Kaliakra is a long and narrow cape on the north Bulgarian Black Sea coast, in the southeasternmost part of the Dobrudzha plateau. The cape juts out into the sea for 2 km, and it resembles a peninsula. The cape is a nature and archaeological reserve, and features as one of the 100 National Tourist Sites.
Here nests the Aristotelis cormorant; dolphins can be observed in the sea as well.
The coast is of the cliff type, the steep cliffs descend 70 m down to the sea.
The earliest settlements on Cape Kaliakra date back to the 4th century B.C., when the area was populated by the Thracian tribe of Tirisi which gave the cape its first name, Tirisis.
The ancient geographer Strabo said that there lay the capital of king Lysimachus, one of the successors of Alexander the Great and the ruler of Thrace. In the caves by the cape Lysimachus hid his innumerable riches plundered as early as during the marches against Persia. In the hellenistic age, a second fortress wall was built closer to the land, and in Roman times the Thracian fortress was expanded. In the years 341 – 342, round towers were built, and an outer and an inner town existed. In the second half of the 4th century, a third fortification was built still further inland from the cape tip; it had 10-meter walls with a thickness of 2.90 meters.
In the 5-6th centuries, according to Hierocles, the fortress acquired the importance of a fortified center against the flooding barbarian tribes, and it was one of the 15 towns of the Scythia province.
The earliest west European map in which the modern name of Kaliakra was mentioned is the map by the Italian Pietro Vesconte made in 1318.
The most thriving period of Kaliakra took place in the second half of the 14th century, when it was the capital of the Karvuna principality (or “despotstvo”) of the Bulgarian rulers Balik and Dobrotitsa. In the years 1393 – 1394, the Karvuna principality became one of the last Bulgarian areas which fell under Ottoman rule.
In 1402, the Wallachian voyvoda Mircea the Elder conquered the lands around Kaliakra, but later in the same year the area was again captured by Ottoman armies. In the year 1444 the knights' forces of the king Władysław III Jagiełło, king of Poland and Hungary, stopped at Cape Kaliakra during their march against the Ottoman empire.
On July 31, 1791, by the coast of Kaliakra, the largest sea battle in the Black Sea took place. The Russian squadron led by admiral Fyodor Ushakov defeated Husein Pasha's Turkish armada which was many times larger than the squadron. That victory marked the end of the Russian-Turkish War of 1787 – 1792.
The most popular legend is the one about the 40 Bulgarian maids who tied their plaits together and jumped into the sea, to avoid being caught by the Ottomans. One of the maids was called Kaliakra and she gave the cape its current name.
The other leged is the one about Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. The saint was escaping the Ottomans, and God lengthened the land under his feet, to enable him to flee: that was how the cape was formed.
Kaliakra is one of the first protected territories in Bulgaria. It was declared a nature reserve in 1941. The current protected area comprises the land and sea sections with a total area of 687.5 hectares. Kaliakra is the only reserve in Bulgaria which includes a protected sea water area. The nature reserve boasts unique nature, and it is the only place in Bulgaria where steppe grass areas are located (the Kalekayra steppe). In 1981 in the sea caves under the cape the monk seal could still be seen. Here visitors can observe dolphins, Aristotelis cormorants, rock skew, hoopoe, thick-billed lark, black-backed wheater, and other rare species, total 32 species of birds can be observed on the plateau area, and another 12 can be seen on the rock cornices.
To the north of Kaliakra are located two small wet areas: Bolata and Taukliman (meaning “Bird Cove”). Interesting water loving birds nest there: small bittern, small crested grebe, ducks. The area becomes flooded with wildlife in periods of migration, when more than 150 species of birds stop for rest and feeding. The surrounding rock massifs offer shelter to owls, long-legged buzzards, reptiles on the brink of extinction, included in Bulgaria's Red Book.
In August 2006, Cape Kaliakra was equipped with a system for artistic lighting comprising over one hundred color projectors, and the cape has become a beautiful night time marine attraction.