I Foresee You Enjoying Southwestern Bulgaria...
Bulgaria has a deep history and much of the past remains for you to see. The spirit of Baba Vanga, Bulgaria's beloved mystical prophet, for example, lives on in the tiny mountainous village Rupite.
I vistied Rupite and its neighbor towns recently, and the experience was a delightful step back in time.
Rupite is a protected area in the Blagoevgrad Province and a crater of the extinct volcano Kozhuh. Currently, only five buildings exist on the few acres of land; notably, the house in which Baba (Grandmother) Vanga told the fortunes of thousands, the Church Sveta Petka Bulgarska (Saint Petka Bulgarian), and a cafe.
Late summer is a nice time to be in the region as the sun is not quite as scorching, flowers are still in bloom and the opportunity to tear some sweet, or sour, grapes, depending on your luck, off the vine remains. The mountains and grass also maintain their lush green quality. Summer is also ideal because most of the attractions are outdoors.
The couple rooms that can be seen at Baba Vanga's house are only visible through a glass barrier. The house is in the exact condition as it was at the time of her death in 1996 and entrance is prohibited.
It is believed that Vanga, born in 1911, gained her clairvoyant powers during childhood after a twister spun her and threw her into a field. Sand and dust lodged in her eyes, leaving her blind. But, the force of the accident, she said, enabled her to foretell the future and communicate with the dead.
The house of Baba Vanga in Rupite.
As knowledge of her talents spread throughout Europe, scores of people would travel to Rupite. Often, the whereabouts of loved ones fighting in the war or health issues concerned them. Vanga was also known to heal through herbal prescriptions. She was aware of and dismissed non-believers or those who visited for selfish reasons, such as to inquire about finding a lover.
Bulgaria's former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov is reported to have sought her counsel on numerous occasions.
It is recorded that Vanga predicted; the fall of the Soviet Union, the Chernobyl disaster, Boris Yeltsin's electoral victory, the date of Stalin's death, the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, the September 11 attacks and more. Some have compared her prophecies to those of Nostradamus.
Baba Vanga used the house in Rupite only during the day, and at night returned to the home in which she lived with her husband, built in 1942, in neighboring Petrich. The home is now a museum where thousands of her belongings can be seen.
The St. Petka Church.
Sveta Petka church was built by Vanga's will in 1992. The icons are like none I've seen before; very life-like and nonconformist. The Orthodox church did not approve. Truthfully, they sent chills down my spine. These icons seem to me like ghosts waiting for night to fall so as to come alive again.
And, although from recent history, they appear as if from hundreds of years ago. I guess I find some aspects of religion eerie, and in Rupite, when I link them to the prophecies of Baba Vanga, the story becomes even more mysterious.
Vanga wished to be buried next to the house where she used her gift, but instead was buried in the church yard some 50 meters away from it.
Rupite is also a known spa center with mineral water hot springs measuring 75 degrees Celsius. However, I only saw two small pools of water and bathing was not allowed. So ...
If you are up for a hike - I would visit in spring or fall - ruins of the ancient Thracian town Petra, which is more than 5000 years old, have been found in the Kozhuh hills. A cross memorializing victims of Kozhuh's eruptions also adorns the mountain.
Near Rupite is the medieval Rozhenski Monastery said to be built in 890 and restored in the 18th century after fire destroyed much of it in the 17th century. It is one of the few Bulgarian monasteries from the Middle Ages that continues to be well preserved. It is also one of the few, due to Ottoman invasions and the passage of time, that almost exactly resembles its original appearance.
The Rozhenski Monastery - stained glass windows.
In my opinion, the authenticity and age of the monastery give it greater appeal. Monasteries are very important to Bulgarian culture; centers for Bulgarian literature and the preservation of traditions and values during hardship. I can imagine the gatherings and rituals that took place on the grounds and try to feel the aura of those who once worshipped there.
The church of the Rozhenski Monastery is covered in intricate frescoes that have been preserved from the late 16th century. Beautiful. The stained glass windows were crafted in 1715, and they are the only ones of their kind from that time-period left in Bulgaria. Even more stunning, they are among the oldest in the entire Balkan Peninsula!
The grave of Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski is located in the yard of the small church down the hill as well.
The grave of Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski (1872-1915) is in the Rozhenski Monastery. This photo is from inside the Kordopulova House in Melnik. His most famous quote reads, "Living means fighting. The slave fights for freedom, the free man - for perfection."
Since you are in the area, why not stop by the smallest town in Bulgaria; Melnik, population approximately 300. The ancient Thracian tribe to which Spartacus belonged was among the first groups to settle the area, and an Ancient Roman bridge still stands in the city.
If you are a wine connoisseur, Melnik is the perfect place as it is internationally famous for its wine. Winston Churchill is said to have ordered 500 liters of his favorite Melnik wine each year.
For a taste of this world renowned wine, visit the nearly 230-year-old Kordopulova house. This house is where much of the wine making in Melnik took place. Yane Sandanski, who freed Melnik from Ottoman rule, and other Bulgarians also sought shelter from Turks there. Not only does the house have typical Bulgarian decor, but most of the furniture and interior is original.
The underground wine cellar, which can be explored, has the capacity to hold up to 300 tons of wine! Here you can have a taste of and purchase the legendary wine. The red wine I tasted was very dry and for specific taste, but I advise you to try it no matter what.
The underground wine cellar of the Kordopulova House in Melnik.
The Kordopulova house is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Bulgaria.
Right below the house are the remnants of the old Sveta Varvara (Saint Barbara) church. She is the protector from sudden death because her father beheaded her when he realized she had adopted Christianity. She died for her religion, thus has been named a saint. A creepy but captivating story.
Just as in Rupite, a hike around Melnik will lead you to majestic places. As you walk the trails and enjoy the gorgeous nature of the Pirinsky region, you will stumble upon the Melnik pyrimids. These natural phenomena were formed by soil erosion and take on many different forms. They are a sight to see!
Also, on the St. Nicholas hill are ruins of autocrat Despot Alexius Slav's fortress (12th-13th century). He brought great prosperity to Melnik, and his title "despot" has no relation to the tyrannical form of government despotism. Slav also financially supported the Rozhenski Monastery.
Before turning in for the night, make sure to stop at one of the mehani (mehana meaning traditional Bulgarian restaurant/tavern) that line the streets. Your taste buds will surely be satisfied. The Melnik atmosphere is truly Bulgarian!
I traveled with an organized tour which was good and easy to find as various tours are available throughout Bulgaria. But, it's always nice to be on your own watch. If you have the freedom of time, there is much to see in the region. And, if you are intrigued, Greece is also just around the corner approximately 15 km away.
My trip was a quaint, relaxing delve into Bulgaria's heritage - all within a 10 km radius. I recommend visiting!
The traditional Bulgarian house architecture lines the streets of Melnik.
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