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Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Belogradchik Rocks

Bizarrely shaped rock formations in northwest Bulgaria come with equally bizarre legends. 

Each rock formation bears a name: Adam and Eve, The Schoolgirl, The Bear, The Shepherd boy, The Dervish, The First slabstone, The Camel, The Mushrooms, The Cuckoo, The Red wall, The Madonna, The Horseman, The Monks, The Mental stone, Rebel Velko, The Pine stone and so on, and each one comes with a story.

The Belogradchik rocks form a 3 km wide and 30 kilometer long strip, and the rock formations reach some 200 meters in height. They were formed at the bottom of a sea as the product of compression (they began 230 million years ago as sediment at the bottom of a shallow sea) and then erosion over the last 45 million years. The rocks, made largely of limestone, also hold hundreds of caves, including Magura Cave where the bones of prehistoric species like cave bear or cave hyena have been discovered, as have cave paintings dating from 10,000 BC - 600 BC.

Among two of the most famous and most curious legends surrounding the rocks are that of the Madonna and the Schoolgirl. In the legend of the Madonna, a beautiful nun falls in love with a man on a white horse, gets pregnant, is cast out by the monks and as she is leaving the nunnery, day turns to night and all, Madonna, monks, man on the white horse are turned to stone forming the rocks.

The schoolgirl’s legend is remarkably similar. It also concerns a beautiful girl (who seem to be especially prone to being turned to stone) , replace the nuns with a mean schoolmaster, her love interest is a blacksmith, and this time she is being chased by the schoolmaster and runs into a bear, when—kazam!—as before all are turned to stone.