The megalithic astronomical observatory and Thracian sanctuary in the Begliktash area is one of the most remarkable finds in the study of Thracian archaeology in southeastern Bulgaria for the last several decades. The megalithic blocks that make the body of the holy place have been the subject of scientific studies for many years. Geologists have reached the conclusion that they are made of a volcanic rock called tufa, likely created in the eruption of a prehistoric volcano many million years ago. The entire complex is spread over an area of 12 decares and is made out of a large circle of stones, laid over a massive stone slab. Its uses were of utmost importance for the people who occupied the southern Bulgarian coast and coastal Strandzha Mt. in the most ancient times.
The main function of the megalithic astronomical observatory was the study of the passage of time and the yearly change of seasons via the shifts in the sun’s cycle and records of the movement of the stars and constellations along the night sky, most of which Sirius in Canis Major, as well as the cycle of the moon. There were also detailed studies of the star Vega in the Lyre constellation, done with the help of a primitive telescope — a crevice in the rock, oriented north-south at 343-345 degrees.
After the initial astrophysical and geodetic measurements, the team discovered many unmistakable occurrences of points and lines used in the observation of basic astronomical events. There are more than fifteen such occurrences, including but not limited to the exact orientation to the point of the spring equinox, marked angles for observing the summer and winter solstice, and the orientation of several of the primary megaliths to the north. There are several deviations in the aforementioned marked angles regarding the solstices, as well as in the current position of the Polar star. In this particular case, this is interesting and thus important, because it allows for the exact dating of the complex according to the method devised by N Lockyer and J Hawkins, first used during research at the Carnac megalithic complex in France.
Other observations of import are namely the orientation of the main megaliths, their form and the shapes they are arranged in according to the sunrise, Sirius’ trajectory and its changes, which are all objects of interest in other megalithic and architectural complexes from Antiquity. Considering all this information, we can say with considerable confidence that the complex isn’t no basic sundial used also to discern the change of seasons, nor a static map of the night sky, but something much more.
The complex has a deep and complicated structure which gives us information about the precession of the equinoxes, the change of the Polar star, the change in Sirius’ trajectory and the time of its heliacal rise.
At a later time, into the late Bronze Epoch and around the supposed time of the Trojan War, the sanctuary was used for rituals, libations and initations. The materials discovered there (stone axes, flint, clay idols, ceramic sherds, animal bones worked with fire) connect it to the Thracian cults of fertility, solar and chthonic deities, as well as the Goddess-Mother and the sacred union. All elements included in the complex are made out of processed natural stone or roughly carved stone slabs and shapes. In that way, they preserved the natural state of the monument, revered by the Thracians as a symbol of eternity.
The holy place was discovered by modern scholars somewhere between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, first described and interpreted as such by the Škorpil brothers during their trip along the Bulgarian coast, while the first archaeological finds were done in 2002.
We assume that the sanctuary in the Begliktash area is the main religious center of the Thracian tribe ‘skirmiani’, famous for being the oldest metalworkers in all of Thrace. They occupied coastal Strandzha Mt., the so-called Copper Ridge, and supplied many other tribes as well as other coastal nations with copper ore as far back as the 4th millennium BC. Their leader also acted as the high priest who served the sanctuary.
The choice of this location is likely not a random one, as it marks one of the highest points in the area. The entire megalithic complex is very carefully oriented according to the cardinal directions. The entrance is at the west point, leading eastward, while the best place to view the ritual activities is the field to the south.
At the very entrance of the sanctuary we can find a pool of water, where the arriving enlightened would wash their hands before beginning the rituals. From there, they continue towards the stone ensemble known as the Martial Bed, a ritual stone that gave the area (Begliktash) its name — the tax rock, in Turkish.
The place where the enlightened carried out various libations and brought offerings to the gods is the sacred landing, or eshara — a stone sculpture in the shape of pentagrams and phallic symbols. Beside it sits the throne — a stone block carved into the shape of a seat from which the head priest or priestess would lead the ceremonies. It marks the location where the great Goddess-Mother would appear.
Right beside the throne is located a menhir (large round stone), on top of which is carved the footstep of the Sun God. Opposite of the menhir, equally far from the central rhombus of the landing, is located a second similar rock, this one bearing the footstep of the Goddess-Mother. Both of the footsteps are carefully oriented to the east-west directions.
The most obvious and recognizable mark of human presence in the entire complex are the five circular, relatively deep holes that signify the Pleiades, an open star cluster in the Taurus constellation.
The actual rituals are connected to Apostoltash — a stone piece resting on the eastmost side of the landing. Via it the ancients reenacted the annual rebirth of the Heros who, haloed by the sun, would appear beneath its arch. Right beside it is located the protodolmen “The Sacred Cave” which symbolizes the womb of the Goddess-Mother Earth and in which was carried out the mystery of the conception and the birth of the Heros — the hero-tsar-priest.
To measure time, the ancients used the stone composition opposite of Apostoltash and the protodolmen that showed all the months in the year and their days. The round stones are arranged in such a way that their shadow falls from the main altar over the six smaller ones north of it and so it functions as a sundial. According to legends, Jason and the Argonauts stopped by this sundial to seek advice from the local seers on their way to find the Golden Fleece.
Aside from the aforementioned rituals and its role as an observatory, the sanctuary was also used for a place of spiritual initiation. Part of the challenges was the crossing of a few “unenlightened” through a labyrinth and then a crevice between the rocks, which is a well-studied ritual challenge that tested the personal qualities of the one undertaking it.
Just by the crevice is located the House of the Oracle — remains of a building from the latest period of occupation in the sanctuary, around the 4th century AD.