The rock of the threshing floors. One can easily see why the people from the Bivolyane village gave that name to Harmankaya. The area's defining features are two large circles in the bedrock, which resemble the threshing floors where people, in the times of pre-supermarket bread, used to separate wheat from stems.
But the two Harmankaya circles have nothing to do with threshing. Harmankaya is a major and intriguing Thracian shrine that has been happily overlooked by mass tourism because of its proximity to the more famed Tatul sanctuary. Go to Harmankaya, and most of the time you will find yourself alone.
Like other Thracian shrines, Harmankaya was created on a high rocky plateau, rising up to 50 to 80 m over a meandering river. A saddle, covered by a pine forest, separates it from the rest of the world. Just like with any other Thracian shrine, the visitor needs some time to make sense of the plateaus phantasmagorical landscape, with its strangely shaped rocks. Carvings, niches, canals, basins and all manner of other curiosities are still hidden by the grasses, bushes and trees.
The two "threshing floors," however, make Harmankaya a shrine without peer. The first of them is oval, 10 m wide and tilted to the north, its surface decorated by six concentric circles. To the west, in the rising rocks, something resembling a throne is cut, looking east and northeast. The second "threshing floor" is farther inside the shrine. Almost round in shape, it is 15 m wide and leaning southwards, containing 11 concentric circles. It, too, has a northeast-looking "throne."
Some researchers believe that the stone circles were made about 2000 BC and were used for astronomical observations and calculations of the solar year. Whether this is so or the circles are natural is still an open question, but the surrounding area abounds in undoubted traces of human activity – graves, altars and buildings' foundations are cut into the rock; close to the shrine, in the rocky banks of the river, is a rock tomb. There is also a supposed holy of hollies – a narrow cave, the symbolical womb of the Great Goddess, with niches scattering the rocks around it.
According to Vasil Mikov, the archaeologist who, in 1941, first explored Harmankaya, the remains of a big city with streets and houses were clearly visible around the sanctuary. Today, however, you will have a hard time to find these.
Harmankaya is still to be excavated, but the pottery shards found around the entrance of the holy cave show that religious activity here started as early as the Chalcolithic Period, at the end of the 5th Millennium BC. The last traces of human habitation are from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
The shrine remained empty and forgotten during a good portion of the Antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages. In the Ottoman period the locality regained its aura of sanctity: On a neighbouring hill appeared the türbe, or tomb, and the tekke, or shrine, of the Muslim sage Elmalı Baba. It is still a popular pilgrimage site.