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. But there is a number of places that defy being so easily pigeon-holed. Some of them were created by nature, others are manmade, their age ranging from the prehistory to the recent past. What unites them is that the first reaction they provoke in the viewer is "That looks weird. How did it come to be?".
King Asen Non-Ferrous Metals Quarry
What: A pit filled with water with a colour that hardly invites you to have a dip.
All abandoned open pits have a dark aura, as they represent a community deprived of jobs and a heavy damage to the environment.
King Asen is not an exception. Located near Pazardzhik, it was developed under Communism. When it was eventually exhausted, it was abandoned. The empty pit slowly turned it into a lake. Its strange blue colour is one of the reasons why locals claim that the quarry "contains the whole Periodic Table of Elements." After heavy rain, the quarry sometimes floods, polluting the River Luda Yana that provides the water supply for the neighbouring villages.
Odd factor: 8/10
Tatul Thracian Rock Shrine
What: Reportedly, Orpheus head foretold future there.
We know Orpheus from Greek myths. According to them, he was a Thracian musician who visited Hell, and was torn by a group of women (the explanations for their appalling behaviour vary). The Maritsa River carried his head into the Aegean, and the sea brought it to Lesbos. There, it was put on a stone pillar, and started to foretell the future.
For many Bulgarians, that last part of the Greek myth obscures the truth. According to a theory, Orpheus's head foretold from Tatul, a Thracian rock shrine in the Rhodope.
The evidence is mostly circumstantial, but it goes around the following lines. Tatul is in Thrace, which is Orpheus's birthplace. The stone pyramid with two sarcophagi that is the shrine's most notorious feature can actually be the stone pillar from the myth. Moreover, ancient Thracians had the habit of dismembering their dead, just like the women dismembered Orpheus.
Even if we take Orpheus out of the equation, the strange shape of Tatul Shrine is positively bizarre.
Odd factor: 9/10
Grounded airplane in Silistra
What: Literally that, a civic plane grounded between the Danube and a line of Communist prefabs.
Bulgaria has a tradition in turning disused planes into monuments. This happens usually in villages and involves decommissioned fighter jets serving as memorials to some local man who went into the airforces.
The plane in Silistra is a civic one, the logo of Balkan, Bulgaria's national carrier, is still clearly visible. The Tu-134 was parked in this spot in 1995. For several years it was used for school activities but was later closed owning to cash shortages.
Odd factor: 8/10
What: Half of a bridge on the border with Turkey.
Bridges' purpose is to connect people and to facilitate travel. When it was built over the Rezovska River, near Malko Tarnovo, in the beginning of the 19th century Valchanov Bridge had to do just that. Tellingly, although Valchan Voyvoda, a notorious brigand, sponsored its construction, the Ottoman authorities didn't mind. They probably saw the project as some money, stolen by Valchan Voyvoda from Ottoman caravans, returning to the community. A century later, the old bridge was replaced with a new one, built by an Italian architect. The name remained the same.
And then came the Cold War. At the end of the 1940s Bulgaria and Turkey found themselves on the opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, and Valchanov Bridge morphed from a place of travel and communication to a threat to Bulgarian national security. To prevent outsiders from using it, the Bulgarians bombed their part of the bridge.
The bridge is still on the border, but now can be visited. Right next to it stands another reminder of border tensions: the fence that Bulgarians put on in the 2010s to protect the country from immigrants.
Odd factor: 8/10
What: According to Bulgarian travel bloggers it is equivalent of the Niagara Falls.
In actual fact, Hristovski Waterfall near Elena is only nine metres high. In spite of the blatant discrepancy between reality and the bloggers' imagination, it is still a delight to visit. The waterfall is at the end of a short path that starts near Ruhovtsi Village.
Odd factor: 5/10
What: Stone pillars that look like the remains of an ancient temple, in the middle of nowhere near Varna.
Pobiti Kamani resemble a manmade structure so credibly, that the first person to describe them – a "special missions officer" in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, interpreted them as ruins. He even wrote a poem about them.
We now know that Pobiti Kamani are nature phenomenon but are none the wiser on how they appeared. The most plausible theory is that they accumulated around submarine geysers in a prehistoric sea.
The area with the stone pillars, some of which are over 9 metres tall, covers more than 70 sq.km. There are seven main groups of rocks, the best-known being Dikilitash. Situated on both sides of the old road to Sofia, it comprises over 300 stone pillars.
Odd factor: 7/10
Kremikovtsi Metallurgy Plant
What: Bulgaria's largest industrial plant abandoned by Sofia.
Planned economy is an oddity in itself, the idea that a government can decide what kind of industry should be developed where, and at what prices cars, yoghurt and toilet paper should be sold. Kremikovtsi Metallurgy Plant is the living – or more correctly, rusting, evidence for this.
Built in the 1960s, the plant employed thousands of workers and was seen as one of the most illustrious examples of the rapid development of Bulgaria as a Communist economy. After 1989 it soon transpired that if it hadn't been for the Communist planned economy, the plant should not have been built in the first place. In fact, the Kremikovtsi plant was located on a mediocre ore deposit. Lack of local raw material forced the authorities to process ore imported from the Soviet Union. The operation was so economically unsustainable that in practice the state subsidised it throughout its life.
In the 1990s, Bulgaria's economy could no longer support Kremikovtsi. The complex was privatised. A series of new owners were unable or unwilling to modernise it. In 2010, Kremikovtsi was declared insolvent. It is still there, a ghoulish industrial site on the outskirts of the capital.
Odd factor: 7/10
What: Remains of Bulgaria's oil industry.
Yes, you read it correctly. Bulgaria had an oil industry. Or, it believed it could have one.
Here how it happened. In 1951, oil was discovered near the small northern Black Sea coast village of Tyulenovo. Drilling started, and in 1960 a pier to load crude oil onto Soviet tankers was constructed near Shabla.
The joy was short-lived.
The oil deposits turned out to be small and substandard.
The field was abandoned, but dozens of drills and tanks were left to rust along the road between Shabla and Tyulenovo. Poking up out of the overgrowth, they formed a surreal landscape. Visitors even took showers with the hot water that pumps still brought from underground.
Today most of the remains of Tyulenovo's failed oil field are no more. Most were sold for scrap to make space for wind turbines. Until recently, the Shabla pier was deteriorating, too, but in 2016 it was revamped for tourism.
Odd factor: 9/10
What: A dam submerging an entire ancient Thracian city.
Large reservoirs all over the world submerge important archaeological sites, like Aswan Dam that covered the Abu Simbel temples in Egypt. In this respect, Koprinka Reservoir is not an exception. Shortly before construction started, archaeologists discovered there the remains of the first ancient Thracian city ever to be found whole and almost intact. It was Seuthopolis, a former capital of the Odrysian Kingdom.
Unlike Abu Simbel, which was removed and restored above water level, the young Bulgarian Communist government didn't bother to save Seuthopolis. Archaeologists had several years, from 1948 to 1954, to dig what they could, and then the waters of the Tundzha River rushed over the half-discovered city.
Seuthopolis is still there, covered in mud and swimmers claim that sometimes they can make out the outlines of walls in the water.
The statue of Stalinist dictator Georgi Dimitrov, after whom the reservoir was initially named, is also here, by the dam's wall.
Odd factor: 8/10
What: Something that looks like a flying saucer atop a peak in the Stara Planina.
The large structure near the Shipka Pass might look like a UFO, but it is firmly set on ground. It was built in 1981 as a congress centre for the Bulgarian Communist Party. The location was deliberately chosen to impose the eternal power of the party: a conference hall with a diameter of 40 metres and a 70-metre concrete pillar topped with gigantic red stars visible from afar.
Less than a decade later Communism collapsed. The Buzludzha monument was abandoned and quickly fell into disrepair. It is now a ghostly ruin. Graffiti cover the exterior. The interior is a mess of destruction and debris. Propaganda mosaics of Communist ideologues crumble away.
One might say that the inability of modern Bulgarian to turn this place into something useful is also odd, but we disagree. Bulgarians are notorious for their refusal to deal properly with their recent or older past.
Odd factor: 10/10
High 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.