Shiroka Laka

Surrounded by spruce forests, Shiroka Laka is a village picturesquely situated in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains. The romantic setting with cobbled streets and arched bridges, together with the peaceful, quiet environment and clean mountain air make it a popular tourist destination. Shiroka Laka preserved the charm of traditional Bulgarian architecture, has been declared an architectural and folklore reserve and is among the Hundred National Tourist Sites of the Bulgarian Tourist Union.

A cobbled street in Shiroka Laka
A cobbled street in Shiroka Laka. “File:Широка лъка 02.jpg” by Paulinabgbg is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Shiroka Laka is famous for its unique Revival houses. The most renowned of them – Zgurovska, Uchikovska, Kalaydzhiyska, Grigorovska and Bogdanova – all stand out with their typical style: they are two-storey, decorated with bay windows and have internal wooden staircases. As an interesting feature, these houses have built-in cupboards and small cellars with hiding places, where people kept their valuables and weapons during the Ottoman rule. Each house has a yard with a traditional drinking fountain made of stone.

Built in 1834, The Church of the Holy Mother of God is very impressive. Some researchers claim that its authentic iconostasis was painted by the students of Dimitar and Zahari Zograf, the famous Bulgarian painters of the National Revival period, while others believe that the artists painted the interior themselves. According to the legend, the church was built in 38 days.

The name of the village comes from the old Bulgarian word meaning curvature, referring to the Shirokolashka River. It wanders between the houses that are located on the slopes of the riverside.

Panoramic view of Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria
Panoramic view of Shiroka Laka. “Shiroka Laka 7” by pansy_burke is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

On every first Sunday of March, Shiroka Laka hosts the traditional mummer’s festival called Pesponedelnik when the village is crowded with people and tourists from all over the world. The fun and colorful carnival symbolizes the coming of spring. The mummers (or kukeri, as they are called in Bulgarian) are masked men who carry red, wooden swords and dance around the village to scare away the evil spirits. Their costumes are decorated with garlic, beans and peppers. To make themselves as noisy as possible, mummers wear a belt with characteristic Rhodope bells attached to it.

19th-century freedom fighter Captain Petko Voivoda had his headquarters in Shiroka Laka after the Bulgarian Liberation. His house has been turned into a rich museum dedicated to Bulgarian traditions. There is another museum in the village as well, the small but nice Ethnographic Museum, displaying how the houses of Shiroka Laka looked like in the 19th century.

As mentioned before, Shiroka Laka is a folklore reserve too. Apart from its unique architecture, the village is noted as the folk song capital of the Rhodope Mountains. Many famous singers and bagpipers of the Rhodope folklore were born here. No wonder that the National School of Folk Arts is located in Shiroka Laka. In the years of the Revival, the village was a real spiritual center of the Bulgarian language. Shiroka Laka was one of the first settlements in the Rhodopes to have a church and a school.

Houses in Shiroka Laka
Houses in Shiroka Laka

The village is suitable for longer vacations too as there are dozens of hiking trails leading to neighboring villages. One of these, Gela, is located just a few kilometers south of Shiroka Laka at the foot of Turlata peak. It hosts the most popular event in the area – the annual bagpipe competition, held on every first Saturday of August since almost 100 years ago. Visitors can listen to the kaba gaida, a local type of bagpipe, which can only be found in the Rhodopes. It has a characteristic bass tone and soft deep sound. The bagpipe competition in Gela has gained international popularity over the years, gathering hundreds of bagpipers including many foreign participants. The next day, on Sunday, the big Ilinden (Saint Elijah’s Day) fair is held on the meadows near the village, acting as a meeting place for Bulgarians from all over the world.

About 2 km west of the village, above the road to Devin, there is a rock formation called Momata (The Maiden). It’s accessible on a steep, stony path. From a distance, the rock resembles a girl with a distaff (a tool used in spinning) in her hand. The legend says that a beautiful girl named Kanya prayed to turn into stone to save her honor from the chasing Turks. Momata is a protected natural landmark.

Location

Shiroka Laka (BG: Широка лъка) is located in the central Rhodope Mountains at an altitude of 1060 m by road 866, 23 km from Smolyan and 21 km from Devin. Pamporovo, the most popular ski resort in the Rhodopes is situated only 14 km to the east of Shiroka Laka while Devil’s Bridge is 95 km away.