is a ritual originally performed in several Bulgarian
The Bulgarians are a South Slavic nation and ethnic group native to Bulgaria and neighbouring regions. Emigration has resulted in immigrant communities in a number of other countries.-History and ethnogenesis:...
- and Greek
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....
-speaking villages in the Strandzha Mountains close to the Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...
coast in the very southeast of Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...
. It involves a barefooted dance
Firewalking is the act of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers or stones.Firewalking has been practiced by many people and cultures in all parts of the world, with the earliest known reference dating back to Iron Age India – c. 1200 BC...
on smouldering embers (жарава, zharava
) performed by nestinari
(нестинари). It is usually performed on the square of the village in front of the whole population on the day of Sts. Constantine and Helen or the day of the village's patron saint. The ritual is a unique mixture of Eastern Orthodox beliefs and older pagan traditions from the Strandzha Mountains.
Traditionally, the right to perform the ritual would be hereditary and the head nestinar
may be succeeded only by his or her son or daughter, and only when he or she is too old or ill to continue performing it. The head nestinars house is sacred, because it houses the
stolnina (столнина) – a small chapel where icons of several saints are arranged, as well as a sacred drum used specifically for the ritual and believed to cure the drummer if he is ill.
On the day of the ritual the villagers would go to the
stolnina led by the head
nestinar and the priest, where they would watch him thurify the icons and the other
nestinari, symbolically transferring them the spiritual power and inspiration. The people would then head to a holy spring carrying the name of the saint, where they would eat an offering of mutton.
After sunset, the crowd would build up a large fire and would dance a horo
Bulgarian folk dances are intimately related to the music of Bulgaria. This distinctive feature of Balkan folk music is the asymmetrical meter, built up around various combinations of 'quick' and 'slow' beats...
(a traditional round dance) until the fire dies and only embers remain. The
Nestinaris barefoot dance on embers that follows as the climax of the night is accompanied by the beat of the sacred drum and the sound of a bagpipe. It is popularly thought that some of the dancers reach a religious state of trance while dancing, explaining why their feet don't burn and they allegedly don't feel pain.
In the 20th and 21st century the ritual became largely commercialized and is now performed for the foreign tourists all over the seaside resorts of the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast
The Bulgarian Black Sea Coast covers the entire eastern bound of Bulgaria stretching from the Romanian Black Sea resorts in the north to European Turkey in the south, along 378 km of coastline. White and golden sandy beaches occupy approximately 130 km of the 378 km long coast...
by people who have little to do with the original tradition. A few Bulgarians still perform the ritual in its more authentic form in the villages of Strandzha.
The ritual is also preserved among the population of several villages in northern Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....
, which once lived together with the Bulgarians in the interior of the Strandzha Mountains, but moved to Greece after the Balkan Wars
The Balkan Wars were two conflicts that took place in the Balkans in south-eastern Europe in 1912 and 1913.By the early 20th century, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, the countries of the Balkan League, had achieved their independence from the Ottoman Empire, but large parts of their ethnic...
Nestinari Nunataks are a pair of rocky peaks of elevation 470 m and 520 m in middle Huron Glacier, Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica...
on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands
The South Shetland Islands are a group of Antarctic islands, lying about north of the Antarctic Peninsula, with a total area of . By the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the Islands' sovereignty is neither recognized nor disputed by the signatories and they are free for use by any signatory for...
is named after the Bulgarian folkloric ritual of Nestinari.