THE LEGENDS OF CAPE KALIAKRA

THE LEGENDS OF CAPE KALIAKRA

Sat, 07/31/2021 - 17:38

Black Sea's most evocative fort spawns stories despite controversial wind turbines

kaliakra cape

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 both horrifying or outlandish 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.

kaliakra fortress

The cape is naturally protected by the sea. What Kaliakra's ancient and medieval inhabitants needed to feel secure in their homes was to build a strong wall to face possible danger from the mainland

Uncharacteristically, 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 at the cape. For centuries this peninsula has been a centre of religious activity with people of all faiths coming here on a pilgrimage.

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

kaliakra st nicholas chapel

The chapel to St Nicholas was restored in 1993 and symbolises his grave. There is no reminder that a Muslim sage, Sarı Saltık, was also believed to be buried at Kaliakra

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.

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.

russian monument kaliakra

A monument to Russian naval commander General Fyodor Ushakov. In 1791, he defeated the Ottoman fleet near Kaliakra. Reportedly, his manoeuvres inspired British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson to win the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805. But why is a Russian military victory celebrated on Bulgarian soil? General Ushakov's victory at Kaliakra forced the Ottomans to make concessions to the Russians, thus strengthening the Russian influence in the Balkans. It was one of the first instances when the Bulgarians perceived the Russians as "saviours" from their Ottoman masters. The sentiment grew stronger in the 19th century and remains so to this day 

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 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 pose dangers for migrating birds. In the summer of 2017, the European Commission won a lawsuit against Bulgaria, banning 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. 

wind turbines sea coast bulgaria

 


us4bg-logo-reversal.pngVibrant Communities: Spotlight on Bulgaria's Living Heritage 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 178 America for Bulgaria Foundation The Black Sea bulgaria fortresses Roman heritage Medieval Bulgaria

Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

0 comments

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

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.

Discover More

veleka river
DISCOVERING STRANDZHA'S COAST
The Strandzha mountains coast, roughly everything along the Black Sea south of Burgas, is about 100 km long as the crow flies. Yet it is very varied.

soviet airplane bulgaria
BULGARIA'S COLD WAR PLANES
In the spring of 2022, Bulgarian military aircraft used during the Cold War suddenly became hot news. Should Bulgaria offer its old Soviet MiG- 29s to Ukraine, or shouldn't it?

centre of bulgaria
WHAT IS KARLOVO?
Great changes often spread from inconspicuous places, and Karlovo is a case in point.

snake island bulgaria
FEW SNAKES AND NO RUSSIANS
"Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!" When the Ukrainian defenders of Black Sea's Snake Island shouted out to the outnumbering Russian forces at the beginning of Putin's "special military operation," they hardly anticipated that they would coin a catchphrase

Sacred hunt, a mural at Aleksandrovo Tomb
THRACIAN BULGARIA
There are places in the world where you can get to know long-vanished nations and their former glory: Egypt, China, Greece... Bulgaria also makes it on this list.

st chistopher zlatolist
THE MYSTIC POWER OF ZLATOLIST
Born in 1883 near Serres, which was then in the Ottoman Empire and today is in Greece, Stoyna Dimitrova was seven years old when she experienced something extraordinary.

old burgas
LOOKING AT BURGAS, DARKLY
Despite some researchers' claims that Bulgaria's largest city on the southern Black Sea coast is ancient (related in some way to... Troy), most would agree that Burgas is quite new.

Tombul Mosque in Shumen is arguably the most beautiful in Bulgaria
BULGARIA'S TOP MOSQUES
Sunni Islam is Bulgaria's second largest religion after Eastern Orthodoxy.

sozopol from air
SOZOPOL WITHOUT TEARS
Should I visit Sozopol? There is hardly a place that divides opinion more than this town on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Yes, by all means do go to Sozopol, will urge some of your Bulgarian friends.

roman plovdiv theatre
EXPLORING ROMAN PLOVDIV
Plovdiv claims 7,000 years of uninterrupted history, starting from prehistoric times, but the earliest visible traces of this long past are much younger.

An Orthodox Satan is about to devour a unrighteous man in the village of Teshovo, western Bulgaria
THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Guidebooks boast about the beauty and artistic importance of the murals in Bulgaria's churches that date from the later centuries of Ottoman domination.

thracian gold treasure
TOMBS, TREASURES AND ROSES
Everyone has heard about the Valley of the Egyptian Kings, but Bulgaria has its equivalent.