The temple (‘teke’ in Turkish) “Ak Yazl Baba – St. Atanasii” in the village of Obrochishte – part of the cultural heritage of the Municipality of Balchik, is a remarkable architectural monument with a strong religious meaning, revered by both Christians and Muslims. Also called “The Monastery”, the Teke is a magical place with strong energy. There is speculation that it was built on an older pagan shrine. The most energetic place in Dobrudja, set among greenery, it evokes silence and reverence.
The legends of the Teke are many and varied. Muslims believe that in the 16th century, Ak Yazlı Baba, the spiritual successor of Ottoman Baba (leader of a Muslim order), settled in this place, fleeing away from the centre of the Ottoman Empire as he was persecuted. After his death, his followers built a Teke.
According to the Christians, a young shepherd Athanas lived in this place, who fell in love with a Turkish maiden. When the maiden’s relatives found out, they chased the young people away to punish them, and the lovers killed themselves to avoid falling into the hands of their persecutors. Christians also believe that there was once a monastery here converted by the Muslims into a dervish monastery, and that St. Athanasius was killed by the Turks for his faith. Whatever the truth the fact is that the place is revered by Muslims and Christians.
The Teke was built over several decades and coincided with the reign of Sultan Suleiman I (1520 – 1566). It presents us a unique Ottoman cult architecture of the 16th century. Seven is the number of God because it is associated with creation and is sacred according to all religious beliefs. Seven is also the symbol of the Teke. All the buildings, even the chimney of the camp, are in the shape of a perfect heptagon. It consists of two buildings identical in plan, a turbe (mausoleum) and an imaret (granary). The turbe is fully preserved, 12 metres high, making it the highest sanctuary on the Balkan Peninsula. It is built of hewn rectangular blocks that are soldered with lead. The ceiling is domed, painted with stylized vegetal and geometric ornaments. From it descend 5 thin chains on which hung candlesticks. Oriented east-west, 4.45 m long and 2.10 m wide, in the middle of the Teke is the tomb of the Muslim saint Ak Yazla Baba surrounded by offerings of the pilgrims, with an altar and a place for lighting candles.
With an entrance from the south, the imaret is considerably larger. In the past, its main room was topped with an elaborate seven-sided wooden structure clad in lead sheeting, which was destroyed during the Russian-Turkish wars. There was a fountain in the middle of the place and an open hearth at its northern end, which ended in a tall seven-walled stone chimney resembling a minaret. Above the hearth, a cauldron was suspended from a chain, in which cooking took place.
The believers who visit the mystical place are of different religions, but they perform the same rituals at Teke – they pray at the saint’s grave, wash with water, tie rags on the branches of the surrounding trees for health, light candles, leave rich votive offerings. All these rites are for one purpose – to pray for protection. It is believed that the miracle of the stone tomb is in the opening at its western end. Pilgrims put their hand in it because it is believed that this is how they receive the saint’s energy.
From the second half of the 19th century, the Teke became a double-order sanctuary. Worshippers of both religions organise a common traditional festival on 1 and 2 May, providing an opportunity for professionals and amateur artists to perform.
Thousands of years of history, amazing architecture, mysticism and tranquility, hope for healing, this is a place where there are no religious boundaries. Decades ago, the Bulgarian prophetess Vanga compared it to the Cross Forest, and today the Teke in the village of Obrochishte is one of the most visited tourist sites in our Northern Black Sea coast.