Culture and Tradition near Black Sea Coast


Zheravna is located in the mountain Stara Planina (Great Divide) about 110 km north-west of Burgas. When you think about how the perfect village must look like, the picture of Zheravna should immediately pop in your head. It is an architectural reserve with rich history where people are friendly and hospitable and where domestic animals roam the cobblestone streets freely. Most of Zheravna’s inhabitants were sheep or cattle farmers, and several museum-houses offer an insight into their lives. You won’t find any colossal attractions, noisy restaurants or crowded night clubs there, just some peace and quiet. All in all, the phrase that best describes Zheravna is this one: authentic little spot. Nothing more, nothing less.


About 20 km north of Zheravna tourists will find the lovely town of Kotel. Founded in the 16th century as a sheep-farming center, Kotel enjoyed relative autonomy under the Ottoman Rule in return for guarding a local mountain pass and providing the Ottoman authorities with sheep. While the shepherds tended their flocks, the womenfolk wove the carpets which Kotel is so famous for. A large variety of these beautiful examples of traditional handicraft is now put on display at the Carpet Exhibition in the old Galata Quarter. The exhibition is housed in Kotel’s former school house (1869), one of the few wooden buildings to have survived the fire that swept through the town in 1894. More of Kotel’s colorful carpets are shown at the nearby Ethnographic Museum, which is located in a house built in 1872. Its wood-paneled rooms are furnished in the characteristic style of the late 19th century.


If we go about 100 km south of Burgas, we will stumble upon the village of Balgari, the last place in the country where the nestinar ritual is still celebrated. The ritual itself can simply be described as walking on fire. In reality, however, it is something much more sophisticated. The participants, called nestinars, perform beautiful barefoot dances on hot embers. These dances are believed to have cleansing effect on the souls of all the people who take part in them, regardless of whether they are true nestinars or spectators only. The uniqueness of the nestinar ritual comes from the fact that it combines both Christian and pagan elements, something which can rarely be seen anywhere else. It originated in Strandzha Mountain in the southeastern part of the country, where the village of Balgari is also situated.