An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions

by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.




>>>> The Balkans <<<<


The Balkan Mountain Range (from which the Balkans take their name) is the long, upper brown swath that looks like an extended half-moon lying on its side, facing upwards.  A photo of the region is directly below. [This map comes from ""  For one of their larger, much more detailed maps, please click HERE.  Then hit your "Back" button to return to this page.]
Paradise Waterfall in Bulgaria's Balkan Mountains

<<< Author's Note >>>

When I began this new section on the Balkans, I wondered why the region was called the Balkans.  I checked an old dictionary and discovered that the name comes from a chain of mountains crossing Bulgaria from east to west.  Prior to that, all I knew about Bulgaria was that an eerie music born in her mountains had recently become quite popular in the West.  I could not have found the country on a map.

I now know more about this country.  What interests me most, given my focus on myth and ancient traditions, is that Orpheus is said to have come from Bulgaria's southern Rhodope Mountains (see below); in the sheltered Valley of Roses near Kasanluk (in the southern foothills of the Balkan Mountains) are grown millions of roses, from which comes the world's purest attar of roses; over 4000 of the country's caves, some including prehistoric paintings, have been explored and mapped; the region is rich in Thracian artifacts; and,   finally, Bulgaria's 9th century conversion to Christianity is viewed (perhaps not without some irony) as the beginning of the "civilizing" of the Balkan Peninsula's Slavic peoples as a whole.

With these few facts, let me begin this page.....


The Rhodope Mountains
(located along the southern border, adjoining Greece).
According to tradition, Orpheus,
who would marry Eurydice,
came from here.
(Photo from
This is a simple, basic introduction to Bulgaria's natural beauty.  The site is one of a series done by "" to foster travel to this unique land.  The page is brief but evocative.  It offers several fine photos and links to further information on Bulgaria's mountains and Black Sea beaches.
This is another site on geography -- far more detailed on topography, climate, and waters.  There's a lovely photo of a mountain lake near the end.
You have to love a country that keeps stats on its strongest rain, longest lasting fog (29 days and nights in 1948), oldest tree (a 1650 year old oak), tallest tree (a white fir 62 metres high), hottest mineral waters, tallest cactus (7 metres), and "mightiest" spring!
Also from "omda" (see directly above), this site looks at Bulgarian history.  If you click on the page's: "And more..." you'll find a good overview -- in the opening paragraph the unnamed authors set an intriguing and mysterious tone:
Founded in 681, Bulgaria is one of the oldest European states. But in spite of its 13-century-old tradition, it is an “infant” compared to the history of civilization in the present-day Bulgarian lands. These areas had been populated as early as the Palaeolithic period. Here, in the neighbourhood of the town of Montana, a 6800-year-old inscription has been discovered....This is a stone tablet on which 24 signs (still undeciphered) are written in four lines. And near the Black Sea port of Varna the oldest (Copper Age) gold treasure in Europe was found in 1972. Among the articles...there are some regal symbols, which means that even in most ancient times there existed some, though unknown, form of statehood. The ethnic identity of the people who had created these masterpieces is also obscure.
Back on the main page are a series of links to other historical events and people, including an interesting essay on arranged dynastic marriages in medieval times -- e.g., a Jewish woman was once a Bulgarian queen (more on her below, on the first of two Jewish sites). [Be sure to click on hypertext wherever you find it on these "omda" pages.]  The site is well worth a visit.

View from the ruins of the medieval fortress at Mezek
(long a place of strategic importance on the way to Constantinople)
This is another excellent historical overview (including maps and illustrations) by Professor John Bell.  He begins with the name, Bulgaria, itself:
Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman civilizations have each left their mark on the Bulgarian lands, but the story of the modern Bulgarian people began with the Slavic migrations into the Balkan Peninsula in the 6th and 7th centuries. The name "Bulgaria" comes from the Bulgars, a Turkic people who migrated from the steppe north of the Black Sea, conquered the Slavic tribes and founded the First Bulgarian Kingdom in 681. The Bulgars were absorbed in the larger Slavic population....
This is a much more detailed look at Bulgarian history from an excellent book, Bulgaria: Illustrated History, by Bojidar Dimitrov, PhD.  It covers the full sweep of Bulgarian history, topic by topic -- the few sections I scanned looked fascinating.  Despite the book's title, the site offers no photographs but a Bulgarian publisher is named and perhaps those interested could contact the California-based "" for further info; the book's credits include three photographers so I asume it's richly illustrated.
[Note: although they don't list this specific book, another good source for Bulgarian books is "omda" at:]
This site covers another book, Rulers of Bulgaria, by Profesor Milcho Lalkov.  The index lists nearly 30 rulers from 632-1996.  When you click on a name, you'll find a brief but useful biography along with a small portrait of that ruler.  Given the nature of Bulgaria's history, political power was usually allied with religious power, which means that the biographies also give a glimpse into the realm's sacred traditions and beliefs.
This site looks briefly at nine "Bulgarian wonders" selected by UNESCO as among 300 of the planet's most valuble cultural and natural landmarks.  These nine include natural wonders as well as medieval monasteries and ancient Thracian tombs.
This is another site on the nine UNESCO-designated national treasures.  It's a little more detailed than the preceding one and also provides good (non-clickable) photos for each of the nine.

Thracian art from Letnitza
Mythic deity or hero (?) with serpents (?) and streams (?)
[Photo is a detail from Interrinet: see below.]
The treasures of Thrace are the topic of this too-brief page.  The oldest are from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis (4600 - 4200 B.C.) which experts rank as "the world’s oldest gold and Europe’s most ancient civilization.”  Other Thracian treasures date from the 4th century BCE.  The site unfortunately relies more on text than image; one can't help wishing for detailed photos of this splendid art.
This is a much more satisfying site on Thrace -- here, the focus is on a small 5th-3rd century BCE beehive-shaped tomb excavated in Kasanluk (near the Valley of Roses).  This time the text on Thracian history, architecture, and murals is lengthy and beautifully done.  I wish there were more photos, but the three provided are "clickable" for gorgeous enlargements.
This is another excellent page on Thracian treasures.  It lacks the depth of the one directly above but it includes a much wider range of sites than either of the preceding two.  It also has more clickable photos (a pleasant surprise when you click on the thumbnails is that you get not only the thumbnail but also a whole series of artifacts from the same site).  [If you click on "Back" at the bottom of the page, you'll go to a menu of other "treasures," mostly architectural; I've extracted some of these for my own Bulgarian pages.  I don't know who created these pages, by the way -- there's no webmaster listed, no e-mail, and when I stripped the URL back to its bare bones, a notice appeared saying access was refused.]
This page comes from the same people who did the site directly above.  It provides brief descriptions of three Thracian tombs and includes three excellent (clickable) photos, including one with an interesting series of ten caryatids carved within a burial chamber near Svestari (see detail directly below).

Thracian tomb near Svestari
This page, again from the same source as the above two, is a brief survey of ancient architecture.  It begins with Thrace, moves to Rome (which conquered Thrace by the first century AD), and concludes with early Byzantine architecture.  The clickable photos are excellent, as usual.
From "omda" [see elsewhere on this page] comes this site on "The People of Bulgaria," an informative, insightful look at the history of the many different ethnicities in this country.  Be sure to click on all the hypertext for more in-depth essays, written with style and gentle wit.
One ethnic group, the Jews, reached the Balkans in the 2nd century AD.  This engrossing website, also from "omda," surveys the history of Bulgarian Jews from that point on: included is data on the Jewish queen (mentioned above) -- it's a somewhat mixed message since she converted to Christianity before her marriage.  Most remarkable, however, is the story of World War II when the Bulgarians protected their local Jews from the Nazis.  As the authors write:
Against the background of the cyclic waves of anti-Semitism in modern Europe, the co-existence of the Jews and the Balkan [i.e., Bulgarian] peoples seemed almost idyllic.
As with other "omda" sites, the data is well researched, written, and illustrated -- be sure to click on the hypertext for a closer look at many issues.
This page by Plamen Bliznakov has a collection of two dozen links on the Holocaust, most of them concerning the safety of Bulgarian Jews' during World War II (one link is to a very touching excerpt from Hannah Arendt's writings).  The site also offers an excellent Bibliography.
This site looks at Bulgaria's difficult and convoluted "Macedonian Question" [more on this issue will be found on the Macedonian page].  As the author, Professor John Bell, points out:
Until the late nineteenth century, to nearly all investigators the term "Macedonia" designated a geographic area only; its population was considered primarily Bulgarian along with an admixture of Greeks, Serbs, and other nationalities. Many figures prominent in Bulgaria's national awakening and in its later cultural, political, and economic life were born in Macedonia and gave no evidence during their lives of considering themselves anything but Bulgarian.
Bell's essay looks at linguistics as well as history and politics.  It gives an outsider a sobering sense of how daunting Balkan issues of nationality and boundaries really are.
This is a carefully reasoned 1994 site, "Who are the Pomaks," by Roumi Radenska:
'Pomaks' is the name of pretty large group of people who live mainly in Rhodopi mountains (southern Bulgaria, close to the border with Greece). They have muslim names and speak very ancient bulgarian language....Their ancestors were slavic christian people who accepted muslim religion. This fact took place in 16th and 17th centuries.
Why was this ethnic group forced to become Muslim?  Radenska offers an eerie explanation, which again points to the daunting complexity of the Balkans:
...Rhodopi mountains were a huge hunting field for the sultan, his family and large number of his people.  They needed to be served during their stay there (sometimes for months). According to their believes they have to be served only by muslims. That's why ottomans forced the large amount of bulgarian population in Rhodops to accept the islam.
(includes Folklore, Art, Music, Dance, Christianity & General Multi-linked Info)

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If you have comments or suggestions,
my home page has my current e-mail address near the bottom of the page.

This page created with Netscape Gold
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Design:
Copyright 1999-2007 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

Page created 27-31May 1999
2 June 1999; 25 September 2000.
1:50am EDT, 7 May 2007: a few minor formating changes; no time for a links check.