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Ancient Underground Temple Well in Bulgaria Aligns to Winter Solstice

temple well in bulgaria aligns to sun

The entrance stairway to the temple well, viewed from the inside. Photo by Filipov Ivo [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1972 an intriguing underground temple and sacred well were discovered in Bulgaria near the village of Garlo, Pernik area, by archeologist Dimitrina Mitova-Djonova, who dated this site to the 14th-13th century BC (late Bronze Age).1

The temple is aligned primarily to the winter solstice when the sun penetrates the inner chamber through the opening passageway. It may have originally also incorporated alignments to the summer solstice and the equinoxes.

This underground temple is constructed entirely with dried stone masonry. It’s accessed by a long curved staircase that leads to a rounded domed interior chamber. At the center of the round chamber there is a well. This staircase, arched entrance, and well are significant as they are aligned to winter solstice. Off to the side along the staircase there is also a small chamber. A large round opening in the roof above the well in the main rounded room allows the sun into the main chamber and provides a view of the night sky.

bronze age temple in bulgaria aligns to the sun

The curving staircase leading down inside the temple. Photo by Filipov Ivo [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Above this ancient temple a rock-carved sanctuary of the sun can also be found. Today the surroundings have been mostly overgrown by a young forest, however locals of the Garlo village report that the surrounding area contained rocks carved with various signs, and that there was a small stone basin near the temple well.2

bulgarian sacred well ancient site

A view from above ground. Photo by Filipov Ivo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

Holly Well Temples

layout of well temple in bulgaria

A diagram of the layout of the Garlo temple well in Bulgaria. Uploaded by Filipov Ivo [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Well temples are a type of structure that is believed to have originated in the third and second millennia BC in and around the Mediterranean.3 These structures are built underground in the shape of a tholos (a circular building), typically made with dry stone architecture. An opening with a staircase from above leads down into a circular chamber with a well in its center. An opening in the sky above the well provides a view of the sky.4

These types of temples are particularly highly concentrated on the island of Sardinia, where they are believed to have been used for religious and ceremonial purposes associated with a solar religion. They are typically aligned to the sun and other stellar events, and are places where people gathered for observances on special days of the year (such as the solstices and equinoxes).5

These temple wells are also believed to be ancient sky observatories. Researchers have proposed that the well was used to reflect events in the night sky for astronomical observation purposes.6

The temple well site near Garlo is constructed in a nearly identical way to the temple wells found in Sardinia, leading researchers to believe that the same culture likely erected the Bulgarian structure. It is the only temple well in Bulgaria, atypical of other ancient architecture in the region, and one of very few outside Sardinia.7

Note: this site has been restored in the 1980s, and the reconstruction is not entirely accurate to the original (for example in the original structure there were apparently only 13 steps to go down, whereas the current version consists of 24 steps). Some of the reconstruction also unfortunately resulted in further damage to the temple.8

Solar Alignments

the entrance and well in garlo bulgaria

A view of the entrance and the well inside the Garlo temple. Photo by Filipov Ivo [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

This temple was constructed into the eastern slope of a hill — facing sunrise. The first half of the staircase leading down to the temple is uncovered, whereas the second half closer to the entrance into the interior chamber is covered. The covered section begins with a trapezoid gateway. The lintel stone at top of the trapezoid entrance way controls the way the sun reaches the interior chamber through the entrance way on specific days.9

On the winter solstice the sun penetrates the entrance in the most inclined manner, projecting the lintel stone’s shadow onto the northern (back) wall of the temple’s interior, while lighting up the main floor surface and the well with sunlight.10

winter solstice temple well at garlo

Diagram of winter solstice sunlight reaching within the chamber. Uploaded by Filipov Ivo [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

It is interesting to notice here the symbolism of the sunlight penetrating into a chamber inside the earth on winter solstice day. In the Religion of the Sun winter solstice represents inner birth and creation. It is a time when the sun (and the Spiritual Son) is “born” out of the darkest point of the year. This process is symbolized by many solar deities around the world, such as Jesus, Mithras, Hu Gadarn, Krishna, etc., whose birth took place at winter solstice.

A study by Dr. Lyubomir Tsonev of Institute of Solid State Physics, and Dr. Dimiter Kolev of the Institute of Astronomy, of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, proposes that it is difficult to determine other alignments at this site due to the staircase’s inaccurate restoration. They propose that it is possible that summer solstice and equinox alignments could have been observed from certain positions from within the chamber in the original structure. In its current state, at the summer solstice the sun does not penetrate the inner chamber, but shines down onto the lintel, creating a shadow at the mid-point of the steps. The equinox sun alignment reaches near the bottom of the stairs.11

A video of the temple-well can be seen below:

  1. Rassu, Massimo. “Sacred wells in Sardinia and Bulgaria, after three thousand years a link to explain” (published in Italian as “I pozzi sacri in Sardegna e in Bulgaria, dopo tremila anni un collegamento da spiegare”). Accessed November 15, 2017. (Or in English via Google Translate. Note: the dating of the site is based on archeological finds such as pottery fragments found at the site as well as construction styles being analogous to similar structures dated to this period in Sardinia. It is possible, however, that this site’s age might be different as stone sites without supporting cultural data can be difficult to date accurately.)
  2. “Sacred pit of Garlo.” Wikipedia. July 09, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  3. Tsonev, Lyubomir (Institute of Solid State Physics, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) and Kolev, Dimiter (Institute of Astronomy, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences). “The Sardinian Type Underground Well Temple at Garlo, Bulgaria: An Architectural and Astronomical Survey.” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage (2014), 222. Accessed Nov 15, 2017.…17..222T.pdf
  4. Sheppard Baird, W. The Garlo Well Temple and Tholos Structural Mechanics. June 2015. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  5. “Nuragic civilization.” Wikipedia. November 05, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  6. An explanation and diagrams of how such an observatory functions can be found here.
  7. Tsonev, Lyubomir and Kolev, Dimiter. “The Sardinian Type Underground Well Temple at Garlo, Bulgaria: An Architectural and Astronomical Survey,” 222-227.
  8. Ibid., 223-224.
  9. Ibid., 230-233.
  10. Ibid. 230.
  11. Tsonev, Lyubomir and Kolev, Dimiter. “The Sardinian Type Underground Well Temple at Garlo, Bulgaria: An Architectural and Astronomical Survey,” 320-323.

About the author

Jenny Belikov

Jenny Belikov is a researcher and practitioner of the ancient religion of the sun and the Managing Editor for The Spiritual Sun, where she also researches and writes about ancient sacred sites; spiritual texts and practices; the latest discoveries in archeology, archeoastronomy, and related sciences; as well as the exploration of various facets of the lost civilization of the sun.


  • Thank you for sharing. I do Winter Rituals on the Solstices and Equinoxes and since almost all Slavic and Blakan traditions in Shamanism (prepagan) were done with Fire and Water, its wonderful to see a “Holy Well” temple this old.

  • What a beautiful site. I really like sites where you have stairs to enter them, which somehow gives it a magical feel, leading you on a “little journey” to another place unseen at first, as opposed to just showing up and there it is right when you get there.

  • I never knew that sacred sites of this design existed in Bulgaria. As others mentioned it has a misterious look. It’s amazing to me how dry masonry can last for thousands of years.

    I also found it interesting how the locals have reported of other features around the site that had been lost to nature. Recently, we visited a sacred site in Bulgaria with sun disks on the top of a rocky hill. I remember we were looking at one big disk hewn in the rock that was now partly visible as it was covered with soil and grass. It made me wonder what could be hiding a bit deeper and how different the place would have looked a few thousand years ago.

    Thank you for the post, Jenny!

  • This particular ancient site in Bulgaria is really special and so beautifully created in a natural and harmonious way. I love how it embodies so many sacred symbols – it’s design is truly a representation of the maximum “As above, so below”. After a trip to the enchanting Chalice Well near the Glastonbury Tor many years ago, I would like to learn more about these enigmatic wells. I find it amazing to learn how they never seem to undergo a drought throughout their use since antiquity and that they are often believed to hold some kind of special healing property. The Sardinian connection is an incredible one although I’m not surprised by it either.

  • I echo the other comments here that the symbolism incorporating the solar alignments and stars reflecting in the well, is stunningly beautiful and has so much depth. Next time we go to Bulgaria we definitely need to add visiting this site to our itinerary!

    The link between Sardinia and this site is pretty fascinating. How there are hardly any similar structures anywhere else in the world. What has intrigued me, researching Bulgarian ancient sacred sites with solar alignments, is how unique many of them seem to be in their construction and shape. And how clusters of certain types of sites seem to be found in different areas or regions.

  • What a beautiful site. There’s something very intriguing about a sacred well at the bottom of a 13 step staircase, buried in the ground. I think the combination of this structure being buried, aligning to the sun, but also being so open to the sky is what makes it really appealing to me. And the gorgeous stonework! It seems like you get both the intimacy and feeling of entering a small closed in space, but with the opening above still letting the light or view of the stars in…. really lovely.

    The video was good to help orient you as to how it’s laid out. I can just imagine what it would be like to observe the stars from clear well in a structure like this… it must have been so inspiring to the people who built and used it, especially since it illustrates the symbolism of the birth of the Spiritual Son in such a tangible way.

  • What a very beautiful and humble place. Bulgaria surprisingly seems full of the wonders of the Religion of the Sun, but in the most modest and sincere ways, integrated with the natural landscape. The sites are not prominent like those of Egypt, Mexico etc.. but seem like they were made to be intentionally hidden and worship was done in secret.

  • Intriguing type of structure this one. I wasn’t familiar with such designs myself, but it does seem like it has something very magical to it. With a circular room underground, light or starlight coming in from above, and even the rays of winter sunrise shining in through a passageway. Makes you wonder who were there, what they knew, what they were doing? and in general makes me want to tune into nature to the level where beautiful subtleties are able to be perceived.

  • Thanks for posting and explaining about this site Jenny. It is amazingly beautiful and I echo how well done the dry stone work is. I was doing a bit of dry stone stacking earlier this year. I enjoyed it much more than working with cement (which I did about the same time). However, I realized that although it seems simple I did not know how to build to last. I realized how little I knew and that all I could do was give it my best and observe what happens next year.

    On another note I appreciate how the structure conveys winter solstice symbols. I have been seeing this again and again with cairns, cromlech, what’s called burial chambers, and stone circles aligned to the winter solstice. Fairly often the sites are located on a southern slope and naturally open to the southern sun. I think that winter solstice symbols are naturally depicted by such places, while pyramids, mountain peaks, seem more appropriate to the summer solstice.

  • This and the related sacred well sites in Sardinia seem so unique – or they’re something that’s been easily misinterpreted as a purely practical structure! From the pictures and description it seems like this sacred well would have been a powerful ceremonial place – I can easily imagine the process of descending, being so close to water, perhaps symbolically washing or drinking it, and then watching the celestial bodies above, perhaps some special alignment taking place, and the sun filling the chamber on the solstice. Beautiful. It’s wonderful to think that a people who understood core spiritual principles were (and still are!) able to create structures that echoed them, and could do so in many different ways.

    Thanks for sharing this Jenny!

  • What an amazing site really! I loved the dry construction – it is amazingly strong and stable – I can imagine that the pressure from the earth around the walls would be quite strong, yet it seems so delicate with each of stones, gently stacked together as it shows – that combination of strength yet gentleness to the construction is also quite fascinating. And like Matthew pointed out, the mariage between heaven (the sky / stars) and the womb of the Earth (deep well) with the alignment to the winter solstice just made me go ‘waow’ – what a beautiful intrinsic symbology, hidden yet in plain sight, and how stunning. The overall scenery of the forest also brings it a magical touch – I can only imagine when there was no overgrowth present, how stunning it would have been to arrive to this site and observe the solstice and other solar alignments.. What a great find Jenny! This site is really particularly captivating to me..

  • This combination of water, star reflection, and solstice alignment indeed is quite interesting.
    Thanks for bringing it up.

    I read about the well-temples in Sardinia recently and they look similar like this one which alignes with the equinoxes.

    • Fotis, what an other amazing ancient well! Reading about it is aligned to the equinoxes, as well as a special full moon. The design is stunning, and looks so well taken care of. Gosh, I had never really heard of such places before – how much that we don’t know of… Interesting too about the people that seem to have built, that once again they did not leave any writing. It seems so strange in a way, such advanced people being able to build such advanced sacred sites, yet no writing..

      • I was thinking the same thing Geraldine, when I read that they did not leave any writing behind. But then it seems so strange to be able to build a structure like that and not have writing for planning or communicating ideas. Maybe it’s just a case that they wrote on perishable things that didn’t survive the centuries so well as their stone structures 🙂

        • Hi Dara,

          Yes, that’s probable.. Another thought I had was that later conquering and zealous civilizations destroyed the writing remnants of this ancient civilization as well.. It seems that it is something that was regularly happening during conquests to better establish the new ‘power of the moment’ by deliberately removing writings and traces of past cultures.

          It’s something that I found very much worth reflecting on about the respect for free will, in that with the religion of the sun, it seems pretty obvious (due to the so many different cultures, different dialects / languages yet similar sun symbology, similar pyramids structures etc..) that the cultures that were in contact with the wisdom bringers were not forgotten or eradicated but instead added the principles of the wisdom bringers into their own culture out of choice. Like things were not forced on people but it was explained and people could choose whether or not to take on what they had learned. In this article, there is quote by Egyptologist E.A Wallis that refers to this respect for free will.

          • Yeah that could very well be the case too. It’s definitely a pattern that’s repeated so much in history, where one conquering civilization wipes out another and systematically destroys their records.

            I agree that it’s so telling the way the religion of the sun appears to have spread — rather than a conquering of one group by another you have the preservation of regional culture, and the uplifting of it even, when the spiritual principles and knowledge of finer aspects of civilization were added in.

  • The video helped to imagine what it is like to be there. It gives a sense of being there and examining how the structure was put together.

    Thanks for sharing…

  • There is something very inviting about this sacred space. It seems almost intimate in scale but still quite impressive.

    The video was helpful as I could imagine being there for a sunrise with a group of people and how special it would be.

  • This is a really fascinating site. The dry stone work is incredible! I find it so interesting how these ancient people used natural materials to create such magical places. Not that it’s surprising that it could be done using natural materials, but more that it was done in such well thought out, creative, and meaningful ways. Thanks for sharing Jenny.

  • Thank you for this research Jenny, what a wonderful site and an idea! To have a well as a part of a sacred site is very fitting, and I have always felt intriguied by the structures such as a Chalice Well at Glastonbury Tor for example. But this site goes even further, to make the well a part of the alignment, and to have those 13 symbolic stairs reaching it (what a pity the “reconstructions” damaged that number and the overall alignments).

    It is also amazing that these sites include the star gazing in such a beautiful way, making me to wish to attend a session like that, to learn about the stars from a more spiritual point of view.

  • Wow! I imagine it would be pretty magical to walk down those stairs on a clear night and see the stars reflected in the well, or to be down there on the solstice when the sun shone into the chamber.

    There’s something very beautiful and special about the construction of that well, too bad some of the original features were damaged when people were trying to restore it.

    • I agree, David. It seems like a very enchanting spot and a really beautiful concept. This site is also situated in a forest, which I imagine would have made it all the more special for ceremonies, rites, and celebrations.

    • Good points Dave,

      It’d be interesting to see if there are any star or constellation alignments at different times of the year.

    • I know David, just sounds so beautiful to have the stars reflected in the well. And to be there on the Solstice. This makes me think of stories and pictures I’ve seen of priestesses looking into a well. Something very magical about it.

  • What a beautiful ancient site. The concept of incorporating a sacred well into the design of a sacred site aligning to the winter solstice, acting it seems as the underground symbolic womb of the earth, just seems very fitting to me. It conveys the sense of the feminine earth and waters and the masculine sky interacting to create and give birth to the Spiritual Son, in such an evocative way.

    Thanks for sharing Jenny, it’s not a style I’m not familiar with. It’s a shame the renovations have altered the site from its original layout though, but the place still has some magic to it.

    • Yeah, I thought the symbolism incorporated here is so simple and yet so special. I imagine it would have been beautiful to take part in a solstice at an enchanting temple like this. I also find it amazing to keep seeing more and more clear examples of the significance of winter solstice in so many cultures and ancient structures.

      One of the things I like the most about this structure is that it looks very achievable in a way. Of course the level of masonry, astronomy, mathematics, etc., here is obviously beyond my skill level or expertise, but the concept of creating a simple chamber with a well or a water feature of some kind aligned to winter solstice seems very manageable.

      • Admittedly the first thought I had when I saw the pictures of this site was: “I totally want that in my garden.” 😂

        It does seem like it would achievable to construct and a pretty magical (and cozy!) place to spend the winter solstice.

  • Such an intriguing site. It’s a shame that the ‘restoration’ did damage and so information about the alignments were lost, but that it can still show the Solar Religion even after damage is remarkable indeed.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • It’s definitely unfortunate, Craig. Apparently treasure hunters looking for artifacts have also caused a fair bit of damage to the site. I read one person online expressing the irony of the restorations at this site, which I thought was interesting: the ancient construction lasted over three thousand years largely intact, yet the restorations not only became completely dilapidated within less than thirty years, but also caused damage to the authentic structure…

    • Thanks Jenny. What an amazing discovery.

      Sounds like restoration work for these ancient sites need a builder in line with the Spiritual Sun religion 🙂

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