VARVARA'S IRON TREE

by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Abandoned move prop becomes local curiosity

iron tree bulgaria 4.jpg

Agroup of friends meet each summer at the seaside, a small community who know one another so well that boredom becomes inevitable, and so do internal conflicts. And death. The script of The Big Night Swim, a movie that premiered in 1980, sums up what existential angst and ennui looked like in Communist Bulgaria, or at least in Communist Bulgaria's "intellectual elite." Significantly, the movie was shot at a relatively remote location the village of Varvara.

At the southern Black Sea coast, Varvara is near Turkey. As it is situated somewhat inland and lacks a proper beach, it was never seen as a major tourist spot in the mould of Sozopol and Ahtopol. Despite this – or probably because of it – the village became the darling of Sofia's arty and alternative crowds, which started arriving in the early 1980s. They came here attracted by the remoteness of the place and its dramatic sea cliffs. The most popular of these are the Dardanelite, named after the Dardanelles straits, and the Mekite Skali, or Soft Rocks.

When the film crew that made The Big Night Swim packed their bags and returned to civilization, they left behind something that eventually became a destination on its own: a large metal tree. Now known as the Iron Tree, it stands on the windswept shore over the Dardanelite Rocks, a picturesque and slightly menacing apparition.

For some, it is rather romantic – in the 2010s the Iron Tree became a spot for the Bulgarian celebration of the 1 July sunrise, a tradition that started sometimes in the 1980s and focuses on spending the night, awake, by the sea and playing Uriah Heep's long forgotten hit July Morning when the first rays of the sun appear over the horizon.

As for Varvara itself, in the 2020s the village is not only the realm for latterday hippies and hipsters. The Iron Tree has become a magnet for photographers. You can photograph it day and night, in summer or in wintertime, come rain or come shine. There are no special requirements here with the possible exception of a wide-angle lens. The tree can be seen from low or waits-height angles from all sides. As you have a direct view to the north, this is a good spot for some Polaris photography. Bring a sturdy tripod as it can get very windy by the cliffs.

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