So you may or may not have noticed that I have been quiet for a while. This is because I went on holiday to Bulgaria, my home country, for two and a half weeks to visit my family and sightsee.
Before we left South Africa, my mother asked me what I wanted to see in Bulgaria, apart from our home town of course. So I opened Google and searched for Bulgarian archaeology 😀 . This search resulted in quite a large number of interesting results and images. I looked through and made a map with all the places I wanted to see. The great thing is, we managed to see all of them, and more.
So let me actually start speaking about what we saw. Bulgaria is an amazing country filled with archaeology. The archaeology ranges from Thracian treasures to Greek ruins and Roman amphitheatres. You may be interested in some of the history, which you can find a summary of here and here, to understand better what these civilizations were doing in the area.
We started our holiday in Sofia. Of course, the first day we saw family and did some sightseeing with my mother (who the family calls the encyclopaedia) as the tour guide. During this tour we noticed how beautiful the architecture is, as usual in Europe and we had our first archaeology encounter.
A new Metro line (check link for more information under the title “Archaeology”) was being built a few months before we came over to visit. During the digs and planning to build this line, the workers came across some Roman and Thracian ruins. It was decided to then incorporate these into the metro construction, allowing for both, the past and the future of the city to co-exist. When we went there the excavations were still taking place. We saw a large number of archaeologists at work, which I found quite exciting.
They don’t only allow people to see what is being excavated, they also have informative exhibits that one can look at while waiting for the metro to arrive.
The next archaeological stop in Sofia was at the church of Saint George. This is a Roman rotunda considered to be the oldest building in Sofia. It is surrounded by more modern buildings, but the archaeology is preserved. The ruins in front of the church are said to be mainly Roman baths, although there is some speculation about them being steam heating systems. During our visit a wedding had just finished and the young couple was busy with their wedding photographs around the church and ruins. There is also another old church nearby called Saint Sofia, which is considered the second oldest Eastern-Orthodox church in Sofia; and a medieval church called the Boyana church (a lot of churches and monasteries can be found in Bulgaria).
We visited two archaeology related Museums in Sofia, among many other museums. One was the National Archaeological Museum and the other the National Museum of History. Both had extensive exhibits of Thracian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine artefacts among others. These exhibits ranged from large columns, to orthodox icons and pots found in discovered shipwrecks.
The next place we visited was the Belogradchik Rocks. Now this does not sound too archaeological if you just look at name. When referring to the Belogradchik Rocks one refers to the interesting rock formations found in the area of Belogradchik, but there is something relevant to the archaeologists here too, apart from an amazing view. There is a fortress called the Belogradchik Fortress, which is built within the rocks and has become a cultural monument. The beautiful combination of natural and human constructions makes a unique view. That is not all, for rock art enthusiasts there is also a cave called the Magura Cave where rock art from the Epipaleolithic, Neolithic and the early Bronze Ages can be found along with some prehistoric bones. Unfortunately we were not allowed to go into the cave as allowing people in has caused the rock art to get damaged.
On the way to Veliko Tarnovo, one of the old capitals of Bulgaria, we stopped to see the Krushunski Waterfalls. The reason I am mentioning this is because here we saw a bridge from Roman times, a kind of bridge structure that can be seen around the whole country. I guess the Romans really did not like getting wet.
Veliko Tarnovo was our next archaeological stop. This is the old capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, referred to as the City of Tsars. It contains the ruins of the old Medieval city. Surrounded by a river, this city has been restored, giving some context to tourists visiting the area. The restoration has been done in an obvious manner, allowing for one to see how the ruins looked when they were found, while some of the ruins were left intact. A medieval church named Holy Forty Martyrs Church can also be seen when standing in the medieval city’s entrance.
Our next stop was Nesebar, a city located by the Black Sea. As it is by the black sea, it is a great place for trade. For this reason, there are traces of various civilisations around the city. This is a city that has been inhabited by Thracians, Greek, Romans, Byzantines, Turks and Bulgarians.
The place is filled with ruins of churches. If you look at this link, you will see a list of all the churches at the bottom. We saw quite a number of them. The city is also separated into two parts, the new part and the old part. We only drove through the new part, but when we got to the old part the archaeology surfaced. The section we visited is shaped like a sun flower. A road connects the coast of Bulgaria to a round like land-form, which is surrounded by an old wall. Inside, the ruins can be found among an extensive market. We saw the Hagia Sophia Church, which is located in what is meant to be the centre of the ancient city, the Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the Church of St Theodore, the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the Basilica of the Holy Mother of God Eleusa, Nesebar and the church of St. John Aliturgetos, which is right next to the sea.
After Nesebar we went to Sozopol, what used to be the old Greek town of Antheia and then Apollonia. Here marine archaeology is quite popular as explorations to the Black sea have revealed relics, pottery and tools from the past. Some of the remains of the old fortifications by the sea have been restored. We visited these as well as the remains of old Apollonia which are still being excavated. We walked on the ancient fortifications, visited the remains of a medieval church and saw excavated remains of Apollonia. I found this city to be very beautiful as it combines the ancient remains with the view of the sea, and for once these remains were not only of churches.
The next stop was in Perperikon. This is a recently discovered archaeological Thracian city, which my mother referred to as the Bulgarian Machu Picchu. It is situated at the top of a hill in the Rhodope mountains which was thought to be a sacred place. This sacred pace was used by not only the Thracians but also the Romans, Byzantines, and Greeks in order to build their sacred structures using the white rocks found on the hill and working the landscape to suit their needs. Iron age pottery has also been found in the area, along with a church (as is usual in Bulgaria).
The last archaeology related stop was Plovdiv. This is a town where even pottery from the Neolithic Age has been found. We, however, only encountered later archaeology.
We visited the Roman Amphitheatre which was being prepared for a concert as it is still used for entertainment.We also saw a newly discovered Roman stadium, which has been only partially excavated as a large part of it is located under the main road. This stadium is huge, we saw the part especially set up for tourists to visit. After that we walked around the city and went into a mall in order to see another part of the stadium which was located under the mall but was visible through glass panels. We also encountered a few archaeologists who were excavating the Roman Forum in Plovdiv. They were OK with us walking around the site, but the security guard was not, so we could only see it from the side.
This concludes the archaeological tour through my holiday in Bulgaria. As you can see, Bulgaria is quite an interesting country, especially for archaeologists. Although a small country, it has so much history and has been influenced by so many civilizations that you will probably learn a large portion of the history of the world while sight seeing. I highly recommend it as a must-see for any archaeologist, historians and, well, people from other professions too.
Below is the map of what we actually ended up seeing: