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Demir Baba Tekke

Demir Baba Tekke

Sveshtari, Isperih municipality, Razgrad Province, Bulgaria

RELIGIONS Islam, Orthodox, Paganism


Demir Baba Tekke is the resting place of the Alevi saint Demir Baba. The 16th-century mausoleum (türbe) is a heptagonal sandstone building with an anteroom. The dome and the central chamber are decorated with geometric motifs and inscriptions. In the central chamber there are also relief images of the double-bladed sword of Zulfiqar. The sarcophagus is headed to the west and entirely covered by gifts. It is only rarely uncovered by Alevi pilgrims. The cult complex (tekke) includes the mausoleum, a holy spring, and a residential building. It is surrounded by a low stone fence with beautiful reliefs - mosque images, rosettes, sun and moon signs, the star of David, among others. A small exhibition in the residential building recounts the story of the Alevis and Demir Baba himself. The site is situated 12 km from the town of Isperih, passing through the villages of Dragomazh and Malak Porovets. The road through the village of Sveshtari is of the same length. Demir Baba Tekke is one of the first officially declared national monuments of culture in Bulgaria due to its remarkable architecture, historical significance and preservation. Today the site is situated within the borders of the historical and archaeological reservation Sboryanovo. It is a unique complex consisting of settlements, sanctuaries and necropolises dating back to antiquity.
The area has been considered sacred since the time of the Getae people. A Thracian sanctuary existed there between the 4th Century BCE and the 2nd Century CE. In antiquity, the Chthonic deities of earth, water, and the underworld were worshiped at the shrine. The tomb of Demir Baba was built literally on top of its remains and some of the stones of the pagan sanctuary have been incorporated into the walls of the Alevi shrine. The ancient sacrificial altar is preserved up to the present. An Orthodox chapel dedicated to St. George is believed to have existed at the site in the middle ages. Hassan "Demir Baba" Pehlivan (the iron father) was a spiritual leader of the Alevis, a healer and a miracle worker fabled to possess incredible strength. The best-known legend about the saint tells of days of terrible drought when all the plants dried up, people and animals perished from thirst. The suffering pleaded Demir Baba to help them. He grabbed a rock in his hand and a fountain sprang out from there. In memory of this miracle, the spring is called Five Fingers (Başparmak). It never dries up. Believers drink from its waters to gain health, vigor and fertility. A ritual is still observed, requiring those entering the sacred grounds to take three sips from the spring and to wash their faces.
Demir Baba tekke is a sanctuary for people of all religions. The saint is revered by Alevis, Sunnis and Christians alike. People from all confessions leave tokens for health, pray to the saint and light candles in the tomb. Everybody hopes that the holy water from the spring will purify and heal them. A large number of visitors gather on May 5, the holiday celebrated as Hıdırellez by Muslims and as St. George's Day by Christians. Demir Baba left a testament calling upon Muslims and Christians to help each other and live as brothers. His legacy lives on, as the tekke has literally become a common ground for interfaith dialogue and a compelling example of the tolerance and peaceful coexistence of diverse religious communities in the region.
Demir Baba is described as an equestrian warrior and dragon slayer, which connects him to the image of Saint George. The holy site is also associated with the cult of Elijah. Local Christians venerate Demir Baba and visit his tomb three times during the year - on the holidays celebrating St. George, Elijah and St. Demetrios. Until 1927, the dome of the mausoleum was decorated with a Christian cross and a Muslim crescent. The intertwining of Alevi, Sunni and Christian traditions with ancient spiritual rites is evident in the existing ritual practices today. People who want to heal themselves or simply to draw strength, lie on the ancient altar. It is believed that everyone who spend the night of July 2 on the holy ground, will gain vitality and spiritual energy. Other rituals that are still practiced at the site include tests of piety, eviction of evil, divination and sacrificial offerings (qurban).
- Direct visit
- Virtual visit: Watch excerpts from the video and the photo galleries in the media resources section.
- Classroom activity (post-visit): After the visit, examine the shared values and syncretic spiritual practices of diverse religious communities as a basis for tolerance and interfaith dialogue. This could take the form of a discussion and a homework assignment. The topic could also be expanded to a research project encompassing two lessons and two homework assignments. For detailed instructions, refer to Research Project. (

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  • PDF

    Demir Baba - The iron father
    A collection of legends about the saint and articles about the archeological past of the ancient cult centre. This trilingual edition contains materials in Bulgarian, English and Turkish.



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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.