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historical sites in our region
Hystorical Sites in Yustina Region – The Besii Heritage

Ustina is a small village located 26 km away from Plovdiv in the outskirds of Yakata, Rhodopes. It’s close to a few other essential for the Bulgarian history places like Perushtitza, Krichim, Bratzigovo and Peshtera.

Unfortunately above the ground there are not many things spared by the centuries that can reveal something more about the culture of the proud Thracian tribe Satrae and the clan of their priests - Bessi. Herodotus described them as warlike tribe with an independent spirit who refused to participate in the march of King Xerxes against Hellas and instead undertook the difficult task to guard the Dionysus’ sanctuary.

Where was Besapara? The great Bulgarian writer Petko Slavejkov used to loved to search of antiquities and traces of our past. In 1882 he wrote a story but publish only its beginning - "Something for Vissapara". In it he rejects the Tsoukala’s idea that the Thracian town of Besapara was located West from Pazardzhik, as well as St. Zachariev’s guess thatit was near Batkun village. Acording to Petko Slavejkov Besapara was near Pastusha village (next to Ustina and Perushtitza). He planed to publish most of his arguments in additional article but unfortunately he couldn’t because all of his records were burned in a fire.

It is not clear whether his conjectures had a reason.But it is known that the name Besapara” was marked on a map belonging to Ortelius dating back to the 16th century among other cities like Serdica, Philippopolis, Adrianople etc. This suggests that Basapara was not just a small village. The map itself was made by Ortelius who followed the directions of old Roman guides. On it Besapara is mentioned together with other stops withThracian nameslike Lissas, Bagaraca, Cillae, Opizum and Burdipta.

At every step around nowadays Ustina one can feel the spirit of its ancient ancestors. It is located near the old Roman road which used to connect Philippopolis and the Aegean, its remains can still be seen in a few places. It is the third transcontinental road completed during the reign of Trajan (98-117). Its beginning was in Pannonia (Hungary) and it was crossing Dacia (southwestern Romania) and the Dunab river at Ulpia Eskus (northwest of Gigen village, Pleven). Then it continued along the village of Ribenand Plene heading to the Hemus, Thrace and Philippopolis. The last part of it used to cross the Rhodope Mountains aiming at the Aegean Sea and conecting with the famous Via Egnatia.

There are a few big colums and several tombs found in Ustina. All of them inheritance of the glorious past of the Bessi. The remains of the foundations of anciant buldings were also discovered together with many coins, jars, etc. that are now kept in the Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv.

image002.jpgFortress Hisarlaka. Near the village are the remains of Ustina’s main stronghold - Hisarlaka. The fortress served as a shelter in a naturally fortified mountain area and inaccessible peaks. The walls are of rough stones without mortar. The fortress used to guard all strategic roads and passes. Thracian word for fortress is a "kula" (tower) or "bria" which means residence, protected by guard and garrison.
Byzantine fortress Justina was one of the most important fortressesguaranteing the security of the Northern slopes of the Rhodopes. It is frequently mentioned in the chronicles of the Byzantine historians. In earlier time there was a stronghold of the Bessi on its place. Later on Emperor Justinian built a new and more powerful fortress to control the area. Justina is right next to the ancient city of Dragovets and for sure it was essential for its security. The fortress incorporates one of the largest and most beautiful rock towers in the Rhodopes. The top of the tower can be climbed only from the courtyard of the fortress. Part of the walls at the bottom of the fortress are still preserved with mortar. 

The Red Church. It is one of the greatest architectural landmarks from the era of Ecumenical Councils of Reconciliation in 343 AD. The Red church stands near the town of Perushtitsa about 15 kilometres southwest of the city of Plovdiv.Fortunately the ruins of the temple are considerable heigh, which allows relatively precise recovery of its original look. The highest part of the church was the central domedhall. The symmetry of the building is disrupted by a baptistery with a piscina attached to the northern wall of the narthex and a chapel located under the semi-dome of the church's south side. The piscina in the baptistery was faced with pink marble.

The exact place of the Red Church is not random - it was build over an old pagan shrine in the outskirds of Philippopolis (large and rich city at this period) and close to the major roads from Thrace to the Aegean Sea and Constantinople.

It is believed that at the beginning the place was connected to the popular Christian cult to the martyrs – and the Red church was used to keep the relics of a noble martyr who died for the establishment of Christianity. Later on the original building was converted into a church and its functions as martiralnite was switched to the great chapel,south of the big hall. By everything so farit seems that the Red church used to be spectacular by its size and rich decorated and beautiful marble floors. It wasa rarely beautiful temple which nowadays can be determind as one of the masterpieces of early Christian architecture in Europe. But what impresses experts,of ancient Byzantine art and architecture, the most is the beauty of the frescoes. With these the Red Church was born with the best examples of an early Christian art, preserved in the Basilica of Ravenna (VI-VII century), the Sinai monastery (VI-VII century), "St. Dimitar "in Thessaloniki (VI-VIII century) and the unique" Hagia Sophia "in Istanbul (VI century).


The Red Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in Bulgaria. On its walls the oldest frescoes in Bulgaria are preserved. On its arches one can see unique figures, portraits, depicting saints and Greek inscriptions. Around the Red Church there was an ancient village inhabited from 6-7 thousand years ago till the Middle Ages. Ceramic pieces of vessels, chrome coins and flint tools can still be found in this area.

Chapel "St. George" is located at about 420 meters altitude above the sea level and is within 30 minutes walk from Ustina. Peak Kulata (the Towe) stand 20 minutes South of the chapel and is quite impresses with its solid stance. Here every visitor can enjoy the beautiful view – in the North are the Thracian fields and in the South is Varhovrah, which is a part of the Chernatitsa Ridge. From the Kulata peakone can see Kaleto area where is located a cave with the same name. Legends say that in the past, childless women who have succeded to get through its opening were than blessed with a child.


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