BLOOMS OF YAYLATA

by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Endangered, rare and ephemeral, wild peonies are to be found in just a few locations across Bulgaria, but on Yaylata Plateau, if you have the luck to visit in late spring, you will find scores of them.

yaylata.jpg

This corner of Bulgaria is a protected area where wildlife cohabits with ancient ruins, and the southernmost corner of the great Eurasian steppes reaches a rugged seacoast full of coves and caves. Located about a couple of kilometres from the nondescript village of Kamen Bryag, Yaylata remains one of the last refuges of nature, history and landscape undisturbed by human presence in Bulgaria. Most tourists come here to take photos, and then rush away to more comfortable places. Few camp inside the caves, not because it is forbidden, but because sleeping here comes with the risk of meeting the nasty scolopendra, an aggressive and poisonous centipede that loves hiding in your shoes, or of falling off the picturesque cliffs at night.

Yaylata remains a place of extremes; of beauty and danger combined. Covering about 75 acres, the rocky terrace rises about 50-60m above the sea. Carved by the wind, the sea and the occasional earthquake, its red rocks have become home to a diverse habitat, combining the characteristics of the steppe and the sea. Over 178 bird species use it as a stopping off ground during their annual migration to and from Africa, and many endangered ones live here, including the European shag, and the great and the little bustard.

Yaylata

If you are lucky, during your springtime visit Yaylata will be covered with wild peonies

 

Yaylata lacks proper landing places, but it was nevertheless settled by humans as early, according to some claims, as the 4th millennium BC. Graves from the 2nd-6th centuries, dug directly into the rock, pockmark the highest part of the plateau. About a hundred natural caves were shaped into homes, temples and churches. On a lower terrace the remains of a late-Antiquity fortress stand. Its walls with four towers protected it until the 11th century, when the Pecheneg raids brought about ultimate destruction and abandonment. People continued to sail by, though, and as a result the waters around Yaylata are full with shipwrecks.

The nations that inhabited Yaylata include the long forgotten Goths as well as the better known Byzantines and Bulgarians. The name of the location itself is of Turkic origin, meaning "high-ground grazing plateau," indicating that for generations of locals Yaylata was not a gateway to the sea with its dangers and opportunities, but a pasture. In the neighbouring villages, it is still so: most of them are inland and look to the fertile Dobrudzha with its wheat and sunflower fields, not to the treacherous sea.

By the end of the 20th century, Yaylata was a backwater, as it was far from the best beaches on the Black Sea and travel was not that easy. This started to change when climbers and what passes for hippies in Bulgaria discovered the location. They loved it for its beautiful wilderness, and turned it into a secret place known and cherished by a select few. This situation did not last long. In the 2000s, more Bulgarians had the means and desire to travel and explore, while the more convenient beaches had became overdeveloped and Facebook and Instagram photos became a vital part of modern life. The masses moved to Kamen Bryag and Yaylata, and suddenly the quiet celebration of the sunrise on 1 July (read more about this unique Bulgarian feast in issue 117) began to attract thousands.

Yaylata

The rocky shore of the plateau is a part of a rare habitat combining maritime and steppe ecosystems

 

Popularity is not the only thing endangering the tranquility and undisturbed wildlife of Yaylata. Humans have done even more damage. Gone are the monk seals that used to live on its coast, hunted to extinction by local fishermen.

The remains of the fortress were recently "restored" with ugly new stones, in an ill advised attempt to attract more tourists. There are signs of development all around Yaylata, from the new hotels right on the cliffs in neighbouring Tyulenovo village to the ones sprouting closer and closer to the protected territory, in Kamen Bryag itself. Someone has even built an ugly stone shelter around Ogancheto, or The Little Fire, a natural gas outlet that provided light and warmth for countless campers willing to rough it.

Yaylata, however, is still just about holding out against these changes. Make sure to go there when the wild peonies are in full bloom.

Yaylata

Slowly, wind turbines are taking over the area

 

Yaylata

The Ogancheto, or Little Fire, natural gas leak is a natural camping spot

America for Bulgaria FoundationHigh Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

WHO WAS LYUDMILA ZHIVKOVA?
Her father's daughter who imposed her own mediocrity on Bulgaria's culture? Or a forbearing politician who revived interest in Bulgaria's past and placed the country on the world map? Or a quirky mystic? Or a benefactor to the arts?

CATHOLIC BULGARIA
In 1199, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Bulgarian King Kaloyan to offer an union.

RHODOPE IN FULL BLOSSOM
The Rhodope mountains have an aura of an enchanted place no matter whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter. But in springtime there is something in the Bulgarian south that makes you feel more relaxed, almost above the ground.

BIZARRE BULGARIA
There are many ways to categorise and promote Bulgaria's heritage: traditional towns and villages, Thracian rock sanctuaries, nature, sun and fun on the seaside, and so on and so forth.

KARLOVO
Karlovo is one of those places where size does not equal importance.

SILENCE OF SHARDS
Pavlikeni, a town in north-central Bulgaria, is hardly famous for its attractions, and yet this small, quiet place is the home of one of the most interesting ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria: a villa rustica, or a rural villa, with an incredibly well-preserv

BULGARIAN EASTER
How to celebrate like locals without getting lost in complex traditions

BULGARIA'S TOP 10 SMALL TOWNS
Small-town Bulgaria is a diverse place. Some of the towns are well known to tourists while others are largely neglected by outsiders.

BORDER ZONE VILLAGE
Of the many villages in Bulgaria that can be labeled "a hidden treasure," few can compete with Matochina. Its old houses are scattered on the rolling hills of Bulgaria's southeast, overlooked by a mediaeval fortress.

WHO WAS GEO MILEV?
Poet who lost an eye in the Great War, changed Bulgarian literature - and was assassinated for his beliefs

SEEING DEVIL IN DEVIL'S BRIDGE
In previous times, when information signs of who had built what were yet to appear on buildings of interest, people liberally filled the gaps with their imagination.

URBEX BG, PART 2
If anything defines the modern Bulgarian landscape, it is the abundance of recent ruins left from the time when Communism collapsed and the free market filled the void left by planned economy.