Mighty stone arches loom over a tiny river, the moist air hangs over misty greenery, and the flutter of wild birds' wings is amplified in the dark caves; the atmosphere of Bozhi Most, or God's Bridge, is as intriguing as its mysterious name.
Folk memory moves in mysterious ways. One of the best examples is Krali Marko, the legendary hero venerated for centuries throughout the Balkans as the mighty man who protected lands and people from the Ottoman invasion. For centuries, legends and epic songs were told and sung; they spread, transformed and became more and more elaborate, telling the story of the larger-than-life Krali Marko. The owner of a wondrous spotted horse, he encountered fairies, braved invaders and traitors, participated in heroic competitions, and freed thousands of enslaved men and women. It is hardly a surprise, then, that a number of locations in modern Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia bear his name.
A good sense of direction in circumstances where maps are of little use, a willingness to ask the way, and an adventurous spirit – if you possess at least two of these qualities, it is time to head to the Eastern Rhodope. Even if you think you know this part of the mountain range, you are certain to come across strange landmarks and strange stories. Some of them are natural, others are man-made, and what they have in common is their ability to inspire the imagination.
The quality of highways and other large-scale infrastructure projects built in modern Bulgaria with EU funding is a matter for public debate. Interestingly, one town in this country has been using the same bridge over the Maritsa River for the past five centuries. Until recently, it was still used even by trucks.