None of the ancient Thracian shrines in Bulgaria can outperform Belintash, also spelled Belantash, in terms of the generation of modern myths. Situated on a precipitous, 300-metre-long rocky plateau in the Rhodope, Belintash has been claimed to be a string of whatnots: UFOs landing pad; a constellation map and an astronomical observatory; a gallery of Thracian gods' faces carved into the rocks; the hiding place of either Alexander the Great's golden chariot or of 800 kg of gold, which is to be discovered only after the place takes the lives of eight, 10 or 12 people (the number varies). Newer and newer accounts, reports and prophesies appear every year.
Truth be told, Belintash is indeed a fascinating place. The plateau, at an altitude of 1,225 m, rises over a mountain valley surrounded by the protective wall of the neighbouring peaks. Stone carvings, canals and basins are cut into the rocks. While the sanctuary was active they were probably filled with wine and the blood of sacrificed animals, or were used for making sacred wine. Today they gape, looking at the sky, filled with stagnant rain water.
The shrine's inner sanctum, the "holy of holies," is at the narrow tip of the plateau, which rises above the rest of the area, claiming importance. Metal stairs lead up. Windswept and commanding an astonishing vista of the surrounding peaks, the stone roofs of the villages in the valley below and the voices of flocks of sheep, dogs and humans, the bedrock is netted with more canals, basins, pits, foundations of buildings, and deep cisterns.
Two deep crevices divide the rock into three sections. The farthest of them is also the smallest, and is adorned with a twisted tree and a rock which some identify as a carved human face.
The name of Belintash is a combination of two words, the Bulgarian byal, or white, and the Turkish taş, which means rock.
Despite its astonishing appearance, Belintash has not been thoroughly researched. The most significant excavation project took place in the early 2010s. Then archaeologists discovered that the first pilgrims arrived at Belintash long before there were any Thracians, in the late Chalcolithic Age, about 5000 BC. Religious activity continued from the Late Bronze Age (16th-12th centuries BC) until the 4th Century BC, when the sanctuary was destroyed during a mysterious conflict. It revived again around the 4th Century AD. There are also traces of human presence here from the Ottoman period.
Archaeologists have concentrated their research on the base of the inner sanctum, where they found the remains of a massive stone wall. Stairs were hewn into the rock, leading to the plateau.
Some claim that Belintash is indeed the famed oracle of Dionysus, but supportive evidence is rather scant.
Belintash is not the only place of religious importance in the area. On two neighbouring peaks, roughly at the same altitude as Belintash, are Karadzhov Kamak, thought to be another Thracian shrine, and Krastova Gora, one of Bulgaria's most popular Christian pilgrimage sites. Karadzhov Kamak is a natural rock formation of spectacular proportions and appearance. If you believe the modern myths, the Thracians venerated it as "the place of the dead," while Belintash was the "place of the living" and Krastova Gora "the place of the gods." It takes a two-hour walk to reach Karadzhov Kamak from Krastova Gora on a clearly signposted path that goes through a hunting area which is the home of brown bears and boars.