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Kaliakra Cape: Bulgaria Legends and Steppe Nature

Date: 25.05.2009

As summer is on the way, I thought it may be a good idea to point you in the direction of the sea. If you happen to have travelled a bit north of Varna on the Balchik road you may have come across the stunning oasis, or peninsula to give it its proper name, of Kaliakra.

It is a long and narrow headland in the Southern Dobrudzha region of the northern Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, located 12 km south-east of Kavarna and 60 km north-east of Varna. The coast is steep and has cliffs reaching 70m down to the sea.

In the area the last remains of steppe habitats in Bulgaria occur. Kaliakra is a nature reserve, where dolphins, shags and a numbers of typical steppe birds can be observed, it is one of the very good birdwatching sites in Bulgaria. It is identified by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria as an Important Bird Area and a Natura 2000 site.

The peninsula includes ruins of the fortified walls, water-main, baths and residence of Despot Dobrotitsa's mediaeval capital in the short-lived principality of Karvuna's medieval capital. The cove Bolata with a small sheltered beach lies just north.

Ok, now a brief history lesson, the name Kaliakra is of Byzantine Greek origin and is traditionally translated as "Beautiful Headland". Kaliakra was the site of the naval Battle of Cape Kaliakra on 11 August 1791, part of the Russian-Turkish War of 1787-1792.

The first modern lighthouse on Kaliakra was built in 1866 by the Compagnie des Phares de l'Empire Ottomane; the present one (a 10m cylindrical stone masonry tower with lantern and gallery) was erected in 1901.

There are many legends connected with the place one of the most popular tells of 40 Bulgarian girls, who preferred to tie their hair together and jump into the Black Sea instead of the prospect of being captured by the Ottomans. An obelisk dedicated to this legend is placed at the entrance to the cape, called The Gate of the 40 Maidens.

Another legend tells the story of St Nicholas who was running away from the Ottomans and God was making the earth under him longer and longer, so he could escape, and the cape was formed this way. The saint was eventually captured and a chapel was built in 1993, marking his grave. A dervish monastery is also said to have existed at the same place during Ottoman rule, which is thought to have preserved the relics of Muslim saint Sarı Saltık.

Happy holidays!

Author: Henry Rowlands

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