The Devil’s Bridge
“THE DEVIL’S BRIDGE” is part of the “Windows, Doors and Bridges” cycle of paintings.
The bridge is an old mediaeval structure in Bulgaria which connected the roads passing through Thrace in the direction of the Aegean Sea. It was built by the Bulgarian builder Dimitar between 1515 and 1518 under the order of Sultan Selim I. It is located near the town of Ardino and crosses over the Arda river in the Rhodope mountains in southeastern Bulgaria.
I chose to depict this famous bridge because of an interesting story associated with its creator. In the 15th century, the Arda river was deep, rough and wild, running at high speed and demolishing everything on its path. All attempts to build bridges over it failed. The older people in the region believed this area had been cursed.
A master builder named Dimitar decided to try to build a bridge that would withstand the watery elements. The Devil appeared in this moment and offered to reveal to him the secret to building such a lasting construction. However, some requirements had to be met: Dimitar was obliged to finish the bridge in just 40 days, the Devil’s image had to be ingrained in the construction of the bridge so that it would be both visible and invisible, touchable and non-existing, and finally – Dimitar had to capture the shadow of his wife in the construction (a common theme in numerous Bulgarian legends) meaning that his wife would lose her life. If the builder failed to execute any of the requirements, the Devil would also take his soul. Dimitar took on the task and managed to complete the bridge in the specified period. The Devil’s image is indeed visible around noon on clear and sunny days provided one tilts his/her head to the right and looks at the construction from that angle. One can see the Devil’s horns, eyes and face. Finally, Dimitar’s wife’s image adorns one of the arches of the bridge where it is believed her soul is locked. As a result, 500 years have passed, the bridge is still standing robust and not a single rock has chipped away from its frame.
Some contemporary scholars believe that the bridge is much older and was built by the Romans – hence the local population in the mountains call it “the Roman bridge”. If that is correct, it means that it was built approximately 1700 years ago.
I was drawn to this story not only because it was a challenge to capture the image of the Devil in the painting through the technique I am using (acrylics), but mostly because it describes well the pursuit of excellence and perseverance necessary to achieve something difficult. Taking aside the legend, this bridge which is a symbol of connectedness between two fertile and geographically important regions in this part of the world, proves that notwithstanding the controversies of history, one man’s vision of how this connectedness should look like, has remained untouched by time until the present day. Despite the numerous historical divides between the populations in these regions, people in them have remained connected to this day. It is the idea that provides a feeling for purpose, energy and direction and inspires action.