Devil’s Throat, the Western Rhodopes, Bulgaria

Caroline Cloninger is a student at Berea College and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in London, England.

Walking into the side of a mountain, you find yourself in a narrow passageway.  It doesn’t look at all like a throat, much less one belonging to the devil.  A few yards on, the stone hall suddenly drops into steep stairs that are the only manageable path for the rest of your submersion in Devil’s Throat, the biggest water cavern in Bulgaria.  Just off the precarious stairway, the mountain opens to show a waterfall breaking around the rocks.  Protective barriers are minimal and the floor is damp.  Bats tumble through the air, never quite touching you, but the people around you are unnerved anyway.  The rusty, metal handrails that you clench with both hands are freezing.

Lighting is poor in caves, but maybe this shows a bit of what it was like!

The water comes out above ground and it is verifiably the same water, but it’s empty of anything dropped in from before.  A miraculous, natural water filter.  Nobody has recovered their lost objects; coins, hats, phones, jewelry.  In an effort to find out where it all goes, two young scuba divers, Syana and Evstati, dived into the waterfall in the 1970s.  They never came out, alive or dead.  The reason why?  The cave leads to the realm of Hades.

Mysterious water, gateway to the Underworld.

The musician Orpheus was engaged to Eurydice, but she died on their wedding night.  Distraught, Orpheus descended down this cave to barter with Hades.  After beguiling Hades with beautiful music, Orpheus was allowed to lead Eurydice back to the land of the living, provided he did not turn to look at her on the way out.  Foolish and in love, Orpheus turned back to check on his dearheart just before he exited the mouth of the cave.  That was the last he ever saw of her.  Unexplained, natural stone forms memorialize the lovers, as well as recognizing other underworld citizens such as Charon and Cerberus, loyal employees of Hades.  Additionally, figures are carved into the walls, one of which is a soldier who guards the opening to a small room.

The classic and protective fashion of soldiers.

It’s terrifying and exhilarating.  Everyone is thinking about death as they breathe the cold air and gaze down at the mysterious river, but nobody likes hearing the thought out loud.  If you are one of those looking for a macabre romance, take a dip.  Hades may be looking for another wife.

Just kidding.  Be very careful.  Look for the mossy green light from the cracks in the cave and burst out of the mountain like a hatched dragon.  There’s more to explore and you’ll make it to the Underworld someday, one way or another.

The mountains surrounding the cave

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