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Walking the trails of history in Haskovo and the Rhodope

Photo: visithaskovo.com
The town of Haskovo is a gateway to the Eastern Rhodopes, which in turn abound with trails exploring the historical past. But before heading out into the countryside, we recommend the enthusiastic tourist to take a stroll around the town, which boasts its renovated centre of green parks, fountains and beautiful buildings. It is no coincidence that in 2011 it was ranked the greenest city in Bulgaria.

But what Haskovo is best known for is being the town of the Virgin Mary. The nearly 33-metre high figure of the Virgin Mary holding the Child in her arms was erected in 2003 on Yamacha Hill - one of the easternmost heights of the Eastern Rhodopes. The magnificent sculpture can be seen from any point of the city and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's tallest monument of the Virgin and Child.

A bell tower stands tall next to it, offering a breathtaking view of the town and its vicinities. "The bells are made in the Veleganov Bell Foundry - one of the oldest in Bulgaria. Twice a day Haskovo reverberates with its crystalline chime," says Mitra Todorova from TIC-Haskovo.

Monument to Envy

While strolling in the city center, visitors will see another "one of a kind" monument - the world's only monument to Envy. The sculpture, which condemns this common sin, was erected entirely with donations. It represents a human figure spreading wings of feathers in an attempt to fly. However, two skeletal hands cling to it, preventing it from flying into the sky.

What else can we see in the city of Virgin Mary? - we ask.

Paskaleva House

"You can visit the Regional History Museum, which has 5 very interesting expositions - from archaeology to recent history and ethnography - explains Mitra Todorova from Tourist Infomation Centre Haskovo. - You can also see Paskaleva House - a unique model of Renaissance architecture, which illustrates the transition from rural to urban life of the wealthy inhabitants of the town. However, there are other beautiful Renaissance houses in Haskovo that form a small borough. We also have two very interesting churches."

At the nearby village of Alexandrovo, archaeologists came across a unique find: a 4th-century BC tomb with amazing frescoes. Unfortunately, it was looted long time ago. There is a perfect copy of this tomb in the building of “Thracian art in the Eastern Rhodopes” museum centre, which preserves rich expositions related to the life and lifestyle of our ancient ancestors, Todorova explains.

„Thracian art in the Eastern Rhodopes“ museum centre

"This is the area where the Thracians left the most traces. There are rock niches, sharapans (paired circular hollows in the rock for making wine), altars, sacrificial shrines and many other sacral rock sites, each with its own interesting history. A gold treasure dating back to 4500-4000 BC discovered in the Sakar Mountains is exhibited in the Museum Centre. The ornaments are similar to the items from the Varna Necropolis and are among the oldest gold artefacts in the world. The most amazing thing about it is the incredible craftsmanship. The gold elements have holes which are so tiny that only a horsehair could pass through them. The technique used by our ancestors to hang these gold pieces on jewellery is still a mystery," says Mitra Todorova.

Sveti Duh (Holy Spirit) Roman fortress

Scattered on a small hill near the resort village of Mineralni Bani are the remains of the Sveti Duh (Holy Spirit) Roman fortress. The fortress was built in the 2nd century on the site of a Roman-era structure. The fortress has been inhabited for nearly 1000 years. Today, in the centre of the former fortress, there is a modern chapel.

Church of the Assumption

Near the village of Uzundzhovo you can see the Church of the Assumption - the largest village Christian temple in Bulgaria and once the center of one of the largest trade fairs in the Ottoman Empire.

Check out our post about the natural phenomenon Stone Mushrooms in the Eastern Rhodopes:

English: Elizabeth Radkova

Photos: visithaskovo.com, haskovo.net, “Thracian art in the Eastern Rhodopes” museum centre

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