Bulgaria - one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world!
The country has five official wine regions, each with their own microclimates and grape varietals. The beginning of Bulgarian wine production was set by the Thracians – over 5000 years ago. They are believed to be one of the best ancient winemakers.
The first vineyard in Europe were brought by them from the Middle East and planted in what is now Southern Bulgaria. At the beginning the wine was produced along Maritsa river and around Bulgarian seaports.
In his book "Ancient Wine", Patrick McGovern supports these theses by facts based on mythology: Semele - a Thracian goddess is mother of Dionysus. The name Semele is associated with Phrygian word meaning "mother earth" and the old Bulgarian “Землia” (Earth). One of the stories about Semele says that the goddess got pregnant from Zeus. When Hera found out she called a Thracian tribe to extract the baby from his mother’s womb and to burn it. And after this act vineyards grown from the ashes.
Many other myths and legends connects the beginning of wine producing with the Thracians. According to Homer, the most popular wine was the aromatic and heavy wine from Maroneia, which is a city in Thrace. According to his stories Odysseus used this wine to put Cyclops sleeping before spearing Polyphemus’s eye.
Another Thracian legend reveals the story of Orestes and his dog Sirius: the dog miraculously gave birth to a piece of wood. Orestes buried it into the ground and the next spring it sprouted out the first vine. Orestes was the son of Deucalion - the Greek version of Noah. If you look into the Bible, it says that Noah planted the first vine after the flood. There are a lot of other stories and myths expressing the strong bond between the wine and human history. A bound which is as well an integral part of the Bulgarian lands’ history.
Thracians had a cult of wine and the brightest example of this is Dionysus. They had a well-developed viticulture. The Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians inherited and continue to develop this tradition when they came to the Balkans. After the Christianization Dionysus’ cult fade away. Bulgarian ritual Trifon Zarezan has a lot in common with the characteristics with the cult of Dionysus (for example pouring wine and electing a king of wine). During the Middle Ages the church took wine’s production under its protection.
The main gods of the Bessi are Dionysus worshiped as Zagreus in Thrace, and the goddess Bendis. Holidays (Dionysian mysteries) dedicated to Dionysus in Greece are called Dionysii in Rome - Bacchanalia in Thrace - Rozalii.
In ancient times the obscure figure of Zagreus was worshipped by followers of Orphism, whose late Orphic hymns invoke his name. Actually Zagreus was a Thracian god later known as Dionysus -the god of joy, wine and ecstasy in the Greek and Bacchus in the Roman mythology.
The Orphic ceremony in honor of Dionysus - Zagreus used to be performed only by devoted unmarried men. He was called a-bii, which means “not alive”, because they didn’t lead an ordinary life. The ceremony was held in closed societies and hidden places far from the eyes of the ordinary people - rocks and caves. They were accompanied by choral songs and mimic games. The culmination of the mysteries was the symbolic death of the king - priest, identified with Zagreus who was teared apart by the Titans and the symbolic birth of the mother goddess -the beginning of life. The “death” is carried out through a blood sacrifice of a bull, horse, goat or even sometimes people.
Wine and fire are essentials in the cult of Dionysus. The act of wine producing itself was recognized as a tale of the life and sorrow of the god in his Thracian prototype. Picking and smashing the vines represent the way that the Titans tear apart the Thracian Dionysus. This is why wine production was a mystery accompanied with sad songs.
Bendis is a Thracian goddess worshiped in Southwestern Thrace. She is usually represented as a hunter, wrapped with leather with boots and a fox fur hat. In her hands she holds a spear, a bow or even a net and she is often accompanied by a hunting dog. In the Greek mythology boots are a symbol of speed. In the ancient the myths and legends fox was considered to be the most cunning hunter or animal. The fox was believed to be able to avoid all traps and nets.
Vine and Haberlea rhodopensis (Orpheus’ flower) were religious cult for Bessi’s tribe. Wine was used to give divine euphoria and flame in the fiery-wine rituals. For fortune telling and mysteries they used to pour wine on the altar and make predictions upon the height of the blazed fire. These rituals in Dionysus’s temple were described by Svetonii Tranquil and Herodotus. For another auspice Bessi used to sacrifice an animal on the altar and burn it. If the flame are vast the year would be fruitful, if not – the fire did not start at all.