Masters of Fire
Myths and legends, ancient beliefs, natural park, 1500-years old Strandja beeches and oaks, an large number of snakes, witchcraft, amazing predictions by the famous granny Vanga about an Egyptian sarcophagus containing a written history of the world, etc. No matter how hard we try to put into words the atmosphere of Strandja, it will still be insufficient.
We entered deep into the heart of the mountain at 1 a.m. The fog was so thick as though we had to cut it with a knife to go through. The trees surrounded us creating the illusion of a natural tunnel. We were headed towards the village of Kosti – one of the most beautiful in Strandja. The band Isihia managed to capture the spirit and emotions of the village and put them in an incredible song. It tells stories of mysticism, legends and many snakes. At 1 a.m. the atmosphere was so intensive it grabbed us by the throat. The mobile phones were all out of range so we couldn’t phone anyone to share our initial impressions. Little by little I started to feel afraid. Don’t get me wrong, I adore villages. I love wandering around, talking to people, etc. But since we arrived so early in the morning, simple questions started to bother me – “What am I doing here?"
Never judge by initial impressions! When the morning came and the sun went up I found myself in a semi-resort village not far from the sea and in the heart of the “Strandja” natural park. Kosti used to be a greek village but due to political reasons in 1912 the entire greek population left for Greece. So the village was inhabited by Bulgarian refugees from Aegean Thrace. The name of the village is greek too. It’s after a famous greek man called Kostas who lived in the XVIII century. According to local beliefs, he gathered the people in one place so that they could easily protect each other from haidouks. Another theory, however, claims that the name comes from the name of St. Constantine, since the village is the cradle of the century-old tradition of fire-dancing.
Lately the local people are focusing on creating better conditions for tourism. Old houses are being repaired in modern style. This leads to mixing different styles of architecture – traditional and modern. In a traditional Strandja house the livestock is placed in a room on the first floor, which is at ground level. These premises are usually made of stone or sun-dried brick. People live on the second floor and its walls are made of knitted wood. And now picture the numerous satellite dishes on the facades of most houses. Generally, this result of an architectural combination didn’t leave a very good impression on me.
Nevertheless, those who are looking for an adventure will not be left unsatisfied. They will definitely find mysticism and deep emotions. The village is surrounded with churches. They resemble a group of towers playing the role of a natural shield against evil forces. “St. Elias” chapel is the most important of all since the holiday dedicated to him is also the official holiday of the village – August 4th.
The strange energy we felt when we entered the village came back. I felt a little uneasy as if something was making my feet walk backwards. Scared snakes were hiding in the bushes, watching us like a wild tribe ready to attack us. We had to make our own way through the high grass and under 1500-year old beech trees, which I assure you, only kept my fear alive. There is no sign on the chapel with the name of the saint and no icon either. Still, the holiness of the place can be instantly sensed. And it’s not the type of holiness you would feel in the Rila monastery. This type is somehow more ancient, from the dawn of Christianity.
There is a holy spring inside the chapel. There is a shaft on it and despite the fact that the water is not flowing, it tasted incredibly fresh. All the tension that I mentioned above just disappeared. I felt as though the saint himself had let us in his realms and told the snakes to stay away from us. We were once and for all “admitted” to that place and on our way back we never felt afraid again. This whole changing of emotions had left us really tired but at the same time we felt somehow satisfied. It was like the satisfaction from a new amazing discovery.
Kosti is situated 24 km away from Tsarevo, very close to the Turkish boundary. As I said already there are many rooms for rent, an almost non-stop working restaurant and a disco. I should also mention that the people are very kind and are good drinkers in the non-aggressive sense of the word. You might also hear many stories about interesting local characters. If you want to visit a place filled with an unforgettable combination of strong emotions, Kosti is your thing. Let me just remind you that St. Elias’s day is on August 4th and that the village is the cradle of fire-dancing in Bulgaria. Furthermore, the people say they make a bigger fire than that in Bulgari and that greek fire-dancers visit on that day. See you on the 4th in Strandja!