Pobiti Kamani: Bulgaria’s Stone Forest

Pobiti Kamani is a unique geological phenomenon which has perhaps no parallel to be found anywhere in the world today. Located around 18km inland from Varna, Bulgaria, the site can be found just off the road to the capital of Sofia, in an area known as Pashovi. The name literally translates as ‘the hammered stones’, although it is usually transliterated as ‘the fossil forest’ or ‘stone forest’.

Pobiti Kamani consists of numerous clusters of stone columns, most of which reach heights between five and seven metres… with a thickness ranging from one third of a metre to three metres across.

The striking stone pillars cover a total area of fifty square kilometres, with a number of smaller groupings spreading out from the centre. Those stones found in the heart of the ‘forest’ are the most prominent, and these ancient pillars spread a total distance of nearly a kilometre.

The columns are almost all hollow cylinders, filled with sand and appearing as though hammered loosely into the earth; hence the name ‘the hammered stones’. The site was designated as a natural landmark in 1937, and the stones have been found to contain a number of rare fossils – including the petrified remains of nummulite, mussels and giant snails.

These naturally-formed pillars have attracted the attention of scientists and geologists from around the world, who have each offered their own hypothesis as to the origin of the unique formations.

The first in-depth study of the Fossil Forest was commissioned in 1828 by the Russian General Dibich, who became fascinated with these stones and their potential origins. The site was later visited in 1854 by the English geologist William Hamilton, who hypothesised that the stones were “the work of the sea”, and had been formed by chance over many millennia. These ideas were give further support by a geological survey carried out in 1855.

Perhaps the most cogent explanation to date came from the Bulgarian geologists Peter and Stefan Bonchev Gochev. The brothers believed that the columns date back to the Cenozoic Era, fifty million years ago, when much of Eastern Europe was still at the bottom of the ocean. As sediment and sludge settled to the bottom of the seabed, the thick layer of sand was compressed into limestone. A resultant release of gases forced its way up through holes in the strata, causing hollow flues to form and solidify. Many millions of years later the area has become a dry, arid landscape, and the surrounding sand was slowly eroded away to leave only these stone chimneys, now appearing as tall pillars stuck in the earth.

This idea of a paleo-hydrocarbon seep system seems the most likely explanation, and the process is currently under study by a number of academic institutions around the world; including Varna’s own Institute of Oceanology.

It is believed by many locally that the ‘forest’ is a powerful source of energy… no matter what your take on such beliefs, it is doubtless a breathtaking place to visit, and imbued with a certain otherworldly atmosphere. An easy assumption to make upon arrival is that these are the remnants of an ancient temple; the pillars are often regularly spaced, and the central holes down the middle of each give the suggestion that they were once used to hold timbers or wooden beams in place.

Worthy of note are the large number of simulacra that can be observed around the area of Pobiti Kamani; accidental formations which happen to resemble human faces. These appear on a variety of rock surfaces, and many have been accredited with names and personalities by the locals; pictured here is a pillar known as ‘the soldier’, which casts a watchful eye over the site from its position near the road entrance.

The area around Pobiti Kamani is also blessed with a vast range of flora and fauna – this barren scrubland is in fact home to twenty-one species of birds, seven mammals and in excess of two-hundred-and-forty varieties of plant, many of which are notably rare.