THRACIANS AND WINE
What is Bulgaria’s place in the world history of wine? Or, to put it otherwise, how long have vineyards been grown and wine made in our lands? We do have our inheritance, and it is for this reason that we can by no means ignore vineyards. It was as early as 5, 000 years ago that wine was made in the Yakata’s territory.
Winemaking, like many other activities in these lands, owes its origin to the Thracians. They were considered one of the best vine-growers and wine-makers of the Antiquity. A lot of assumptions about who was the first to lay the foundations for winemaking refer to them. The first vines were brought by the Thracians from the Near and Middle East to the territory of the present-day Southern Bulgaria. Originally, wine was made in the valley along the Maritsa river, as well as near the sea ports.
In his book “Ancient Wine”, Patrick McGovern supports his statements by means of mythology. Semele is a Thracian goddess, mother of Dionysus. The name is associated with the Phrygian Zemelo – mother-earth and the old Bulgarian Землia (Earth). In one of the versions of the story of Semele, Zeus seduced the goddess and made her pregnant.Hera summoned representatives of a Thracian tribe to tear the baby out of Semele’s womb and burn it. Vineyards grew from the ashes.
There are other myths and legends, too, related to the Thracians. According to Homer, the most popular wine was the aromatic and strong wine ofMaroneia, a city in the then Thrace, which Odysseus used to get the Cyclopes intoxicated before thrusting a spear into Ogretto’s eye.
Another Thracian legend tells the story of Orestes and his dog Sirius. The legend claims that the dog, in some miraculous manner, gave birth to a piece of wood which Orestes buried in the ground and in the following spring it gave rise to the first vineyard. The same Orestes is the son of Deucalion, who is something like the Ancient Greek version of Noah. And, according to the Bible, it was Noah who planted the first vine after the Flood. As seen, there are a lot of coincidences, the purpose of which is to show that wine invariably accompanies the history of humanity, and, at the same time, represents an inseparable part of the history of Bulgarian lands.
The Thracians made a cult of wine, and the most conspicuous example of that is Dionysus. They had very well developed viticulture, and the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians continued the well established tradition upon their settlement on the Balkan Peninsula. After the adoption of Christianity, quite understandably, the cult of Dionysus faded away, the festivities tookChristian modeand the saint Trifon and the rituals performed on Trifon Zarezan bear considerable resemblance with the characteristics of the cult of Dionysus – washing with wine, electing a Kingetc. Even the days of celebrating the two holidays almost coincide. During the Middle Ages, like in the whole of Europe, the Church took winemaking under its patronage.
PLACES OF HISTORIC INTEREST IN THE REGION OF USTINA,
THE BESSI’S SUCCESSOR
The millennia passed had no mercy on almost anything visible above the ground which belonged to the material culture of the proud Thracian tribe Satrae and the clan of their priests – the Bessi. Herodotus described them as a warlike tribe with an independent spirit who refused to join the King Xerxes’ march against Hellas and undertook the rigorous task of being guards to the Dionysus’ Sanctuary.
Where exactly was Besapara located? Besapara is an ancient Thracian settlement, the centre of the Bessi tribe. It is a commonly accepted belief that if not a capital, Besapara used to be at least a major city of the legendary Bessi. The name of Besapara is found on an Ortelius map from 16-th century and is rated among cities of the same importance as Serdica, Philippopolis, Adrianopolis etc. This fact gives us some reasons to believe that Besapara was not just an ordinary small village. In the same map, which Ortelius drew on the grounds of old Roman guidebooks, Besapara was mentioned along with other road stations, such asLissas, Bagaraca, Cillae, Opizum and Burdipta whose names have a distinct Thracian origin.
At every step around the present-day Yakata, one can feel the spirit of its ancient ancestors. The Roman road which used to connect Philippopolis and the Aegean Region, and whose remains have been preserved in a few places, goes via Yakata. This is the third transcontinental road which was completed during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117).It started in Pannonia (present-day Hungary) and Dacia (present-day South-west Romania) and crossed the Danube river. Then it moved on via the Rhodopes heading for the Aegean Sea and the famous Via Egnatia.
Our inheritance of the Bessi’s glorious past in the village of Ustina comprises the excavated columns, enormous in diameter, as well as a few tombs. The remains of the foundations of ancient buildings were also discovered, along with many coins, earthen jars, etc. All these are now kept in the Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv.
The Hissarlaka Fortress. Not far from the village of Ustina are the remains of Ustina’s main stronghold - Hissarlaka. The fortress served as a shelter in the naturally fortified mountainous area and inaccessible peaks. The walls are made of rough stones without mortar and follow the outlines of the terrain. The fortress used to guard all strategic roads and passes. The Thracian word for fortress is "kula" (tower) or "bria" which means a residence, protected by guard and garrison.
The Byzantine fortress of Yustina was amongst the most important fortresses protecting the security of the Northern slopes of the Rhodopes. It is frequently mentioned in the chronicles of the Byzantine historians. In earlier times, there had been a stronghold of the Bessi on its place. Later on, Emperor Justinian built a new and more powerful fortress to control the area. The fortress incorporates one of the largest and most beautiful rock towers in the Rhodopes. The top of the tower can be climbed only from the courtyard of the fortress.
The Red Church. One of the greatest architectural landmarks from the era of the Ecumenical Council of Reconciliation in 343 AD is the Red Church.Nowadays its ruins stand out in the fields, about one kilometer away from Peroushtitsa. The central, and the highest part of the church represented a tetraconch hall, the dome of which towered high in the sky and was easy to spot from afar.
The exact place of the Red Church was not chosen at random. Just the opposite - it was built on purpose in the vicinity of such a large and affluent city as Philippopolis, close to the major roads from Thrace to the Aegean Sea and from Constantinople to Western Europe.
It is believed that the place was connected to the popular for Christianity cult of the martyrs – the Red church kept the relics of a noble martyr who died for the establishment of Christianity in these lands. There is ample evidence to believe that the Red Church used to be an impressive and spectacular structure, with elaborately decorated walls and beautiful mosaic floors - an exceptionally beautiful temple estimated nowadays as one of the masterpieces of the early Christian architecture in Europe. But what impresses experts of ancient Byzantine art and architecture most is the beauty of the frescoes. It is these frescoes that the Red Church took pride in, since they rated it among the best examples of the early Christian art, preserved in the basilicas of Ravenna (VI-VII cc AD), the Sinai monasteries (VI-VII cc AD), "St. Dimitar "in Thessaloniki (VI-VIII cc AD) and the unique "Hagia Sophia" in Istanbul (VI c AD).
The Chapel "St. George" is located at an altitude of about 420 meters above the sea level and is within 30 minutes’ walk from the village of Ustina and the river Vacha which flows nearby. The Kulata Peak (the Tower) rises within 20 minutes’ walk south of the chapel and is quite impressive with its solid stance. Here every visitor can enjoy the spectacular view – in the North are the Thracian fields spreading out in the distance, in the South is Varhovrah, which is part of the Chernatitsa Ridge. From the Kulata peak one can see the Kaleto area where the cave bearing the same name is located. As the legend goes, in the past, childless women who succeeded in getting through its opening were later blessed with a child.