KALIAKRA: FORTRESS OVER TROUBLED WATERS

KALIAKRA: FORTRESS OVER TROUBLED WATERS

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 14:13

All fortresses come with their legends, but in Bulgaria few can compete with Kaliakra, near Kavarna, on the northern Black Sea coast.

kaliakra fortress.jpg
The main gate of the Kaliakra fortress is a late-20th century restoration

There is something mysterious in the picturesque ruins of a fortress on a rocky cape rising 70m above the crashing waves that seems to have inspired horrifying or intriguing stories.

Two of them retell the horror of the Ottoman invasion, in the late 14th century. When the Ottoman troops broke through the defences of the fortress and overran it, according to the most popular of Kaliakra's legends, 40 Bulgarian maidens decided that death was better than capture. The girls rushed to the end of the cape. There they plaited their long hair into a single braid and jumped into the sea. They drowned or were battered to death on the rocks below.

The second story is about St Nikola. He too was pursued by the Ottomans, but instead of giving up, he ran towards the sea shore, praying to God for help. Help was given. When the land was no more and the saint was about to plunge to his death, the solid ground stretched forward, offering support. The further St Nikola ran, the more the cliff extended. After running for two kilometres, however, St Nikola became tired. He was caught and killed on the spot, and the land stopped its supernatural growth. Cape Kaliakra, the result of this miracle, stands to this day. The saint is said to have been buried at its very end, where a small white chapel marks his grave.

Unusually, there is also a Muslim legend for the cape. According to it, Kaliakra is the place where the Dervish sage and miracle-worker Sarı Saltık killed a bloodthirsty dragon and saved the inhabitants of the fortress from its appetite for maidens. Later, when Sarı Saltık died – in dragon-unrelated circumstances – he was buried on the cape. For centuries this peninsula has been a centre of religious activity, with people of all faiths coming here to pray.

Kailakra Fortress

The Bolata Bay north of Kaliakra Cape

 

All of these stories, however, are much newer than that written down by Strabo, the first geographer in the world. According to him, Lysimachus, one of Alexander the Great's generals, hid treasure in one of the caves at Kaliakra fortress. Contemporary treasure hunters still dream about this ancient gold.

The fortress that has inspired so many legends dates back to Antiquity. It was built on the high and narrow Kaliakra Cape, a natural defence outcrop, as early as the first half of the 3rd century BC. Life continued under the Romans, who named the fort Acros Castelum, and enlarged and strengthened its perimeter. In the 4th century AD, the settlement already had an inner and an outer city, plus a strong citadel at the tip of the cape. Kaliakra needed it – in the following two centuries it became one of the vital military defences against the influx of the so-called Barbarians. After the 7th century, it experienced a long period of decline, before becoming the capital of an influential autonomous Bulgarian principality, in the 14th century. These were the times of Kaliakra's greatest glory, when the family of a nobleman called Dobrotitsa (the region of Dobrudzha was subsequently named after him) ruled there, trading with Italian merchants and defending their independence long after the rest of Bulgaria fell under the Ottomans.

After the Ottoman conquest the fortress was abandoned, but history did not forget it completely. In 1791, the Russian and Ottoman fleets engaged in the waters near Kaliakra in what is now regarded as the greatest naval battle ever fought in the Black Sea. The victory of the Russian admiral Ushakov effectively put an end to the conflict which had started in 1787. It also left the hungry waters around the cape clogged with sunken ships and the bodies of sailors.

Kaliakra is now one of the major tourist sites on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, though the imposing gates and structures you see today are a late 20th century reconstruction. The lighthouse is also not the original 1856-1857 one, which was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1901.

The greatest attraction here is the landscape and the natural beauty.

Kailakra Fortress

The cliffs of the cape rise up to 70m above the sea

 

Kaliakra is one of Bulgaria's first protected natural areas. Covering about 1,800 acres of both land and sea, it is the place where the only steppe ecosystem in Bulgaria exists. Dolphins are a regular presence in the waters and until fairly recently monk seals used to inhabit the caves around the cape. About 50 species of rare birds, including larks, owls, eagles and hoopoes live on and around the cape. Their number increases with the variety of rare water birds such as little bitterns, little grebes and ducks that live in the adjacent marshes of the Bolata and Taukliman reserves. In spring and autumn the area increases in importance even further, as it is on the Via Pontica, one of Europe's greatest bird migratory routes.

Sadly, in recent years Kaliakra and its untouched landscape and wildlife have suffered.

In the 2000s, the first wind generators made their appearance near the cape. Now dozens of them stand just on the picture-perfect shore. The inconvenience to photographers who feel robbed of the scenery is only the tip of the iceberg of the problems these generators cause. In 2013, it transpired that the turbines should never have been erected there at all, as the territory is a Nature 2000 protected area and the turbines interfered with the migrating birds. In the summer of 2017, the European Commission won a lawsuit against Bulgaria, which was prohibited from undertaking further construction in the area. The decision of the court sparked protests among local people.

For now, the wind turbines remain, their giant blades swirling in the air by Bulgaria's most legendary fortress.

Kailakra Fortress

Monument to the 40 Kaliakra maidens at the entrance of the fortress 

 

Kailakra Fortress

Chapel dedicated to St Nicholas at the tip of the Kaliakra Cape

 

Kailakra Fortress

In the 2000s-2010s, wind turbines have taken over Kaliakra's coast

 

Kailakra Fortress

Dramatic rocks, whirlpools and coves define Kaliakra Cape. For millennia, people have tried to tame this inhospitable coast, seeking its natural protection

 

America for Bulgaria FoundationHigh Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.

Issue 134 America for Bulgaria Foundation The Black Sea Medieval Bulgaria Archaeology Bulgaria
0 comments

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Discover More

lyudmila-zhivkova-mural.jpg
WHO WAS LYUDMILA ZHIVKOVA?
Her father's daughter who imposed her own mediocrity on Bulgaria's culture? Or a forbearing politician who revived interest in Bulgaria's past and placed the country on the world map? Or a quirky mystic? Or a benefactor to the arts?

68dbb6f574e242b2efdd826937d384dd_XL.jpg
CATHOLIC BULGARIA
In 1199, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Bulgarian King Kaloyan to offer an union.

8f4f3ce603e0a9c7daf6b5c891a6b7b3_XL.jpg
RHODOPE IN FULL BLOSSOM
The Rhodope mountains have an aura of an enchanted place no matter whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter. But in springtime there is something in the Bulgarian south that makes you feel more relaxed, almost above the ground.

76a362b0e635f2bd7b84d5e7290d087b_XL.jpg
BIZARRE BULGARIA
There are many ways to categorise and promote Bulgaria's heritage: traditional towns and villages, Thracian rock sanctuaries, nature, sun and fun on the seaside, and so on and so forth.

8972e86d8b8aa9ca49225ef0904974cc_XL.jpg
KARLOVO
Karlovo is one of those places where size does not equal importance.

cba2911ca1c40028fa90545f6470ee1a_XL.jpg
SILENCE OF SHARDS
Pavlikeni, a town in north-central Bulgaria, is hardly famous for its attractions, and yet this small, quiet place is the home of one of the most interesting ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria: a villa rustica, or a rural villa, with an incredibly well-preserv

d888bb3ac0932627f0b18f6b52f06d68_XL.jpg
BULGARIAN EASTER
How to celebrate like locals without getting lost in complex traditions

tryavna.jpg
BULGARIA'S TOP 10 SMALL TOWNS
Small-town Bulgaria is a diverse place. Some of the towns are well known to tourists while others are largely neglected by outsiders.

matochina fotress.jpg
BORDER ZONE VILLAGE
Of the many villages in Bulgaria that can be labeled "a hidden treasure," few can compete with Matochina. Its old houses are scattered on the rolling hills of Bulgaria's southeast, overlooked by a mediaeval fortress.

342d45fc5f9732a0c3c741db143757a7_L_0.jpg
WHO WAS GEO MILEV?
Poet who lost an eye in the Great War, changed Bulgarian literature - and was assassinated for his beliefs

devils bridge.jpg
SEEING DEVIL IN DEVIL'S BRIDGE
In previous times, when information signs of who had built what were yet to appear on buildings of interest, people liberally filled the gaps with their imagination.

Kremikovtsi Metallurgy Plant.jpg
URBEX BG, PART 2
If anything defines the modern Bulgarian landscape, it is the abundance of recent ruins left from the time when Communism collapsed and the free market filled the void left by planned economy.