Ottoman heritage

THE BEST BULGARIAN BRIDGES

A legend is told all over the Balkans about a bridge and a stonemason. Once upon a time, a group of builders was commissioned to construct a bridge over a river, but whatever the men had built during the day was mysteriously destroyed during the night. Each morning the builders had to start from scratch.

Finally, the men saw the writing on the bridge, and realised that it wanted a human sacrifice. They reluctantly made a deal among themselves: on the following day, they would inter in the bridge the first person who came near.

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OTTOMAN BULGARIA

As you travel through Bulgaria you will inevitably be confronted by remnants of its Ottoman past: mosques, water fountains, bridges, forts, baths and public buildings. It would be strange if you were not – Bulgaria spent 500 years under Ottoman domination. It began with the invasion at the end of the 14th Century, which brought chaos to the Balkans and destroyed the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, and ended for the different parts of the Balkans inhabited by Bulgarians between the 1878 San Stefano Peace Treaty and the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars.

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BELOGRADCHIK ROCKS

In the 1870s, while travelling to Belogradchik, a tiny town in Bulgaria's northwest, Austro-Hungarian traveller and scientist Felix Kanitz was in two minds. Kanitz had read the boastful 1841 description of the magnificent beauty of the Belogradchik Rocks by Frenchman Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui, and he could scarcely believe it. It sounded too beautiful to be true and the lack of accounts by other Western travellers added to his suspicions.

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AROUND BULGARIA IN 5 SACRES SITES

You don't need to be a believer to experience something special at some places and some moments. A sense of spirituality can enfold you anywhere, anytime. Being a small but very varied country, Bulgaria has plenty of locations conducive to this. It is a country of many religions, both old and new, long dead or still living, and it is yours to explore with eyes and soul open once you get tired of the beaten tourist track.

RILA MONASTERY

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NOT IN BLACK-AND-WHITE

There were two reasons for starting on The Turks of Bulgaria, the logical follow-up to A Guide to Ottoman Bulgaria (Vagabond Media, Sofia, 2012 & 2012), and both are personal.

Firstly, there was the naivety with which I, along with many Bulgarians of my generation, perceived what was going on around us in the 1970s and 1980s.

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BULGARIA'S CLOCK TOWERS

The first clock tower in Bulgaria is probably the one built at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th Century in Plovdiv. At that time, clock towers were common in Europe, but were a novelty in the Ottoman Empire. The convenience of knowing the time was soon appreciated by merchants and craftsmen, and the clock tower fashion spread all over the country. Their number peaked in the 19th Century, and in Bulgaria there was hardly a city without its own clock tower.

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PLOVDIV TEMPLES PART 1

Inhabited since Neolithic times, Plovdiv claims to be one of Europe's oldest cities. As the millennia passed, people were not the only inhabitants of the seven hills by the Maritsa River and their environs. Gods also lived here, brought and nurtured by generations of worshipers. Among them are the long forgotten deities of long forgotten Neolithic peoples, the enigmatic Thracian Rider and a local deity with the name of Kendrisos, plus a host of divine immigrants, including the Greek Apollo and Asclepius, the deified emperors of Rome, and the Semitic Baal and Sabazios of Asia Minor.

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DEMIR BABA TEKKE

If you are looking for a place in Bulgaria that combines nature, architecture and spirituality, Demir Baba's tekke will be among your top choices.

The saint's stone tekke, or shrine, lies at the foot of the cliffs of Kamenen Rid. Dense woods rustle around Demir Baba's tomb, an object so exquisite that from afar it looks like a toy that you could hold in your hand.

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OTTOMAN BULGARIA

East of Malko Tarnovo, in the outermost reaches of Bulgaria, a bridge spans the Rezovska River. Once it had three high, beautifully crafted stone arches, but now only one remains – that on the Turkish bank. The thick Strandzha forest surrounding it is quiet, inhabited only by deer, wild boar and hornets. You can only find the dirt road leading to the bridge with a local guide, preferably driving a 4WD.

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LOST REPUBLIC

"Tomrush is a picturesque village, with grey-roofed houses clustering on the side of a steep ravine; but its beauty has been marred by the wholesale destruction of the surrounding forest," James Bourchier, a reporter for The Times, wrote in the early 20th Century. The village is just a few kilometres from Plovdiv, in the northern Rhodope, but to get there Bourchier had to cross the border into the Ottoman Empire, escorted by Bulgarian soldiers.

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