Kazanlak, Bulgaria, at the foot of the Balkan mountain range, is not a tourist hotspot. It isn’t one of those sultry, sexy, showy tourist destinations. It isn’t that place that everyone is talking about.
It’s just quiet, little, overlooked Kazanlak.
Thracian tomb of Kazanlak
Kazanlak does have an ace up it’s sleeve: a Thracian burial tomb from the 4th Century BCE. Tourists aren’t allowed into the original tomb anymore, but a tourist-friendly replica has been constructed nearby.
The tomb is relatively modest in size; I imagine with just one or two others present it would be quite squeezy inside.
You enter through a narrow corridor that leads towards the circular burial chamber. Nothing exceptional to report so far.
But then you look at the ceiling and you understand why UNESCO has given this site World Heritage listing, and why they have described it as the only one of its kind anywhere in the world, and a masterpiece of the Thracian creative spirit.
The 2,500 year old murals depict a couple (the two holding hands in the photo above) attending a funeral feast.
The Valley of the Roses
Kazanlak is situated in the centre of the Valley of the Roses, a colloquial term for the rose oil production region of Bulgaria.
Bulgaria, in case you didn’t know, is one of the largest rose oil producers in the world.
Amidst the rose farms are a series of large, lumpy, grass-covered mounds.
What are they?
Thracian tombs, of course.
Iskra History Museum, Kazanlak
Humans have been settled in the Kazanlak region since the 6th to 5th Millennium BCE. Which means the countryside is littered with archaeological sites.
The Iskra History Museum in Kazanlak houses thousands of artefacts and curiosities, including many remarkable pieces of worked gold from the Thracian civilisation.
Seuthopolis, a Thracian settlement located ten kilometres from the city of Kazanlak, was founded by King Seuthes III. It was the capital of the Odrysian kingdom (a union of approximately 40 Thracian tribes) and is the best preserved Thracian settlement in Bulgaria.
Unfortunately it currently lies at the bottom of a lake (Koprinka Reservoir was completed in 1954, despite the discovery of the city ruins in 1944).
The Seuthopolis National Initiative is an ambitious proposal that involves building a circular dam wall around the remains of the city, pumping out all the water from within the walls, and thus providing tourists – and archaeologists – access to the ruins. Visitors would have to catch a boat to the dam wall and descend to the lake floor via stairs or elevators.
The proposal is not a joke. More details can be found here:
Buzludzha peak is the site of a famous battle staged between the Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman army in 1868. An enormous brutalist monument was created on top of the peak – care of the Bulgarian Communist Party – in 1981 to commemorate the battle and subsequent independence efforts.
The cavernous assembly hall, decorated with mural mosaics featuring prominent communist figures, was originally used as the headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party.
Communism came to en end in Bulgaria in 1989. The Buzludzha Monument was abandoned and soon fell into disrepair. It is often included in lists of the world’s top ten abandoned buildings.
Practical information on reaching Kazanlak:
Read more on the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.