BY: AISHA ILYAD
Mother nature is strange; it is always ready to amaze us. For thousands of years nature has carved stone pieces in order to turn them into impressive sculptures, which look like people, animals, monsters and mythical creatures. “The Stone Guards”, “The Camel”, “The Throne” and “The Stone Forest” are just a few of the names of these natural pieces of art known as “Pobiti Kamani” or The Stone Desert.
At first glance, it looks like the ruins of an ancient temple, but these broken stone pillars are all natural. This rock formation known as Pobiti Kamani is situated close to the city of Varna, on the eastern coast of Bulgaria; the only desert in this country and one of the few found in Europe.
Rising out of the sand roughly 20km from the Black Sea in an area known as Pashovi, the stone columns of Pobiti Kamani have looked out over the landscape for as long as humans have occupied this area… and longer still.
This natural beauty was documented for the first time in 1829, and in 1937 the site was recognized as a natural landmark, receiving protection from the state on account of its unique status. The surrounding area is largely uninhabited and attracts a wealth of wildlife, including some 21 bird species and more than 240 varieties of plant – among them some very rare specimens. The area is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From a geological point of view the Stone Desert is a unique phenomenon with global significance. They reflect both a fossilization and size that are unique in the World. The natural landmark consists of an ensemble of stone columns, up to 10 metres high, hollow or thick cylinders, crossed cones, variously shaped and sized rock blocks and multiple stone pieces, spilled around the entire complex.
But what is the history behind these mysterious hammered and upright stones?
In the early days of the Bulgarian Empire, the stones were believed to be a sacred place, imbued with powerful supernatural forces. The arrangement of the pillars seems far from natural, some of them lined up in rows that almost give the appearance of a temple, or acropolis. The shape of these hollow pillars seems so deliberate as to suggest a purpose or design of some kind – and so early settlers here attributed the work to powerful gods or giants.
Numerous legends have risen over time to explain the stone forest. One tells of giants who were employed to build the city of Pliska, which stood as the capital of the Bulgar Kingdom from 681 to 893 AD. The giants carried the massive stones from far and wide, until the king declared the city complete, ordering his laborers to cease their work. The giants simply dropped the stones where they stood, forming Pobiti Kamani in the process. Another myth suggests that these pillars had formed the colonnades of Poseidon’s temple in Atlantis, itself once located here on the Black Sea coast.
A range of simulacra appear around the site, seemingly human faces peering down from stone pillars or gazing impassively from the rock walls that border the area. Individual stones were given names, often describing their appearance in terms of human characteristics. The ‘Soldier’, for example, stands tall above the rest and keeps guard over the desert.
One of the stones leans against its neighbour, creating a natural archway. An ancient tradition says that ducking through this arch as you pass around the stone will bring good fortune and many visitors to the site, even today, still enact this ritual.
But no matter what your take on such beliefs, it is without a doubt a breathtaking place to visit, and imbued with a certain otherworldly atmosphere. Nice place to add to the travel list for next summer.