in Bulgarian: Калиакра
Kaliakra cape. This two-kilometre long promontory, with sheer cliffs that drop 70 meters to the sea below, is arguably the single most spectacular natural sight of the entire coast. It's also a history and nature preserve of national significance.
The name Kaliakra means "beautiful cape," due to the abundant pink limestone. Legend has it that the colour is from the blood of the defenders of the fortress, which was built in the 4th century b.c. and later used by the Romans and Byzantines. It was further fortified by the boyar Balik who had shafts bored down through the rock so the stronghold could be supplied from the sea. During medieval times it served as a dervish monastery.
According to one well-known legend, after the fall of the fortress of the attacking Ottomans in the 14th century all those inside were put to death. Rather than succumb to the invaders (and perhaps suffer a fate "worse than death") forty maidens braided their hair together and jumped to their deaths in the sea below. The limestone cliffs contain red stains said to be the blood of the maidens. Today, an obelisk stands near an opening in the rock called "the gate of the 40 maidens" which memorializes this apocryphal event (a virtually identical tale exists about the Devin fortress in the Rhodope mountains; undoubtedly, there are other locales with their own similar versions).
Another local legend tells of St Nikola, patron saint of sailors (as well as orphans and, curiously enough, bankers). As he ran towards the sea to escape his Turkish pursuers, the land kept stretching under Nikola's feet - but to no avail, as he was eventually caught and killed. At the very tip of the cape is a small chapel, restored in 1993, to mark his symbolic grave. The tiny sanctuary affords a stunning panorama view of the coastal cliffs and the sea which shouldn't be missed.
The cape is also the locale of several historic sea battles. In 1791 Russian admiral Ushakov defeated the Ottoman fleet. During the Balkan War of 1912, the Bulgarian torpedo boat Druzki crippled the Turkish cruiser Hamidie in what would prove to be the Bulgarian navy's finest hour.
Today, the thin cape shares its limited space with a small naval installation and several tourist sights, so sailors mingle in close quarters with camera-toting visitors. From the parking lot, a narrow one-lane road winds through an arched gate of the remarkably well-restored fortress walls. The unobstructed 360 degree views underline the strategic importance of this once heavily fortified redoubt. Several hundred meters further the road ends in front of the naval installation.
A set of stairs leads down to a restaurant inside a large cave. The restaurant offers good food, reasonable prices, and - from the adjoining terrace - gorgeous views. The cliffs of limestone and sandstone stretch to the horizon, their reddish tone gradually giving way to white and the beginning of the "silver" coast. More than 200 feet below in the bay, local fishermen check the daily catch in their drift nets, the putt-putt of their boats faintly audible in the distance.
Next to the restaurant, a much smaller cave houses an archaeological museum. The unique locale is complemented by the attractive displays, with 4th-6th century earthenware jugs and amphorae cleverly arranged in sand. A glass case features jewellery items from a medieval necropolis. Starlings dart to and fro from their nests in the walls and ceiling above. Outside, a path continues .down toward the St Nikola chapel. In front of the tiny sanctuary (the interior and icons are viewed through an iron gate) is a wall plaque bearing the legend - in Bulgarian only - of the forty maidens.
A few steps away is a small, partially enclosed vault-shaped area with seats carved out of rock. Should you be lucky enough to be here on a non-crowded day, linger a while in this shaded, serene place and contemplate the stunning views.
Something else to contemplate is what was said of the area by a Turkish traveller of several centuries ago, one Evliya Effendi (as quoted by Konstantin Jirecek in his book Travels in Bulgaria): "Below the fortress of Kiltra (Kaliakra) which Sultan Mussa took away from the infidels, the Dervish Monastery stood and near it, one of the seven graves of the Muslim Saint Sarasaltukede, seen in different parts of the world. This grave was in the cave in which the saint was said to have slain a seven-headed dragon, thus freeing two royal princesses who were imprisoned here: a feat which helped to spread Islam in this country. The Christians worshipped this Islamic saint under the name of Patriarch Saint Nicholas."