Bulgaria, the country where Orpheus and Eurydice meet… Spartacus – World Meanderings n°12
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Coming back to his motherland in Greece after his long and adventurous journey with the Argonauts chasing for the Golden Fleece, Orpheus met beautiful Eurydice, fell in love and got married. Did they live happily ever after? Of course not! The poor Eurydice had the misfortune to meet god Aristaeus who became obsessed with her. Trying to run away from him she was bitten by a snake and died. The story does not say why but Eurydice went straight to the Underworld. Desperate, Orpheus decided to bring her back to the world of the living. He was a famous poet and lyre player and with his songs he succeeded to charm Charon who ferried the dead to the Underworld across the rivers Styx and Acheron, Cerberus the monstrous multiheaded dog who guarded the entrance of the Underworld, as well as Hades and his wife Persephone the gods who ruled it. Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice back to the surface on the sole condition that he would go first on the narrow path and would never look back to make sure that Eurydice followed him. Carefully listening to her footsteps he almost got to the surface when suddenly he couldn’t hear her anymore and looked back. Eurydice was lost forever!
Believe it or not you can follow Orpheus’ footsteps to the Underworld in The Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria. There hidden in a 3 km long and 250 meters high canyon is the entrance to the Dyavolsko Garlo, the Devil’s Mouth, where as the legend says Orpheus started his long way to hell. A guided tour will take you to a tremendous cave with a 42 meters high waterfall where the sound of the falling water is deafening. A 301 steps stairway will lead you up along the waterfall to finally get a breathtaking view of the cavern. Way down the water disappears into an unfathomable siphon: whatever is thrown inside never reappears. After several fruitless attempts to explore it during the 1960’s, two experienced speleologists Siyana Lyutskanova and Evstati Yovchev dived into the abyss in 1970. They were never to be seen again and the reasons for their disappearance are still a mystery.
The Rhodope Mountains are a lovely and rural area and a paradise for ecotourism lovers. Walking, riding horses or mountain bikes you can discover this bucolic region following its many hiking paths. Hidden in the middle of high hills covered with pine forests, Trigrad is a small village spotted by its little church and its golden onion dome where Orpheus is celebrated every year on August the 7th and a perfect starting point to go to Dyavolsko Garlo. When the Maenads killed Orpheus before tearing his body to pieces it is said that each drop of his blood falling on the ground of the Rhodopes was turned into a beautiful flower. These flowers called Cilivryak or Orpheus flowers only grow in this area that is also the only home for 10 rare bird species.
The first known inhabitants of the Rhodope Mountains were the Thracians. Since the 6th century BC those fierce warriors tribes lived in a vast territory set in Southeast Europe where present Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey have common borders. Later by the end of the 2nd century BC the Romans invaded Thrace and fought the last pockets of Thracian resistance in the Rhodopes. Thracians were enslaved and many of these brave warriors were to become gladiators. Spartacus was one of them and if we all know about his story as leader of the third major slaves’ rebellion in 73, 72 and 71 BC there are no information about his earlier life and his hometown. The Romans occupied Thrace for 4 centuries and the Thracians were never able to regain their territories.
They were expert goldsmiths and are said to be the first ones to produce gold in the all world. They made gold jewellery with delicate filigree work as well as death masks or harness parts. If there still are remnants of Thracian temples and villages in the Rhodope Mountains, most of the archaeological excavations are carried out in the Valley of the Kings in central Bulgaria. Over 500 Thracian kings and aristocrats were buried there inside big tumulus. The Thracian tomb of Kazanlak is not to be missed: it truly is a masterpiece of Thracian creativity and its remarkably well-preserved frescoes are a unique example of their skilfulness. From the antechamber to the burial chamber linked by a dromos, a small corridor, all the walls are covered with colourful paintings of Thracian figures attending a funeral. To see gold artefacts made by the Thracians go to the museum in the town of Kazanlak where treasures from the tombs and from underground hiding places made by the local inhabitants fleeing from the Roman armies, are on display.
If there was only one more good reason to go to Thrace it would be wine. Vines grow there since 5,000 years and Thracians were renowned winemakers. So why not join them through time by worshiping their favourite god Dionysius, god of happiness and joy of life, and taste the wonderful Bulgarian wines?
For more information about travelling in Bulgaria: www.bulgariatravel.org
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny