Strandzha Mountain has an image of a mystical place in Bulgaria because of its nature, proximity to the Black Sea, and historical, archaeological, and cultural heritage. Photo: Wikipedia
It would be best not to turn the caves in the Strandzha Mountain in Southeast Bulgaria into tourist destinations because they are homes of numerous endangered biological species and a rich archaeological heritage, according to a speleologist.
A total of 11 out of Bulgaria’s hundreds of caves have been declared tourist attractions, and none of those are in the Strandzha Mountain, Bulgarian speleologist Stoyan Yordanov has told Radio Focus.
Strandzha is a relatively small mountain in today’s Southeast Bulgaria and European Turkey, close to the Black Sea.
It has an area of about 10,000 square meters, of which 35% are in Bulgaria, and 65% in Turkey. Its highest peak is1,031 meters tall, and the highest one, which is in Bulgaria, is 705 meters tall.
In the past, all parts of the Strandzha Mountain used to be inhabited by Bulgarians. The Strandzha Natural Park established in 1995 is Bulgaria’s largest natural park with a total area of 1,100 square kilometers, or 1% of Bulgaria’s territory.
Strandzha has the image of a mystic mountain, and its Bulgarian part is home to communities practicing the world-famous folklore custom of Nestinarstvo, i.e. fire-dancing or fire-walking, which is included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Speleologist Stoyan Yordanov points out that humans are banned from entering some of the caves in Strandzha under Bulgaria’s Biodiversity Act.
The rest of the caves can be visited but it is recommended that potential visitors contact a speleology club for help in that regard, and make sure they have the proper physical training, equipment, and a guide.
Some of the caves in Strandzha contain dangerous gases such as carbon dioxide, the speleologist warns.
There are a total of 67 caves officially registered on the territory of the Strandzha Natural Park and several which have not been registered, and the existence of unknown or undiscovered ones cannot be ruled out.
Some of the caves in the Strandzha Mountain in Southeast Bulgaria contain red clay.
“Yellow and red soils are typical specific to jungles. Even though Strandzha is far from the equator, its vegetation resembles that of the tropics," Yordanov notes.
He points out it is proven that part of the caves in the Strandzha Mountain used to be inhabited in ancient times.
Some have seen archaeological excavations. In the Bratanova Cave, for example, archaeologists have found an earthen pot from ca. 2,000 BC as well as coins of Macedon King Philip II and his son Alexander the Great.
Another cave which used to be inhabited by humans in ancient times is called “Kaleto" (a Turkish word meaning “fortress" often used to denote nameless dilapidated fortresses in the Bulgarian countryside) where archaeological research is ongoing.
The caves in the Strandzha Mountain contain a rich diversity of bat species – out of a total of 35 bat species in Europe, 33 live in Bulgaria, and 26 of those in the Strandzha Mountain.
The speleologist explains that the Strandzha Mountain did not experience the last Ice Age, unlike the higher Rila, Pirin, and Rhodope Mountains in Southwest Bulgaria, which allowed many plant and animal species to continue to thrive unaffected. Some unique plant species include the Strandzha elm and the Strandzha periwinkle.
The Strandzha Mountain in Southeast Bulgaria and European Turkey also boasts a diversity of mammal species and is the only part of Europe inhabited by the Caspian swamp turtle.
A recent report has revealed that many of the valuable caves in the Rusenski Lom Nature Park in Northeast Bulgaria have been badly damaged by human activity.