Warm greetings from the Bulgarian Black Sea coast! 🙂
Only about 50 years ago this coast, covering Bulgaria’s entire eastern border, has been populated with fine-sand virgin beaches, vegetated dunes, dense woods and sparse hotels.
Since then greed, coupled with the understanding of tourism as the mushrooming of half-legal and stylistically very eclectic, if not downright ugly, hotels, has transformed the area into a sprawling concrete jungle.
However, every jungle hides an oasis and I was lucky and grateful to reach one late on Aug 1, in the face of a very comfortable house with a guest bungalow, a 1,000 sq-m yard, a cleaning lady and a gardener – graciously bestowed, key and all, to my family by friends.
We got there after a 350-km journey from a real jungle – one located high up the vast Rhodope mountains where sirens live and treasures have been lying buried for centuries, where there are no roads, no phone coverage, no internet and no piped water, and where, alas, your luggage, from a certain point onwards, has to carried by a horse. 🙂
Knowing how uncomfortable accommodation during travel distresses me, I am impressed with myself for having agreed to go in this wilderness in the first place. I am also impressed that, once accustomed to the lack of everything, I actually started enjoying living like a pioneer woman. 🙂 Perhaps part of the enjoyment came from the certainty in the restricted duration of the experience and the knowledge that the chances of agreeing to its repetition in the future are close to nil.
So the Tsar Ivan Assen Fortress…Located in the mountains outside the central-southern town of Assenovgrad, (grad means town, so Assenovgrad literally translates as the town of Assen, the same Tsar), this fortress was on our way to the Rhodope pioneer experience, so we stopped to visit. It was breathtakingly beautiful, though we reached it on Saturday, Jul 30, at about 15.00 PM, in a blistering 38-degree C heat.
The Assen Fortress is really ancient – it had existed at the times of the Thracian, in the 5th-6th century BC, and is known to have been upgraded and used by the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century AD. Documents on the fortress’ operations and administration, dating back to the 11th century, were found in the Bachkovo Monastery located close-by. The fortress was seized by the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, which took place in the early 13th century. It was renovated by Tsar Ivan Assen II in 1231.
The church, which is the only fortress building still standing, was built in the 11th-12th century AD, at the time of the Byzantine Comnenus dynasty. The dating of the church’s construction is supported by its looking quite similar, both inside and out, to the tiny Boyana church, of which I told you here. (You can google images of the Boyana church for pictures of the interior, as photographing by visitors is prohibited.)
The visit to the Assen Fortress lasted less than an hour because of the heat. Then we headed to the mountain resort village, not suspecting the conditions we were about to find there. The idea of visiting belonged to the family who were bridesmaid and best man at my wedding, nearly NINE years ago, :). They wanted to get together with friends there to celebrate the fourth birthday of their younger child on Aug 1. However, they had never been to the place before, which has made me draw an important morale – never, ever invite people to a place which you have not previously seen in person. 🙂
So, dear Reader, that was the first part of my much-awaited summer holiday. I will share more of the mountain villa resort in my next post. As I told you, after I got used to the realities there, I started enjoying it, hard access and all. Therefore, as musical greeting, please accept Beethoven’s beautiful Symphony N 6, also called Pastoral. My internet is too slow to listen to it now, but I hope you will like it.
You know, before Beethoven, at the time of Bach for example, music was about order, logic and glorifying God. The next generation of composers, such as Haydn and Mozart, composed music on commission for the elegant and cultured entertainment of the European nobility.
Beethoven, on the other hand, with his peremptory and tumultuous personality, made music all about himself and his emotions, thus providing composers and audiences with a totally new angle to the musical message. So the Pastoral symphony deals with Beethoven’s emotions on observing nature. I think I felt a similar mixture of awe, excitement and humility while looking at the velvety green slopes of the Rhodopes.
I am leaving you in the excellent company of this magnificent piece, to dream about rustling leaves, bubbling brooks, cool shadows, tiny field flowers and birds singing their hearts out, springing lightly from branch to branch. 🙂