The north-western part of Bulgaria is dominated by some exceptional tourist attractions, among which the town of Belogradchik holds two…in one! The Belogradchik Fortress, built in the area known as the Belogradchik Rocks, is something that is definitely worth visiting, first for its historical value and then for the exceptional setting where it is located.
Belogradchik (in Bulgarian: White Little Town), the administrative centre of the same-name municipality and one of the largest towns in Vidin province, is situated at the foot of the Balkans. It is very popular due to its unique and impressive rock formations, the Belogradchik Rocks, which cover a surface of 90 square km and reach up to 200 m altitude, and the medieval Belogradchik Fortress. Other well-known attractions in the area are Magura Cave, famous for its prehistorical cave paintings, and Baba Vida medieval fortress in Vidin.
The Belogradchik Rocks
This group of rocks with strange shapes formed along millions of years trough natural processes are situated on the western slope of the Balkans (Stara Planina), are vary in colour from red to yellow. Many rocks have fantastic shapes and are associated to interesting legends, often being names after people or objects they are thought to resemble with. Since 1984, they are a natural monument in Bulgaria and at the moment they are also included in the UNESCO Global Network of National Geoparks.
The central group of rocks is situated near the town of Belogradchik. From the main parking lot in the city centre, tourists have to walk around 1 km through the town until they reach a junction. From here, you can choose to climb to the rocks and the fortress by stairs or continue walking on the street. Once to reach the top of this plateau, you find yourself in front of the most interesting formations, such as the Rabbit, Madonna, the Schoolgirl, the Bear, the Dervish and the Rebel Velko, each of which has attached an interesting legend.
Madonna was a beautiful nun at a monastery built in the rocks. After the had a baby with the man she had fallen in love with, she was sent away from the monastery, but the Lord took pity on her and allowed her to stay here forever by turning her into stone. The same fate was shared by the Schoolgirl, the Dervish and the Bear. An evil Dervish had fallen in love with one of his schoolgirls and one day attacked her by surprise. The girl ran to the rocks and soon a bear appeared in front of her. As she was ready to be eaten by the bear and not surrender to the Dervish, a miracle happened. Day turned into night and sinister noises came from the rocks. When the light came up again, all three of them were petrified. Among these fishy legends, one story seems to hold a grain of truth. It is the story of the Rebel Velko, a Bulgarian who fought against the Turks during the time of the Bulgarian Empire. It is said that he was so brave and strong that he conquered Belogradchik Fortress from the Turks just to show them he was not afraid of them.
The Belogradchik Fortress
The fortress – named Kaleto – had been built between the Belogradchik Rocks during the 1st-3rd centuries, when the Romans, who were controlling these parts of the world, were building roads in the new provinces of the Empire in the Balkan Peninsula, as well as citadels to guard them. After 395 AD, these lands fell inside the borders of Byzantium, and by the end of the 7th century they were already part of the new Bulgarian state. Extended and fortified during the reign of Tsar Ivan Sratsimir, the citadel was then captured by the Turks and rebuilt. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Turks were chased away from this area and the fortress was last used as military fortification, during a war between Serbia and Bulgaria. In 1965, it was declared an architectural monument and soon entered Bulgaria’s tourist patrimony.
Tourists visiting the Belogradchik Fortress have to buy a ticket for 5 leva/person. An English-speaking guide is also available, at the cost of 5 leva/group, however I don’t recommend it, as the information is scarce and similar to what it is available on the internet and the English level is quite low. Basically, the guide will tell you what I will write below.
The fortress has three separate yards and a fortification, whose total surface reaches 10,000 m. The first yard was the place where the regular soldiers were camped. They were sleeping by the outer wall of the citadel, which has now been rebuilt. In 1850 a rebellion took place against the Ottoman forces. The Bulgarians leaders of the uprising were captured inside the citadel, taken out through a secret tunnel which linked the fortress to a mosque outside the walls, and beheaded. Their heroism is now praised through a monument which can be seen in the first yard.
To reach the second yard, you have to pass through a gate where a plate with Arabic writing had been found. It is believed to be a very old form of Turkish, as linguists and researchers did not manage to decipher it yet. The second yard was the place where the higher-ranked soldiers were stationed. Here you can see an old well, now covered, which was one of the two ways of supplying the citadel with water. The other water supply was the rain water that they gathered in holes they carved in the rocks inside the third yard.
Climb your way up to the last yard, the higher part of the fortress which was called by the Romans who built it “the Citadel”. Traces of another fortress, called the Latin Fortress, are visible metres away from it. The Citadel was the place where the superior officers had observation posts to watch over the surrounding areas. Today, you can still see three bastions and openings for guns and canons in the citadel’s walls. From this last yard, you can climb a ladder to reach on top of the rocks, where you’ll enjoy a wonderful panorama, especially during a sunny day.
Whether you go there to visit the rocks or the fortress, you will have the chance to see two amazing attractions. Both of them require good shoes and a bit of effort, but there’s no gain without pain.
Follow my blog to read about other must-see attractions in this part of Bulgaria, Magura Cave and Baba Vida fortress!