In search of concrete Titans - part 1&2 [Bulgaria]

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Stara Varos, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    45
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    Day 1 [km 210]
    On Friday afternoon, the idea of a two-day ride in Bulgaria from rural mountain roads was dropped on the "excursion" table. Looking at the map of the country, it is easy to see that Bulgaria has its main roads horizontal, such as the Trakiya Highway, and the secondary network is extending vertically. They are usually small provincial roads and mountain passes that cross the Pirin, Rila, Stara Planina and Rodopi mountains. It was decided to spend a night in Bansko. I departed from Thessaloniki [GR] a little earlier than my friend Ilias, who needed to buy new tires, to catch up with the remaining daylight and enjoy my ride. After i entered Bulgaria from the border station at Promachonas, i followed the provincial road 198 leading to Gotse Delchev. It is a 60-kilometer mountainous route that climbs the south side of Mount Pirin. Asphalt was of medium quality, but the road was all mine, since i did not meet another vehicle.

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    A few kilometers before the town of Gotse Delchev, i met on my left the statue of the Bulgarian revolutionary Georgi Nikolov Delchev [Kilkis, 4 February 1872 - Banitsa (Karyes), May 4, 1903], known as Gotse Delchev. He fought against the Ottomans and was one of the leaders of the well-known «Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization», a paramilitary organization that operated in the European lands of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. The organization in which he was a founding member was originally called «Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committee» and later in 1902 it was renamed «Secret Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization».

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    Its main pursuit, in the context of its actions for the autonomy of Macedonia and Thrace, was the organization of terrorist acts against the Ottomans (eg the bombings in Thessaloniki in 1903, the destruction of the railway bridge over the river Aggitis), with the aim of provoking warfare so that these two geographic regions could be annexed in Bulgaria as a result of the intervention of the Western Powers or as a part of a future wider Balkan Federal Republic, after the weakening of the Ottoman Empire.
    Despite his clear and unambiguous Bulgarian national self-determination, Delchev is now considered a national hero also in FYROM, according to its usual practice to claim as its own the history of other Nations.

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    The homonymous city was founded in the time of Emperor Trajan, and nearby the Romans built Nicopolis ad Nestum, a military post to secure the route from Constantinople to the North. In 1951 the city was renamed in honor of Gotse Delchev, while its former name was Nevrokopi.
    I delayed in the city because of works. Changes in traffic settings created psychological problems to my GPS, which insisted on continuing my course through a playground. Then, via the provincial road 19, i headed north and i was soon to Bansko.

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    Day 2 [km 425]

    With Ilias now, we started our day by following the provincial road 84 to Velingrad and from there we decided to head north to Belene Island, by riding on secondary roads. It is located approximately in the center of the Danube River, some 12 km west of Svistov. Nowadays, because of its isolation, it is a protected bird area, but on this island back in 1948, the Communists established a labor camp for political prisoners. The camp functioned up to 1989. On the way to Velingrad we often met large groups of motorcyclists, while in Yakoruda there were some events going on. After Pazardzhik we moved north, to the indifferent and rugged provincial road 8004 and 606, entering the heart of the Sredna Gora mountain range and the small town of Koprivstica, over the river Topolnitsa.

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    Upon our arrival, we fell into the rehearsal of a parade. The participants were dressed in traditional costumes and military uniforms, reflecting all the historical periods of Bulgaria.

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    We were informed that on that day the Bulgarian National Day of «Independence Day» was celebrated. It is said that from a small bridge in Koprivstica, which later took his name, Todor Kableshkov shot for the first time against Ottomans, which marked the beginning of the «Revolution of April» in 1876.

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    The city also draws its reputation as an architectural and historical center with over 300 architectural, historical and ethnographic monuments. Significant examples of the Bulgarian National Revival period are the private residences, built between 1762-1878. Although the town was founded by refugees from Veliko Tarnovo, after the fall of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, it became a center of carpets and bed linen, and so its merchant inhabitants grew rich because of the close relationship with Constantinople that absorbed production.
    After that, we headed for Beklemeto, also known as Troyan Pass. It is the provincial road 35 connecting Troyan to Karnare and the road with the highest altitude in Bulgaria (1520 m).

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    This passage is one of the main routes that connect central Bulgaria and the Danube valley. It was important from the time of the Romans, who called it «Roman Via Trayana» (Trajan road). At the top of the pass, at an altitude of 1630 meters, at the Goraltepe site, is the «Arch of Freedom». It is a monument devoted to the victory of the Russian army in January 1878, that captured the passage and led to the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. The monument is also devoted to the Russian-Bulgarian friendship and unity that followed after the WW2.

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    I found myself under this 34-meter high building for the second time after my trip in Russia back in 2016. I can say i was equally impressed with my first visit there. Architecturally, it follows the socialist style and it was finalized on August 9, 1980. On its two bases are depicted Bulgarian revolutionaries and Russian soldiers, while women are welcoming them with salt and bread, as tradition requires for the arrival of loved ones. At the top of the building, on both sides, there are important historical dates. On the northern side of the arch is depicted «1878», the date of the Bulgarian Liberation and on the southern side «1944», that stands for the «September 9th state coup».

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    It is worth visiting this particular spot of Stara Planina and for another reason. From here there are great views to the south and the mountains Rila, Rodopi and Sredna Gora, to the valleys of Troyan and Beli Osam to the north, while to the west and east there are views to other peaks including the highest, Botev.

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    Descending the provincial road 35 towards Troyan, we soon arrived in Lovech. I found particularly beautiful the old town that reminded me of Veliko Tarnovo, but on a small scale. It can be reached by crossing the River Osam via a bridge. South of this bridge, there is a beautiful reconstruction of the medieval covered bridge with fur shops, which existed at that time, built in 1874 by the famous Bulgarian craftsman Nikola Fitsev, known by the nickname Kolyu Ficheto. It was destroyed by a fire in 1925.

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    foto: Klearchos

    At that point we reviewed our program. We did not have enough time to go up to the Danube River for Belene Island. We also decided, instead of Veliko Tarnovo, to stay at Idilevo and specifically in MotoCamp, which many riders prefer. Idilevo is a small village in the middle of the country, where probably not much happen and life is rolling quietly. Here, Doug [a four time round the world traveler], Polly and Ivo set up a small oasis for motorcyclists. Ivo (Ivaylo) opened the main door. In the first ten minutes my story, his story, my motorcycle, his motorcycle. It gave me the feeling that i already know him. Their facilities are simple but nice and clean. In the center of the courtyard there was a kiosk and a group of British guys. We got the BMW room. There was also a Yamaha room, a Harley and more than enough space to set up a tent, if someone is equipped with one. After we settled, we asked if there is nearby some place that we could go and dine. The British i mentioned, when they noticed our arrival, they put on the barbeque some more souvlaki and steaks and of course they did not let us go. We marked several beers with Ilias in the book (this book is probably kept for the convenience of those who drink and then they forget to count) and we spent our evening with them discussing trips since all of them had their intercontinental trips. Finally, we learned that this village has attracted many Britons, who have bought property, and whether they live permanently there or use it as a base for trips to our Balkan neighborhood. Later to our company was added, a New Zealander, Clinton Logan, who, i think, would spend the winter in Bulgaria, since he was already on the road for several years, living his own RTW trip. The mascot of MotoCamp was Harley, with whom I immediately became best friend, from the moment we shared half a steak.

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    Day 3 [km 625]

    Fresh from a splendid sleep, but also full of yesterday's eating and drinking, we had our coffee in the MotoCamp «lounge» while Ivo prepared breakfast for us. This place is a former barn, decorated with tasteful heterogeneous elements, but mostly from the world of motorcycles.

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    When we were ready to leave, we asked for the bill. In fact, the price for accommodation, food, beers and breakfast was lower, per person, than a stay in a city hostel. But what can not been cost and really won me was the people of MotoCamp, the patrons and those who are working for this place to exist.

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    Writing these comments, i seek nothing more than encouraging someone to visit it, so to pay back for the hospitality i have experienced. More about MotoCamp: motosapiens.org .
    The goal of the day was to return to Thessaloniki. We planned to use the provincial road 44 towards Gabrovo and from there ride south to the pass of Shipka. This plan was canceled as Ivo informed us that the road would be closed for a rally car race. Finally, we chose the route Idilevo - Dryanovo - Tryavna to reach the provincial road 55. A beautiful road with dense vegetation and picturesque villages like the Tsareva Livada. The small town of Dryanovo, which is mainly known for the craftsmen of the wood at the end of the 19th century, but also as the birthplace of the architect Kolyu Ficheto mentioned above, made me a special impression.

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    After arriving outside Kazanluk, following road 55, we could not miss visiting the Buzludzha monument, located north of the city, on one of the peaks of Stara Planina. It is a gigantic brutal building made of concrete, a hymn of the so-called socialist architecture, which is still standing in decline since the fall of communism in 1989.

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    I have visited the monument several times, and i have written a relevant post: Alone in Central Balkans.

    For three decades the monument has been exposed to weather conditions and vandalism that brought it to its present poor state. It has now been included by the Europa Nostra organization in the lists of buildings to be protected. The future of the ex-conference center and the (70m high) tower with the red star are probably on the right track since Authorities have placed a guard on a permanent basis and have stamped with concrete and stones all possible entrances, as a first measure for its maintenance until its final restoration for the public to visit.

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    Every time i found myself near the monument, i was thinking about the resources spent to complete it. Approximately 70,000 tons of cement and 3,000 tons of iron, 6,000 workers of every specialty and 8 years of work. What always attracted me to the building was its architecture and size, but also the exploration of the interior.

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    Although several locals claim it is needed to be demolished and no further resources to be spent to maintain a monument that reminds them of a period of oppression, i personally see it as an achievement of architecture with very remarkable mosaics that would be worthwhile to save. I read on my favouriteprofile on Instagram about Bulgaria a comment for the former convention center: «Abandoned but not forgotten, guarded but not loved, abused but not understood» and i totally agree. Whenever i am around the monument, i particularly like to observe to the right and left of the main entrance the slogans from large cement Cyrillic letters. I have the impression that they are fewer every time. An attempt to translate would be: (left) «Stand up on your feet despised Comrades, stand on your feet slaves of labor! Repressed and humiliated, resist the enemy! Without mercy and forgiveness let us break down the old and rotten system..» (right) «Workers, men and women, from all countries unite. Forwards! Without fear, Comrades, build our great deeds! To work and create..»

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    To the west of the monument was visible the top of the Shipka Pass and the location where the homonymous monument was set up.

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    As we were admiring the view of the surrounding peaks, near our motorbikes parked several Honda motorbikes and we met their riders, who were from Thessaloniki and Serres. It's great to see people from your place when you are abroad and find out they share the same passion for the motorcycles as you.

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    We left the monument, waving farewell to Dhimitar Blagoev’s statue near Kran. Very close to the road, next to a gas station, i met another monument dedicated to the «Liberators of Bulgaria». Scattered in the Bulgarian province are numerous monuments like those and i wonder what their luck will be in the future.

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    The route to Plovdiv included some fast riding, since we were already late. We decided to enter Greece from the border station near Drama, having previously used the provincial road 37, connecting the town of Batak with the town of Dospat. The route is stunning and is recommended for a motorbike ride.
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    To a future post i will stand, beyond the obvious, that is the attractive landscape and lakes, to what comes to the mind of the average Bulgarian when he hears the name Batak – that is the massacre during the rebellion against the Ottomans.

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    This ride completely covered me as a biker. We rode 1260 km, mainly on small mountain range roads, we saw enough cement and buildings of Soviet influence and socialist architecture, but what i mainly keep, is that i met new people who i hope to meet again. Also, Ilias, thanks for the company.

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    This is the route (of a total of 1260 kilometers) that we followed.

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    #1
  2. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    45
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    Everyday life includes, among others, a never-ending struggle to meet expectations and obligations and an effort to keep satisfied the people we relate to. Often our needs and "i want" are put to second place and it is easy somehow to get away from what makes you really happy. I have come to the conclusion that what keeps me in a balance between personal priorities and obligations is an internal search process that takes place every time i am on the road with my motorcycle. Every biker will of course tell you the same: what makes motorcycle trips unique experience is the different approach to travel, adventure, and discovery. I will take it a little further: when i'm on the saddle of my motorbike, i remain open to experiences and new people, to the elements, smells and colors of nature around me. With a gentle touch on the throttle, i can get where i want, at my own pace, always remaining away from the tourist places and activities. But the main thing is that i come into contact with my real self. Such an internal process was perfectly combined with a solo thre-day ride in Bulgaria. Following the same pattern as the previous trip Bulgaria: Mountain roads and monuments [Part A'], i rode on small mountain roads and visited important historical monuments and buildings from my favorite material, concrete.

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    Day 1 [km 320]


    I started quite late from Thessaloniki [GR] a Friday afternoon and headed for Promachon Border Station. Just before the border control is a monument associated with the fratricide civilian war, bearing the inscription: «ΦΡΟΥΡΟΙ ΙΔΕΩΔΩΝ ΥΠΕΡΔΙΑΚΟΣΙΟΙ ΑΜΥΝΑΝ ΗΡΩΙΚΗΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΠΑΝΣΛΑΒΙΣΜΟΥ ΑΝΤΙΤΑΞΑΝΤΕΣ ΕΝΘΑΔΕ ΘΑΝΑΤΟΝ ΥΠΟ ΧΕΙΡΩΝ ΑΔΕΛΦΟΚΤΟΝΩΝ ΕΥΡΟΝ ΕΝ ΕΤΕΙ 1944». (An attempt to translate would be: some 200 guardians of ideals, defended against Pan-Slavism and found death here by the hands of their compatriots, year 1944).

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    After crossing the borders, i remembered that the battle of Kleidi (1014, 29 July) between the Byzantines under the Emperor Basil II and the Bulgarians under the Tsar Samuel, took place very close. I visited the monument that exists in the area, just before the nightfall.

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    A detailed analysis of the battle you can read here Battle of Kleidion, but i prefer to translate and quote the text from the remarkable blog Κlearchos guide to the galaxy with a lot of information about Bulgaria in general:
    «Summer of 1014.. The Byzantine emperor Basil II of the Byzantine army headed to the town of Kleidion to face the Bulgarian army. The Bulgarians, although they were subordinates of Byzantium, had found the opportunity, due to civil conflicts that collided with the Byzantine Empire, to rise. For almost thirty years they were in possession of the whole region of Macedonia, thus creating the first Bulgarian Empire, while the regions of Thessaly, Sterea and Peloponnesus were occasionally looted. The Bulgarian Empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Black Sea and the capital was originally the city of Skopje and later Ohrid. In 1014, however, Basil managed to suppress civilian conflicts and considered it was time to turn against the Bulgarians, along with his generals Nikiphoros Xifias and Nikiphoros Uranos.. Later in the area of Kleidion arrived General Theophylaktos Botaneiates».

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    «Bulgarians resisted vigorously and the balance seemed to lean towards them. On that night, however, before the dawn of July 29, General Nikiphoros Xifias, along with three units of the Byzantine army, probably with the help of the Vlachs of the region, found a pass over the mountains of Belasitsa (Valathista) and moved to the back of bulgarian forces. The loop was closed.. On July 29, Basil started the attack and a little later joined forces with Nikiphoros Xifias.. When Bulgarians realized they were surrounded, they threw their arms and run to save their lives.. Finally, 14.000 soldiers were captured while Samuel himself and his son were barely able to escape captivity, most likely by pretending to be dead, and headed to Prilapo (Prilep)».

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    «Basil ordered every 100 prisoners to blind 99 and leave the 100th with one eye, so he can lead the others.."
    "Samuel was wounded, waiting in distress at the walls of Prilapos for a sign.. Then he faced the horrible spectacle.. His soldiers were approaching crumbling, stumbling and falling by dragging each other.. His heart couldn’t hold any longer and finally died on October 6, 1014''. There are many stories around Basil’s action.. One wants to decide his abominable act when he learned that his friend General Theophylaktos Botaneiatis was killed during an ambush. The other one wants Basil to impose this terrible punishment because he regarded Bulgarian traitors, as they were subordinate to Byzantium and rebelled, and that was the punishment for betrayal. Most likely, however, was that Basil wanted to do something that would kneel Bulgarians, whom he had been facing for almost 30 years. The truth is that after the battle in Kleidion and until 1019, Basil conquered the entire Bulgarian territory. Others, however, want the whole story to be just a legend.
    Emperor Samuel is another personality that our Slav(non)Macedonian neighbors are trying to exploit ... However, history has nicknamed Basil II "the Bulgar Slayer" and apparently not "the Macedon Slayer"».

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    I followed A3 up to Dupnitsa and then the small country road 62 and 82 to Borovets, where i had decided to stay overnight. On the way, i met a small monument with the Soviet star, considering what its fortune would be in the future.

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    Day 2 [km 460]

    Early wake and soon i was on the road.

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    Through the provincial road 82 and 882, which runs along the banks of Lake Iskar, i reached the «Trajan Gate» («krepost Trayanovi Vrata»). It is a historic mountain pass of Bulgaria, near the provincial town of Ihtiman. It was named after the Roman emperor Trajan, who built a fortress called «Stipon» at the borders of the Roman provinces of Thrace and Macedonia.

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    The passage is mainly known for the battle that took place on August 17, 986 between the Byzantine army led by the Emperor Basil II and the Bulgarian troops under the Tsar Samuel. The overwhelming defeat of the Byzantines postponed the plans to retake the Bulgarian lands. A good description of the battle is given here: Battle of Trajan's Gate.

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    Then, entering the city of Pazardzhik, i found myself at the memorial of the «Fallen of the Revolution of September 1923». The «September Rebellion» was an armed insurgency instigated by the Bulgarian Communist Party as an attempt to overthrow the government of Alexander Tsankov, who had come to power with the coup d'état of 9 June. Apart from its communist base, the rebellion was also supported by anarchists. The ultimate goal of the rebellion was to «create a government of workers and peasants» and not to transform the country's socio-economic system into communism.

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    The monument was erected in honor of the rebellion in the villages around Pazardzhik, especially in Muhovo and Lesichevo. There are reliefs on large stone blocks depicting the revolt with stylized images of burned flags and written «1923» - the year of the rebellion.

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    On the right there is a man with a mustache, on his knees, with his hands tied behind his back. On the opposite road, i was «admiring» the multi-storey blocks of flats, a typical example of Soviet-inspired residences, and wondering if those involved in the rebellion could imagine how their struggles, against the centralized power system of their time, would end. On the roof of one of them, in large letters, was written «Добре дошли в Пазарджик» («welcome to Pazardzhik»).

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    Following the provincial road 37, crossing the Sredna Gora mountain range, i visited the small town of Panagyurishte. The city took its name from the Greek word «πανηγύρι» (panēgýri), meaning a festival or fair.

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    It draws its reputation as the center of the uprisings against the Ottomans in 1876, which led to temporary independence, lasting only ten days. The revolution was eventually stifled with great losses for the Bulgarians, while the Ottomans burned and completely destroyed the city.

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    As i was approaching the city, i spotted the Manyovo Bardo hill and the enormous «Apriltsi National Memorial Complex», which was erected in 1976 for the hundredth anniversary of the «April Revolution». I was not able to find the road that leads to the hill, so it became a hint for my next visit.

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    Moving north and leaving the city behind me, i met some more small monuments.

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    Particular impression made me the monument of the anti-fascist struggle in the small village of Panagyurski kolonii.

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    This is residents' of Panagyurishte city favorite destination, since many have their country houses there. The whole area seemed to have experienced in the past a great deal of growth. I noticed a dam in an artificial lake and a few metalworking factories, which seemed to be left abandoned to their decadent fate. Later on, i read about the terrible water and soil pollution caused by the treatment of copper, gold, arsenic, cadmium, lead and so on, and that it has even affected the springs of the river Evros near the Rila Mountains. In general, the area is considered quite contaminated, occupying position 7 among the 30 most dangerous areas in Bulgaria (source: panda.org).

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    On the provincial road 6, heading east, i had a stop at the village of Klisura, which is connected with the heroic resistance of its inhabitants in 1876. Shortly before the village, to a point with fantastic views over the mountains of Sredna Gora, there is the 7 meters high monument «Borimechkata», dedicated to the leader of the rebels of the village.

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    Borimechkata (a well-known character from Ivan Vazov's novel «Under the yoke») was in fact a real person whose name was Ivan Tankov. The nickname «Borimechkata» means «the one who fights with the bear». His voice warned the inhabitants of the village of Klisura, during the April uprising, about the approach of the Turkish army.

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    Near the monument, i noticed a former military depot and at various points some artillery mounted (probably 76 or 90mm anti-tank / anti-aircraft - WW2 technology). The area was private but accessible. Since it was not a military installation, i was curious why would someone possess such material (even non functional) in his back yard.

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    The next monument on my list, i had passed it on my previous ride in Bulgaria. This time, i had all the time to visit it. It was located in the village of Kalofer, on the E871, some 50 kilometers east of the Klisura junction. After a brief acquaintance with the local traffic police, i found myself in the birthplace of the Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev (1848-1876).

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    Originally i met the statue of Kalifer Voivoda. Legends indicate that Kalofer was founded in the 16th century when a group of men led by Kalifer Voivoda were constantly attacking the Turkish caravans. The Sultan, unable to cope with them, gave those lands in exchange for stopping the attacks.

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    The composition of the monument in honor of Botev («Memorial complex Hristo Botev») is characteristically monumental in size. The statue of the revolutionary, 14.4 meters high, with its base reaching 25 meters, is framed by the «200 rifles», which are a tribute to the participants in Botev's squad. There is also a lion of 3.2 meters, which greatly enhances the patriotic character of the monument. Looking at the poet's monument from the square or the bank of the Tundzha River, you get the feeling that Botev will always be the guardian of his homeland.

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    Unfortunately, this monument is tarnished by an addition during communist times. It is the composition «Three Epochs», to the right. It is made up of three men with aged and rugged features and each of these figures bears a date - 1876, 1923 and 1944. The first one is really important for Bulgarian history, but the other two can be considered the most tragic in the 20th century . In 1923, the Communist Party of Bulgaria created the conditions for a civil war and in 1944 Russia, with military intervention, was involved in Bulgaria’s political life by placing a government whose influence oscillated the country until the recent past.

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    Behind the monument you can find the path «white river eco trail», while the area is also worth visiting for the waterfall Raiskoto praskalo and Botev peak. The year 2018 was dedicated to Botev and in many places in Bulgaria events took place for the 170 years from his birth. In particular, in his hometown on January 6, the traditional Bulgarian dance took place in the frozen watgers of Tundzha River. UNESCO specialists, who attended the event, were invited to decide whether to add the dance to the World Heritage Lists.

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    (photo: https://travelbulgaria.news)

    Continuing my course east, on E871 and shortly after Manolovo, another monument at the end of the road drew my attention. It was set in an indifferent location, in poor condition and without a special dedication to the inscription. I cannot interpret exactly to what it is devoted, perhaps to the anti-fascist struggle of the ordinary people of Bulgaria, while in the inscription i traced the dates 1923-1944. However, the forms in the composition may have something to say. Some men and a woman on the move, holding guns and backpacks, are heading towards a futuristic concrete obelisk. If someone knows more about the construction or the interpretation of the composition, i will gladly welcome his comment.

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    On the provincial road 5601, in the «Valley of the Roses» and shortly before the village of Shipka, i took a few minutes to visit the monument dedicated to the Russian - Turkish War of 1878.

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    From this point i enjoyed the magnificent views of the peaks of Stara Planina Mountains that stretched before me, while on two of them i could easily distinguish the former congress center - monument «Buzludzha» and the memorial of the battles of Shipka pass.

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    The last time i was in the area, i intended to cross the provincial road 44 from Gabrovo to Shipka pass. Since i was very close, i thought it was time to ride the famous pass. The passage begins from the village of Shipka and the provincial road 5 leads to Stoletov peak, where the «Monument to Freedom» is located. As i was approaching the village of Shipka, i could discern the Russian orthodox temple of the «Birth of Christ».

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    It was built between 1895 and 1902, in the 17th century Muscovite architectural style and is dedicated to the 7,500 Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian soldiers who have died facing 40,000 Ottomans in the struggle for the liberation of Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1878. The higher bell tower is 53 meters high. The bells are made of the bullet cups that were gathered from the battle fields. The heavier bell reaches 12 tons. Inside the church, in 34 marble slabs the names of the soldiers who lost their lives are listed. Their remains are placed in 17 sarcophagi in the basement (crypt) of the Temple.

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    In the same area there is a monastery, which until 1934 was Russian property. Stalin gave it to Bulgaria on the condition that no Russian immigrant would ever be allowed to sit on its council.
    After some 13 kilometers of uphill riding on the magnificent provincial road 5, i found myself at the top of Stoletov peak and near the «Monument to Freedom» (Паметник на свободата – Шипка).

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    It is a monumental structure built in the memory of Bulgarians and Russian soldiers who perished during the battles of Shipka in the summer of 1877. The battles were decisive in the Russo-Turkish war for the liberation of Bulgaria.
    The current monument was inaugurated in 1934 and is located at an altitude of 1326 meters. It has the shape of a pyramid tower, some 32 meters high. Above the entrance stands a giant bronze lion (8 x 4 meters). On the opposite side are listed the locations of the most important battles - Shipka, Stara Zagora και Sheynovo.

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    On the ground floor of the monument there is a marble sarcophagus, where bones of Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers are preserved. On the next floors are various objects, military flags and remnants associated with the epic battles. An important influence on the design of the monument was the «Monument of the Battle of the Nations» in Germany. I preferred not to climb the 890 stone steps from its base, but ride my motorbike almost to the entrance (which is probably not allowed). The years under Communism, stone slabs were added, plates with embossed representations and poems that promoted the conceptual continuity between the Russian Imperial Army that liberated Bulgaria from the Ottomans and the Red Army, which entered Bulgaria in 1944, causing the communist coup.

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    Enjoying the view of the surrounding peaks, i focused on the «Buzludzha» monument. The fact that it stands so close to «Shipka» but at the same time it is so different, made me think about how extreme changes and situations took place in modern Bulgarian history.

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    I started to think that my program should be modified. I wanted to visit the «1300 years of Bulgaria» monument that is located in Shumen, but it seemed impossible to be there before night falls. So i decided to return to the «Valley of the Roses» (or «Valley of the Thracian Kings»), south of Shipka. The valley around the city of Kazanlak is known for the rose industry (Rosa Damascena or Damask Rose), which has been cultivated for centuries and produces almost the half (1.7 tons) of the world wheat. It is also of exceptional archaeological interest, as it is the area with the greatest concentration and variety of monuments of Thracian culture. It is said that there are more than 1500 burial tombs in the area and so far only 300 of them had any works of excavation.

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    Randomly, a road sign led me to the tomb of Seuthus III, the ruler of the Odirsian Kingdom of Thrace (from 331 to 300 BC). What impressed me the most was that the archaeological finds in the area (eg the Kazanlak Tomb) came to light in 1944, when the army carried out works for anti-aircraft facilities in the region.

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    Just like the previous time, i had a short stop at Kran, at the «Monument to the Liberators».

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    Time passed quickly and i had to hurry, if i wanted to get to Stara Zagora. Thracian settlements in the area existed already in the 5th century BC, while the city itself was founded in 342 BC by Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great.

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    I was particularly interested in visiting the monument «Defenders of Stara Zagora» that is located in Samara district. On July 31, 1877, a force of Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers faced a superior Turkish force. After some six hours, the Russian-Bulgarian front surrendered to the Turks. In the three days that followed, the city of Stara Zagora suffered untold atrocities and besides the fire that burned everything, about 14.500 people were slaughtered and another 10.000 were sold as slaves within the Ottoman Empire. Despite the tragedy, the city managed to survive. At the 100th anniversary of the battle, in 1977, «Defenders of Stara Zagora» Monument was inaugurated.

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    The brutal monument has a height of more than 15 meters and its composition includes, on pillars of cement, a giant Russian officer and around him six Bulgarian volunteer fighters, representing the six units that joined the Russian army that day.

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    Next to these giant figures is an abstract flag, 50 meters high. It is the flag of the city of Samara, Russia («Samarskoto Zname») and it is of great importance for Bulgarians, since it was given by Russian soldiers to the volunteer fighters to use it as their banner.

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    The location of the monument was the headquarters of the city's defenders. In spite of the tragic and macabre of that area, going up the 100 steps to get to the monument, i noticed the city’s inhabitants who used the park as a recreation area. Indeed, the space has a special positive aura, it exudes serenity and tranquility, a sense that is, in fact, diametrically opposed to the symbolism of the monument.

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    Seeing the families in the park, i felt nostalgia for my own. I was sure that my ride met my expectations and it was time to return. Through the country road 66 i arrived in Plovdiv, where i spent the night.

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    #2
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  3. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece

    Day 3 [km 380]


    My return to Thessaloniki included some more beautiful mountain roads. I departed from Plovdiv relatively early and my first stop was at the «Red Church» («Червената църква»), two kilometers before the small town of Perushtitsa at the foot of the Rodopi Mountains. The Late Roman (Early Byzantine) Christian Basilica took its name from the color of the Roman brick style used to build it.

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    Unfortunately, it is only partially preserved, while dating back to the late 5th - early 6th century, probably built during the years of Emperor Anastasios. Apart from the fact that it is probably the oldest church in Europe, it is the only one with the sanctuary facing to the north. It was originally thought to have been built to preserve the remains of a Christian martyr. With the additions made, the basilica reached at a striking size, with the central dome reaching 32 meters, of which 14 have been restored and still standing. The hagiographies were saved and kept in nearby museums, while copies of some of them are still distinguished in their original positions (eg the form of Aaron in the northwest niche).

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    I found quite ironic that the church was destroyed by Crusaders during the 4th Crusade in the 13th century. The «Red Church» gave me the impression that its destiny is to face weather phenomena and abandonment, while the place seems to be alive only on the third day of Easter, when people gather from Perushtitsa and the surrounding villages and place candles on the ruins of the Byzantine walls.

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    Driving through Perushtitsa, for some reason i felt that this place had a very lively feel of past. I also noticed that in several houses there were marble plates bearing the hammer and the sickle, something quite rare now in Bulgaria.

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    I headed to the top of the hill and soon arrived at the «Monument of Three Generations». The monument is located 500 meters above the city, at Vlasevitsa peak, and was built in 1976 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city's inhabitants' participation in the «April Uprising» against the Ottomans.

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    The architectural concept is typical of socialist art and the main idea is to commemorate those who died for the liberation of Bulgaria. The monument, however, is not only dedicated to the fighters of 1876, but also to the Revolutionaries of September 1923 and the participants in the September 9, 1944 coup. The last two events were especially honored before 1989. The main idea of the monument was to portray three generations of fighters. The result is, perhaps, the controversial importance of the monument and probably its abandonment in recent years.

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    The three generations are depicted in three sculptures, arranged in chronological order. Each one is at a different level and there are stairs between them. At the highest point of the monument there is a bell tower, where was once placed a red star until the collapse of communism. Opposite, there are stairs leading to the basement, where there is an ossuary with a marble sarcophagus, above which hung a bronze wreath - now removed. Unfortunately, this area as well as the entire monument are in a very poor condition.

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    I left the village and headed south, riding the provincial road 37 towards Batak. Last time i passed from here, somehow in a hurry, i promised myself that in the future i would stay a little longer in this little town that deserved the visit. I knew very well that the word «Batak» in the consciousness of average Bulgarians reflects the Turkish atrocities at the expense of the civilian population of the region. I have also been advised that in this city, which today has a strong Ottoman-Pomak sense, locals do not see with a good eye the visitors who "cast" this part of history.
    I searched the internet sources for Batak, and one of the first things to come by was the painting of the Russian painter Konstantin Makovsky «The Bulgarian Martyresses» (1877), which depicts irregular soldiers «Bashi-Bazuk» within a Christian church raping local women.

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    φωτογραφία: wikipedia.org

    Also, the reports of Western correspondents that were sent to the area after the massacre. As an example, American author and diplomat E. Schuyler wrote at the London Daily News:
    «..On every side were human bones, skulls, ribs, and even complete skeletons, heads of girls still adorned with braids of long hair, bones of children, skeletons still encased in clothing. Here was a house the floor of which was white with the ashes and charred bones of thirty persons burned alive there. Here was the spot where the village notable Trendafil was spitted on a pike and then roasted, and where he is now buried; there was a foul hole full of decomposing bodies; here a mill dam filled with swollen corpses; here the school house, where 200 women and children had taken refuge there were burned alive, and here the church and churchyard, where fully a thousand half-decayed forms were still to be seen, filling the enclosure in a heap several feet high, arms, feet, and heads protruding from the stones which had vainly been thrown there to hide them, and poisoning all the air. ..Ahmed Aga, who commanded at the massacre, has been decorated and promoted to the rank of Yuz-bashi..».
    Another witness to the consequences of the massacre was the American journalist Janarius MacGahan of New York Herald and London Daily News, who described what he saw as follows::
    «There was not a roof left, not a whole wall standing; all was a mass of ruins... We looked again at the heap of skulls and skeletons before us, and we observed that they were all small and that the articles of clothing intermingled with them and lying about were all women's apparel. These, then, were all women and girls. From my saddle I counted about a hundred skulls, not including those that were hidden beneath the others in the ghastly heap nor those that were scattered far and wide through the fields. The skulls were nearly all separated from the rest of the bones – the skeletons were nearly all headless. These women had all been beheaded...and the procedure seems to have been, as follows: They would seize a woman, strip her carefully to her chemise, laying aside articles of clothing that were valuable, with any ornaments and jewels she might have about her. Then as many of them as cared would violate her, and the last man would kill her or not as the humour took him....We looked into the church which had been blackened by the burning of the woodwork, but not destroyed, nor even much injured. It was a low building with a low roof, supported by heavy irregular arches, that as we looked in seemed scarcely high enough for a tall man to stand under. What we saw there was too frightful for more than a hasty glance. An immense number of bodies had been partially burnt there and the charred and blackened remains seemed to fill it half way up to the low dark arches and make them lower and darker still, were lying in a state of putrefaction too frightful to look upon. I had never imagined anything so horrible. We all turned away sick and faint, and staggered out of the fearful pest house glad to get into the street again. We walked about the place and saw the same thing repeated over and over a hundred times. Skeletons of men with the clothing and flesh still hanging to and rotting together; skulls of women, with the hair dragging in the dust. bones of children and infants everywhere..»

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    But let's take it from the start. What had happened?
    Today's Batak was built in the beginning of the 16th century, a period when Turks conducted violent mass conversions to Islam of people on Rodopi mountain range. A large number of Christians then settled in Batak.

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    The revolt of Bosnia - Herzegovina prompted Bulgarian rebels to take action. In 1875 a first revolt was prepared to take advantage of the occupation of the Ottomans, and in the spring of 1876 in the south-central Bulgarian lands another revolt, even more disorganized than the previous, broke out.

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    Batak's role in the rebellion was to take possession of the nearby villages' warehouses and to secure the rebels' supply. Also to block the main roads and prevent the supply of Turkish soldiers. Batak's work was to confront the Pomak villages of Chepino and Korovo, in the event that they would try to prevent the rebellion. If the nearby rebel groups were unsuccessful, the others would have to be assembled in Batak. The only problem was the case that Batak would have to defend against the Turks on its own, but this was a risk to be taken.

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    After the revolt on April 30, 1876, part of the armed men in Batak, under the commands of Petar Goranov, attacked the Turks and managed to kill part of the Ottoman leaders. However, the Ottomans, who lacked sufficient regular troops due to the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina, were forced to use irregulars «Bashi-Bazuk», to defeat the Bulgarians. These troops mostly came from Muslim inhabitants of Bulgarian regions, many of whom were refugees from Chechnya, expelled from the Caucasus by the Russian Empire, or Crimean Tatars, refugees expelled in the Crimean War, or even Bulgarians. In this case, it was a body of 5,000 «Bashi-Bazuk», the majority of them Pomaks - Bulgarian Muslims - under the commands of Ahmet Aga from Barutin village.

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    After a first battle, the men from Batak decided to negotiate with Ahmet Aga, who promised them to withdraw his troops, provided that Batak would be disarmed. After the rebels deposited their weapons, the «Bashi-Bazuk» attacked and beheaded everyone.

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    While some of the leaders of the revolutionary committee surrendered their weapons, some managed to escape the village, but immediately afterwards the whole area was encircled. The «Bashi-Bazuk» entered the houses and pillaged them, burned many and shot everyone. Many of the villagers were hiding in the houses of the rich or in the church. On May 2, those who were hidden in Bogdan's house surrendered because Ahmet Aga promised them they would be saved.

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    More than 200 men, women and children were taken out, stripped of valuables and clothes, so not to get dirty with their blood and then slaughtered. Ahmet Aga asked the rich men of Batak to go to his camp and surrender villagers’ arms. It was agreed that the village would be disarmed and that the «Bashi-Bazuk» would leave. Instead, the Bulgarians were captured and all were beheaded, burned alive or were impaled. The chief of the city, Trendafil Kerelov, tried to negotiate with Ahmet Aga. His son’s wife described how they tortured, impaled and burned her father-in-law: «The words he used (Ahmet Aga) were "Shishak aor" which is Turkish for "to put on a skewer (as a shish kebab). After that, they took all the money he had, undressed him, gouged his eyes, pulled out his teeth and impaled him slowly on a stake, until it came out of his mouth. Then they roasted him while he was still alive. He lived for half-an-hour during this terrible scene». Ahmet Aga's son took her child who was still a baby, and cut it with his sword in pieces in front of her.

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    The orthodox church of «Sveta Nedelya» was the last retreat for the rebels. The «Bashi-Bazuk» after they destroyed the school, in which 200 people were burned alive, besieged the church. The siege kept for three days, after the lack of water first forced them drink whatever they could find - they dug out on the floor of the church in search of water for the children, drank the oil from the candles and even the blood of those who died. Eventually the thirst won and they were forced to exit the church. All were beheaded and only those who accepted to convert to Islam were saved.

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    The church was burned, but the stone walls were retained from the fire. When a Russian mission inspected the village, three months later, the Ottoman authorities tried to bury the corpses but could not hide the stench. They also painted the walls of the church, but blood stains appeared later.

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    After the massacre in the church, Ahmet Aga called all surviving peasants, saying he wanted to record the dead and the widows. The survivors gathered, the women were separated from the men and 300 men that survived were slaughtered. The women who protested, were raped and killed. On the same day another 300 people were killed on the wooden bridge, next to the school, after their hands, ears and noses were cut off.

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    After the fall of Batak, Turks slaughtered all the inhabitants, as punishment for the resistance they had raised. According to some sources, both Batak and Perushtitsa, where the majority of the population was also slaughtered, had not participated in the rebellion. Modern historians have calculated the number of those killed in the repression of the uprising between 3,000 and 10,000 people, regardless of gender and age. Batak's massacre was part of the harsh treatment of local revolutions, a policy followed by Sultan Abdul Hamit II. Many of the perpetrators of these massacres were later celebrated by the Ottoman Supreme Administration.
    The reactions of the Europeans were intense. The British, after the reports by their envoys in the region, withdrew their support to Turkey, suggesting that Europe demand the independence of Bulgaria and Bosnia - Herzegovina. The strongest reaction, however, came from Russia, as from autumn of 1875 the movement to support the Bulgarian uprising broke through all classes of Russian society, preparing and leading to the subsequent military intervention and strengthening of the Bulgarians against the Ottomans.

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    Withdrawing from Batak, i could not help thinking about the macabre events related to the church of Sveta Nedelya. My mind was soon absorbed in the beautiful nature and autumn colors. Later, on the provincial road 376 towards Velingrad, near the shores of Lake Batak, i stopped for a while and admired a group of horses galloping free.

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    In the main square of Rakitovo village i found another statue - a monument dedicated to a fighter. I could not deduce more from its inscription.

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    I continued on the provincial road 84 and after Razlog i made my last stop in Bulgaria. There was a monument that was related to the liberation struggles of 1903. It was a composition of cement pilars, which in their interior resembled caged martyr human figures.

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    The road that remained for my return was close to nothing while i was already preparing the routes that i would follow (Shumen Province and the Black Sea coast) on my next visit to Bulgaria.
    This was the route (of a total of 1189 kilometers) that i followed.

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    #3
  4. td63

    td63 Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
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    Hard to "like" a post that covers so much intense brutality, but thanks for your thoughtful history. They've long since moved away but we had a close friend who dated and then married a local Bulgarian Phd. student and he introduced us to the local Bulgarian community, but, despite, that, I couldn't have told you the first thing about that country. Thanks for filling that void.

    Gotta ask: is Bulgarian particularly full of monuments or do you simply have a gift for seeking them out? :)
    #4
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  5. Bt10

    Bt10 Been here awhile

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    Wow, thank you for your report. Excellent history lesson many of us in the west may never see in person.
    #5
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  6. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
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    First i wanna thank you for the read&comment!
    There are maybe hundreds of such giantic and bizzare monuments scattered in the territory of Bulgaria, mostly inspired of the so-called 'socialistic architecture' that happen to admire. They are placed sometimes to places hard to find, so this gives me the motive to go out of main roads and, lets say, hunt them down. So we have small roads and monuments, 2 in the price of 1
    :rofl
    #6
  7. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Thank you!

    Part 3 is on its way...
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  8. mk23

    mk23 Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    WA, USA
    That is a beautifully written and illustrated AAR! Thank you Very Much, for showing me places I have not seen in a long time.

    I was born in Plovdiv in the mid 70s and moved to the States in the late '80s. We also had a cabin in Yudola, next to Velingrad.

    It's was very interesting stomping grounds.
    #8
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  9. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer Super Supporter

    Joined:
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    Very nice report! Amazed to see the time, money, and effort put into many of those colossal structures of concrete. They sure have a special kind of beauty to them no matter what they where intended to symbolize.

    Just like when a replace a post on the farm, I can’t stand to put in a wooden post that I know will rot out much sooner than a heavy steel pipe post anchored in concrete that will last many generations to come. They may only remember me for my posts I sat.

    Thanks for sharing your trip. Have wanted to make a trip to the region for years and hope to do so one day.
    #9
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  10. sixspeed

    sixspeed Put on the WHOLE armor

    Joined:
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    Absolutely beautiful Stara Varos.

    We plan on someday before we are called home to get over to Eastern and Central Europe and do a big tour through the land of our ancestors.

    The natural beauty of mountains, great beer, food and some of the most beautiful architecture, Churches, Shrines and Iconostas. What's not to like!
    #10
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  11. NorthIdaho800gsa

    NorthIdaho800gsa Bad influence

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    Awesome report. all history needs to be remembered. you should be thankful to be able to see these things. here in the u.s., the communists are trying hard to erase our history and tear down statues.
    #11
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  12. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
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    im glad you liked my post and even more if anything reminded you familiar places or even home!
    If you 'll ever be on this side of Atlantic, id love to ride BG toghether.

    Thanks for the comment @mk23 , more stuff about Bulgaria soon :-)
    #12
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  13. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Those 'comunist' monuments have so much in common. They are massive, made of concrete, they are geometric structiures to the point of being a bit brutal, or even depressing.
    For me they are just bizzare achievents of architecture of the time that were built and i try to keep a safe distance from the frames of the communist propaganda that created them.

    Anyway, if ever in BG or Balkans in general, gimme a heads up, as im always around!

    thanks for the read and comment @Throttlemeister
    :-)
    more about Bulgaria soon....
    #13
  14. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

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    cant agree more @sixspeed :-)

    i wish you to make your trip plans true and remember beers are always cold in Thessaloniki Greece :clap
    #14
  15. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

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    i have always believed that people denouncing their monuments (etc) are just narrow minded observers of History in general, but in the end Thruth always prevails.

    Thank you @NorthIdaho800gsa for the comment, for me is like a push to come back with more stuff..
    :-)
    #15
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  16. sasho

    sasho Dual Personality

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    :lurk Looking forward to it. As a Bulgarian, I appreciate your narrative and photos about your travels through Bulgaria, and its history.
    #16
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