Kukeri of Simitli

During the first day of the year, in the town of Simitli in Bulgaria, the Kukeri custom takes place. A Dionysian custom from Thrace, where people are dressed in goat's skin, trying to chase away the Kallikantzaroi of Christmas.
Photography / Text: George Tatakis

First time that I decided to visit Bulgaria and explore the local customs there as well. I was trying to find the custom of Babuger, or Kukeri as better known in Bulgaria. 

My base was Sidirokastro, which is near Serres in Greece and even nearer to the borders with Bulgaria and the village of Kulata. That would be my entry point. I had found online that in the small town of Kresna, the custom of Babuger takes place, but had only little information altogether. However that would be a good place to start. After all, even if I was unlucky, I would have done a nice roadtrip to places I've never been before. Indeed the border control was very easy, as many Greeks visit Bulgaria and the motorway to Sofia is almost complete, except a few places. So the trip was very easy. I had to buy a special ticket that allows you to use all roads in the country which cost me 8 euros for a week and you can get it in all gas stations near the borders. Apart from that, the only difference compared to Greece, is that you have to use your headlights even during the day at all times. 

I arrived in Kresna which was very quiet, probably because it as too early in the morning and too cold. I found a hotel, so I thought I could go in, have a coffee and inquire about the custom. Indeed, a young man was working there and told me that the custom would take place during nightfall. I had no plans of spending the night there so I was a bit dissapointed. However he then told me that in the town of Simitli, which was a 30 minute drive to the North, the custom was taking place as we spoke. 

That was great news, I went back to the car and drove there. Luckily, as I was driving around the streets of Simitli, I stumbled upon the custom taking place. I was amazed by the impressive costume that they were using. 

Many people were dressed in goat's skin, wearing a very long mask. The skin had really long hair which was waving with every move they made. Probably the best part for me took place only a few minutes after I arrived. The Kukeri walked to a place with only a few homes and big alleys and hills. The kind of stuff I love in photographs.

In every house they visited, the owner would make up a table with treats for everyone and the Kukeri would dance around. They would also pretend to fight with the owner and after that, the owner would give them money. After taking the money the Kukeri would jump up and down to show their appreciation. The large pastoral bells around their waist would sound loudly.

The surrounding looked really nice and I was shooting pictures everywhere, as the place was something new to me. Some houses looked surreal to me, which is an element that I love in photographs.

The Kukeri were accompanied by other characters, such as an old couple, a young couple, dancers, musicians and Bambo (grandmother). I have counted three different groups in this town only. 

The Kukeri passed through many houses, looking scary and fierce. Their size was very disproportionate to anything that was near them. People and cars looked minuscule when compared to the Kukeri.

It was a really great day and I have discovered a new domain that I would really like to work with. The Balkans always fascinated me. I have even decided that I would be working in color for this new venture, that will help me experiment and take my images further for bad or worse. 

After the event, I took the car and visited Sofia where I spent the night.

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Kukeri of Simitli

ulitsa Hristo Smirnenski Simitli
Blagoevgrad, Yugozapaden, Bulgaria