On 21 June, the day of the summer solstice, an expectant crowd gathers on the 572-metre-high mountain peak on the northern slopes of the Sredna Gora mountain, and fixes their gaze on the dimming horizon. The sun is hiding behind a large cliff, and the crowd quiets, looking at the rock.
This cliff is something which deserves a second look, even without the sunset. It stands, erect and imposing, on two other cliffs. The three blocks of stone form an aperture known by two equally imposing names: The Gate of the Goddess and The Megalith. About a metre wide and two metres high, it perfectly captures the sky, the mountain and the plain behind.
But the mesmerised men and women believe that at sunset on 21 June the Gate of the Goddess opens not only for the surrounding landscape but also for the sun. After a minute-long rest behind the huge horizontal boulder of the "gate," the sun comes out blasting its final rays through the aperture. The moment has its undoubted charm, but for the New Agers who gather here each year, this sunset has a deeper meaning. It confirms the dual glory of the Gate of the Goddess as an ancient astronomical observatory and a Thracian shrine from the Bronze Age.
The mass of large stones above Buzovgrad is actually a natural phenomenon and was declared so by a special commission in 2012. A year later, the rocks were pronounced a natural monument of national significance. The earliest traces of human activity here are from the 4th Century BC, long after the Bronze Age ended, in 12th century BC.
Yet all this has done nothing to stop speculations that the rocks at Buzovgrad are a genuine feat of ancient human ingenuity. The place is now one of the hot spots for "sacred Thracian tourism," and the view that the Gate of Goddess represents the symbolical fertilisation of the Great Goddess by the Great God has many followers.
The so-called Bashtin Kamak, or Father's Stone, a nearby monolithic block, adds weight to this theory, due to its phallic shape.
The number of people who believe that the rocks at Buzovgrad were once a sanctuary includes the late Professor Alexander Fol, a renowned expert in the history and religion of the ancient Thracians. In accordance with his last will, after his death in 2006 his ashes were scattered to the wind from here. Afterwards a commemorative plaque was placed at one of the boulders of the so-called megalith.
Buzovgrad is in a region rich in Thracian heritage. From the Gate of the Goddess you can see the Koprinka Reservoir, whose bottom hosts the remains of the ancient town of Seuthopolis. Around spreads the Valley of the Thracian Kings.
Another piece of – proven! – Thracian heritage is actually close to the Gate of the Goddess. To the northeast, near the remains of the Buzovo Kale mediaeval fortress, is a burial mound, about 40 m wide and 7 m in height. It hides a tomb with a round chamber, an antechamber and an 8.5-metre-long corridor.
The tomb was robbed in Antiquity but has remained on treasure-hunters' maps. In 2007 they attacked it and destroyed the façade and sections of the interior. What archaeologists found during excavations in 2012 were fragments of horse bones and a bronze vessel, and a silver ring. The tomb is thought to date from the late 4th Century BC.
But in front of it the archaeologists stumbled on a fascinating find - two decorated ritual hearths with traces of fire, as well as pottery shards and charred animal bones, sacrificed to commemorate the deceased. Now the decorated altars can be seen in the Museum of History in Kazanlak.