Thracian tombs

AFTERLIFE IN KAZANLAK TOMB

What happens after death has fascinated people since the dawn of humanity. The earliest accounts of what they thought was the answer paint a glum picture. According to the ancient Mesopotamians, the dead inhabited a grim realm where they had only dust to eat and drink. Ancient Egyptians striving for an afterlife had to be mummified and to undergo a strict vetting process, under threat of being eaten by a monster in case they failed. The ancient Greeks were aware that even the greatest heroes would be reduced to nameless shadows in the Kingdom of Hades.

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SILENCE OF THE CARYATIDS

No matter how diverse and interesting Thracian heritage is, time, destruction and rebuilding in war and peace, continual habitation and treasure-hunting have wiped out a lot of it – reducing it to a tomb here, a treasure there, and a shrine in what today appears to be the middle of nowhere. 

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ALL AROUND KARDZHALI

When you have a long weekend ahead and the weather looks good for a trip, heading to Kardzhali is a great option. The Rhodope mountains are beautiful – pleasant and refreshing in all seasons – and this city is the perfect base to explore some interesting sites.

Kardzhali itself is hardly an attraction. It is a relatively new city dominated by faceless Communist and post-Communist architecture. Besides its Regional History Museum, located in a beautiful building initially constructed in the 1920s for a Muslim religious school, there is nothing more to see.

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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. Long before this country appeared on Europe's map, an ancient nation inhabited its lands, and left behind rich remains – tombs and burial mounds, rock shrines and forts, fortifications and mysterious rock niches.

These people were the ancient Thracians.

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TOMBS, TREASURES AND ROSES

Everyone has heard about the Valley of the Egyptian Kings, but Bulgaria has its equivalent. The Valley of the Thracian Kings is a region where you can explore the tombs, mounds and treasures of what many historians consider to be the forefathers of modern Bulgarians.

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SEARCHING FOR ORPHEUS

Huddled deep among the hills of the Eastern Rhodope, Tatul could be any one of the many hamlets that you pass through while travelling in this area. Yet, it is not an ordinary Rhodope village. A high rocky hill rises about 300m south of it, crowned by one of the most peculiar megalithic structures the Thracians ever made.

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SVESHTARI TOMB: UNESCO-LISTED THRACIAN SITE PRESERVES RARE ARTWORKS

One place, however, reveals more about Thracian history than anywhere else in Bulgaria. Situated on some hills along the bends of the Teketo River, Sboryanovo Reserve offers a glimpse of a Thracian city and citadel, plus several necropoli and shrines, and reveals astonishing building skills, gold treasures and important information about the religion, economy and social life of the Thracians.

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THE SECRET OF MISHKOVA NIVA LOCALITY

Until recently, no one was able to visit one of Bulgaria's most interesting sites, the dark grey remains of a tomb near Malko Tarnovo. Under Communism, people needed special permits to enter this small town in the Strandzha mountains, as it was only a few metres from the border with Turkey, a member of a hostile NATO member. Even if tourists had somehow obtained permits, it was impossible for them to cross the border fence and take a look at the tomb in the Mishkova Niva area.

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VALLEY OF THRACIAN KINGS

By the turn of the 21st century, however, another name popped up and has stuck in the public's mind, evoking images of hidden treasures and untold mysteries – the Valley of the Thracian Kings. The term was coined by Dr Georgi Kitov, the archaeologist who worked in the area in the 1990s and 2000s and made some of the most fascinating discoveries there, obviously as a parallel with the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

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MYSTERIES OF MEZEK TOMB

However, apart from the destruction that it continues to bring, there are a few occasions where this illegal activity has led to extremely interesting discoveries. The Thracian tomb discovered near the Mezek village, in the region of modern Svilengrad, is one such story.

The mound that hides the tomb is a spectacular sight, at 14m high and about 90m wide. Its name, Mal Tepe, or Gold Hill, indicates that its secrets had long gripped the imagination of the locals.

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WHO WERE THE THRACIANS?

These people were the Thracians.

Today their name is barely known to anyone outside southeastern Europe. The Thracians built for eternity – especially tombs and shrines – but they lived in the moment and, underestimating the importance of writing down their deeds, they left next to nothing about their history, faith and beliefs. And so, bar the fascinating sites and treasures they created, the life of the Thracians remains more or less a mystery.

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ALEKSANDROVO TOMB

The archaeologists who were finishing off the excavation of two small Thracian burial mounds on the spot where the future Trakiya Motorway would bypass the village of Aleksandrovo, near Haskovo, felt that day was different from the very beginning. 17 December 2000 was the last day of the excavations and brought the first bright sun after a long and depressing series of mists so thick that visibility was often less than 10 metres.

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ORPHEUS TOMB?

Orpheus's harp was so captivating and his songs were so beautiful that there wasn't a single creature on earth that was not enchanted by his gift. Wild beasts, rocks and stones, and even the gods stood becharmed.

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