Cultural Corridors of South East Europe

Heritage by Type / Intangible Heritage

Bistritsa Babi - Archaic Polyphony, Dances and Ritual Practices from the Shoplouk Region

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Bistritsa Babi - Archaic Polyphony, Dances and Ritual Practices from the Shoplouk Region

About the site

Corridor: Diagonal Road, Western Trans-Balkan Road, Sofia-Ohrid Road
Country: Bulgaria, Bistritsa, Sofia
Type: Intangible Heritage
Theme: Intangible Heritage
World Heritage: Intangible Heritage Masterpieces
Intangible HeritageIntangible HeritageIntangible Heritage Masterpieces

The candidature (The Bistritsa Babi - Archaic Polyphony, Dances and Ritual Practices from the Shoplouk Region) is dedicated to the archaic polyphony, dances and ritual practices that can be found in the Shoplouk region of Bulgaria, which are performed by a group of elderly women, the Bistritsa Babi. It encompasses diaphony, or what is known as shoppe polyphony, ancient forms of the horo chain dance and the ritual practice of lazarovane, an initiation ceremony for young women.


The Bistritsa babi (elderly women from Bistritsa) are famous all over the world – they are included in the List of masterpieces of the world intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO. The inhabitants of the small village of Bistritsa, in the foot of the Vitosha mountain, manage to preserve the folklore untouched throughout the centuries. Up to present times, their singing, dances and specific ritual practices of the women are handled from generation to generation.
The group of the Bistritsa babi was founded more than half a century ago and consist today of 9 women – third generation singers. They are singing in two groups – the one group is singing, while the other accompanying (singing back). They are singing only old songs – the same way they were sung years ago. Their repertoire consists of over 300 songs. Most of them are difficult for performing, with various ornaments, which they call “tresene”. You can’t learn songs from sheet music, as almost nothing is recorded correctly and can’t be read respectively. You should first assimilate the style itself, which takes years.
The singing of the Bistrishki babi is unique, as it is ancient – preserved from the Pre-Christian Age. Specialists determine it as unique polyphony at three voices. Polyphony is an archaic type of singing with a typical melody kept throughout the ages. The three parties are characteristic only for Bistritsa and can’t be heard anywhere else in Shoplouka region. The upper voice is called “okane” and is performed by one woman from the each group. The other two women “buchat pravo” (keep the main tone as second voice), while the remaining two women “bucht krivo” which is the third voice.
The songs of the Bistritsa babi accompany ritual feasts. There are songs for each rite, for each labour activity, as well as just for entertaining.

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