Sakar’s Sun Circles and Sun Sanctuaries
Possibly dating back to as early as the 10th to 5th century BC, Sakar’s Sun Sanctuaries are the oldest Thracian ritual sites in existence, in fact, some believe they predate the Thracian culture all together, but what was the cult of the sun and where did it come from?
What are They?
Sun circles are three distinct clusters of circular carvings, found on rocky outcrops. The complexes are very large, often covering many rocks in the area. Across the three sites, there are around 600 circles discovered, however, certainly at Kyustarlaka in Srem, the top soil is covering many more.
The locations are:
- Melnitza Village: 3.5 km to the southwest of the village (5 Km as the crow-flies from Srem)
- Kyustarlaka: 4 Km south of Srem village
- Paleocastro/Paleokastro in Topolovgrad (19 Km West of Srem)
Each of these sites host collections of relief and raised circles range from 20 cm to over 1 metre in radius, and each is located on a high rocky outcrop which catch the rays of the early morning sun.
Archaeologists believe the sites were used for Thracian ritual and worship to the Sun God, although we still don’t know exactly ‘how’ they were utilized.
The Sun Circle Sites
The Sun Sanctuary of Melnitza
The Solar Sanctuary in the village of Melnitsa, near Elhovo region, is found in high rocks on an elongated hill with general orientation Northwest – Southeast. The ridge is between two gorges, and leads towards the Tundzha River.
This is possibly the easiest Sanctuary to visit thanks to a well maintained and marked eco-walking route which includes the Sanctuary in its itinerary.
Srem’s Sun Circles- At Kyustarlaka
The Kyustarlaka Sanctuary near Srem is approximately 4 Km south of the village and located above the Tundhja River. Possibly the most secret of the Sanctuaries, there is little information online. However, many of the older residents of Srem and farmers know the site well. Hidden behind trees, it is very easy to miss, yet once at the stones the panoramic views to the Stara Planina, Yambol, across Sakar and out to Turkey, give the impression of significant altitude.
The Sun Circles of Paleocastro/Paleokastro Topolovgrad
The oldest and most well-known Sanctuary in the Thracian land is the Sun Sanctuary near the Thracian fortress of Paleocastro 4 Km west of Topolovgrad town.
Paleocastro Peak offers good visibility in all directions and is naturally protected from the south by a steep slope and vertical rocks up to 14 m high. This good strategic location was not overlooked by the ancient Thracians, and they built a Sanctuary here, later adding a fortress and settlement.
The most significant find across all the Sun Sanctuary sites is the large Winged Sun Disc found at Paleocastro in 1973. Although one of the wings is still missing, the artifact is believed by archaeologists to be the “Head of Sun” and is now kept in the garden of the Topolovgrad museum, (you will need to ask its location as its kept in the garden under plastic).
Links to Ancient Egypt?
The Winged Sun God is the earliest Egyptian God, and the most common recorded God across all of ancient history, from the Middle and Far East, to Africa and Latin America. The deity is associated with the sun- which in turn is linked to power and strength.
According to the ‘Tell Us About Thracians,’ a Turkish/Bulgarian cooperative paper supported by the EU, “the earliest representation of the Sun-God as a winged sun disc is in Egypt during the time of the first pharaoh of the fourth dynasty Sneferu (around 2,650 B.C.). By the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. the image of the Sun-God was already known outside Egypt – in Asia Minor and in Mesopotamia.”
Archaeologists believe the winged disc discovered in the Paleokastro Solar Sanctuary, is from either the second half of the 2nd millennium BC or the 1st millennium B.C.
Herodotus (5th century B.C.) mentions that the Egyptian Pharaoh of the 19th century B.C. had sent an expedition to Thrace and the Egyptians had left many stones with inscription at some places.”
Sakar has always been known as a source of metals, and another ancient author, noted that during the Roman period (1st century A.D.) Egyptian Masters had been moved to Thrace for some time in order to process metals.
The Thracian Interpretation of the Sun God
According to The Journal of Indo-European Studies Volume 11, “the Solar Cult was an essential trait of Thracian religion, and particularly of the beliefs connected with self-perfection, i.e. the gradual transformation of man into an Anthropdeamon and God. The practice of the Solar Cult was for the common people; self-perfection as a projection of the Solar Cult was reserved for the aristocracy, (the Priest-Kings).
Herodotus famous fragment about the Temenidoi who moved from Argos to Illyria and served in the court of the King, gives the best idea of that. When the King, unwilling to pay the three brothers for their work, foolishly gave them as recompense a spot on the floor made by the sun ray. The youngest, Perdica, outlined the spot with his knife and symbolically grabbed the sun-light. Then he left and founded the kingdom of Macedonia.”
The last word should really go to Valeri Fol in the conclusion to her “The light imaginary and real sacred space in Thracian rock- cut sanctuaries,” “In the Rock Sanctuaries the rising of the sun symbolizes the birth of the Sun God and his divine power in the days of the Summer Solstice. On the day of the Autumnal Equinox, after which light diminishes, it is equivalent to taking on the path to the World of the Beyond. The rock-cut Sanctuaries most strongly imply the unity of nature and man, and for this reason so many of them continue to be Topoi of the sacred to this day.”
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