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.

Траките и виното

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 Zeme­lomother-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.


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 Red Church

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.