Bulgaria: ARIT Tour Day 2, Smolyan and Mogilitsa

Reflections of Smolyan
Our first activity of the day was a tour of Smolyan. Although this is a relatively new town, established in 1960, it still has connections to the region's ancient history, extending right back to the end of the Bronze age (13th Century BC). Smolyan is situated in the Rhodope Mountains, believed to be sacred to the Thracians, and the legendary birthplace of Orpheus. We were particularly interested in this region as it was conquered by the Ottomans, and remained part of their empire until 1912.

The statue of Orpheus, leading his wife from Hades.

We visited the Regional History Museum which houses a fascinating collection of artifacts dating from the early Plealithic and Eneolithic periods, up to the present day.

National costumes of the area, shown in an interesting way
on one of the walls of the museum

This costume reminded me of a yeti!

Our specific interest in the Ottoman Empire, led us to the wooden house of Ali Bey, a classic example of Ottoman architecture. This was built in 1702, and restored in 1976, when it was proclaimed an architectural cultural monument.

We had fun exploring Ali Bey's house

When Emin told us that our next stop would be a bean museum, we thought we hadn't quite heard right. But, a bean museum it was! In fact, the museum is part of a very interesting project to protect the biodiversity of Bulgarian crops. The purpose of the museum is to promote and advertise the Smilyan bean, and create jobs for the local community.

Everything here is decorated with beans, and made by the children in the local school

We were each invited to stick a bean to a wall mural. 
There were nearly 9,000 beans in the mural and it wasn't yet finished.

The mural shows the village, with the river running by.

On the way to our next destination, Mogilitsa, we went to look at a cave. After a long slog up a hill, and ascending endless stairs, we arrived at the Uhluvitsa cave, locally called the Bat Cave. This is an extraordinarily beautiful cave, with amazing formations, and well worth the climb. As well as the more usual stalactites and stalagmites, there are dendrites (looking rather like sea coral), and the even rarer helictites (resembling small suns).

The beautiful limestone formations in the Uhluvitsa cave

Once in Mogilitsa, we explored another Ottoman-style wooden house, dating from 1843. This one was huge. It had 221 windows, 86 doors and 24 chimneys. It was like a maze, with one room leading into another, and there was even a secret room hidden behind a cupboard.

The interior had beautiful wooden fixtures and fittings

Outside the house we found this delightful old gardener,
cutting the grass with a scythe

I think he found us very entertaining too!

We just had to photograph this ancient bridge in Mogilitsa

Finally, we were taken for a well-deserved dinner before driving back to our hotel after another fun day.

This was just the first of many courses brought to us throughout the meal

We were also serenaded by a traditional bagpipe player while we ate.

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