Climate change is not just a modern concern, and the rock formation near the village of Stob, on the road to Rila Monastery, is evidence of this.
When the last Ice Age ended in this part of Europe, about 12,000 years ago, its glaciers loosened their grip on the frozen slopes of the Rila – and then withdrew, leaving behind a cover of fine debris. Those turned into soil, but at certain places – most notably on a slope by the Rilska River – this was not the end of it. Winds, sun and rain started eating into the soft crust of the hill and created tall columns in vivid red and yellow colours.
This was how the rock pyramids at Stob, one of Bulgaria's most popular off-the-beaten-track tourist sites, appeared.
Visiting the collection of pinnacles up to 12 metres high, which covers about 180 acres, is easy. Leave the busy E79 road to the Kulata border checkpoint with Greece when you see the sign for the Rila Monastery, and after Kocherinovo head towards Stob.
Sunset is the time when the pyramids of Stob are at their best
The sleepy village lies at the foot of the pyramids, but you will find them only after taking the easily-accessible eco path, which starts by the local church.
The best time to come and marvel at this natural phenomenon is at sunset, when the last rays of light illuminate the pyramids with the most beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow.
The result is an unearthly landscape, more resembling something from a dream than ordinary Bulgarian reality.
Understandably, the rocks have become the source of local legends about love, lust and jealousy. Probably the most popular one tells of a boy and a girl who decided to marry against the will of the boy's mother. The woman became deranged at her son's betrayal. She stuck a cross into the earth and cursed all the participants at the wedding, crying for them to be turned into stone. God heard, and everyone in the party froze for all eternity.
Another version blames the phenomenon on the lustful best-man, who was so enchanted with the beauty of the bride that he forgot basic decency and tried to kiss her. Appalled by his misbehaviour, the whole wedding party turned to stone – literally.
A third story concerns a Christian girl and a Muslim boy who could not marry because of their different religions. In despair, the girl threw herself from a high rock, and was transformed into the formation known as The Bride.
Romantic setting and disturbing legends
All of these legends, however, cannot conceal an important fact. The rock pyramids at Stob are not static. The stone is too soft and easily collapses under the assault of the elements, so the landscape is constantly changing, with old pyramids crumbling to dust and new ones being carved out of the slope, a slow but unending result of the forces of nature over which people have no power.
This series of articles is supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation. The statements and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.