THE HILLS OF KRUMOVGRAD
In the summer of 2020 I found myself in Krumovgrad. One of the last Bulgarian cities I had not yet set foot in. It was a nice roadtrip. I felt as if I was driving to a distant place, on winding roads and past abandoned shepherd settlements. The landscape was very different than I'm used to in Bulgaria. Dry and with houses made of white stone, I'm not sure what it is. The stones seemed hewn from rock, not something you see a lot in other places. The region gave me interesting vibes. Krumovgrad itself is not where my direct attention went. I had a walk through the center, found a place to eat, and saw the renovated main square. Not much was happening. The true interest for me was the villages surrounding the city. There's many settlements and, to my surprise, many completely abandoned and easily accessible from the main road.
In one of these villages, I met a shepherd. Indeed he confirmed the dryness of the region. He had chapped lips and no bottle of water with him, in the boiling heat of summer. I got a bottle of water from my car, as you can see in the third vlog below. He really needed the water. The man was a pensioner but struggling to survive, keeping sheep and growing tomatoes, although it was too dry for that as well. It might be a seasonal thing, I hope the area gets more rainfall during the rest of the year. If not, it's quite hard to survive. Below are my vlogs of this area. Please note it was the middle of summer - you'll find the place a lot greener earlier in the season. Drought is quite an issue at least to the local people who cannot afford bottled water or live too far from stores. As water is scarce, people might survive by using deep wells.
Starting off with the village of Kovil. An unremarkable place you'd otherwise just drive by on your way to Krumovgrad. Until you do some research. I took a walk through the village and just saw your typical abandoned houses. But when I started googling at home, I found the place has a remarkable history. You should never just drive by a place in Bulgaria. There's always something. If you don't see anything of interest, look again, do an Internet search, and you'll end up with something catching your eye.
Not too far is the village is the prehistoric cult complex of Ak Kaya, that rises on a rocky ridge between the tributaries of the rivers Krumovitsa and Dyushun dere. Ak Kaya comes from Turkish and can be roughly translated as white rock. Interesting and completely unknown to me, the site is larger than Perperikon and Belintash, some of Bulgaria's famous and largest archaeological sites. On the western side of the ridge, traces of dry masonry are visible in the form of a wall that used to block the accessible side. On the ridge, cult structures have been carved into the rocks - altars, troughs and a large, well-preserved sharapana (from Turkish sharap - wine, a hewn in the stone system for wine-making). Pottery found has been dated to the Chalcolithic, Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. A prehistoric anthropomorphic idol was also discovered during organized field archaeological investigations conducted between 1991 and 1993. The site has not yet been fully investigated.
It goes to show that most of the site is unexplored. But what is known is that it was a large, important sanctuary with many visitors. I bet that most Bulgarians are completely unaware of Kovil and the site nearby. Not because of ignorance, but because such sites are completely unreported. There's still so much to excavate, and especially internationally, there is very little attention to what Bulgaria has hidden beneath its soil.
The central part of the complex in the Ak Kaya area is made of light volcanic tuffs (a type of rock made of volcanic ash). The complex was partially archaeologically investigated in the period 1989 - 1993 by the Bulgarian archaeologists Georgi Nekhrizov and Georgi Kulov. A structure interpreted as a rock tomb near the village of Dzhanka, where I met the shepherd, has also been recorded, with archaeologists saying that it is part of a huge structure or the remains of an ancient city. The tomb is relatively well preserved with an anteroom leading to a lower trapezoidal chamber tapering upwards where there was probably an opening. Nearby is a shallow basin 1.6m in diameter and 0.5m deep with a drain hole, which is seen as a sharapana/sacrificial site.
The outline of a rock necropolis is clearly visible near the Krumovgrad - Haskovo road, just beyond the houses of the village. The graves are carved into the rocks on the periphery of the ridge in the Ak Kaya locality, where the rock-cult complex begins. The total number of visible graves is nine, of which three are apparently well preserved, four are almost completely destroyed, and two are unfinished. The graves are arranged in a line with an approximate north-south orientation. No traces of corpse burial were found. Burials were carried out by corpse burning outside the grave, with the remains and many offerings placed in an urn or directly on the ground and surrounded by stones.
Excavations have uncovered many ornaments, fibulae, clay zoomorphic cult figures and abundant ceramic material. The necropolis has been dated to the period 2nd century BC - 1st century AD. It was built between the 2nd and 6th centuries AD. The structures are megaliths stone slabs placed horizontally on two boulders. One end is shaped like the head of an animal. The head is separated from the body by an altar trough carved on the surface of the slab.
This is just one more example that shows the diverse landscapes of Bulgaria. You'd think you were in Tuscany just looking at the hills and fields. However, here you won't find any tourists. Granted, there's no towns like Siena or Lucca, but plenty of adventures to be had. Do not be scared off by the relative remoteness of feeling of abandonment in the area. Unfortunately, that's the case in many parts of Bulgaria that are off the beaten path. As soon as you're far from a large city, you'll find yourself alone most of the time. It is perfectly safe though, provided you take basic precautions such as having plenty of water and suncreen or good clothes, depending on the season. Go out and explore!