The Rhodope

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THE GIRLS OF RIBNOVO

They call it the Valley of Pink Pants. But this affectionate nickname of a toponym refers to just one village, set inside a pocket of the western Rhodope: Ribnovo. Ribnovo sits at 1,152 metres above sea level, but this is not the only reason for its image as a bit of a fortress and a destination for the culturally curious. As a friend put it before we visited: Ribnovo is another planet. He was from Breznitsa, a toned-down version of Ribnovo, right across the Mesta Valley, so he should know.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 18:45
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TOP 10 SPIRITUAL VORTEXES IN BULGARIA

"This place has a special aura." Sooner rather than later you will hear this sentence applied to somewhere in Bulgaria: an old monastery, an ancient shrine – or an ugly post-Communist church. There, locals and visitors claim to have felt the presence of "cosmic energy" or a supernatural "entity." Those who have an ailment seek healing. Pure-blooded Bulgarians "connect" to their true ancestors, the ancient Thracians, the wisest people ever to walk the earth. UFO sightings may also be reported.

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 12:52
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RHODOPE: WONDROUS BRIDGES

Dragons are imaginary creatures and geological processes are real, but the Wondrous Bridges in the Rhodope make believing in imaginary creatures easier.

The nature phenomenon is at the end of a potholed road that twists and turns for 16 kms west of Road 86, the main route that connects Smolyan in the Rhodope with the wider world. The area's peaks are dark green with firs and the deep valleys are white with streams, a picturesque cover of karst core, the result of millions of years of volcanic and tectonic activity.

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 10:53
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WONDERS OF STONE IN RHODOPE

When travelling around the Eastern Rhodope, you are bound to encounter this strange sight: on certain precipitous rocks, here and there, are scattered small, dark niches. Some are on their own, others form groups of dozens.

What are these strange niches, you might wonder. Nobody knows for sure, is the honest answer. The mystery of the rock niches that indent major cliffs in the Eastern Rhodope remains unexplained.

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 10:57
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RHODOPE'S 'SACRED TRIANGLE'

Triangles fascinate the imagination. Throughout history, the geometric shape defined by Euclides as three points that do not lie on the same line has been laden with religious and spiritual symbolism. It has also been connected to topography, such as the Egyptians pyramids, the so-called ley lines, and the Bermuda triangle, supposedly marking energy vortices.

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 10:22
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FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 2

Such examples are the fortification structures excavated at a salt-producing town near Provadiya and a fortified settlement now in Ticha Dam, near Shumen, both belonging to the 5th millennium BC. Archaeologists interpret these two sites as early evidence for a stratified society whose wealth and resources attracted incursions and invasions.

Discovering new fortifications sounds great, but most of the fortresses in the Bulgarian lands are in a condition that can excite only an archaeologist. Few have survived in a state fit for Instagrammable photos.

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 09:21
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FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 1

Why there are no old forts and fortresses in Bulgaria on the scale of Romania, Greece, Italy or the Western Balkans is a controversial issue. The sort of answers you will be getting will depend on who does the talking. Some will assert the "Turks" destroyed everything when they ruled over these territories in the 14-19th centuries. Others will, more level-headedly, point out that when the Ottomans were in control the Bulgarians lands were no longer a border zone and consequently forts and fortresses were no longer needed for defence purposes.

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 15:23
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FORTRESS ON THE EDGE

Bulgaria's Route 86, that leads from Plovdiv to Smolyan in the heart of the Rhodope mountains, is a slow and winding drive through a maze of rising tops, dense forests, crumbling villages and depopulated towns. It is a route you take to escape from the urban noise into one of the quietest corners of Bulgaria.

It wasn't always so.

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 13:56
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BELINTASH SHRINE

In a dismal present with little hope of a bright future, Bulgarians are increasingly searching for solace in their nation's glorious past.

Both mediaeval military might and the 19th century National Revival Period have been the darlings of the nation in the past few years. Reenactments of historical battles take place by the over-restored ruins of ancient forts, traditional peasant costumes are now de rigueur at weddings and proms, and the Horo is danced at every imaginable and unimaginable location and time.

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 10:29
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SUN FORTRESS

Overgrown remains of forts and temples, mysterious rock shrines: Bulgaria's historical heritage often makes you feel like an explorer. Long forgotten and known only to die-hard history enthusiasts, they bear witness to the vibrant communities that created them millennia ago.

Asara, near the village of Angel Voyvoda in the southeast of the country, is one of these.

Wed, 05/29/2019 - 14:11
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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. It could be the clean air and the smell of firs, the magnificence of the green peaks fading away in the distance or the picturesque traditional villages that are so often depopulated, a bitter-sweet sight. It could be the sublime nature of gorges, river meanders, oddly shaped rocks, or the locals with their trademark friendliness and mesmerising music.

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 08:50
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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. When they could not explain the origins of a majestic church, a massive earth bank or even a whole city in ruins, they invented legends about supernatural creatures whom they held responsible. For some reason, predominantly Christian Europe often saw the Devil as the most probable builder of certain churches, and particularly of bridges. There is the Devil's Footstep in Frauenkirche in Munich.

Sun, 12/23/2018 - 11:25
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GHOSTS OF VILLA ARMIRA

Spread on the easternmost slopes of the Rhodope, Ivaylovgrad is still largely defined by its past as a border outpost. In the Middle Ages, Bulgarians and Byzantines disputed control over the nearby Lyutitsa fortress. Under Communism, the town was deep in the border zone. Entering it without a permit was impossible, as NATO members Greece and Turkey were a stone's throw away. In the 2010s, the border here was frequently crossed by refugees.

Sun, 12/23/2018 - 11:23
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ARDA'S MEANDERS

Several large rivers define Bulgaria's geography and historical landscape. The mighty Danube has constituted the northern border of the Bulgarian territories for centuries. The Iskar bypasses Sofia (locals still jokingly declare it to be the deepest river in the world) and then carves its way into the Stara Planina gorge, oft-described in the late-19th century Bulgarian literature. The Maritsa flows through the Thracian Plain: an ancient route used by generations of invaders, merchants, emissaries and empires. Today, the international route E80 runs along much of its course.

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 12:52
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BULGARIA'S ROMANTIC VILLAGES

Tranquility combined with landscapes untouched by tourism: if you have a longing to visit, Bulgaria will deliver. Here and there isolated and lesser known villages lay scattered over vales and hills, offering the chance to awaken to bird song, spend the long days exploring quiet lanes and traditional houses, and the evenings contemplating the surrounding vistas, preferably with a glass of cold Rakiya.

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 13:19
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FROM UTOPIA TO DYSTOPIA

Like Dimitrovgrad, Smolyan appeared under Communism as a result of the amalgamation of several villages. But while Dimitrovgrad is an example of Stalinist urbanism, Smolyan is perhaps the epitome of city planning under Mature Socialism.

In 1960 the National Assembly decreed three old villages along the Cherna River in the Rhodope to be combined into a town called Smolyan. It was also proclaimed the centre of the region.

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 11:24
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