a hill bordering the valley, there is a gate built of huge rocks, inside of which there is an opening through which the sunlight shines on the longest day of the year. According to the interpretation of the archaeologists, this is a temple in honor of the Goddess – Mother, which was established 6,000 years ago and by the people of the Goddess culture and adopted by the Thracians when they came to the area about 4,000 years ago. The gate symbolizes the female genital organ, through which the sun rays which symbolize the male power penetrate, and thus there is a connection between heaven and earth. In addition to the direction towards the sunset, the gate is also directed towards the high Mountain in the Balkan range (Triglav Peak), where the sources of the Tundzha River are located, which was a sacred River for the Thracians and the most important in the region.
Near the gate there are engravings of depressions in the rock that probably symbolize constellations, and not far from it is a group of rocks in the shape of a male genital organ, several altars and a royal chair. It is a complete Megalithic array which is the apex of a sacred triangle referring to the temple tomb of Kosmetka and the holy City of Seuthopolis as the other vertices.
Since the gate is oriented towards the sunset, it can be assumed that the worship at the place was related to the passage to the world of the dead. For this reason, the important Thracian archaeologist Alexander Paul requested that his ashes be scattered at the site and a commemorative tablet can be seen in his honor.
The rocks are reminiscent of similar sites in Bulgaria and Europe as in Begliktash, and there is a debate between those who claim that they were artificially shaped and placed and those who claim that their formation is natural. Be that as it may, the place serves as a meeting place for the followers of the “New Age” and is called by them the “Gate of the Goddess”.
Klofer is a town of 3,500 people located near the highest part of the Balkan Mountain Range and Park, in the middle of the Rose Valley. Today it is a sleepy town but at the end of the 19th century it had a population similar to that of Sofia (10,000) and was a center of education, culture, Bulgarian nationalism and revival movements.
Kalofer’s main publication is as the hometown of Hristov Botev, the national poet and hero. In the center of the town is a monumental statue of him, a reconstruction of the house where he lived and a Museum to his memory. Above the village rises the peak of Mount Botev, it is the highest in the Balkans. In addition to this, in the center of the town you can find the Culture House, an information center of the Ministry of Tourism, a reconstruction of the first School in Bulgaria (opened in the 19th century), and several restaurants near the Tundzha River that crosses the town.
In the upper part of the town you can see a large Church from the end of the 19th century on one side of the Tundza River, and the ancient women’s Monastery surrounded by the fence on the other side. This is where women’s education began in Bulgaria. The teacher Botyo Petkov, who was the director of the School in the spirit of enlightenment, the first of its kind in the center of the village, decided to teach the women in the Monastery as well, among them Anastasia Dimitrova, who later opened her own secular School for women. Indeed, beyond the Monastery wall is a large garden with a 19th century Church inside. At the entrance to the Church is a persimmon tree, which according to the nuns is the tree of knowledge from which Adam ate in the Garden of Eden.
The holiest object in the Church is an Icon of John of Damascus with three hands, and the story goes like this: John was a famous Christian theologian in the 8th century who was leading the opposition to Iconoclasm (smashing of Icons) in the days of Emperor Leo III. As a result of pressure from the emperor on the ruler of Damascus, the latter ordered John to cease his activity. When he refused, he ordered his hand to be cut off, the same hand that painted the Icons. John was not deterred, he prayed to Mary, and as a result a miracle happened and the severed hand returned to its place. Because of this, he painted an Icon of Maria with three silver hands, the third hand being the miraculous hand of God that was restored to him and paints the Icons in the spirit of God through the painter. Later, this Icon reached Mount Athos, and from there different versions of it reached different places in the Balkans. The third hand symbolizes the miracle of reattaching the severed hand to John’s body, and in a more general sense – the hand of God that intervenes in human affairs.
The theme of hands appears in many Icons and Monasteries throughout the Balkans. Many other Churches have paintings of saints with three hands. When you look at the human body, you see that there are three things that distinguish man from the apes and that allowed his mind to grow and develop: one is the dimensions of the head and brain in relation to the body, the second is the fact that man stands upright, and the third is the structure of the hand, the sophistication of which allowed man to create tools that no animal was able to create (As a result of the sophisticated tool of the hand, its means of operation also developed, which is the brain).
In addition to the many physical abilities, the hand also has mystical properties. A person’s destiny appears in the palm of his hand, and it is no coincidence that Kabala and other mystical teachings engage in palm reading. A person’s hand teaches about his inner self and is the tool through which we can transmit or receive energies; it symbolizes God and his power. The Icon paintings of the three hands and the importance of the hands in the monasteries in the Balkans serve as indication that even in mystical Christianity the hand is a key to understanding the spiritual-inner side of man. In the breakaway sects of the Bogomils they used to baptize people by ordination with the hands.
The town of Kalofer played an important role in the Bulgarian rebellion and the war of liberation from the Ottomans. At the time of war it was burned by them, but later it was rebuilt. With the increase in the status of Sofia and then of Plovdiv and other large cities, Kalofer lost its importance, and following the influx to the cities some of its population. The communists saw Botev as one of their own, a man who believed in brotherhood between people, patriotism and equality. They established a plaza for processions and parades in the center of the town, whilst destroying the few old houses that survived the Ottomans.
Kalofer is part of the Rose Valley and has rose fields around it. Paths and roads lead from the town to the nearby Balkan Mountain Park.
The largest City in the eastern part of the Rose Valley is Karlovo, with a population of 30,000. Like Kalofer, Karlovo was also established during the Ottoman period and was rebuilt in the 19th century, but unlike nearby Kalofer, its ancient center has been preserved and has over a hundred houses from the revival period (19th century). In some houses there is a reconstruction of the ancient handicraft workshops. The City is at the foot of the Mountains and has waterfalls and nature trails nearby, so it’s a nice place to visit, especially when the roses are blooming.
Most of Karlovo’s publiCity came to it due to it being the birthplace of Levski, the leader of the Bulgarian rebellion movement and the one who founded the underground network that was the basis of the rebellion. In the center of the City is Levski’s house which has been turned into a Museum, and not far from it is a small historical Museum.
Adjacent to Karlovo is the town of Sopot, where nearly 10,000 people live. These are two adjacent cities, but each City has its own hero. If in the case of Karlovo it is Levski, then in the case of Sopot it is Ivan Vazov, the most famous and important Bulgarian writer, who was born there, he was also one of the leaders of the rebellion, but unlike Levski or Botev, he was not killed or executed, but reached an old age and managed to write many important books that told about the struggle for independence, about the burden of slavery, and about man’s desire and struggle for freedom.
In the heart of Sopot is the house of Vazov which has become a Museum. Not far from it is an ethnographic Museum and a cultural center, but the most beautiful part of the City is above it, where there is a beautiful park with a reconstruction of a flour mill. At the end of it is a small and beautiful men’s Monastery that was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century (Aliya Monastery), and next to it is a cable car that goes up to the heights of the Balkan Mountains.
This is the largest Thracian tomb temple and one of the most beautiful found. It is located on top of a hill in the heart of a wooded natural area, 50 km north of Plovdiv on the border of the Thracian plain. It is a huge tumulus with a diameter of 220 meters, to the south of which is a dance and Orphic worship platform, and to the north of it there are a wine press and a temple to Dionysus.
The place was discovered by the “Indiana Jones” of Bulgaria – archaeologist Gregory Kitov. Some think that this is the burial place of the Thracian Ordisian king Sitalces from the 5th century BC. The whole area was a sacred cemetery, and around you can see many large tumuli, some of which can be visited.
Like the other burial temples of the Thracians, the site is built in the form of a corridor of huge carved stones leading through an intermediate room, which looks like a grave, to a wonderful inner round room. The king would be brought into the temple in order to be reborn, and in a physical way this would be manifested by the penetration of a ray of sunshine inside the inner rooms on special days of the year.
In the inner circular room there are ten Doric columns, above them a cornice and on it thirty engravings of three vertical lines, some interpret this as a monthly calendar. The cornice is painted in red, black and blue colors; symbolizing the transition between darkness and light, between night and day (the black of the night becomes the blue of the day through the red sunrise). The diameter of the room is 5.60 meters, which is 1.80 meters times three. Apparently these dimensions are related to the height of the person in whose honor the temple was built and the size of the energy field around him (the aura, which reaches to the fingertips when the hands are outstretched to the sides), the room has a special echo and a ceiling that symbolizes the heavens with 17 layers.
Since no bones were found inside it, it must be assumed that it is not a tomb, but rather an initiation temple of the ruler that became sacred after his death. Every ruler and noble had his own temple, which served as a place of initiation with the aim of awakening the inner light and connecting with the spiritual sun. That is why on the marble door of the room there are ten medallions of a face with long hair (a symbol of the sun’s rays) and on the jambs there is a decoration of an almond-like inner eye. The number ten is related to the Thracian belief in ten spiritual energies (corresponding to the ten sefirot of Jewish Kabala). The engravings of the door hinges show that the door was opened and closed often. The thickness of the wall around the inner room is 90 cm, which is one seventh of the diameter of the room and the wall together, or one sixth of the diameter of the room. All the numbers in the place are symbolic and related to the structure of man and the universe.
The explanations offered by Kitov for the architecture and art of the place are that in the inner room the person being consecrated – a king would be brought in after the preparation of dances, music, ecstasy, and perhaps also the use of narcotics. He would stay in a place in total darkness for several days and go through sensory experiences that were helped by the dimensions and materials from which the building is made, after which he would leave illuminated. Sometimes the sacred marriage ceremony with the priestess or the royal woman was held in the place, in order to give birth to a new offspring with the blessing of the Gods, as appears in the Kama Sutra engravings found in the tombs in the area. In addition to that, a ray of sunshine penetrated the room on the shortest day of the year and it symbolized the connection of the male with the female.
Below is the meaning of the numbers in the Thracian “tomb” temple in Starosel according to the archaeologist Valeria Alexander who excavated there:
- A female deity.
- Self conceives, creates itself.
- The sun was created, the son of God.
- Divine cycle, sun grows and matures. Begins on the shortest day of the year, increases until the equinox, and appears on the long day associated with conception.
- Beyond the feminine divinity, we are children of mother earth, giving the fruits back to the earth.
- Man is born.
- Man grows and matures.
- Man follows a religious path.
- Man is half deity; one has to cross the River of memory to understand who he is.
- Man becomes eternal, divinity. The eternal will be able to pass through all the worlds.
Near the historical site of Starosel there is a special winery and at its heart – a reconstruction of the nearby Thracian temple but on a larger scale, underground. The hall is called the “Wine Temple” and serves as a place for visiting and tasting, it has a special echo, just like in the nearby “Tomb” temple.
At the Kozi Gramadi site, which is in the Sredna Gora Mountains above Starosel, the remains of a Palace of the Thracian kings were discovered from the time of the Ordisian king Amadocus II who was a contemporary of Philip the Great in the 4th century BC. He was his rival and it is possible that the reason for building the Palace and Fortress was the establishment of Philipopolis (Plovdiv) by Philip on the other side of the Thracian valley.
Near Starosel there are other Thracian temple tomb temples, some of which can be entered; one of them is the Horizont Tomb Temple, which is about 20 km from Starosel. It is an interesting and large tomb temple near the town of Strelcha called Zhaba Mogila. Not far from there is the City of Panagyurishte, where there is one of the most important Thracian gold treasures, part of which is displayed in the local Museum.
Near the Starosel temple is the town of Hisar, which preserves its ancient Roman wall. Today the place serves as a tourist and spa town and is known for the medicinal properties of its waters. In the heart of the town is an archaeological park with thermal water springs. You can see an impressive Roman gate, walls, and a reconstruction of a bathhouse with pools lined with marble slabs, as well as hot water that springs from the ground in faucets, which the residents collect.
It is interesting to note that there are 22 hot springs in Hisar, where each spring has a different physical and chemical composition and a different temperature, with the hottest reaching 51 degrees and the coldest 31 degrees. The water is good for treating a variety of diseases in the digestive system, kidneys and orthopedic problems.
The Thracian Tomb of Aleksandrovo
Near the City of Haskovo, in the heart of the Thracian plain, is a Thracian temple tomb from the 4th century BC. It is a world heritage site due to the importance of the unique paintings found there, among them a one-of-a-kind appearance of the Thracian God Zalmoxis. The tomb itself is closed to visitors, but there is an exact reconstruction (replica) of it in the Museum of Thracian Treasures of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains established by the Japanese on the nearby hill. In the modern Museum you can see gold treasures from the Neolithic period, finds and treasures found in Thracian tombs, as well as a reconstruction of the Alexandrovo Tomb Temple, which consists of a long access corridor and a round room at the end.
In the round room there are seven strips of paintings from bottom to top. In the ceiling is a golden sun and around it a strip of human figures busy hunting four figures of black wild boars and a deer with horns. According to the interpretation of the discoverer of the site, archaeologist Kitov, the hunting scenes are symbolic and describe the victory of the forces of good over evil, the overcoming of order – cosmos over chaos, which is represented by the black boar. One of the figures rides on a panther skin and wears special clothes and is probably the king or the priest. In front of her is the figure of an elderly man, naked and heavy, holding above his head a double ax which is a symbol of divinity, and this is probably a representation of the God Zalmoxis.
In the damaged lower strip, figures of people are seen drinking, dancing and playing music, probably engaged in religious worship that includes singing and dancing according to the Orphic tradition. In the corridor are seen figures of people fighting against Amazons and other mythological figures. War and victory are internal – war against chaos and victory over death.
The nearby City of Haskovo, is a large City in Bulgarian terms (close to 200,000 people). In the City you will find a citadel from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire and next to it a chapel with a statue of Mary holding Jesus in her hands. This is the largest statue of Mary with the baby Jesus in the world; it was built at the initiative of the local mayor in the 2000s and appears in the Guinness Book of Records. In addition to that, the City has an important historical Museum, several interesting Churches, a clock tower and a beautiful pedestrian street.