PERPERIKON – THE HOLY CITY OF THE THRACIANS
In the far south of Bulgaria, a megalithic stone complex rises on a hill in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria. This 8,000 year old prehistoric shrine, which is today known as the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon, was originally built by an advanced unnamed prehistoric civilization that worshiped the Sun God. During the ensuing centuries, it was adopted as a holy place by the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, and finally by modern Bulgarians.
Important discoveries at the site include a 5th century Christian bishop’s residence, which may have been the largest temple on the Balkan Peninsula. More recently, four tombs from the Early Christian and Early Byzantine period (5-6th centuries) as well as a large necropolis with over 200 graves have been excavated.
Throughout history, people referred to this place as “the Holy Mount” for reasons that are easily understood. The little Perpershka River, whose gold-bearing sands attracted mankind for years, made the place one the most fertile spots in Eastern Rhodope. Ancient shamans purposely built the sanctuary on the very steep slopes of the mountains, making it accessible from only one direction. With such restricted access, they could perform rituals and pray for fertility and health without interruption. A vessel found in one of the large oval halls, showing a scene with six human figures surrounding a key image of the Sun, supports this theory of a sun-worshiping civilization.
Later, the city of Perperikon became the sanctuary of Zagreus, the God of wine, who was known in Greek mythology as Dionysus. The relationship has led some experts to theorize that the site was the Ancient Temple of Dionysus. If so, notable figures such as Alexander the Great, the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy II, and the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar Augustus may have worshiped at Perperikon, just as they consulted the oracle at the temple of Apollo in Delphi. Some even believe this to be the site where Alexander the Great received his prophecy about crossing the Dardanelles and entering Asia for the battle with the Persians. His visits were strongly connected to the epoch of the most powerful empires of all time – the Roman Empire, which absorbed Thrace in 45 AD..
Modern day archaeological works have discovered that Perperikon is not the only gigantic rock facility cut in the Rhodope Mountains. There were two more particularly significant sacred places – the temple of the Great Mother Goddess and the earliest sanctuary of the great Prophet-singer Orpheus, who had the ability to charm all living things (even the stones) with his music. It is believed that Orpheus and king Rhesus (another Thracian ruler) were the only two leaders buried above ground, on a top of a hill. The Thracian sanctuary, later known by the name Tatul, was also closely linked to the cult of Orpheus. The Thracians, and particularly the tribe of the Satrians, were described by the renowned Greek historian Herodotus as a freedom-loving and independent people. But the most important cultural aspect of the tribe may have been their devotion to sites like Perperikon, which they believed protected the entire region from diseases and natural disasters.
At the end of the 3rd century times of prosperity have passed and the period was called “the golden age” of the Temple of Dionysus. The rock temple was protected by strong fortress with 2.8 m thick walls and although a significant part of the quarters has not yet been unearthed, visitors can step into well-preserved buildings. Latest research revealed evidence of very high level of building culture and life standard. Sharp cuts stairs and doors cut out in the rocks are leading towards the ceremonial hall of the Palace – Shrine. Several preserved windows are showing the gorgeous view of the river valley and you can recognize with your own eye a throne with armrests and footrest. Today we can only make conjectures about many of the details in the palace.
While travelling between the sanctuaries you can come across another unique formation also known as “The Deaf stones”. They represent rock blocks with deep cut out niches and the interesting fact is that, when you stand between them, there is no echo. They have a perfect shape of a trapezoid and no one can really say what their purpose was till today.
When the Bulgarians invaded the Balkan Peninsula in the 7th century they were amazed by the construction of the city of Perperikon. At that time they were not Christians and yet they used to honour the heavenly god of Tangra (another name for the Sun God) and Umai (the Mother Goddess of Fertility). Bulgarians often scratched drawings of their Gods therefore figure of the proto-Bulgarian Goddess of fertility can be seen on some of the rocks. Another gold-plated silver amulet with prayer was discovered in the chest of a 10 year old boy in one of the necropolis in Perperikon. Unfortunately, during the Ottoman rule this place was completely abandoned and forgotten for 5 centuries.
Even though it was destroyed, the fortress walls were monumental enough to be noticed and in 1989 the Bulgarian state financed the project of Perperikon. The ancient Holy city became scientific and media sensation since then.