The ancient ruins of Perperikon may not be well known, but if you have the time in your Bulgarian itinerary, they are worth half a day to see. Located on top of a hill in the Rhodopes Mountains, they are easily accessible by car from the town of Kardzhali, so I decide to take a slight detour on my way from Plovdiv to Varna to check them out.
I arrive in Kardzhali early in the morning and head outside the bus station to hire a taxi. Since I’m here in the off season, there aren’t many options for getting to Perperikon, so this is what I have to go with. The taxi driver doesn’t speak English (nor do many people in this part of the country, it seems) and doesn’t understand where I want to go. Fortunately I have a Bulgarian sim card in my phone, so I call Maggie and she explains to the driver what I need – to take me to the ruins, then come back in a few hours to bring me back to the bus station when I’m done. Whew! So glad to have her helping me out for this one!
The ruins are about a 25 minute drive outside of Kardzhali and when I arrive, it’s hard to tell exactly where I’m supposed to go. There’s a large parking lot and a few stands selling souvenirs, but that’s all I can really see at first. I eventually realize that I need to hike up the hill and start on my way. Part of the trail is under construction as they are widening the path and making it cleaner and easier to traverse (and apparently building a 2.4 million Euro visitor center). But soon I’m on my own, on a path in the woods, not really sure what to expect ahead of me. The entire way I try to imagine what this area must have been like thousands of years ago.
It’s a nice little hike to the top and I’m a bit winded by the time I get there. Guess I need to work on my fitness!
Perperikon consists of 4 main areas. The part at the very top is the acropolis, built before Roman times, and later renovated and expanded by the Romans. Just below that is a grand temple, believed to belong to Dionysus. On either side are the northern and southern suburbs, with their streets carved into the rocks and residential buildings and temples. Unfortunately while I’m there, most of the lower areas are being excavated and are off limits to tourists, but you can admire them from above.
In the above picture in the bottom right corner, you can see the big tomb that once held 15 sarcophagi. It is assumed that this is where the priests of the temple were buried.
There isn’t a lot of information on what is what, so I’m left to wander on my own. I don’t always know what I’m looking at, and I wish I had a map or something to guide me. Turns out there is a map available for purchase down with the souvenir stands and I buy one on my way out, but it would have been handy to have while I’m up here. Hopefully with the new visitors center, the overall experience will be a lot better. But the views are wonderful and I enjoy several hours photographing every angle.
Perperikon overlooks the little village of Gorna Krepost. It looks like every other tiny village I pass through, with its charming red-tiled roofs and shady grape-covered patios.
This is the second cistern. I never saw the first, but apparently it’s the largest ever found in the Balkans, and supplied the town with water.
Behind the cistern is the main tower. It was built on a wall from the Roman era, while the palace around it is from the 14th century.
The pillars on the left side of the picture below are the main part of the acropolis and the highest point on the hill.
I’m not sure what the black posts are for, but I assume it has something to do with the excavations that are currently happening. The darker grey piece in the middle is an altar in the second basilica.
These are called pithoi – large earthen jars dug into the ground where food and wine was stored.
Apparently there’s another entrance to the ruins coming from the south side of the hill. I’m not sure if it comes from the same parking lot and it’s a different trail I didn’t take or if there’s another parking lot somewhere I don’t know about. Or maybe it’s just an old entrance that doesn’t go anywhere now.
Next to the stairway to the South Gate is a little chapel with an altar carved into the rock.
The carving in the rock below is really hard to see with the naked eye. If it wasn’t for a friendly tour guide showing another couple around, I never would have seen it. He poured some water over it to make it more clear. Later I read in my map that it’s the image of the mother goddess and is supposedly one of the most respected dieties in the Thracian religion. I’m so glad he showed me this as I never would have known about it on my own!
And with that, I’m nearing the time I said I would meet my driver. I’m also getting quite chilled as it is windier up here than I expected, so I take a few last photos and make my way back down the hill.
Perperikon is a really interesting site with a lot of history, but so much is gone now that some might not find this place very worthwhile. It’s small, and half of it is closed while I’m there, but I really enjoyed my half day checking it out. It has beautiful views of the Bulgarian countryside and the Rhodopes Mountains, and I always love seeing ancient ruins. And hopefully, when the visitor center opens, the experience will be even better!