Unknown Bulgaria

Brill Travel presents:


Here we would like to present the region of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. This region is worth a visit -off the beaten track and away from main mass tourist itineraries. Highlights: Mediterranean climate,wild nature, uniquely interesting archaeological and architectural sites.....

Thracian Cult Megalith Monument kromlechThracian Rocky Niches

Geographic Conditions
The integrated territory of Lyubimetz, Ivaylovgrad and Madzharovo municipalities covers 1,410 kmІ. Also situated there are parts of the Eastern Rhodope ridges Maglenik, Sarta, Gorata, Gradishte, as well as the southwest slopes of Sakar Mountain and the Maritsa River valley surrounded by them. The Vetren peak, situated near the Bulgarian-Greek border, is 1,266 meters high and is the highest in the region. St. Marina (709m) and Sheinovec (704m) are the other high peaks in the region. The majority of the territory is hilly with deeply indented relief and obvious erosion processes along the Arda River Valley.

The climate is mild-continental for the municipalities of Lyubimetz and Madzharovo, and Mediterranean for Ivaylovgrad municipality. The biggest rivers crossing the region are: Maritsa, Arda and Byala Reka.

Ivaylovgrad Municipality
Ivaylovgrad municipality is situated at the most southern part of the Rhodope Mountains, at the border with Greece. To the north and south, its neighboring municipalities are correspondingly Lyubimetz, Madzharovo and Krumovgrad. The altitude varies from 70m to 700m. The relief of the municipality is defined by the flowing curves of low Rhodope ridges, which gradually transform into vast valleys. The municipal center – the town of Ivaylovgrad, which has a population of 4,423 residents, is situated 60km away from the nearest train station, in the town of Ljubimets, and 110km away from the towns of Haskovo and Kardzhali.
The Mediterranean climate is favorable for the growth of tobacco and viticulture. The average annual rainfall is from 725 to 925 ml per mІ and the average annual temperature is 21-23 degrees centigrade, considerably higher than the average for the country. There are 84 rare plants in Ivaylovgrad municipality which are registered in the Red Book of Bulgaria and 11 worldwide rare plants. The region also has considerable significance for the preservation of rare birds – 77 species that inhabit the municipality are registered in the Red Book of Bulgaria and seven of them are threatened worldwide. The variety of rapacious birds is unique. The Arda River, the biggest in the Rhodope, and the Ivaylovgrad dam offer with their crystal clear water excellent possibilities for recreation, swimming and fishing. The average temperature is between six and 13 degrees centigrade.
    Traditional fair:    Trifon Zarezan (14th of February)
    Territory:        815 kmІ
    Population:        8,159 people
Settlements:    50 – 49 villages and 1 town, organized into 18 town councils. More than half of the population of the municipality lives in the town of Ivaylovgrad.

Lyubimets Municipality
Lyubimets municipality is situated at the eastern part of the Haskovo Region and international highway E-80 passes through it. The municipality is situated on a geographical crossroad connecting Western and Central Europe with the Middle East, Asia and North Africa. The municipal center – the town of Ljubimets – is situated 40km away from the regional center, the city of Haskovo; 9km away from the border with Greece; and 12km away from the border with Turkey. The Maritsa River separates the municipality in two. 70 % of the population of the municipality is situated at the west bank of the Maritsa River. There are ten settlements in the municipality – one town and nine villages. The relief of the municipality is multiform and the soil is very fertile.
    Traditional fair:    The Assumption Church (the last Sunday of August)
    Territory:        335 square kilometers
    Population:        11,674 residents: Ljubimets – 8,438.

Madzharovo Municipality
Madzharovo municipality is situated in the Eastern Rhodope and possesses extremely beautiful natural resources. With its beautiful and preserved nature, interesting rock formations along the Arda River Valley and with its archeological and historic monuments, the municipality offers excellent possibilities for getting some distance from the dynamics and stress of the city for a complete and pleasant rehabilitation, surrounded by silent, calm and beautiful nature. There are interesting places, glades with flowers and a number of protected flora and fauna species among the copper-beach forests and rock massifs.
The climate is warm Mediterranean. The average annual temperature is 12.5 degrees centigrade with a mild winter and dry summer. The average annual rainfall is 880 ml per mІ. Local influences exercised over the climate are the Arda River, as well as the Kardzhali, Studen Kladenets and Ivaylovgrad Dams built along its river valley. Passing along the Madzharovo cupola-morph structure (two-crater volcano), the Arda River formed two picturesque canyons surrounded by lovely rocky massifs. The municipality has rich water resources. The soils in the region are maroon and chernozem. Typical for the region are the so-called skeleton soils. Formed by the crumbling down of the rocks, they form a specific microclimate which is important for the local rich fauna. More than twenty rare, different plants grow there and nowhere else in the country. The fauna of the region is best represented by the ornitho-fauna. Those birds with the status of ‘preserved from extinction in Europe’ include: the fern-owl, rocky thrush, oriole, rocky swallows. In the national Red Book, the following birds are included: black stork, imperial eagle, king’s eagle, bald vulture, Egyptian vulture and others. Threatened with extinction worldwide is the black vulture. The large mammals are represented by the wolf, jackal, fox, deer, and wild boar.
Traditional fair:    Day of the Thracian Memory (the last Saturday of September)
Territory:    246.7 kmІ
Population:    2,157 people; the residents of the town of Madzharovo are – 741.

Historical development of the region during the period from the 6th Millennium BC to the 14th Century
The present landscape throughout this part of the country is very different from that of a few centuries ago. The relief of the region has remained unchanged throughout the past ten millennia, but the other elements of the surrounding scenery suffered significant changes. The first major difference in comparison with the past is that, during the antiquity, the region was covered with centuries-old forests. According to some documents from the 17th Century, not only the mountains were covered with thick forests, but also the river valleys. The settlements and the cultivated agricultural lands were tiny islands among the surrounding forests. The clearing of the forests started after the 18th Century, when the population growth in that region forced the people to search for new lands to cultivate. Parallel with that, timber from the region was being transported with rafts over the Maritsa River to meet the necessities of the towns of Edirne and Tsarigrad (Istanbul). The rivers in the past were much deeper because of the existence of huge forests, as well as some less significant differences in the climate of the region.
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The region was inhabited from antiquity due to the mild climate, the favorable conditions for agriculture and stock-breeding, the existence of rich ore deposits and the deep rivers.
The earliest traces showing the existence of human inhabitation of this region date back to the Stone and Copper Ages. There are no preserved cultural monuments in the region from that period, nor from the Bronze Epoch that followed. The earliest cultural monuments in the region date back to the Early Stone Age (12th - 6th Centuries BC). Very interesting for cultural tourism are the Thracian megalith monuments. The name ‘megalith’ means ‘huge stones’ – built of massive stone blocks. In fact, the actual megalith monuments in Thrace are the dolmens and the cromlechs. Other monuments, such as rocky niches, tombs, basins, etc., are also added by analogy in territorial, as well as chronological and cultural, meaning to this group. Often the monuments could be found combined into huge cult complexes, such as those next to the town of Madzharovo, the villages Malko Gradishte, Valche Pole, Senoklas, etc. Usually the megaliths are situated in beautiful regions on top of ridges and rocky missives, revealing beautiful views and picturesque panoramas.
The latest studies show that some of the dolmens were built during the Late Iron Age. Others were built during the Early Iron Age. Typically, these were used repeatedly for burials even during the period of the Roman reign in Thrace.
 The tribal nationality of the builders of the megalith monuments is not emphatically proven. There are certain reasons to claim that the region of their propagation – the Eastern Rhodope, Sakar and Strandza Mountains – coincided with the territory of the Thracian tribe Odrisi. Archeological data is scarce for the way of living of the Thracian population from the Early Iron Age. It is clear, however, that during that period a developed settlement system existed, made up of small unprotected villages, as well as well-fortified castles built mainly on naturally-protected heights.
The basic way of living of the region’s population during this period was agriculture and stock-breeding. Additional economic activities were hunting, fishing, apiculture and the like. An important role in the economic activities of the local population was ore-mining. The economic prosperity of the region was due to the ore, not only in the antiquity, but also during the following epochs.
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The next period of the development of ancient Thrace – the Late Iron Age covers the period between the end of the 6th Century BC and the beginning of the 1st Century BC. This was a period of “opening” for the Thracian lands towards the surrounding world. Public relations were improved; the settlement system developed and new technical decisions were implemented. Some of these changes came as a result of internal processes and natural development of the achievements of the preceding Early Iron Epoch. The others came as a result of the penetration of different cultural influences: Hellenic, Macedonian, Scythian, Roman, etc. Cultural exchange with the surrounding world came, to a certain extent, as a result of the location of Hellenic and Celtic influences.
The first towns in ancient Thrace sprang up during that period. The Hellenic influence could be found in them, but the inclusion of the ruler’s residence in the town’s plan demonstrates the specifics of the local Thracian culture.
The foundation and development of the town centers were conditioned to a certain extent by the powerful states springing up in the Thracian lands. The Thracian towns were different from the Hellenic in their strong centralized authorities and, impressive for its time, the envelopment of territory. The Thracian kingdoms were active on the political scene of the antique world and played a decisive role after the 5th Century BC.
The territories of Ivaylovgrad, Madzharovo and Lyubimets municipalities were part of the Odrisi Kingdom is that, аccording to one assessment, the wealth of the kingdom’s treasury during the rule of Sevt I (424-407 BC) amounted to 1,000 talents, or 260,000kg of coins and metal products! Significant for the military might of the Odrisi kingdom was the number of its army sent by Sitalk, the predecessor of Sevt I, to conquer east Macedonia and Halkidik peninsula during the Peloponnesian Wars. Ancient chronologists reported that its army numbered 150,000 warriors!

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The Roman expansion on the Balkan Peninsula started between 320 and 329 BC. The first territories conquered were those of the Thracian tribes, situated at the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. The borders of the Roman Empire reached Epirus. The Romans utterly routed the Macedonian state in three consecutive wars. After the conquest, the Macedonian state was divided in four regions and declared as a Roman province (168-148 BC).
The military campaign towards the Thracian kingdoms started at the end of the Second Century BC and continued for two-and-a-half centuries. A Roman province named Mizia was declared in 15 AD. The borders of its territory were the Sava River to the west, the Black Sea coast to the east, the Danube River to the north and the southern parts of the Stara Planina Mountain to the south.
Vassal states continued to exist south of that mountain for thirty years more. In 45 AD, the last Thracian ruler – Remetalk the Third – was killed after a palace coup and the lands south of the mountain were declared as a Roman province, also called Thrace. These acts of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) put an end to the former Thracian states.
The Roman authorities carried out activities on a large scale for the socialization of the conquered lands. The Romans, though, wisely preserved the established traditional organization in the villages of Thrace. The Roman authorities preserved also the ownership of the Thracian aristocrats. They were economically independent and gained even more political and administrative power as Roman Strategists (regional governors – posts inherited from the Hellenic State). The status quo of the local aristocracy was preserved up to the beginning of Second Century, when the Roman reign in Thrace and Mizia was finally stabilized. In the end, the clever “liberalness” of the Roman authorities ensured stability and agricultural production, which was profitable for the Empire.
After the conquest and the transformation of Dakia into a Roman province (107 AD) during the reign of Emperor Trayan, Thrace and Lower Mizia became inner provinces for the Empire. The remoteness of those provinces from the borders of the Empire was one factor for comparatively tranquil living, undisturbed by huge war conflicts. The reign of the dynasties of the Antonins and the Severs became a period of flourishing development of the Thracian lands and lasted for 130 years.
A number of settlements were transformed into towns, and new ones were built. Road-building was implemented on a large scale. The old roads were paved with solid stone blocks. New roads were also built and complemented the transport system of these provinces. Road stations for travelers to rest and to change horses were built along them. The building of roads aimed to make easier the transport of goods and armies, as well as to facilitate communications and cultural exchange between the nations within the empire.
These circumstances effectively led to the equalization of the Thracian lands to the standards of the Roman Empire. The first European civilization was beginning to form.

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Christianity was pronounced the official religion within the borders of the Roman Empire in 324 AD. The transition of the people’s beliefs to the new Christian cult was partly facilitated by the widespread cult of the Thracian Horseman. This form of the Orphic doctrine was original pagan monotheism. For the reason, the transition and acceptance of Christianity by the local population was done in relatively short period of time. By no accident, the Thracian population was wordily extolled by the church chroniclers for their humility and their quick unification with the new cult. Also by no coincidence, one of the first translations of the Bible was done in the language of the Thracian tribe Besi, the most dedicated followers of the cult of Dionysus in the Rhodope.
The thesis for the early dissemination of Christianity throughout the region is supported by the Early-Christian temples discovered. A distinctive characteristic of the Early-Christian temples was the existence of baptistery (place for baptizing). These premises were detached from the temple and had a reservoir built in which new Christians were baptized. As time past, the necessity of such premises faded away because the Christian cult became established throughout the territory, and because those newly baptized were mainly children, small baptismal fonts were used for the ritual.
The shift of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople (330 AD) added new significance to the territory. The once-remote province became a bridgehead of the new administrative center of the Empire, was destined also to experience the negatives – numerous barbaric invasions.
This was a period of both – devastation and reconstruction. Besides the cult monuments, many new fortresses were built. Many old Thracian fortresses, useless before, were rebuilt in order to meet and weaken the attacks of invading barbarians from the north.
Proofs of the inhabitation of the Late Antiquity are discovered in almost every antique fortress in the region. Traces of massive buildings constructed of bricks, tiles and plaster can be seen in almost every fortress from this period of time.
The Late Antiquity was a turbulent time and many wars were fought. During this period, the materials and written sources about the Thracian population were gradually lost. After the establishment of the Christianity as official religion of the Roman Empire, the building of new Thracian mounds – so characteristic for the Thracian landscape – gradually stopped. The pagan cult places and images of the Thracian Horseman also vanished. The name Thracian was rarely mentioned in written sources.
It is inappropriate to explain the changes that occurred only with the fact that the numerous barbaric invasions brought a decline in the numbers of the local population. Even conflicts on such large scale could not erase such a large nation from the face of the Earth. The Thracians were the “most-numerous nation after the Indians”, as mentions Herodotus. The reasons for the obliteration of the Thracian ethnos were complex.
The new religion of the Empire – Christianity – unified the customs of the different nations within its borders. The lack of Thracian writing and the imposition of Greek as an official language accelerated this process of unification. The Thracian population was gradually loosing its uniqueness, and finally merged within the huge mass of Christian citizens proudly calling themselves “Romei” – Romans

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During that time, the invasion of the Slav tribes from the north began. Completely different in beliefs, way of life and customs, they stood out on the political scene. This is because they were Roman enemies for a long period of time before their permanent colonization south of Danube River and their transformation into subjects of the Empire.
The transformation of the Slav population into subjects of the Byzantine Empire and the inclusion of their lands within the borders of Empire gradually spread the Christian religion among them. The process of converting the population to Christianity accelerated with the course of time. Most probably, the Slav population – though their sheer numbers would have infused into the common mass of Christian residents of the Empire – would have lost their originality like the Thracian population before them, if the political reality at the end of the 7th Century had not changed the pattern.
During that time north of the Stara Planina Mountains, the new Bulgarian State was formed.
The constant attempts of the Bulgarian rulers to include every Slav-populated region within the borders of the state turned this territory into a border zone. The political authority of the region was often changed from Bulgarian to Byzantium, and vice versa.
At the end of the 14th Century, the Bulgarian state was conquered by the Ottomans. A new stage of the historical development for the region began.
Unlike other regions in Bulgaria, this region completely lacks written sources and other documents about the settlements and the population. The fact stands as quite normal by taking into account that merchants and peaceful residents were constantly passing through this region on their way to and from Edirne and Constantinople, but armies also used the same road and left desolated villages in their wake.
The conquering of the region by the Ottoman Turks finished towards the end of the 14th Century. For the next two centuries, it stayed completely depopulated. Bertrandon Brokier – French knight and traveler cited the complete depopulation as he traveled towards Jerusalem through Edirne and Tsarigrad. Along his voyage between Dimotika and Edirne, he passed only one minor settlement and he mentioned nothing about its population. The French diplomat in Tsarigrad – Buzbek (1553-1562) mentioned that the Bulgarian population frequently left the fertile valleys to settle in the mountains where they felt more secure.

Alphabetical index of archeological monuments.

Villa Armira, Ivaylovgrad municipality
During 1964, while building a dam 1.5km southwest of the residential Ivaylovgrad district of Ladya, builders happened upon traces of an ancient building. The archeological excavations that followed revealed remains from antiquity of a villa from the period of Roman dominion of the land. It became popular by the name Villa Armira, derived from the name of a small river (a tributary of the Arda River) on whose banks the villa is built.
The ancient Villa Armira is an impressive complex of residential and economic buildings on a territory of 2,200mІ. The residential area covers 978mІ, embracing a huge inner yard and surrounded by a closed gallery with columns and a swimming pool in the middle. The residential rooms – dining room, living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, etc., are situated around the pool. The heating of the rooms was carried out using hypocaust, an under-floor system in which the floor of the building is raised on columns built from brickwork or ceramic pipes, among which warm air circulates, heated by a specially built fireplace.
The Villa was built in three periods. The first was the first quarter of the 2nd Century during the reign of Emperor Adrian (117-138). Later on, the villa was decorated with rich marble ornaments, the swimming pool was built, and minor changes to the other premises were made. During the third period, the eastern extension of the villa was built, consisting of two huge representative premises and a few smaller ones between them. Construction of the villa was finished during the reign of Antonin Pii (138-161).
During the excavations were found well-preserved mosaics with figural and geometrical motifs, capitals, parapets, profiled fragments from columns, cornices and tiling from marble. Among the smaller findings were a great number of ceramic pottery, jewelry and every day objects.
The Villa is a luxurious estate, whose residential rooms are adorned with marble decorations, colored plaster and mosaic floors. In this respect, the Villa is indisputably the most magnificent of the similar buildings found so far in Roman Thrace. Furthermore, buildings with similar marble tiling are very rare in the provinces of the Roman Empire as a whole. A very important fact is that the decorative elements are so well preserved that complete restoration of the interior of the building is possible.
The agricultural complex of the Villa is not so well preserved, because of the displacement of the terrain. Its purpose was to provide activities such as exploitation of lands, storage and processing of agricultural activities developed.
The Villa was inhabited up to the third quarter of the 4th Century. Its demolition is likely connected to the huge devastation of the environs of Adrianopol during the year 378 AD, when the Roman army led by Emperor Valent was defeated by the Goth tribes. The emperor himself was wounded in that battle and taken away to a villa near the battlefield by his loyal guards. Subsequently, the Goth tribes discovered the sanctuary of the wounded emperor, seized and burn down the villa and killed the emperor. It is very likely that these events occurred exactly in Villa Armira.

Architectural monument – obelisk of the perished during the
Balkan War (1912), Lyubimets municipality
The architectural monument – obelisk of the perished during the Balkan War in the year 1912 was erected in 1941 at the Sheinovec peak, in the land between the villages of Valche Pole and Malko Gradishte.

The peak itself is connected to the beginning of the Balkan War in 1912. According to the Bulgarian secret services, on October 4, 1912, the Ottoman battalion on the Kurtkale peak numbered around 100 soldiers and two more small brigades were situated nearby. Commanding authorities of the Bulgarian military were preparing for an assault on the peak with the aim of seizing it, since the place is convenient for scanning the valleys of the Arda and Maritsa rivers and the Edirne Valley. Access to the peak is exceptionally difficult. The slopes from the south and northwest descend vertically and are inaccessible, while the eastern slope is rocky and steep. Climbing to the top was possible only via one path, meandering between the rocks and bushes.
On October 4 at 21:30h, the battalion of the 30th infantry – Sheynovski regiment – received order to capture the peak. Early in the morning of October 5, Bulgarian military companies overtook the defenders and captured the peak. This was the first serious battle of the war and in the campaign of the Bulgarian army that invaded the Edirne region. After this battle, the Bulgarian troops seized Mustafa Pasha (in present-day Svilengrad) without any difficulties.

Silent Stones, Luybimets municipality
“Silent Stones” is one of the biggest Thracian cult burial complexes in the Eastern Rhodope. It originated during the Early Iron Age (12th-6th Century BC) and was used also during Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
The site is located on top of a four-rock massif, divided by deep canyons. The rocky tomb of a famous member of the Thracian aristocracy holds a central space in the site. There are traces of an unfinished tomb to the west.
There are stairs hewn of rock leading to the top of the sanctuary. According to some scientists, local religious leaders (priests) used to stairs during their holy ceremonies. There is a big rectangular basin cut into the rocks there, believed to have been used as water reservoir.
All the surrounding rocks are studded with more than 200 rock niches. Most of the rock niches have trapezium form, but some are also cylindrically formed. It is believed that the local tribe used to put ashes of dead members of the lower society in them.
 The Thracian cult burial complexes used to be surrounded by fortification walls built of hewn stones.
 The worship of the local population for this sacred place was so strong and enduring, that during the late antiquity in the 5th Century) when Christianity was adopted as an official religion of the Roman Empire, the authorities built a Christian temple at that place.

God’s Step, Lyubimets municipality

A natural furrow additionally carved and shaped like a small rock basin, can be found approximately 1.5km southeast from the village of Oryahovo in the valley of the riverbanks. Throughout the year, it is filled with water that does not dry up even during times of drought. The liquid flows in the basin from a crack in the rock. There are reasons to believe that during antiquity, before the deforestation of the region, the natural spring was far more deep-watered.
The Ancient Thracians gave a divine notion to the springs and often turned them into sanctuaries dedicated to the water nymphs, called nympheums. The additional carvings in the basin of the vicinity of God’s Step were probably done for this purpose. It is apparent that this sanctuary was part of the huge cult burial complex on the land of the village of Oryahovo, which also includes several dolmen tombs and cult of the dead, as well as those connected with the Thracian belief in a cyclic recurrence of the permanently reviving nature.
After the acceptance of Christianity, and due to the impossibility of this new religion to suppress the deeply rooted local traditions, the old beliefs acquired new Christian meaning and explanation. The retained the old pagan sanctuaries, but they were now transformed through the looking glass of the new religion. The legends that now reside in the local population probably originated then.
The belief that the water from this spring has healing qualities is widespread among the local population. People tie red thread on the bushes around the place for health, use the water for drinking and washing, in the belief that it helps to heal diseases.

Thracian Tomb near the village of Dolno Lukovo, Ivaylovgrad municipality
The Thracian tomb was built and then a four-meter high mound was piled over it. The burial site is composed of rectangular burial chamber, antechamber and a corridor. The burial chamber was built of marble and limestone blocks joined with iron clamps poured with lead. The floor was paved with marble plates. The chamber was covered with huge lime-stone blocks. The first row of the walls was made of cubic marble plates, in which decorations were chiseled out. Geometrical figures – discs, plates, rectangles, pentacles, as well as two realistic zoomorphic images – a fish and the head of a horse – are part of the decoration of the tomb. These figures along with the half-moon chiseled out near the entrance form a composition with strong aesthetic impact that most probably hides encoded information related to the burial cult.
The antechamber was built using the same building technique as in the burial chamber, but only limestone blocks were used. The corridor made of stones soldered with mud is partially preserved.
The walls of the burial chamber and the antechamber were covered with colorful mortar (an antique recipe for covering walls composed of lime, marble dust, wax and the like) Shapes and geometrical ornaments in deep red, violet, and dark blue were painted over the main pale blue background. The floor was covered with pink putty.
The tomb was plundered in antiquity. Many of the findings as well as parts of a human skeleton were scattered in and in front of the antechamber. The findings include the relief image of a horse’s head, fragments of pottery, bronze fibulas and other ornaments, parts of golden burial wreath, silver coins and a pottery lamp. A horse was buried in front of the antechamber.
The traditions of having multiple burials in one and the same tomb under a mound and sacrificing a horse are characteristic for the Thracian aristocracy. Most probably a local Thracian king, whose name and residence are thus far unknown, was buried in the tomb near the village of Dolno Lukovo.

Whitestone-Town Fortress

The fortress is situated on a naturally protected peak that is difficult to access. The slopes of the peak descend steeply towards Byala Reka River, which surrounds it on three sides. The fortress walls enclose an area of 13,000 square meters. They are preserved up to a 7-8 meter height and are two meters thick. At the eastern part of the fortress, where the terrain is more accessible, there is a secondary defense wall built at a distance of 10-15 meters from the first wall. The terrain inside the fortress is 4-5 meters higher compared to the terrain outside the fortress. This made undermining the walls and breaking through with siege weapons impossible.
A basilica was raised at the eastern part of the area, enclosed by the fortress walls. Its floor was paved with stone plates.
The main attraction in the fortress is the feudal residence tower (donjon), preserved up to present days. Its walls are up to 9 meters high and 1.5 meters thick. The tower is rectangular with measurements 11x9m. The traces of trimmer joists show that the tower was two stories high. A wall separated the lower floor into two parts. The first part was used as a store, while in the second one a wooden staircase led to the upper, residential floor. There are no preserved written chronicles for the fortress. By the method of its construction, the fortress should be dated to the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th Centuries. The residence tower was built most probably during the 15th Century. Its construction directly after the fall of the region under the Ottoman influence shows that the fortress was not destroyed. During that time, the fortress was most probably governed by a powerful Ottoman feudal lord, who performed additional reconstruction in it.
It is not known when the fortress was abandoned. It is possible that this happened after the 16th Century when the borders of the Ottoman Empire moved far to the North and the necessity for such fortress in the interior of the empire faded away.

Lyutica Fortress

Lyutica Fortress is one of the best-preserved in its original appearance mediaeval  fortresses in Bulgaria . It  vies  with   the   fortresses   near   the   villages of  Mezek, Matochina and others , which are considered as the best-preserved  mediaeval fortresses in all Bulgaria.

The fortress   was  built  on  Gradishteto, a Rhodope peak overgrown with forest, situated six kilometers west of Ladya neighborhood of Ivaylovgrad. Its walls, surrounding an area of 1.4 ha, are preserved to their original height of 6m and are 1.75m thick. They were built of processed stones soldered with white mortar. The defense line of the fortress was fortified with 12 towers, some of which are preserved almost to their original height of 9m. Most of them are rectangular but there are also semicircular, trapezoidal and octagonal towers. The towers were three stories high, topped with combat platforms and equipped with loopholes. The lower floors of the south towers were used as living rooms, while those of the north towers served as water reservoirs. Evidence for this can be found in the manner that climbing to the combat platform was organized in each tower. Getting to the platforms, in those used as living rooms, was done by climbing wooden staircases, while stone stairs, detached from the fortification walls, were used to get to the top of the ones used as water reservoirs.

The name of the fortress appeared for the first time in the bishop’s registers during the time of Emperor Luv VI (886-912). It was mentioned also during the reign of Constantine VII (Constantine Porphyrogenitus) in 940. Among the Episcopal centers in eparchial Thrace subordinate to the Metropolitan Bishop in Philipopolis was also the Bishop Center – Lyutica. Probably during that time, the fortress near the settlement was built. The fortress was destroyed many times in the past. The present fortress was built most probably during the 12th and 13th Centuries during the reign of Tsar Kaloyan.
Lyutica was also mentioned in the memories of Iowan Kantakuzin in relation with the civil riots within the borders of Byzantium Empire during the winter of 1342-1343. During that time, the fortress was under the reign of Kantakuzin’s enemy Alexii Apokvak. One of Kantakuzin’s contingents set out from Dimotika to seek provisions in the Rhodope Mountains. The winter was severe and the soldiers found themselves endangered from freezing and were forced to surrender to the Lyutica garrison. The governor of the fortress was secret ally of Kantakuzin. He “… locked the soldiers in a house, warmed and fed them and after the third day voluntarily let them escape”.
It is common knowledge that, during the Ottoman invasion, Lyutica was seized without a fight. That is one of the reasons that it was not destroyed and preserved its statute of a bishop’s center.
During medieval times, the road leading to the fortress crossed the Ateren Bridge over the Armira River, which is preserved up to present day. The bridge has an arch construction. The width of the arch is 4.5m and the height is 5.1m. It was built of stones plate, soldered with mortar. The arch was built of processed stones. Most probably the bridge was built during the late Ottoman period of the fortress (15th-18th Centuries).
Cult Complex and Fortress, Madzharovo municipality

The fortress is situated on a wide plateau on the top of a ridge 2.2km westwards of the town of Madzharovo. The road leading to the fortress is very picturesque and suitable for cars and walking tours. There is a chapel built near the fortress, in which a fair of the surrounding villages is held every May 24th. Obviously the place was honored from ancient times. During an archeological investigation, a Thracian sanctuary was discovered near a rock, north of the fortress. An impound-domed well built there is still used by local people for ritual washings during the local fair.
The fortress was built on a wide plateau on the top of a hill. It is situated on level ground, surrounded on three sides by steep rocks: the entrance of the fortress is situated at the only accessible place – from the west. Two parallel walls, constructed from stone, assured the defense of the fortress on the west. The fortress walls are preserved up to two meters at some places. Traces of buildings can be seen in the interior of the fortress. The place was inhabited long before the fortress was built, evidenced by several Thracian rock niches with trapezium-shape, built on the northeast steep slope, as well as fragments of pottery discovered which date from the period of the first millennium BC to medieval times.
The fortress is assumed to have been part of a defensive system built in the Eastern Rhodope. There is nice visibility from this fortress towards the medieval fortresses in the Meneken Stones, Lyutica, and St. Marina peak. Monuments from earlier epochs can also be seen from here – Thracian sanctuaries on Meneken Stones, Kaatepe Peak, Gorniya Chal Peak, Tepeto Peak, the vast cult complex in the region of the Silent Stones, as well as many settlements from different epochs along the Arda River Valley (some of which are now underwater near the Ivaylovgrad dam).

Neutzicon Fortress near the village of Mezek, Svilengrad municipality
A 1983 study of the Neutzikon Fortress near the village of Mezek discovered unknown elements of its plan and corrected its dating. Its walls, surrounding an area of seven hundred sq.m. were built from shattered stones soldered with white plaster. On the front side of the walls are three panels made up of four rows of bricks used for decorative purposes, which therefore do not cover the whole length of the wall, unlike in the earlier fortresses. The fortress is most inaccessible from the north due to the steep incline and, because of that, the wall there has the smallest thickness, 1.9m, and is reinforced with only one tower. The weak spot of the fortress is the southern wall because of the leveled terrain in front of it. Its thickness is 2.6m and it is reinforced with five towers. The thickness of the eastern and the western walls is 2.3m and they are reinforced, respectively, with one and two towers. The main entrance of the fortress is situated in a turn of the western wall. It is set up in a way that the attackers fall into a trap on a small platform that is being shot with arrows from two sides. The approach to the entrance passes along the whole length of the western fortress wall. Attackers were forced to move towards the entrance with their right-hand side turned and unprotected by a shield against the defenders of the fortress, who were firing arrows at them.
Three of the fortress towers, two from the west side and one from the south, are compactly built. The rest of the towers have premises positioned on several floors with wooden staircases inside them. The smallest northern tower has an underground room, most probably used as a dungeon. The corner tower between the southern and the western walls is bigger and is the best preserved. There are traces of four floors, one of them underground. The upper floor is overarched with a stone arch, above which the battle platform and the crenels are situated. Along the whole height of the tower, looking inside the fortress, are narrow openings, loopholes, designed for the defense of the tower even when attackers penetrated the fortress walls. The design of the tower indicates that it was meant to fulfill the functions of a Donjon – the last haven for the defenders of the fortress.
During the time of the 1983 archeological excavations, another smaller entrance of the fortress was discovered on the eastern wall. From there, the defenders were capable of suddenly attacking the aggressors.
The materials discovered in the process of the fortress study show that an earlier Thracian settlement existed in the same place during the Early Iron and Late Iron epochs. Most of the materials discovered are from the second half of the first millennium BC, corresponding to the pinnacle of that region during the period 4th-3rd Centuries BC and the rise near the village of Mezek of one of the biggest cult centers of the Thracian tribe – Odrisi.

Rocky Niches situated in Hambarkaya, Madzharovo municipality

The rocky niches are unique and characteristic monuments of the Thracian culture for the region of Eastern Rhodope. Several groups of niches are registered within the region around the town of Madzharovo. Some of them nowadays are within medieval fortresses (Meneken Stones, Hisarya Peak, etc.). The niches in the area called Hambarkaya were chiseled out of interesting rock formations, situated at the saddle between two high peaks, 3.5km northwest of Madzharovo.
The rocks from which the niches were chiseled are very interesting – “Rocky Mushroom” and to the west “Rocky Arch”. A beautiful sight is revealed from there, the riverbed and the rocky missives Kovan Kaya and Kaz   Kaya. The grouped niches have a trapezium-like shape. There are 42 niches on the “Rocky Mushroom” – 5 on the eastern side, 17 on the southern and 20 on the southwestern. Most of the niches “face” the Arda River Valley and some are situated 10-12 meters above the ground level. The “Rocky Arch” is situated on a vertical rock with more than 30 niches, though some are weathered and hardly visible. Nowadays, kites nest in two of the niches on “Rocky Arch”. Pottery pieces from the Prehistoric and Thracian Epochs have been found around “Rocky Mushroom” during archeological excavations. The site obviously retained its significance in later epochs and a proof of this is the flat medieval necropolis registered in the same valley. There are other rocks with chiseled niches registered in the region: the rocky massif next to the “Iron Bridge” over the Arda River, in vertical western side of Kaz Kaya, the southern vertical side of the Meneken Stones, the rocks of the northeastern part of the Hisarya fortress, the sanctuary in the region of Silent Stones, etc.
Characteristic for this type of monuments is that they are chiseled out of vertical, inaccessible rocks, which raises the interesting questions: how were they built and what was their purpose?

Thracian Dolmen near the village of Pelevun, Ivaylovgrad municipality

The dolmen near Pelevun, oriented in an east-west direction with its entrance at the east, consists of a big burial chamber, a narthex and a dromos (corridor), all with a rectangular shape. Its total length is 7.5 meters. The dolmen was built in a hollow place in slightly rising grounds, pre-prepared for that purpose. Separate and roughly shaped gneiss blocks, upright and dug into the rocky soil make up the dolmen. At the entrance of the monument, an original faзade was formed from two vertical blocks, rounded on the top, flanking the entrance from north and south. The single block founded fallen in front of the entrance probably covered it. A 2.8-meter corridor follows the entrance Its walls are long, vertical stones. The north walls was built up with three rows of horizontal plates were laid down on top of it. The chamber before the burial chamber is wider, shorter and higher than the dromos. After the wider and shorter chamber is the burial chamber. Its walls are built from 2.75m long stone plates. The floor is covered with one huge stone plate.
The chamber and the antechamber were probably covered with horizontally placed huge stones. The corridor was most likely not covered.
The architectural plan of the dolmen is unusually complex and uncommon among the similar monuments studied in Bulgaria. The monument may have been built and used by the Thracian tribes after the 5th Century BC (Late Iron Epoch). Its architectural plan is similar to the Thracian mounds built during that epoch. The dolmen was used for burials of members of the Thracian aristocracy clans in that region and is evidence for the development of a state organization among the Thracian tribes.

Thracian Cult Megalith Monument – Cromlech near the village of
Dolni Glavanak, Madzharovo municipality

The Thracian Cromlech is situated on the plateau of a small ridge in an area called Bunar Alta (Six Wells), 1km southwest of the village of Dolni Glavanak. It represents a cult site built of vertically upraise stone-blocks. The stones were laid directly upon the rock without special tilling or drilling of the ground. Their appropriate form and, in some cases, the support of smaller stones ensured the monument’s stability. The enclosed sacred place where the rituals were implemented has an oval shape. The term “cromlech” was adopted in Europe for representing constructions like this one built by vertically upright huge stone blocks (megaliths), surrounding an area with oval form. The most popular monument of that kind is the famous “Stonehenge” in southern England. Cromlech was built during the second phase of the Early Iron Age (8th-6th Century BC). The bits of pottery, pieces of plaster and metal tools discovered, concentrated mainly around the upright stone blocks, are evidence for the cult rituals implemented here. This cult facility was functional for a long period of time. Cult rituals were also implemented here during the Late Iron Age (5th-1st Century BC). Single findings prove that the Cromlech was worshiped during the Middle ages as well.
Two smaller facilities, built of stones arranged in circle, are situated south of the Cromlech. Additionally, traces of child burials by cremation were found at this site. Analysis of the materials showed that the cremation was carried out elsewhere and then the ashes were brought here and laid in the sacred circles.
The findings discovered during the archeological studies show that the Cromlech was used for a long period of time; it was used long after the introduction of Christianity as an official religion for the local population.
The Cromlech is significant and possesses unique cultural-historic value because nowadays it is the only preserved megalith monument of its kind in the Bulgaria territory. Nearby (1km northwest) is situated the ridge Taushantepe where another Thracian cult place is registered.

Ancient “Winery” situated in the area called the Big Burun,
Madzharovo municipality

The ancient “winery” is situated on a slope in the area called the Big Burun, near the deserted village of Baldya.The monument consists of a shallow basin chiseled in a single rock and furrows connected to it. It has an oval shape and its walls were well shaped; another smaller basin and a furrow for the pouring of the liquid. The furrow and the smaller basin are connected with the big one by a pierced opening in the edge of the big one. The diameter of the pool is 1.45m, and with its edge – 1.80m.
There are other similar monuments in the region (for instance, near rocky sanctuaries) with different shapes and sizes. There are two theories for the usage of these interesting monuments: according to the first, they were used for the production of wine: and according the second, they were used for ore output, for purifying the crushed ore with water. According to some theories, the wineries were synchronic with the megalith monuments (1st millennium BC) and were used for an extended period of time.

 Alphabetical index of architectural and cultural monuments.

Religious monuments from the Bulgarian Revival

Village of Mandrica, Municipality of Ivaylovgrad
The first settlers of the village Mandrica were Albanians. They came from the Northern Epirus – a village of Vitikuki. The village has four neighborhoods with a total of 500 houses. Every neighborhood had its own priest. The wedding ceremony was done by the priest from the neighborhood of the bridegroom. Mandrica was on the crossroad to Yanuli, Soufli, Dimotika and Edirne. Hectic business relations were a stimulus for the development of sericulture. Due to this trade, the village turned into a prosperous small town with big impressive houses. Another business activity was making goats’ hair rugs. The houses in the village of Mandrica are typical for the Renaissance Eastern Rhodope houses, which in their construction type, technique and the materials used relates to the sun dried bricks. These houses were usually not grouted or were grouted with red clay. The effect of the exterior is unique – whole complexes of earthy red houses and streets with unique emanation and local color are formed. The Mandrica village is an exceptionally bright and unique example of this “red” architecture. In its purpose, the houses in the Mandrica village are Sericulture House s. The regular Sericulture House is rectangular and symmetric, with an asymmetric distribution of living rooms. The plan of the Sericulture House is governed, most of all, by the condition of functionality.
The influence of the Edirne architecture is especially vivid in the construction and plastic decisions of the local houses. Late baroque influence can also be seen in this region – represented by wrought iron bars on the balconies and windows, by the internal plaster on the walls and by the economic and rare use of wall paintings and fresco.
The external influence, reflected in the local architecture and art in the renaissance tradition and the recreated skills of the master builder have left us with unique examples of houses with local and national significance.
Such a unique example is the Saint Dimitrios Church built in 1835. The iconostasis is wooden, three-leveled, with a royal register and two rows of apostolic and holiday icons. There is partial fretwork woodcarving decoration. The nuptial and the iconostasis are very interesting as well. They consist of a variety of fretwork woodcarving and polychrome elements. The fretwork is the so-called “shepherds fretwork”.
The church tower is different from the rest of the towers with its construction type, decoration, prolonged proportions and elegance.

Village of Dolno Lukovo, Municipality of Ivaylovgrad
The village of Dolno Lukovo, with its symmetry with nature, the high level of preserved authentic hewn stone houses and the rich history of the village, is like an original architectural reserve that has kept the spirit of tradition. The old name of Dolno Lukovo is Golyamo Suvanli. The main means of livelihood was sericulture, brought to the region from Soufli and Dimotika. Almost all households bred silkworms and, therefore, were constructed for that purpose in mind. This livelihood is typical for the neighboring villages as well – Gorno Lukovo, Siv Kladenec, Odrinci and Mandrica.
Large immigration processes in the region and, in parallel with that, infiltration of cultures led to the formation of new characteristics of the bases of the local people’s traditions as well as the reorientation of traditional cultures and new economic relations in the region. Several livelihoods developed in relation to these interactions, including working abroad (gurbetchiystvo), charcoal-burning, gardening and sesame preparation.
The economic development of the village during the second half of the 19th Century was significant – famous masters from the town of Smolyan, together with the mason groups from the villages of Gugutka, Popsko and Chernichino built magnificent houses from hewn stones.
Apart from its magnificent architecture, the village is unique with its Saints Constantine and Elena Church. It was built in 1800 and is the oldest church in the region. It represents a single-hull building with closed narthex and a two-side roof. The construction is of visible masonry from flat boulders.
The church is dug into the earth in order to look like a cattle-shed, since the Ottoman authority at that time did not allow the construction of churches. Also due to that prohibition, the church was finished in only one week, since Ottoman law stated that a building with a roof would not be demolished.
The iconostasis is unique with its primitive “shepherds fretwork”. The wall paintings were done by a self-educated folk icon-painter, a fact that does not however decrease their value. The wall paintings were done on top of the clay interior. The used colors are warm, earthly, and their variety is meager. The icons were done in Bulgarian national revival style. They were painted in the middle of the 19th Century.
The church is one of the best examples of the vitality and power of the folk tradition in the spheres of construction, wood-carving and wall-painting. The iconostasis was restored during the 1970’s by the restoration painter Lyubomir Radev, and the wall paintings were restored in the period from 1990 to 1992 by the restoration painter Stefan Aenski.

Alphabetical index of ethnographic tourist attractions and events.


Boboshari Custom

Boboshari, the name for the mummers’ games, is peculiar for the villages along the Arda River Valley. On February 18 1572, the French traveler Philip Phren Kane met an extraordinary group of people in Lokbek (present-day Lyubimetz). Impressed, he wrote in his diary: “…one sandzak (bay) with drums and zourlas, which echoed strongly, accompanied with many horsemen, dressed ferociously with furs of wolves and tigers, Wallachia fur caps made of the furs of the same beasts, whose muzzles were used as masks and on the heads, huge eagle wings outspread for flight”. Scholars are certain that he observed mummers’ games.
The ritual mummers’ games are strictly for men and almost every man in the village participates. Some of them perform the magic-conjuring part of the ritual, and the rest represent the resistant stamina and overtake the others in the course of the game.
Nowadays, the Boboshari custom is long forgotten and is not celebrated, with the exception of the mummers from the village of Valche Pole, the village of Lerosalimovo in Lyubimets municipality and the mummers from Ladya neighborhood of Ivaylovgrad. They have restored this traditional ritual in order to participate in local, municipal, regional and national fairs.
The mummers are 10-15 men and perform the role of an “army” that guards the Tsar and the bride. The carrying of many tinkles and cow-bells around the cross is perceived as chasing away of the evil forces from the house and from the village. The ritual day ends with mummers’ chain dance led by the bride.
The mummers’ day is one of the biggest festivals for the residents of Ladya neighborhood of Ivaylovgrad. They reproduce the ritual in the way as it was implemented in the village of Mander, Asia Minor, from which the population originates and was forced to migrate during the first decades of 20th Century. The re-creation of the ritual, masks, clothing and mythical characters are authentic. Only there the mummers’ chain dance is performed to the left, in order to challenge evil (the devil) and to make it made with rage. The money gathered from the feast has always been presented to the poorest and to the community center.

Dancing to the accompaniment of St. Lazar’s Day songs,
for health, happiness and fertility

Dancing is performed on St. Lazar’s Day (Saturday before Palm Sunday). As in the rest of spring customs, participation of every young woman in the festivities is obligatory. According to the common beliefs, only a maid who has participated in the festival can expect to get married.
Nowadays, the custom is performed by children from Svirachi village and Ladya neighborhood of Ivaylovgrad. Continuously, the custom is being performed by the artists in the village Yerosalimovo, Lyjubimets municipality. The same custom was represented on local, municipal and national fairs. The songs and the customs on St. Lazar’s Day are very interesting and deserve special attention.


Baking of Sesame Seeds
The baking of sesame seeds developed as a local traditional craft related with the processing of the sesame and the extraction of the ground baked sesame seed.
The workshops were usually located in separate premise in the yard of the owner or in special premises on the ground floor.
The essential part of workshop was the milling mechanism composed of bottom and upper stone, wooden hopper, spindle and a spoon. The construction of the milling mechanism is quite similar to the construction of the water mills.
The introduction of the sunflower as oil-bearing crop, and the larger quantities of oil extracted from it, forced most of the sesame workshops to reorganize and modernize their production and to switch to the sunflower. Nowadays, the sesame workshops produce only small quantities of ground sesame in order to satisfy the necessities of the local population. There are only two preserved authentic workshops – one in the village of Borislavci, Madjarovo municipality and the other in Ivaylovgrad. These workshops are the only preserved sesame workshops in the territory of Bulgaria that produce ground sesame seed using traditional technologies and, because of that, are a unique attraction for tourists. In these workshops, everyone can participate and witness the process of sesame seed production and to taste and buy the ground baked sesame-seed.

Sericulture developed as an intensive supplementary way of living in Ivaylovgrad municipality. Here it originated earlier than in the other parts of the country, because of the immediate proximity of the region to the developed sericulture regions Edirne, Dimotika and Soufli. The mild and wet climate and the fertility of the soil in the valley of Byala Reka River are favorable conditions for the growth of the mulberry trees used as food for the silkworms. The sericulture in the region was in its revival towards the end of the 19th Century after the initiation of the Pasteur method for obtaining silkworm seed, implemented by the first greneurs from the village of Mandrica and the town of Ivaylovgrad.
Sericulture developed as a family way of living. Its growth during the second half of the 19th Century brought along essential changes in the traditional way of living of the population. Most considerably changed was house architecture – the three-story, rectangular or angular house, with spacious sericulture saloons and cellars and narrow living area houses spread widely. Its plan, composition and purpose have combined the living and working requirements of a family: practicing agriculture and stock-breeding, combined with sericulture as a basic supplementary way of living, and most often a craft related to agriculture or processing agricultural or animal products, such as smiting, cartwright’s trade, making of goat hair rugs, bags, etc. Nowadays, silkworm breeding and sericulture carried out with traditional means and methods represents an amusing tourist attraction, demonstrating the traditional way of living and craftsmanship of our ancestors.


The production of stone plates, or “tigli” as they are known among the local population, originated in distant ages. They were used to cover the roofs of houses – a tradition which was preserved up to the middle of the 20th Century. This was an individual craft. Every homeowner excavated his own small stone pit when it was necessary and produced as many stone blocks as were needed for the house. The mining of stones and stone blocks was an activity of the population itself as they were used for building houses and covering roofs. The mining of stones for building houses was only a physical activity but the mining of the huge plates for covering roofs required a certain mastery. Traditional instruments, such as a hammer, pick, wooden and iron daggers, wedges, were used in the process of work. The craftsmen always carefully considered the incline of the roof construction in order to make the plates steady and not to allow them to slide.
Nowadays, stone houses can be seen everywhere throughout Ivaylovgrad and Madjarovo municipalities. They are interesting not only because of the material from which they were built, but also with their inner and outer architecture.
The production of stone plates continued only in the area between the villages of Kobilino and Pelevun, Ivaylovgrad municipality after the second half of the 20th Century. They were used primarily to satisfy local necessities, for construction of pavements, tiling, etc. The quality of the excavated stone made it preferred and desired in development of many settlements in the country.
The production of marble is another means of livelihood, today preserved only in the village of Lensko, Ivaylovgrad municipality. It originates from antiquity. A great quantity of marble was used in the process of building Villa Armira and the Lyutica Fortress, mined from the marble quarry in Ladya neighborhood of Ivaylovgrad.

Produced by the “Alliance for Regional Cooperation and Development-Haskovo”, with the financial aid of the EU.