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History Strandja Mountains Bulgaria

The name Strandja comes from the Old Bulgarian word 'Stran', which means closed, remote, strange and mythical.

Hidden in Strandja you can see glimpses of Strandja's turbulent history. Most ancient are the remains from Thracian times, when warlike tribes inhabited the region. But there are also impressive Roman remains and evidence of Strandja's struggle for freedom.

Ruins of a Thracian mausoleum. Very large rectangular and round shaped rocks, collapsed on the ground in a forest clearing. The original round structure still visible.

The Thracians in Strandja

From 1000 BC, the Strandja Mountains were the home of several Thracian tribes. Some of these were very warlike and carried out widely feared night-time attacks on their enemies.

The great mother goddess and the sun were central to Thracian religious beliefs, and the Thracians performed their religious rituals and ceremonies in the open, among rocky cliffs and crags.

In Strandja you can see some of the remains of the Thracian's megalithic culture. Most impressive is a mausoleum-sanctuary at Mishkova Niva. Because of its location in a border zone, this area is only accessible with a guide.

Other intriguing remains from Thracian times include a rock sanctuary where the Thracians worshipped the sun god. Historians think that the Thracians performed religious ceremonies here on the day of the summer solstice. They poured offerings of liquids such as water, milk, wine and blood into bowls carved out of the rocks.

During your holiday you can also see the remains of Ancient Thracian fortresses in Strandja. Many of these were in use until the middle ages.

One unique Strandja ritual that stems from Bulgaria's Thracian past is the Nestinar fire dancing ceremony. This ancient ritual is still performed in Strandja each year, and it has now been included in the UNESCO Intangible, or Living Heritage List.

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The Greeks in Strandja

The Thracians had a good relationship with the Greeks, and in 610 BC, the Greeks founded Apollonia, a famous ancient Greek colony. Nowadays we know it as Sozopol.

Sozopol is a coastal village that has preserved many unique Greek timber-clad houses. Recently, the Sozopol Foundation has restored parts of an ancient fortress wall and tower.

Also, in Kosti some architecturally unique Greek houses have survived the ages. Greeks still inhabited this river valley village only 100 years ago, but left the area after the Balkan Wars. Both Kosti and Sozopol are a must-see during your holiday in Strandja.

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Strandja's struggle for freedom

Bulgaria has been under Ottoman rule for over 500 years. Strandja was the very last area freed from Turkish rule. Most of Bulgaria was liberated in 1878, and many people from Strandja fled to the free areas in the North of Bulgaria.

The Bulgarians who remained continued the fight for freedom. They established revolutionary battle groups across the Strandja mountain range. On the 29th of June 1903, in the area Petrova Niva in Strandja, the rebels decided on an uprising that started a few days later. Unfortunately, there was not any chance of success against the 40,000 Turkish soldiers in the area.

The battle lasted for 26 days and had grim consequences. The Turkish army burnt over 60 villages and murdered or abducted thousands of elderly, women and children. A monument, museum and a church have been built at Petrova Niva, to remember the uprising of Bulgarians against the Ottomans.

You can visit the monument and museum at Petrova Niva during your holiday to Strandja.

Only ten years later, following the Balkan wars, Strandja was finally freed. Each year in August, the Bulgarians remember and celebrate their freedom with an impressive cultural festival at Petrova Niva.

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Communism until now

Following the Second World War, Bulgaria became part of the East Bloc. During the 50-year Communist period that followed, Strandja became a border area with a limited access regime. In practise, this meant Strandja was 'locked'. Only after the fall of communism in 1989 did the Strandja Mountains become accessible for tourists. You can see pictures of the borderzone on the website of photographer Vesselina Nikolaeva. Browse to Simply a Line.

The low human influence has preserved the beautiful character and nature of Strandja. In spite of many hardships, the Strandja people have preserved their cultural traditions over the ages. Today, Strandja is a bastion of Bulgarian culture.

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Bulgaria's history

Read our 'Short history of Bulgaria' if you want to know more about Bulgaria's past.

More about Strandja

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The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. - St. Augustine