Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains are steeped in legends and mythological tales. In Greek Mythology, the Rhodope Mountains were created when, in a fit of rage, Zeus and Hera turned Rhodope, the Queen of Thrace, into a chain of mountains.
Likely the most famous figure around these parts is Orpheus, believed to have been born somewhere nearby. According to the myth, Orpheus was the son of a nymph named Calliope and the great Apollo. Orpheus was said to play the lyre with such beauty, that all who heard him were completely enchanted. His music was even known to charm wild and savage beasts as well as the very rocks on which he stood and the trees in the forest.
He fell in love with the beautiful Evridika (also known as Eurydice) but, alas, their love (like so many in mythology) was doomed from the start.
The couple married but on that very day, Evridika died after having been bitten by a poisonous snake. Orpheus was distraught and sang his grief and sorrow to the heavens, but finding no help, he descended into the underworld to find his wife.
Orpheus sang these words and played his lyre:
O deities of the underworld,
to whom all we who live must come,
hear my words, for they are true.
I come not to spy out the secrets of Tartarus, nor to try my strength against Cerberus,
the three-headed dog with snaky hair who guards the entrance.
I come to seek my wife,
whose opening years the poisonous viper’s fang has brought to an untimely end.
Love has led me here,
Love, a god all powerful with us who dwell on the earth, and, if old traditions say true, not less so here.
I implore you by these abodes full of terror, these realms of silence and uncreated things, unite again the thread of Eurydice’s life.
We all are destined to you, and sooner or later must pass to your domain.
She too, when she shall have filled her term of life, will rightly be yours.
But ’til then grant her to me, I beseech you. If you deny one, I cannot return alone; you shall triumph in the death of us both.
Even the mighty Hades was softened by Orpheus’ captivating music. He agreed to let Orpheus take Evridika back to the world of the living, on one condition: Orpheus must not look back at her until they are out of the Underworld. The were nearly there when, forgetting his promise, Orpheus looked back at his love to make sure she was still with him. Evridika was immediately spirited away forever. Orpheus would never love again.
Smolyan is full of references to the couple (including the statue above, which is found along the main boulevard). We even live on Evridika Street!
According to the legend, Orpheus access the Underworld through Dyavolsko Garlo, or Devil’s Cave, as it is known in English. This cave lies only a short distance from where we live, and we visited it in 2009.
The enormous underground cavern is said to be the hall to Hades’ Underworld.
The waterfall cascading into the cavern and huge underground “rooms” certainly were impressive.
I feel so lucky to be able to live in an area so rich with history and legends. America is a mere baby compared to Bulgaria, and it is taking some time to wrap my mind around the sheer ancientness of my new home.
Bulgaria is such an amazing country. I can’t wait to learn more about it.