Most visitors of Bulgaria spend their time in the country in Sofia, Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo. Some go to the seaside, others to very well preserved small towns like Koprivshtica, Melnik, Leshten.
Few dare to explore, however, the North Eastern part of Bulgaria which, due to its location and historical background, hides magnificent historical sights. This post will be the beginning of a series of posts on what to visit in North Eastern Bulgaria. And this first piece of content is dedicated to the absolutely amazing and well-preserved Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari – a must-visit spot for anyone interested in the heritage left by the Thracians to the current inhabitants of their lands.
The Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari
How to reach Sveshtari Thracian Tomb
Sveshtari tomb is quite outside of the common and quick public transport arteries. Your best starting points are the big cities of Rousse or Varna, so recommend to rent a car from there or use the private taxi transport services offered at major cities in Bulgaria.
Once you reach the small city of Isperih, it takes some 10 km to reach the place (note that it is a few kilometers from the village of Sveshtari, so don’t assume that once you reached the village, you are there). The road is not that good and signs (until the last few kilometers before you reach the sight) are scarce, but the location is available on Google Maps so that makes things easy 🙂
There is a free car parking just in front of the tomb entrance point, and facilities like toilet and dispenser for quick snacks are available in the ticket-selling building.
Important: the Tomb is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, this is required for the maintenance and preservation of the tomb.
What to do and see
Sveshtari tombs are located in an area considered sacred by the Thracians. 3 km away from the tombs there used to be a fortified Thracian settlement – its walls can still be seen, even though the settlement itself is not well recovered. (when driving from Sveshtari tomb to Demir Baba Teke, look on your right, there are also some signs and an archaeology building next to the wall remains). The area where the tombs are used to be the place where sacred rituals would be done. Hence, when a ruler or important person would die, they would build his tomb in this sacred area.
The photo below showing the tomb guide displays a map with all tombs found in the area, there are many! And just recently they found a huge treasure in one of those. Unfortunately the area and tombs are still not well explored due to the heavy financial costs for preserving a tomb.
There are 3 Thracian tombs you can see in Sveshtari – the big and most beautiful one, and two smaller which mirror each other in terms of positioning. Visiting the tombs is always using a guided tour (guided tours in English are also available) since the big tomb is closed in what looks like a solid, automated 2-tier capsule, for preservation purposes. You can enter the actual tomb for only 10 minutes, since carbon dioxide emissions can damage the finest tomb elements.
Opening this beautiful tomb and preserving it has taken many efforts – the soil above the tomb had to be carefully removed and the heavy preservation capsule, along with all technology for maintaining a specific temperature and humidity inside the capsule, had been placed in. Then, it had been covered with soil again, to restore the original external appearance of the tomb, before it had been excavated.
You can choose between visiting the big tomb only (35 mins approx) and all three tombs (45-50 mins), I would advise taking the full (3-tomb) tour. The big tomb is of course the most beautiful one, with those exquisite inside decorations that make it so famous among other Thracian tombs, but visiting the other 2 tombs you can learn about the techniques Thracians used for creating tombs and rituals related to those.
The tomb complex is closed on Monday and Tuesday, but all other days you can visit almost instantly after arriving, they are forming small groups of maximum 10 visitors and then a guide joins the group to deliver the guided tour.
Where to stay
- The sight is fairly close to the city of Ruse (approx 80 km), so a good option would be to stay there
- If you also want to explore the old fortified cities of Pliska and Preslav (capitals of the First and Second Bulgarian kingdoms), as well as Madara horseman, your best place to stay is the city of Shumen (90 km, but use the road passing near Razgrad, it is a bit longer but better maintained / easier to drive)
- If you’d rather stay on the seaside – you can base yourself in Varna (160 km from Sveshtari tomb)
- If you also want to explore the more central part of Bulgaria – base yourself in Veliko Turnovo (150 km from Sveshtari tomb)
What else to do around
- Visit Demir Baba Teke sacred area, just 3 km from Sveshtari tomb
- Visit the Pobiti Kamani natural phenomena near Varna
- If willing to drive about 1.5 hours (approx 110 km) – visit Madara Horseman, Pliska and Preslav ancient fortified cities. Those are worth spending more time in, though, so if visiting them, may be better to base yourself in the city of Shumen