Varna Necropolis

Last year at a developers' conference in San Francisco I met a man who bragged about how he visited every continent. When I asked him where the oldest processed golden artifacts were discovered he was quick to point to Egypt.

He didn't know that this is wrong, most likely because no selfies are allowed at the museum where the oldest processed golden artifacts are.

One can only assume that no pictures are allowed to be taken at this museum because the original
artifacts were sold. #NoOtherLogicalReason

Most people who were not born and raised in Bulgaria don't know that thousands of years before the pyramids in Egypt were built, there existed a culture, which utilized gold, copper, and pottery long before the Egyptian culture.

Unfortunately, not much is known about this culture because its rulers did not invest in a written language. They seemed to be more concerned about taking their golden artifacts to their graves than educating people and investing in future generations. Empires rise and empires fall.

In a number of graves found in the area of present day Varna, Bulgaria, there were many intricate gold artifacts dating to 3000 years before the pyramids. The area is now known as Varna Necropolis. While these artifacts are beautiful pieces of art showcasing great craftsmanship in their intricate designs, some of them could be representing something much more than just the beauty of art.

The grave with the most golden artifacts was empty prompting
some scholars to believe that it was a homage to a goddess

Within one grave, likely belonging to a prominent citizen of the community because of the large number of gold artifacts (but not the grave with the most golden artifacts) in it, was found a rectangular gold plate.

While it is not known who this person is,
the size of his penis is known because he had
a golden penis cover. By the way, I took this
photo from Wikipedia and not from the museum

In another nearby grave that contained no human remains, were found two golden bulls, one larger than the other.

Looked at in isolation from other artifacts, these bulls and this plate seem to have little function, however, thanks to the investigations of Professor Hristo Smolenov in cooperation with many other European scholars from several different disciplines, an interesting story unfolds.

It appears that the two bulls and the gold plate are actually precise tools of measurement that were used by the ancient Varna and Zagora area cultures. In his book Zagora-Varna the Hidden Superculture, Smolenov shows how the dimensions of these three artifacts are all related to each other, and how they might have been used as measurement tools in the construction of many other artifacts, including other gold pieces, tools, and pottery.

For example, the height of the gold plate is equal to the height of two large bulls plus two small bulls, and the width of the gold plate is equal to the width of one large bull plus one small bull.

There are bone artifacts whose heights and widths correspond to multiples of large and small bulls. There are many pieces of pottery whose height, opening radius, middle radius, and base radius all correspond to multiples of the dimensions of the bulls or the golden plate, indicating that these were most likely measuring devices and not simply pieces of art.

5th - 4th century BC Some scholars believe the ancient people
who lived around these parts communicated with statuettes

Even more interesting is that there are pieces of pottery predating the graves where the bulls and plate were found by 1000 years that also can be measured precisely in terms of the bulls and plates! This suggests that the civilization in the Varna-Zagora region was using precise forms of measurement and mathematics 4000 years before the Egyptians. A great example is a grain container from the 6th century BC found in the Zagora region. It has a top diameter equal to the length of two golden plates, a height equal to 16 golden bulls, and a middle diameter equal to the length of 4 golden plates.  The distance between lines of the pattern on the outside of this container can also be expressed in multiples of the dimensions of the plates or the bulls.

The most groundbreaking point made by Smolenov is that these measurement tools used by the ancient cultures in the Varna-Zagora region are likely the predecessors and direct decedents of the famous measuring tools used by the Egyptians and Sumerians (the Royal Cubit and Sumerian Cubit). Smolenov explains how the width plus height plus diagonal of the golden plate (or 4 times the width of the golden plate) is equal to the length of the Egyptian Royal Cubit.

 Empirical evidence suggests this mysterious super-culture
traded heavily with African super-cultures

The Egyptians and Sumerians both have myths about how their cubits were brought to them by either another ancient civilization or some type of gods or "Titans". Perhaps these were the ancient peoples of the Varna-Zagora region who acted like they were greater than they actually were because they had measuring tools (and gold plated penises)

A statuette of an African goddess found
near Panaguyrishte, Bulgaria

This is not all that Smolenov explains in his book. He also describes links between the measurements used by the ancient Varna-Zagora culture and the "golden ratio," and of other links between the Varna-Zagora super culture and the ancient Egyptians and other ancient cultures but  I won't talk about these here because people should read more books. Reading is fun.

Another interesting book to consider is The Varna Eneolithic Necropolis And Problems of Prehistory in Southeast Europe, which is a collection of papers by European historians specializing in prehistory.


How To Get To Buzludzha

The old communist building at Buzludzha captured the imagination of people around the world after being featured in several lists of cool abandoned buildings.

I went there the other day and I encountered things that I felt the need to share publicly.

It takes approximately 3+ hours to drive there from either end of Bulgaria and the drive itself is an adventure in a league of its own.

A few quick things to note before getting to Buzludzha (read this even if you decide to skip the rest)
  1. You need to get to Gabrovo first.
  2.  If someone flashes their lights at you, then traffic police must be nearby. This is what they call "citizen solidarity against authority" and it dates back to early communist times.
  3.  If you see a truck in the incoming traffic, then slow down and move to the right. Chances are, there are at least 5 small cars riding up the truck's ass willing to risk their lives and yours just to get somewhere a few minutes earlier and there are only 2 lanes for traffic in both directions.
  4. There is a paved road up to the very top of Buzludzha.
You can keep going all the way up to the monument
(after a short stop at the Sweet Selfie Spot of course)
Bulgarian drivers are comparable to drivers in the rest of the world in that they also use the highway to measure their penises but the Varna-Sofia highway that you will need to be on is not like most other highways.

According to an old Bulgarian tradition, there aren't too many signs on the highway because too many signs spoil the joy of not knowing where you are going so a GPS is needed if you actually want to get somewhere.

Once you get to Gabrovo it is really hard to miss the road to Buzludzha but reaching Gabrovo in a sound state of mind after 3+ hours of avoiding collisions with other vehicles determined to ride your ass until they can pass you only so they can be in front of you while decrypting the few highway signs you can catch with the corner of your eyeball, is an accomplishment you should be proud of.

The black hole sign is an unobtrusive way to
remind drivers that they are entering a twilight zone
 where an extra passing lane was built but only on paper

Google maps makes it seem like it is hard to get all the way up to Buzludzha by car. Contrary to Google Maps' beliefs, the route has no private roads.

Nevertheless, many people abandon their cars at the first available parking location, which is right around here:

Before this point there is barely enough space for two regular European cars to pass one another on the winding mountain road. In other words, don't go there with a Hummer because you and/or someone else will not make it.

There is a paved road in fairly good condition right up to the very top of the hill where the most equal communists used to gather every year to celebrate equality and to discuss important topics such as how to be more equal than the rest.

Once you are at the top of the hill the main thing you have to watch out for is falling slabs of concrete.

Another thing to watch out for is horse shit. Humans may have abandoned this place but semi wild horses have not.

Find some time to unglue yourself from the digital screen and the selfie stick to marvel at the nature that surrounds you.

This is the Balkan. It just does't get any more Balkan-y than this.

Don't steal any letters from the front of the monument. Not cool. Totally not cool.

If you must add graffiti, make tasteful ones. Nobody cares that you were here. Lots of people managed to come here before you and luckily most of them didn't feel the ardent desire to notify you of their existence.

Watch out for falling concrete slabs. No seriously. Watch out for falling concrete slabs. There's nobody to sue if you get injured. Literally nobody.

There is one "entrance" on the right side of the building if you are willing to risk your life for a few pictures. If you're a daredevil, then go there with someone who cares about you enough to nag at you.

I held my husband's foot so he couldn't go any further than this:
nobody got hurt in the end
Don't brag to other Bulgarians about going to Buzludzha. Bulgaria is at least 1400 years old. And that's just the Bulgaria of which there is a written record. People's Republic of Bulgaria, on the other hand, existed for only ~50 years. If you are planning to brag about it to other Bulgarians, then you better visit all other cool historical places. The area around Buzludzha is jam packed with historical monuments, cultural landmarks, and stuff from all Bulgarian Empires.

Like for example Etara, which showcases and celebrates the old Bulgarian way of life, the traditional arts and crafts, and the people who made them.

Below is an old Bulgarian house to the left and the equivalent of a Bulgarian garden gnome, the garden dragon, to the right.

Etara is actually on the way back to wherever you came from to get to Buzludzha.

Around 60km away from Etara is an ancient Bulgarian fortress called Tsarevets built in the 1100s during the Second Bulgarian Empire. The modern city surrounding the fortress, namely Veliko Tarnovo, is home to some of the nicest people in Bulgaria.