Pobitite Kamani: Stone Forest, Varna
I am standing amongst a lost kingdom where tall, eroded stones appear to have risen out of the sand and been left in total abandonment amid a land that time forgot. Standing large and silent, they look out to the surrounding landscape with an unnatural stillness that makes up this Stone Forest. As we walk between fallen rocks and impassive sculptures, the white sand beneath our feet is reminiscent of being in a desert, or near the sea, but the Black Sea is eighteen kilometres away and we’re only stone’s throwaway from the old Sofia road leaving Varna. We are, however, in the only desert to be found in Bulgaria:
Pobitite Kamani, (Побити Камъни) translated to mean, ‘hammered stones’ or, ‘stones beaten into the ground’, is a rare geological wonder of limestone pillars to which their origins have been debated in depth since their official discovery in 1829. Situated in the area of Pashovi, these stone clusters of single pillars, stubbed trunks and lonesome or teetering rocks cover an area of 3km in width and 8km in length, although the heart of the main groups are spread out over one kilometre. Perhaps one of the strangest aspects to them is that they are hollow inside, with some filled with sand, but yet stand as tall as up to seven metres high.
There are many legends associated with the rocks’ existence from generations of locals acknowledging them with supernatural forces with the belief that they were brought by giants carrying them to the area, or by ancient gods using them for building temples. From a scientific angle, a mineral theory was first developed by two Bulgarian geologists, Peter and Stefan Bonchev Gochev, who argued that they were naturally formed more than 50 million years ago during the time when Bulgaria was immersed under the sea. They believed that sediment on the seabed gave rise to gases being released through the limestone layers in a bubble form. These bubbles forced their way up through the layers of sediment and eventually the creation of these ‘stone chimneys’ were formed in the way of stalagmites. Other scientists prefer the explanation that they are the result of organic coral activity, or from Eocene bubbling reefs.
The site was given protection as a national landmark in 1937 and while studies continue as to their origin, it is currently campaigning to be an UNESCO site. It remains to inspire fascination, not just from the rocks themselves, but also the flora and fauna that inhabits the area: rare fossils of petrified mussels, cockles, giant snails and other sea creatures have also been discovered here.
For visitors wandering around these rock arrangements, spend time working out the accidental structures that have created the characteristics of faces, figures, animals and…a penis! The entry fee is 3lv and it’s worth checking out the tourist office beforehand to familiarise yourself with the history and explanations on the walls. We didn’t pay for a guide – which can be provided for an extra cost – but there was a very friendly assistant who reeled off an elaborate description in good English to equip us before we entered.
Just as there are many theories surrounding the origins of the stone pillars, the site also has several names: The Stone Desert, Stone Forest or Petrified Forest, and whilst some critics may not consider it to be a ‘forest’ as such, you can’t help but be in awe of a magical presence that certainly suggests it was once a sacred place.
Practicalities: Pobitite Kamani isn’t so easy to get to on public transport so you might think about taking a taxi from Varna to get there if you don’t have your own transport – either that or hitchhike! If you do decide to take a bus, the site is between the town Beloslav and the villages Strashimirovo, Slunchevo, Banovo and Povelyanovo. It is signposted, ‘Pobitite Kamani’ on the E70 Varna-Sofia and its co-ordinates are: 43° 13′ 41.25″, +27° 42′ 21.58