Piece of paradise amidst three mountains

The village of Banya is famed for its wonder-working hot springs

Photo: Adelina Lozanova Located in the heart of the village, the Roman Baths and the Turkish Baths have been restored and converted to museums.

Located just five kilometres away from the popular winter resort Bansko, the village of Banya (Bulgarian for Bath) is nestled in the valley formed by Mount Pirin, Mount Rila and the Rhodope Mountains. The region boasts 72 hot springs with water temperature of about 55°C (131°F), whose use for balneotherapy and treatment of various conditions has earned the village a reputation as the mineral-water paradise of Bulgaria.

The ruins of an ancient village indicate that the first settlers of the area were the Thracians. In the early 4th century BC, the Macedonian rulers of those lands built a sanctuary dedicated to the god of the sun Apollo, as revealed by a preserved inscription in ancient Greek. During the process of impounding the hot springs, coins bearing the images of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great were found.

After conquering those lands in the 2nd century BC, the Romans became masters of thermal water. In the 1st century, they built thermae known today as the Roman Baths. Sprinkling in a layer of rocks every three or four layers of flat baked bricks, the facility has the signature construction of the time. The thermae has a hypocaust heating system, with pipes built in the walls to carry hot water. The walls also have niches in them for visitors to leave their clothes. The pool's self-cleaning flooring is well-preserved. The rules dictated that the facility be used by men in the morning and women in the afternoon.

In addition to the Roman Baths, the village also has the Turkish Baths, known as Murtina Banya. The construction of thermae was so highly regarded in the past that sinners were advised to build one as a path to absolution. And so it was a donation by a wealthy Turkish family that got that particular thermae built in likely the 17th century. The legend has it that two brothers of the Murtazovs, an affluent Turkish family that lived in Banya, took part in the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1714-18. They sent their father a cannonball as a gift, which he angrily threw out on the manure heap.

After the war ended, the brothers returned home in one piece and asked their father if he had received their gift, upon which he carelessly pointed to the heap of manure where the cannonball was lying around. The brothers retrieved it, dismantled it and, to the amazement of their parent, revealed a pile of gold coins. Worried that his sons had looted the money during the war and not earned it through honest means, he suggested that they perform a good deed with the coins by building a new thermae in the village. In their honour, the facility was called Murtina Banya.

The village has three preserved churches, with “St George” dating back to the 19th century. Supposedly, its foundations were laid as early as 1811, but construction work was stopped for unknown reasons. The three-nave church was finally completed and consecrated in 1835. It was burnt down by the Ottomans in 1840, but then quickly restored. It was set on fire a second time during the Kresna-Razlog Uprising of 1878-79 and rebuilt to its modern look soon after. The village also keeps Bulgarian National Revival houses of the Razlog-Chepino type, with 11 of them designated as cultural monuments.

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