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The Shabla Lighthouse mysteries

Photo: Veneta Nikolova
There is a place along the Black Sea coast that enjoys keen interests from tourists even in winter. This is Shabla Municipality, occupying the northernmost section of the Bulgarian coastline. There are three wetlands in the municipality’s territory that have become the winter getaway of dozens of endangered bird species, including the entire world population of the Red-breasted Goose. During the cold months when seaside resorts slip into an inevitable lull, Shabla Municipality welcomes coaches with foreign tourists armed with heavy equipment – cameras, binoculars etc. However, before heading to the wetlands, they make a stopover in a most romantic little place protruding deep into the sea where, it seems, time has stopped altogether. There, weathered by winds and legends, stands the Shabla Lighthouse.

© Photo: Veneta Nikolova

The oldest lighthouse on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast occupies the country’s easternmost point, Cape Shabla. Here the astronomical New Year arrives earlier than in the rest of the country. So the new 2011 will come here 19 minutes earlier than in the capital Sofia located 550 km to the west of the cape. The navigation point painted in red and white stripes is one of the most curious sites along Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast section. It is assumed that the lighthouse was build to copy one of the world’s seven wonders, the Alexandria Lighthouse reduced to rubble by a quake in the Middle Ages. The Shabla Lighthouse is also called the Sand Lighthouse, for its power to protect ships from getting stuck into the treacherous shallow waters stretching from Cape Shabla to the nearby village of Tyulenovo. The lights emitted from its 32-m tower flash once every 25 sec. sending out signals 17 miles into the sea. The present structure of the lighthouse dates back to 1856. Back then it was restored and started operation replacing an even older navigation facility erected 100 years earlier. However, there is evidence that guiding lights have been sent out from Cape Shabla since ancient times, when the Black Sea was the sea crossroads of merchants from the region. “Today, despite the spectacular growth of navigation technologies, not all vessels are equipped with GPS systems and besides, the region is dangerous with its underwater reefs. So, the lighthouse is much more than a sentimental keepsake”, explains Iliyan Hristakiev from the municipal administration in Shabla. Similar to other Bulgarian lighthouses the Shabla one was launched and managed by the French Compagnie des Phares de l’Empire Ottoman in the mid-19 c., when Bulgaria was still under Ottoman rule.

“The lighthouse tower has a monogram of Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid inscribed into it”, Iliyan Hristakiev explains. “Monograms of the ruling Ottoman monarch were inscribed in buildings of exceptional importance for the empire. It is curious to know that the highest lighthouse in the Bulgarian lands was built fast and its construction came cheaper than many other such facilities. This is so, because building material for the lighthouse was taken directly from the ruins of a Roman fortress that lied just a few meters from its structure.”

Cape Shabla has s