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The legends of the seven Rila lakes

Last weekend, life (well a bus and hiking shoes, really) took us on a new adventure. We hiked to one of the most beautiful sites in Bulgaria: the seven Rila lakes. Over the eight-hour hike, I had a lot of time to imagine stories about my surroundings. Coming from a mountain zone, I know the rocks are full of secrets that people jealously guard and disclose only to a selected few. However, today is your lucky day because I’ll tell you four stories that a friend of a friend of a friend told me about the legendary lakes. Whether you believe them or not is up to you…

The first one, I got from a scientist. It says that the lakes are located in the picturesque cirques in the Damgski area in Northwest Rila Mountain, as they are situated amphitheatrically between 2095 and 2535 meters above sea level. The cirque in which they are located is surrounded by the peaks of Suhi Chal, Harmiyata and Otovishki. They occupy furrows along the slope of the mountain and the individual lakes are interconnected with each other through small streams. In the process of water flow, small cascades and waterfalls have formed along these streams.

Each lake carries a name associated with its most characteristic feature. The highest one is called Salzata (“The Tear”) due to its clear waters that allow visibility in depth. The next one in height carries the name Okoto (“The Eye”) after its almost perfectly oval form, and it is the deepest cirque lake in Bulgaria, with a depth of 37.5 m. Babreka (“The Kidney”) is the lake with the steepest shores of the entire group. Bliznaka (“The Twin”) is the largest one by area. Trilistnika (“The Trefoil”) has an irregular shape and low shores. The shallowest lake is Ribnoto Ezero (“The Fish Lake”) and the lowest one is Dolnoto Ezero (“The Lower Lake”), where the waters that flow out of the other lakes are gathered to form the Dzherman River.

The second one was passed on to me by a very old romantic soul. It states that thousands of years ago when Earth hasn’t yet been populated by people, the Rila Mountain was the home of two giants – a man and a woman. Their love was so strong and they worshiped the beauty and coziness of their lovely home. Their home was incredibly beautiful, always warm, sunny and pleasant. Every single creature was falling in love with this place and wanted to live there. All the elements around the world supported the giants and their love.

One day, however, troubles came, evil forces passed by their home. When they saw this beautiful place, the evil forces felt envy because of the happiness of the giants, so they became angry and decided to destroy their home and their love forever. They began to send black clouds and destroying winds towards them. The earth was shaken by terrible earthquakes. The male giant defended with all his strength every blade of grass, every little stream or flower, as he guarded his beloved and fought against the attacks of the evil forces. Unfortunately, this only made them angrier and they decided to fulfil their evil plan to the fullest. In one heavy battle the giant found his death. Satisfied with their victory the evil forces decided to go and left behind them only destroyed rocks, meadows and the sorrowful female giant who was devastated.

The sadness of the young widow was so strong that her tears were endless as they flew down along the mountain ridges to the valleys. As the tears were falling down they gathered in the glens, thus they formed crystal clear lakes with enchanting beauty – the Seven Rila Lakes.

These days, before you reach the Kidney Lake, you can see a huge rock located in the direction of the Tear Lake. The shape of the rock looks very much like the figures of a man and a woman of enormous size : these are the two giants in love, who will remain forever there protecting their magnificent home.

The third one I heard from the descendants of Smilyana, a beautiful girl from a village between Panichishte and the lakes. One day she went to the well to fetch water and as she did, a sunray slid down the coppers she was carrying, which reflected it and lit up her face. The Sun was dazzled by her astounding beauty and fell in love with her. From that day on, he could think of nothing else. In the morning she would watch the sunrise in the doorway of her cabin, in the evening she would watch as the sun set.

Then harvest time came. Smilyana went down to the valley with her friends to reap the field of the local Bey. The day was gloomy but when she appeared the sun seemed to shine. The Bey was so taken with Simlyana that he assaulted her but she fought back fiercely. As punishment she was hanged.

When the sun came out and set eyes on this mournful picture, it cried. Its sparkling tears fell down and filled the valleys of Rila, and that was how the Seven Rila lakes came into being.

The last story has to do with the conservation of energy. According to this friend of mine, Okoto Lake is the “eye” of nature, watching what people in these parts are doing. When they break the laws of nature, they are punished by Bubreka. For example, shepherds who take their flocks out to graze on the nearby ridges are breaking these laws. As a result, a storm cloud rises from Bubreka Lake and rain pelts down from it, destroying crops and herds. Nevertheless, Babreka lake isn’t the only one holding power as each lake has its own mythical master and patron. That is why one of them bears the name Halovitoto, derived from the word “hala” which means “whirlwind”, and it’s home to whirlwinds and storms. Other lakes are to be safeguarded by wood-nymphs.

Now that you know all about the seven Rila lakes secrets, you might as well hike there and see them for yourself.

Lucile Casamajor

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