The haunted ground of Belintash
In Bulgaria, the cult site of the ancient Thracians
“The Thracians have a particular way of burying their well-to-do. They lay out the corpse for three days, and then, after much prior lamentation, they slaughter all kinds of sacrificial victims, and feast on them. They complete the funerary rites either by cremating the corpse or by burying it in the earth; and then, once they have piled up a tumulus, they stage a wide variety of athletic contests. The best prizes, entirely reasonably, go to those who engage in single combat. Such is the manner in which the Thracians bury their dead.”
– Herodotus, 5.8 (trans. by Tom Holland (not the Spider-Man actor)
The densely forested Rhodope mountain range stretches from Southern Bulgaria to Northern Greece. The forbidding region is associated with the myth of Orpheus, the legendary musician who embarked on an ill-fated quest to the underworld to rescue his deceased wife, Eurydice.
In antiquity, the region was also the homeland of the Thracians, a people who lived in Southeastern Europe, on the northern border of the Hellenic civilization and Achaemenid (Persian) empire.
We’re well into “spooky season,” so I thought it fitting to describe my recent visit to the Bulgarian mountain location known as Belintash, thought to be a Thracian cult site (and associated with many paranormal happenings in the present).
An hour’s drive on mountain roads from the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, Belintash is best approached on foot, for about a half-mile hike. Then, you come across various vendors selling crystals and other tchotchkes, but when I visited, near sunset, nobody was there. A lonely church stood at the foot of the peak, its reasons for existing both ominous and obvious.
A little farther and you come across a tree with various wishes underneath. And then you ascend the peak, where a large mesa confronts the sky. The mesa is unusual because it features deep pools of water, as well as many large flat niches and apparently artificial hemispherical holes that appear to be arranged in the pattern of constellations. One of those formations has a striking similarity to the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) or Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), and part of that area is devoid of the vegetation which characterizes the rest of the plateau.
Some artifacts have been discovered here which suggest the presence of the Bessi tribe of the Thracians, who worshipped a god called Sabazios, a cultural fusion between Zeus and Dionysus. Writing in the 5th Century BCE, Herodotus, essentially the first anthropologist, noted that the Thracians often performed acts of sacrifice—but so did pretty much everyone back then.
Local tradition argues that the location is spectacularly haunted, and apparently, many locals are afraid of spending the night. Spirits, demons, and even UFOs are forwarded as the possible sources of such dark energy.
I’m afraid to say I can’t confirm any of the rumors. The location does offer a fantastic view of the sublime mountain range. But, I did leave before dark.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
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Many thanks to my guide, D., who introduced me to the mythology and spectacular setting of Belintash.