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.
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
Holly Well Temples
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
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
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:
- 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. http://www.massimorassu.it/portal/secondo/13Bulgaria.htm. (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.)
- “Sacred pit of Garlo.” Wikipedia. July 09, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_pit_of_Garlo.
- 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. http://www.narit.or.th/en/files/2014JAHHvol17/2014JAHH…17..222T.pdf
- Sheppard Baird, W. The Garlo Well Temple and Tholos Structural Mechanics. June 2015. Accessed November 15, 2017. http://www.minoanatlantis.com/Garlo_Tholos.php.
- “Nuragic civilization.” Wikipedia. November 05, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuragic_civilization.
- An explanation and diagrams of how such an observatory functions can be found here.
- Tsonev, Lyubomir and Kolev, Dimiter. “The Sardinian Type Underground Well Temple at Garlo, Bulgaria: An Architectural and Astronomical Survey,” 222-227.
- Ibid., 223-224.
- Ibid., 230-233.
- Ibid. 230.
- Tsonev, Lyubomir and Kolev, Dimiter. “The Sardinian Type Underground Well Temple at Garlo, Bulgaria: An Architectural and Astronomical Survey,” 320-323.