Bukelon Fortress - in all its glory

The enchanting Sakar – Bukelon, rock churches in Matochina and Mihalich

Three magnificent sights to visit in the distant little unknown part of Bulgaria – Sakar are the fortress Bukelon and the rock churches near the villages Matochina and Mihalich.

Bukelon Fortress – the surviving guard witness to history

GPS coordinates: 41.854635, 26.546525

The history of Bukelon

Even in antiquity, there was a fortified settlement with a defensive function.

According to historical sources, the battle of Adrianople in 378 took place nearby, in which the Romans were defeated by the Goths.

In the 5th century, a new fortress was built with a separate building in the center of the fortified area, where all the more important functions were combined in case of final protection.

In the old Bulgarian capital Pliska, the name Vukelon was discovered on a marble column, as one of the fortresses conquered by Khan Krum.

The well-preserved medieval tower-fortress is from the 12th-14th century, dungeon type, and is about 18 m.

It was built on three floors. The latter served as a small chapel in which the besieged defenders of the fortress prayed.

It is assumed that here in the 13th century Tsar Kaloyan defeated the Crusaders and captured Emperor Baldwin, who was later taken to Tarnovo.

The decoration is modest, typical of antiquity, and consists of several red brick belts.


How to get to Bukelon?

For the village of Matochina, where the fortress is located, we passed through the villages of Levka, Studena, Sladun and Varnik.

Around Varnik was the most nightmarish road we have taken in Bulgaria. Or rather, what was left of him.

The village of Studena surprised us with mass animal husbandry. In front of almost every house, we saw a herd of goats, sheep, cows, something we had not seen since our childhood.

The border passes in front of the village of Matochina.

The turnoff for Bukelon is located after the end of the village. We turned left because the right goes to the border.

Here, as well as in Strandzha, we were checked by the Border Police.

Turn-off for the Bukelon fortress
Turn-off for the Bukelon fortress

Unfortunately, this August morning we happened to be in an unexpected fog, that’s why my photos are a bit mystical, shrouded in a cloud.

The fortress is easily accessible after leaving the car, literally after a few steps you reach the entrance.

The good news is that there are no Strandzha flies that bothered us in Strandzha.

Bukelon Fortress - in all its glory
Bukelon Fortress – in all its glory

Bukelon – outside and inside


Above the entrance on the left, we noticed an ancient symbol, painted in red.

This is an alleged monogram of Tsar Mikhail Shishman, who captured the fortress during his campaigns against Byzantium.

Visible are the letters M, H and L.

Bukelon Fortress - a symbol of Mikhail Shishman at the entrance
Bukelon Fortress – a symbol of Mikhail Shishman at the entrance

The symbols in the plaster on the walls continue inside, with more non-traditional letters like Cyrillic C!

Symbols on the walls
Symbols on the walls

I was amazed that there is such a magnificent fortress building, relatively unknown in Bulgaria.

Despite the ruins and poor condition of the fortress, the size of Bukelon is really impressive.

Bukelon Fortress - inside view
Bukelon Fortress – inside view

The lack of a vault did not prevent our astonishment from the majestic medieval construction.

Bukelon Fortress - view of the ceiling
Bukelon Fortress – view of the ceiling

We carefully examined the different levels in the castle, where there used to floor.

Each side of the tower has several loopholes, increasing its defensive capabilities while illuminating the medieval darkness in the lives of the inhabitants.

The interior of the fortress
The interior of the fortress

Contemplating all the impressive events and personalities that passed by here, we left the castle and headed to our next site near the village of Matochina.

Rock church near the village of Matochina


GPS coordinates: 41.844024, 26.531715


The turnoff for the rock temple called “Holy Spirit” is located at the beginning of the village of Matochina, Svilengrad municipality.

It can be seen from afar and is well marked with a sign.

The church was carved in limestone rock with hand tools by hermit monks in the 10th century.

At that time, the carving of rock churches and monasteries was popular by representatives of various heresies.

Interestingly, above the entrance, there are traces of cult figures from the time of the Thracians, although the church was built later.

Rock church in the village of Matochina
Rock church in the village of Matochina

The entrance is smoothly shaped like an arch.

The interior of the church has a vault with the highest point 3.5 m and has sunk mystically into darkness.

At the bottom, on several niches in the walls, there are icons.

Matochina Rock Church - the interior of the temple
Matochina Rock Church – the interior of the temple

There are several more square niches oriented to the entrance.

Matochina Rock Church - inside and outside view
Matochina Rock Church – inside and outside view

It was curious that here, as well as later at the rock church in the village of Mihalich, we saw 4 rabbits.

The long-eared hid from us in a panic, and one of them impressed us with a long cross in the nearby field.

Rock church near the village of Mihalich

GPS coordinates: 41.850237, 26.424938

The rock church “St. Pantaleimon” near the village of Mihalich, Svilengrad municipality is also well marked with a sign.

The distance from the road on the dirt road is very short.

The church is also from the 10th century and is located under a rocky terrace.

Like the one in Matochina, it was carved into limestone rock by monks and used by followers of various heresies.

Mihalich Rock Church - facade
Mihalich Rock Church – facade

We entered through the entrance of the rock temple (about 2 m.)

We descended the steps, as the corridor widened at the end of the church and reached nearly 5 m.

We saw huge semicircular niches on the walls.

Shaped columns
Shaped columns

The walls of the church are roughly shaped.

At the bottom, there are icons, as well as some higher niches.

Water flows on its walls, which is believed to help with various types of diseases.

Mihalich Rock Church - a view of the interior
Mihalich Rock Church – a view of the interior

The rock temple near Mihalich differs from all rock churches in Bulgaria in its complex shape, as the interior is built in the form of a cross.

When I left the church, because of the darkness inside, there was an interesting play of light, greenery, and rocks at the exit, which fascinated me.

An incredible touch to the exit of the temple
An incredible touch to the exit of the temple
Mihalich Rock Church
Mihalich Rock Church

On the ridge above the church, you can see a beautiful view of the surroundings, consisting of low hills alternating with vast fields.

Conclusion


In ancient times, Sakar was called the Master, which means sacred.

For many years, the region was a border area and was closed to tourism, which explains the bad roads.

The medieval fortress-tower Bukelon and the two rock churches near the villages Matochina and Mihalich are unusual relics that impress with their interesting construction and mysterious history.

Other suggestions for a walk in the region: here

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