Cape Kaliakra (Bulgarian: Нос Калиакра) is located 60km north of Varna; Bulgaria’s ‘Summer Capital’. Offering a strategic vantage point over the Black Sea, the cape has seen a long history of fortifications; occupied successively by the Thracians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Bulgarians, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Romania.
The name ‘Kaliakra’ comes from the Byzantine Greek words, ‘καλός’ (‘beautiful’) and ‘άκρα’ (‘headland’ or ‘fortress’). Even before the arrival of the Byzantines though, the cape was settled in the 4th century BC by a Thracian tribe known as the Tirizi.
Unsurprising then, that this picturesque stretch of coastline has been the inspiration for countless myths and legends, tied in with a history that goes back as far as the earliest written records and beyond.
We drove to the cape from Varna; past the Park-Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship and through the peculiar town of Kavarna, whose otherwise bland apartment blocks are decorated with towering murals of heavy metal musicians.
The Kaliakra peninsula stretches 2km into the Black Sea. We took the car as far as we could, along the single tarmac track that rides the crest of the headland. We parked when we ran out of road, and made our way down to the tip of the peninsula on foot. Here a single stone arch rose forlorn, the entrance to a structure long since lost.
The Ottoman Empire invaded Bulgaria in the late 14th century, burning and raping their way across the country. According to the stories livestock were slaughtered for sport, villages and crops were set aflame, and those who resisted were killed where they stood; girls who were captured were either kept for the pleasure of the Ottoman officers, or sent to join the Sultan’s harem at Constantinople. It is said that when the Ottoman army approached Kaliakra, 40 local girls fled to the end of the headland. They tied their hair together, and jumped from the edge of the cliff; preferring to die on the rocks beneath rather than be captured. An obelisk known as ‘The Gate of the 40 Maidens’ (Bulgarian: ‘Портата на 40-те девици’) now stands at the entrance to the cape, in memory of their sacrifice.