The half-ruined Thracian city of Perperikon (official website of the location) is one of the most fascinating destinations in Bulgaria. Although discovered 20 years ago, the excavations are continuing and every successive step of the digs feeds Bulgarian historians’ imagination. Situated in Eastern Rhodopes , Perperikon is hewn into the rocks at 470 meters altitude. The distance from Sofia is about 250 km (3 hours drive) and from Plovdiv about 100 km (less than 2 hours drive). The road is generally in good condition. The closest bigger city is Kardzhali (just over 20 km, about 30 min drive).
Perperikon is an archaeological complex which covers an area of about 12 square km. Being one of the oldest megalithic sites in Bulgaria, Perperikon embodies history that spans through several epochs. The complex consists of four main parts, which form a perfect combination representing the Neolithic:
The sacred rock city is an incomparable combination of uniqueness in archaeological, historical, natural and multi-religious aspect and we would not be wrong if we call it one of the wonders of the world.
History of Perperikon:
It won’t be exaggerated if we say that Perperikon is the most valuable archaeological discoveries on Bulgarian territory for the last few decades. The ancient archaeological complex consists of remains of various time periods. Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and Bulgarians have lived here. Every civilization that’s inhabited Perperikon has left traces of its culture and history.
The name of the religious center comes from the word Hyperperakion which means a huge fire in ancient Greek. In this way was called the golden coin with a great quantity of gold content- minted in Byzantium in 1082. Historians explain the connection between the name of the coin and the rock monument with the local gold deposits. Thracians and later the Byzantine people used to extract gold from mines that recline 2 kilometers from the rocky town. The former name is shortened after the monetary reform . The new one is Perperikon. It is still a mystery how this place was called in the old ages.
The City of Stone
The story of the City of Stone begins long time before the Thracians. According to scholars, the oldest traces of human habitation in Perperikon date back to the Neolithic age. Back then people made a cult of rock in every shape. Rocks gave them a natural fortress, a home and a connection to the gods. With the quick development of tools the inhabitants of the place started to shape rock and to transform it into their homes. The progress of the cult conditions during Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age helped for the creation of a spectacular sanctuary.
The impressive finds support the hypothesis that exactly in Perperikon was located the famous fortune tellers place of god Dionysus. During excavations was found a huge altar 6 feet in diameter and hewn straight out of the rock. It’s believed that here Thracians practiced wine and fire rituals. Within ancient Thracians’ believes, the fire dance was in honor of the creator of the world, which was conceived when a woman materialized and gave birth to a son. As a result of their sexual intercourse Orpheus the creator/destroyer of the world appeared. The ancient Thracian cult practice of fire dancing continues in recent days in some Bulgarian regions, under the name Nestinarstvo.
Archaeological finds support the belief that the temple of Dionysus raised also in the City of Stone. Later on an entire splendid complex built around the rock sanctuary. The construction included several floors with a great variety of rooms, hallways, halls and staircases. The spacious throne room will attract your attention. You can sit on a rock-hewn throne and feel the spirit of the place.
Perperikon was conquered and destroyed by the Goths in 378 AD.
In the 5th century Christianity spreaded and the old pagan sites were buried or turned into churches. From VII – XIV century Perperikon flourished as a large administrative and religious center with many buildings and temples. Excavations show that at the foot of the City of stone there was a personal imperial mansion. At the center of Perperikon a church with remarkable decorations was erected. The Bulgarians and Byzantines fought many wars over the town, which finally at the end of the 14th century was conquered and destroyed by the Ottoman Turks and the ruins lay largely forgotten.
The cult of Dionysus was not the only thing that the city was famous for. Another tradition that was deeply rooted in Thracian culture in the Rhodope was the mining of gold, silver and precious stones. One of the largest mines in Antiquity was located near the present-day village of Stremtsi, about a mile and a half from Perperikon. What remains of it are about a dozen entrances and more than 500 metres of galleries. The entire hillside was cut through by a thick network of tunnels and caverns.
Archaeologists keep exploring the City of stone. Perperikon slowly reveals the great quantity of secrets that are kept under its remains. In spite of the fact that nowadays we have some knowledge of its history, it is unlikely we will ever know the entire truth of our predecessors’ civilization. It is possible that thousands of historical treasures are still hidden in the Rhodopes.
May – October:
7.30 am – 8.00 pm
During the rest of the months, there are no tour guides and no guided tours are offered.
Tours in Bulgarian – BGN 30
Contacts оf the History Museum, Kardzhali
4 Republikanska Str., Town of Kardzhali