When I was little, my favorite place was the Black Sea in Varna, Bulgaria.
I re-imagine it whenever I need to stay calm and peaceful. I am feeling the sand between my toes;
Smelling the saltwater; Staring at the waves crashing against the shore. I am experiencing the vast and furious sea once again.
Every time I go there, I always take one sea snail with me. I put its shell right next to my ear and listen to the sound of the sea.
How wrong I was to think it was the sound of the sea. And how much more I did not know about the Black Sea, about my favorite place to go.
A mass of stories and myths, told by scientists, people from different nations, sailors, and fishermen, exist about the Black Sea. Let's dig in a little in the depths of the Black Sea's history and uncover the myths circulating around it together.
In the beginning, the Black Sea was considered to be part of an enormous ocean and later - of an internal sea, covering most of Eastern Europe. 7,000 years ago it was a freshwater lake but a rise of water in the Mediterranean Sea caused the entry of salt water into the lake.
One myth claims that this flood represents the ark of Noah from the Bible. The stories tell that Noah's Ark came to rest on the slopes of Mount Ararat in Turkey once the flood ended. Some claim that this myth explains why the Black Sea water has the toxic hydrogen sulfide in its deepest layers - it filled the water mass of the sea right after the flood.
Other myths reveal the Black Sea's name origins. Although the origins are still not clear, the name of the sea is said to be given by the Turkish people in medieval times.
The sailors, on the other hand, claim that the name is chosen by them because in the winter, when sailing in the stormy sea, the waters appear to be black.
The Greeks believe in the story that the sea, back then considered part of an Ocean, was the entrance to the kingdom of the dead. This is why they called the Black Sea 'Inhospitable Sea'. Travelers' stories shared legends about the Inhospitable Sea, which mercilessly smashed and drowned ships.
Later on, when the colonization period started, the sea would be called the 'Hospitable Sea' because cruises by the ships became much safer.
Its present name - the Black Sea - has not been changed since the Middle Ages and many cruise ships have been welcomed to the harbors. One of the oldest ports in Bulgaria is Varna's seaport, existing since Antiquity, during the Roman Empire times.
My father has grown up around Varna's seaport as a fisherman in my grandpa's boat. He has told me great stories about what it is like being in the open sea.
From him, I know that the salinity of the water in the Black Sea is very low and this is the reason why when the strong winds come from Russia, waves several meters high are formed very fast. The big wave is not the dangerous one, but the wave that forms a crest and breaks into other waves is the trappy one. This type of wave and the roughness of the sea have caused many boats to sink and have drown many sailors.
A scary fact is that the dead bodies are believed to stay in the waters of the Black Sea. There are many decomposable materials, ships, and humans' remains that can still be found hundreds of years after their entry into the waters of the Black Sea. This is due to the anoxic nature of the lower water layers that make the process of decomposition incredibly slow and causes the remains of the dead to persist in the sea's water.
Marine life cannot survive in the anoxic zone of the Black Sea. According to scientists, it is only the oxygen-rich surface waters of the Black Sea that are supporting marine life. Many species inhabit the Black Sea, such as dolphins, Black Sea sharks, mussels, scads, catfish, shads, sprats, many types of seaweed, plankton as well as veined rapa whelks.
The rapa whelk, a predatory sea snail, is known as an invader in the Black Sea. It is one of the Japanese predators and it destroys the Black Sea mussel, which is the filter of the seawater. One of the myths about the rapa whelk is the one that many kids, including me, have once thought to be true. The myth says that when you put the rapa whelk next to your ear you could hear the sound of the sea. What you really hear is the sound of the noise produced from the environment, which is so quiet that you need a resonator like the rapa whelk to hear it.
In ancient times, their shells were used for bartering goods just like money, which is why many people still consider them as a symbol of wealth. The common tradition is to put the shell in your bag so that you always stay rich. Even without knowing this when I was still a child, I also used to grab a shell from the beach and put it in my pocket to take it home with me.
Now I am a grown-up child and I still love smelling the salty sea waters with such a rich history and hearing the sound of the waves through the sea snail's shell, even though it is just a myth. What I have always known and is certainly not a myth is that the Black Sea is home to many people.
At times I feel like it is a privilege to live by the sea because people raised here are different. The sea for us is a point to which we always return to sooner or later in our lives. Because even if you turn your back to it, the sea will never leave you. It will await for you to come back. And it will give you exactly what you need. For some, this may be silence;
For others, like me - stories.
It is also there for anybody who needs its peacefulness and acceptance even when we are at our worst. I feel much better just by staring into the beautiful balmy waves and gazing at the golden sand.
Have you felt like that too?
-Desislava Arnaudova - a Thalassophile (n.) a lover of the sea
Story by Desislava Arnaudova, Photography by Desislava Arnaudova and Family
Credits given to:
MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE BLACK SEA REGION - Yulia A. Petrova, Yulia S. Shevkun
Book “Noah’s Flood” - the American geologists, Bill Ryanand Walter Pitman
Black Sea Stories and Facts - fisherman Georgi Arnaudov
. . .
"The Black Sea - a Historic Place, a Myth or a Returning Point?" article is part of the "Dare to Share" JMC competition, organized by AUBG Daily. The piece was written by the AUBG student, Desislava Arnaudova, who managed to secure the third place in the photo stories category. The aim of the competition is to expose the brilliant works of talented AUBG students and expand the realm of the university newspaper, AUBG Daily.
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