Alleged Giant Phallus from Hermes Statue Found in Bulgaria’s Orehovo as Locals Rally to Defend Suspected Ancient Thracian Shrine
A find that is said to be a giant phallus which was part of a statue of god Hermes has been found at the mountain peak known as Koloto near the town of Orehovo, Chepelare Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria, which the locals believe was an Ancient Thracian shrine.
The find has been revealed as the residents of Orehovo in Bulgaria’s picturesque Rhodope Mountains have rallied in protest against the construction of a fire safety tower on top of the alleged Thracian mound which has already been started by Chepelare Municipality.
After their story first made media headlines last week, the residents of Orehovo have now rallied to insist that the authorities in Chepelare Municipality build elsewhere the future fire safety tower which is supposed to help protect the area from the frequent forest fires, reports the private Bulgarian TV channel bTV.
The landscape in the valleys and plains in Southern Bulgaria (such as the Valley of Thracian Kings near Kazanlak or the Upper Thracian Plain near Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, or Yambol) is dotted with Ancient Thracian burial mounds, while the Rhodope Mountains and the Strandzha Mountain (also in Southern Bulgaria) are known to contain a large number of Ancient Thracian rock shrines.
Their protests have sparked a reaction on part of the Bulgarian government, with Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov ordering an emergency inspection which is supposed to find out if the construction commenced by Chepelare Municipality has in fact damaged an unknown archaeological site.
The inspection is to be carried out by the Inspectorate for Cultural Heritage Protection at the Ministry of Culture, the institution has announced.
The controversy has been worsened by conflicting reports coming from archaeologists from the Smolyan Regional Museum of History and from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology as to whether the Koloto Mount is actually an archaeological site.
The alleged Ancient Thracian marble phallus has been found at the Koloto Mount near Orehovo by a local activist, Zlatka Chortova.
She has shown the find to the media, and cites scholars as saying that it is indeed a phallic representation that was part of an ancient sculpture.
“According to Prof. Vasil Markov from the Southwestern University in Blagoevgrad, whom we invited here with his team in order to survey the region, this phallus was part of a sculpture of god Hermes,” Chortova says, as cited by bTV.
She and the other residents of Orehovo argue that the construction on top of what might have been an Ancient Thracian shrine is a sacrilege because the site has not been excavated, and might harbor a potential for cultural tourism in the region.
“These rounded river stones have no way of getting up here by way of gravity. This is the material that the Thracians used to cover up their mounds,” argues Madlen Kircheva, another local activist.
Other locals have revealed that in the past gold and silver coins have been found on the Koloto Mound but that these finds have been covered up.
They suspect that the existence of an Ancient Thracian monument may be concealed by the authorities so that any potential archaeological treasures that may be found there can be stolen.
They also argue that Koloto is not the most suitable site for the construction of a fire safety tower anyway since a nearby mount called St. Iliya (St. Elijah) is better suited for the purpose and provides a more comprehensive view of the entire area.
While the archaeologists from the Regional Museum of History in the nearby city of Smolyan say no archaeological artifacts have been found on site of Koloto, a Plovdiv archaeologist disagrees.
Bozhidar Chaparov, who has been exploring Ancient Thracian mounds and shrines in the Rhodope Mountains for decades, confirms that archaeological items have been discovered at Koloto.
“This mount is connected with the [Thracian] settlements Volode and Ravnishta where archaeological materials, earrings, ceramics have been found,” Chaparov says.
The construction of the fire safety tower in question is a part of project worth BGN 1.2 million (app. EUR 600,000) for building a total of three towers in the Chepelare Municipality, which is financed with EU funding.
The locals, however, maintain that the mound known as “Koloto” where the future fire safety tower near Orehovo is already being built is not natural but is a man-made structure, a mound built in the Antiquity by the Ancient Thracians.
Todor Bozukov, Mayor of Chepelare Municipality, has shown an letter from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology received on September 14, 2015, and signed by its director Lyudmil Vagalinksi which says the “presented information contains no data about the existence of an archaeological site”.
The construction works for the fire safety tower on the Koloto Mount so far have reached a depth of 1.5 meters, and no archaeological artifacts have been found.
The last time the area of Orehovo saw any archaeological exploration was in the 1960s, and any new finds might lead to the organizing of excavations.
There are also local legends that the mound in question used to be an Ancient Thracian shrine or a temple which was buried after the local population converted to Christianity in the Late Antiquity.