The Devil's Throat Cave, in southern Bulgaria, is, according to legend, the route used by Orpheus - the legendary Thracian musician and poet - to reach the Hades Underworld, where he sought to retrieve his beloved Eurydice. Adding to the allure of the cave is the fact that nothing carried into it by the waters of the Trigrad River ever emerges from the other side. With the highest underground waterfall in the Balkan Peninsula, the cave is a popular tourist destination.
During the two years I lived in Sofia, I never managed to visit the Devil's Throat Cave. Yet, I feel that I have ventured into the cave, and even explored its extensive underground streams, and that is because I have read two magical novels written by the popular Bulgarian author Ludmila Filipova.
In The Parchment Maze (originally published in 2009, published in English in 2013), Bulgarian archaeologist Vera Kandikova stumbles across symbols tied to an ancient Balkan civilization that disappeared 5,000 years ago. Following traces of a cryptic manuscript and escaping a series of murders, thefts of valuable artifacts and a kidnapping, Vera encounters pale-skinned Ariman, a handsome assassin with strange, colorful eyes.
Dante's Antichthon (originally published in 2010, published in English by Egmont Bulgaria in 2014), starts at the entrance of another cave, where an almost lifeless body of a woman has been washed to the surface by the waters of an underground river. This book can be read as a sequel to the earlier novel, as once again we follow Vera and Ariman as they attempt to decipher ancient codes and angelic symbols, but the book stands completely on its own.
According to the story, not only did Orpheus descend through the cave into the Underworld, but so did Dante Alighieri, the major Italian poet of the late Middle Ages. Traces of Dante's journey can be found encoded in his poetry. The "antichthon" in the book's title refers to a Counter-Earth, located deep underground - a magical land of 'shades', strange creatures, and mystical spheres, all suggested by the works of Dante.
What is real and what is imagined? Not every reader will enjoy the writing style of these novels due to the huge amount of facts presented with the narrative, and the occasional inclusion of contrived story lines and unnatural dialogue. All readers, however, will be amazed at the books' originality and concepts, which bring to light unanswered questions as to the origins of mankind. It is the magic of these unexplored, undiscovered worlds that keep the reader glued to the page.
As a reader, I don't know much about Dante, and I am not a regular reader of fantasy, but these two books have served to further my interest in Bulgaria's ancient past, and of the mysteries and wonders of the civilizations that once ruled the Balkans.
Ludmila Filipova is the author of seven bestselling novels published in Bulgaria, of which three are currently being developed into feature films. In 2012, National Geographic produced a documentary movie about the Orpheus Amulet, as described in the novel The Parchment Maze. The movie covered not only facts and places related to the Amulet, but also topics as Orpheus, the Thracians, and other old civilizations that lived in ancient Bulgaria.
The National Geographic film also took viewers into the Devil's Throat Cave, where myths and legends of magical underground worlds are made.