Treasure hunting in Bulgaria

Real-life vampires, giant rock vaginas, ancient sites to rival those of Greece and Rome – Bulgaria’s archaeologists are putting their country on the map of world history, but first they have to stop the mafia stealing its treasures.

The illegal diggers come at night with shovels and sacks, hunting through the places where they know the professionals have been. They’re looking for the tonnes of ancient artefacts that lie hidden in Bulgaria’s soil.

In the past two decades, Bulgarian law enforcement agencies say this plunder has turned into a €30m-a-year industry for local gangs, putting it a close third behind drugs and prostitution. The artefacts – gold Roman coins, ancient Greek silver, Thracian military helmets – wind up with falsified documents in auction houses in Europe and North America, or increasingly with wealthy Arab and Asian collectors.

“You cannot put a value on what is lost because the real loss is information,” says Professor Bozhidar Dimitrov, director of the National Museum of History in Sofia, who has spearheaded efforts to reclaim lost relics. “Even if we recover them, we don’t know where they were originally found, so our understanding of the history is gone.”

Police say there are 300 criminal treasure-hunting gangs in Bulgaria at present, but as many as 50,000 people are thought to be involved in illegal digging in some form. Entire villages have been known to take part in some impoverished corners of Bulgaria.

Belatedly waking up to the scale of the problem, Bulgarian authorities are trying to claw back some of their lost history from around the world.

“The record so far belongs to the Canadians,” said Prof Dimitrov. “A couple of years back, they returned 21,000 artefacts in one go.

A miniature golden chariot with the goddess of Nike, probably dating back to the 3rd Century BC, on display at the National History Museum in Sofia.

“The Italians had so much to return that the minister of culture became worried about the cost of the shipment, so he ordered his entire delegation to carry two extra bags of luggage when they came here. He himself showed up at my office with two huge suitcases full of priceless artefacts.”

Prof Dimitrov’s huge office looks more like a Bond villain’s than that of a historian: wood-panelled walls and a long window staring up at the Vitosha mountains. “It was designed to intimidate guests”, he says between chain-smoked cigarettes – the museum was formerly the residence of Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, who ruled Bulgaria for 35 years up to 1989.

The Communist legacy is part of the reason why only a quarter of Bulgaria’s treasures are thought to have been discovered so far. Trapped behind the Iron Curtain for half a century, Bulgaria had few tourists, which meant minimal investment in archaeology and preservation.

This was followed by a decade of political confusion and economic crisis after the fall of Communism, when organised crime groups had almost completely free rein.

“In the Nineties, the police could stop only about 10 per cent of the stuff leaving the country,” estimates Prof Dimitrov. “Things have improved a lot. Now they get about 70 to 80 per cent. The police show up all the time with new hordes they have seized from shops in Sofia.”

As if to prove the point, the professor cuts the meeting short to receive the deputy director of the police, who says he has 2,000 artefacts to hand over, discovered in the basement of a local antiques store.

Historical discoveries have been one of the few bright spots for Bulgaria’s beleaguered economy in recent years, helping to convince the authorities of the need to protect their heritage.

Nikolay Ovcharov

Archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov – nicknamed “Bulgaria’s Indiana Jones” – has just started the final excavations at Perperikon, a 7,000-year-old sacred site deep in the Rhodope mountains whose highlight is a walk-in vagina.

First discovered in the 1980s when ethnographers interviewed local villagers, Perperikon was in ancient times as famous as the oracle at Delphi in Greece, a place of wild bacchanalian rituals to the god Dionysus, and, according to legend, the birthplace of the Greek prophet Orpheus, which counted Alexander the Great among its visitors.

“It rivals Machu Picchu,” says Prof Ovcharov. “Bulgarian archaeology has enormous potential. It can change the way people think about this country. It can give us national pride as well as bringing in a lot of wealth.”

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Perperikon is a nearby fertility shrine – a 10-metre vulva carved in the rock, leading into a womb-like cave. Around midday at the right time of year, a phallus-shaped ray of sunlight reaches an altar deep in the cave.

“It felt very unusual standing in a vagina,” says Prof Ovcharov, remembering the moment he first saw the cave in 2002. “It was so unique. It still makes my hair stand on end.”

Perperikon

The big surprise for Bulgaria’s historians has been the global interest in its vampires.

A grave unearthed in the Black Sea resort of Sozopol last year turned up a skeleton with an iron stake through its rib cage. It belonged to a famous 14th-century pirate named Kirov, whose job was to attack the ships of illegal Venetian traders. He was later made governor of the town.

Locals believed the souls of evil men did not ascend to heaven and instead left their graves at night to drink the blood of the living. Although Kirov was given an aristocrat’s burial, locals evidently thought him a nasty piece of work, and snuck in after the funeral to drive a stake through the body in order to keep his soul from escaping. They pulled out his teeth, too, just to be safe.

The discovery reached the press almost by accident. Prof Dimitrov was sneaking a cigarette outside Sozopol’s town hall just after the grave was found and some journalists came up to tease him about his heavy smoking. He only mentioned the vampire to deflect attention.

“Suddenly, it became a huge international sensation,” he says at his office, lighting another cigarette. “Vampires are very common here – we’ve already found more than a hundred – so we hadn’t thought to publicise it. I didn’t know there was a vampire movie with Brad Pitt and that they were so popular. It was featured in over 1,200 publications. That’s more than covered the fall of our Communist dictator.”

The vampire has proved a great pull for tourists, and drawn further attention to the astounding discoveries being made in Sozopol.

The skeleton of a man at Sozopol in Bulgaria, with an iron stake driven through his chest.

In 2010, a marble box containing a tooth and bits of skull were found on an adjacent island which are said to be relics of St John the Baptist. Foreign experts dated them to the first century AD and said the DNA belonged to a Middle Eastern man, making the claims plausible enough to attract coach-loads of pilgrims.

Another site in the town has uncovered the ruins of Roman baths alongside a Greek temple to the God Poseidon and a medieval church – a rare chance to see the evolution of worship in a single spot.

This is not so surprising for Bulgaria, a country whose strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia has made it one of the world’s most sought-after territories throughout the ages. Greeks, Romans, Thracians, Byzantines and Ottomans all fought countless wars to gain control of its fertile lands – a bitter irony given the controversial emigration of young Bulgarians over the past two decades.

Not all are happy with the government’s efforts to control the trade in historical artefacts, however. Bulgaria’s small shopkeepers complain about restrictions on selling any pre-twentieth century objects.

“The police can shut me down for having just one old coin,” says Constantine Georgiev, owner of a small bric-a-brac store in Sofia. “But this just means the trade in antiques is controlled by around 10 very rich guys with political connections. No one goes after the big mafia bosses because they can afford the bribes.”

Efforts to increase sentences for illicit smugglers have started to change attitudes towards a crime that was not taken too seriously in the past.

An archaeologist cleaning a skeleton during archaeological excavations in the Black Sea town of Sozopol last year

“Many used to see it as a fun adventure,” says Prof Dimitrov. “The men dig while the women do a barbecue. You had police and even priests taking part.”

Indeed, a 41-year-old priest from the northern city of Vratsa was busted in 2010 after conducting over 1,000 illegal sales of ancient coins and jewellery over the internet.

But despite these efforts, experts say that widespread corruption and the high demand from overseas means Bulgaria’s treasures will continue to disappear into private collections, while authorities face a relentless challenge trying to protect over 40,000 known archaeological sites across the country.

“We lobbied for an amnesty a few years back so that private owners could declare what they had on the condition it was not sold or exported. That was one of the first laws that was overturned when GERB [a right-wing Bulgarian political party] took power in 2009,” says Prof Ovcharov. “Rich collectors are a powerful lobby.”

From independent.

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Bulgarian archaeologists embark on alpine mission to Thracian king’s residence

From Novinite:

Bulgaria’s National History Museum are starting the largest alpine expedition in the history of Bulgarian archaeology in order to excavate the residence of the rulers of the Odrysian Kingdom, the state of the most powerful tribe of Ancient Thrace.

Bulgarian archaeologists uncovered the unique residence of the rulers of the Odrysian Kingdom in July 2010, after its location was initially detected in 2005.

The residence is located on the Kozi Gramadi mount in the Sredna Gora mountain, in the village of Starosel, close to the resort town of Hissar in central Bulgaria, at about 1 200 m above sea level.

Starting in early June 2011, the expedition led by Dr. Ivan Hristov will excavate the fortified residence of the Thracian kings southeast of the Kozi Gramadi mount, Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of Bulgaria’s National History Museum, announced Monday.

Dr. Hristo Popov from the National Archaeology Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Daniela Stoyanova from Sofia University “St. Klimen Ohridski”, and Prof. Valetin Todorov from the National Academy of Arts will also take part in the expedition as consultants.

The alpine excavations are funded with donations by Bulgarian manager Lachezar Tsotsorkov, the Hisarya Municipality, and the National History Museum.

The archaeological team will have the rare chance of studying the interior of the Thracian kings’ residence, which is the only one ever discovered, and was erected during the rules of Odrysian king Teres II (351 BC-341 BC).

The archaeologists will set up a tent camp 15 km north of the village of Starosel, which will serve as the base for their explorations.

In addition to making groundbreaking discoveries, the mission of Dr. Ivan Hristov is also to work on the conservation of the unique archaeological site.

The National History Museum points out that the discoveries at the Thracian kings’ residence reveal a symbiosis between the local Thracian traditions and the influence of Ancient Greece in the fortifications, architecture, and household tools at the beginning of the Hellinistic Age (323 BC – 30 BC).

“The archaeological summer of the elite crew of the National History Museum is expected to be interesting,” Dimitrov said in a statement promising timely information about the progress of the expedition.

Last summer Dr. Ivan Hristov explained that the residence of the Odrysian kings is a monument unrivaled in scope in Southeastern Europe, and that there is no other fortresssanctuary dating back to the 4th-5th century BC which is so well-preserved.

The Bulgarian archaeologists call the Thracian fortress “the Bulgarian Machu Picchu” because of the similarities in the organization of the two ancient cities.

The construction of the residence near Hissar is believed to have been started by the Thracian ruler Cotys I (384 BC – 359 BC).

The team led by Dr. Hristov has uncovered the remains of the palace of the Odrysian kings Amatokos II (359 BC – 351 BC) and Teres II (351 BC – 342 BC).

The latter is the last Thracian king who fought Philip II of Macedon (359 BC – 336 BC).

Philip II of Macedon most likely also visited this fortress. It is about him that Demosthenes says that he spent 11 nightmarish months in the winter of 342 BC fighting the Thracians who inhabited the mountains,” explained Dr. Hristov.

The fortress-residence of the Thracian kings is located on a plot of 4 decares, not far from the village of Starosel, which is the site of the largest tombs of Ancient Thracian rulers.

The researchers believe that the connection between the newly-uncovered fortress and the Starosel tombs is clear.

“This is the holy mountain in the mind of the Thracians. We have various archaeological objects located on different levels – a fortress, a sanctuary, an altar of sacrifice. Therefore, the comparison with the ancient city of the Incas Machu Picchu is a good one,” said Dr. Hristov.

Last summer his team excavated two of the towers of the citadel, whose remains are about 2 m high.

The archaeologists’ guess is that the treasure of the Odrysian kingdom was also located in the newly uncovered residence but Philip II of Macedon most likely stole the gold kept there.

The Odrysian Kingdom was a union of Thracian tribes that existed between 5th and the 3rd century BC. The last Thracian states were conquered by Romans in 46 AD. The most famous Thracian in human history is Spartacus, the man who led a rebellion of gladiators against Rome in 73-71 BC.

From Novinite.

The lost world of Old Europe – The Danube Valley 5000-3500BC

From The New York Times:

Before the glory that was Greece and Rome, even before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade.

For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 B.C., they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.

The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture’s visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.

New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves. To some scholars, the people and the region are simply Old Europe.

The little-known culture is being rescued from obscurity in an exhibition, “The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.,” which opened last month at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. More than 250 artifacts from museums in Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are on display for the first time in the United States. The show will run through April 25.

At its peak, around 4500 B.C., said David W. Anthony, the exhibition’s guest curator, “Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world” and was developing “many of the political, technological and ideological signs of civilization.” Dr. Anthony is a professor of anthropology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., and author of “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.”

Historians suggest that the arrival in southeastern Europe of people from the steppes may have contributed to the collapse of the Old Europe culture by 3500 B.C. At the exhibition preview, Roger S. Bagnall, director of the institute, confessed that until now “a great many archaeologists had not heard of these Old Europe cultures.” Admiring the colorful ceramics, Dr. Bagnall, a specialist in Egyptian archaeology, remarked that at the time “Egyptians were certainly not making pottery like this.”

A show catalog, published by Princeton University Press, is the first compendium in English of research on Old Europe discoveries. The book, edited by Dr. Anthony, with Jennifer Y. Chi, the institute’s associate director for exhibitions, includes essays by experts from Britain, France, Germany, the United States and the countries where the culture existed. Dr. Chi said the exhibition reflected the institute’s interest in studying the relationships of well-known cultures and the “underappreciated ones.”

Although excavations over the last century uncovered traces of ancient settlements and the goddess figurines, it was not until local archaeologists in 1972 discovered a large fifth-millennium B.C. cemetery at Varna, Bulgaria, that they began to suspect these were not poor people living in unstructured egalitarian societies. Even then, confined in cold war isolation behind the Iron Curtain, Bulgarians and Romanians were unable to spread their knowledge to the West.

The story now emerging is of pioneer farmers after about 6200 B.C. moving north into Old Europe from Greece and Macedonia, bringing wheat and barley seeds and domesticated cattle and sheep. They established colonies along the Black Sea and in the river plains and hills, and these evolved into related but somewhat distinct cultures, archaeologists have learned. The settlements maintained close contact through networks of trade in copper and gold and also shared patterns of ceramics.

The Spondylus shell from the Aegean Sea was a special item of trade. Perhaps the shells, used in pendants and bracelets, were symbols of their Aegean ancestors. Other scholars view such long-distance acquisitions as being motivated in part by ideology in which goods are not commodities in the modern sense but rather “valuables,” symbols of status and recognition. Noting the diffusion of these shells at this time, Michel Louis Seferiades, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, suspects “the objects were part of a halo of mysteries, an ensemble of beliefs and myths.”

In any event, Dr. Seferiades wrote in the exhibition catalog that the prevalence of the shells suggested the culture had links to “a network of access routes and a social framework of elaborate exchange systems — including bartering, gift exchange and reciprocity.”

Over a wide area of what is now Bulgaria and Romania, the people settled into villages of single- and multiroom houses crowded inside palisades. The houses, some with two stories, were framed in wood with clay-plaster walls and beaten-earth floors. For some reason, the people liked making fired clay models of multilevel dwellings, examples of which are exhibited.

A few towns of the Cucuteni people, a later and apparently robust culture in the north of Old Europe, grew to more than 800 acres, which archaeologists consider larger than any other known human settlements at the time. But excavations have yet to turn up definitive evidence of palaces, temples or large civic buildings. Archaeologists concluded that rituals of belief seemed to be practiced in the homes, where cultic artifacts have been found. “The household pottery decorated in diverse, complex styles suggested the practice of elaborate at-home dining rituals. Huge serving bowls on stands were typical of the culture’s “socializing of food presentation,” Dr. Chi said.

At first, the absence of elite architecture led scholars to assume that Old Europe had little or no hierarchical power structure. This was dispelled by the graves in the Varna cemetery. For two decades after 1972, archaeologists found 310 graves dated to about 4500 B.C. Dr. Anthony said this was “the best evidence for the existence of a clearly distinct upper social and political rank.”
Vladimir Slavchev, a curator at the Varna Regional Museum of History, said the “richness and variety of the Varna grave gifts was a surprise,” even to the Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Ivanov, who directed the discoveries. “Varna is the oldest cemetery yet found where humans were buried with golden ornaments,” Dr. Slavchev said.

More than 3,000 pieces of gold were found in 62 of the graves, along with copper weapons and tools, and ornaments, necklaces and bracelets of the prized Aegean shells. “The concentration of imported prestige objects in a distinct minority of graves suggest that institutionalized higher ranks did exist,” exhibition curators noted in a text panel accompanying the Varna gold. Yet it is puzzling that the elite seemed not to indulge in private lives of excess. “The people who donned gold costumes for public events while they were alive,” Dr. Anthony wrote, “went home to fairly ordinary houses.”

Copper, not gold, may have been the main source of Old Europe’s economic success, Dr. Anthony said. As copper smelting developed about 5400 B.C., the Old Europe cultures tapped abundant ores in Bulgaria and what is now Serbia and learned the high-heat technique of extracting pure metallic copper. Smelted copper, cast as axes, hammered into knife blades and coiled in bracelets, became valuable exports. Old Europe copper pieces have been found in graves along the Volga River, 1,200 miles east of Bulgaria. Archaeologists have recovered more than five tons of pieces from Old Europe sites. An entire gallery is devoted to the figurines, the more familiar and provocative of the culture’s treasures. They have been found in virtually every Old Europe culture and in several contexts: in graves, house shrines and other possibly “religious spaces.”

One of the best known is the fired clay figure of a seated man, his shoulders bent and hands to his face in apparent contemplation. Called the “Thinker,” the piece and a comparable female figurine were found in a cemetery of the Hamangia culture, in Romania. Were they thinking, or mourning?
Many of the figurines represent women in stylized abstraction, with truncated or elongated bodies and heaping breasts and expansive hips. The explicit sexuality of these figurines invites interpretations relating to earthly and human fertility. An arresting set of 21 small female figurines, seated in a circle, was found at a pre-Cucuteni village site in northeastern Romania. “It is not difficult to imagine,” said Douglass W. Bailey of San Francisco State University, the Old Europe people “arranging sets of seated figurines into one or several groups of miniature activities, perhaps with the smaller figurines at the feet or even on the laps of the larger, seated ones.”

Others imagined the figurines as the “Council of Goddesses.” In her influential books three decades ago, Marija Gimbutas, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, offered these and other so-called Venus figurines as representatives of divinities in cults to a Mother Goddess that reigned in prehistoric Europe.
Although the late Dr. Gimbutas still has an ardent following, many scholars hew to more conservative, nondivine explanations. The power of the objects, Dr. Bailey said, was not in any specific reference to the divine, but in “a shared understanding of group identity.”

As Dr. Bailey wrote in the exhibition catalog, the figurines should perhaps be defined only in terms of their actual appearance: miniature, representational depictions of the human form. He thus “assumed (as is justified by our knowledge of human evolution) that the ability to make, use and understand symbolic objects such as figurines is an ability that is shared by all modern humans and thus is a capability that connects you, me, Neolithic men, women and children, and the Paleolithic painters in caves.” Or else the “Thinker,” for instance, is the image of you, me, the archaeologists and historians confronted and perplexed by a “lost” culture in southeastern Europe that had quite a go with life back before a single word was written or a wheel turned.

SOURCE

Exhibition

Bulgarian chosen to head UNESCO

Irina_BokovaIrina Bokova, Bulgaria’s representative to UNESCO and ambassador in Paris, won Tuesday’s final round of voting to become the next head of the organisation.

Bokova defeated Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni in the fifth round, gathering 31 votes in favour against Hosni’s 27 in the Unesco council. Ranked as an outsider at the start of the race, Bokova’s nomination gained momentum over the previous rounds of voting, pulling ahead of  European External Relations Commissioner and former Austrian foreign minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

In the end, Hosni’s bid was hindered by his anti-Semitic remarks that he made in 2008 and accusations of heavy-handed lobbying against Hosni were bandied about in Unesco’s headquarters in Paris, Reuters said.

Bokova, 57, attended the English-Language School in Sofia, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the University of Maryland school of public affairs. A former MP and interim foreign minister under the troubled socialist government of Zhan Videnov, her priorities as head of Unesco would be “Africa’s development needs, especially in education, and those of the Small Island Developing States as the most crisis-stricken countries in the world,” according to her campaign website.

SOURCE

irina bokovaThe UN cultural and scientific organisation Unesco has chosen its new leader, former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Irina Bokova.

Ms Bokova beat the favourite, Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni, whose candidacy had been clouded by allegations of anti-Semitism.

It took five days and five rounds of voting to choose the new Unesco head.

In the end it was down to Ms Bokova and Mr Hosni. In the final round it seems a coalition formed to keep Mr Hosni out.

Mr Hosni, who would have been the first Arab head of Unesco, was always a controversial candidate.

For many years Egypt’s culture minister, he has spoken in the past about the “infiltration of Jews into the international media”.

Last year he said he would be willing to “burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries”, though he has since apologised for the remark.

SOURCE

Unique golden chariot from Ancient Thrace

golden chariotAn exhibition displaying an absolutely unique golden decoration of a chariot from Ancient Thrace was opened Wednesday in the Mall of Sofia, in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital.

The Thracian chariot in question was technically in fact found in 1976 near the village of Karanovo but no one had realized its existence.

Only at the beginning of 2009, archaeologist Veselin Ignatov, who is the head of the history museum in the town of Nova Zagora, Southeast Bulgaria, and a specialist on Thracian chariots, actually discovered it as he was inspecting earlier finds stored in the museum basement.

X-ray test showed that a corroded metal plate actually contains remains of a chariot – including an absolutely unique decorative plaque made of gold alloy which decorated a Thracian chariot dated back to the 2 century AD.

It is both the decoration and the gold-copper alloy that make the chariot on display in downtown Sofia without any analogy among similar finds from ancient times.

The decorative plaque is 52 cm long and 12 cm wide, and 0,3 cm thick. It was placed on the lower back part of the chariot, which was actually a luxury passenger car rather than a war chariot. It pictures what appears to be an ancient building, most likely a temple.

Other decorations on the chariot include a bust of Heracles (Hercules), and two heads of Medusa, the mythical gorgon monster.

Over 200 chariots dated back to Thracian and Roman times have been discovered in Bulgaria so far by both archaeologists and treasure hunters. In comparison, only 2 more chariots have been found in the rest of Roman Empire – one in Pompeii, and another one in Ephesus; and about 20 chariots have been discovered in Hungary.

The extremely high number of chariots found in Bulgaria is due to the funeral customs of the ancient Thracians who place two- or four-wheel chariots in the graves so that the deceased can use them in their afterlife.

After Ancient Thrace was fully conquered by the Romans about 40 AD, the Thracian aristocracy was well integrated; the aristocrats owned several chariots each so that they could afford to bury a chariot with a deceased relative of theirs.

The chariot will be on display there until September 22; the exhibit is organized by the Nova Zagora Municipality, the Cultural Projects Association, and the United Bulgarian Bank. The project provides for a traveling exhibit across Bulgaria in 2010, and the restoration of the chariot, whose worth is estimated at BGN 250 000 by the National Archaeology Institute.

Archaeologist Veselin Ignatov is a leading European specialist on Ancient Cars. In 2007, he found two chariots, and another one in 2008, when the US magazine “Archaeology” published an article about him.

SOURCE

Ancient city of Nessebar – Bulgaria

bulgaria-nesebar-fortifications.jpg nessebar_pantocrator.jpgbulgaria-nessebar.jpg

Date of Inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: 1983

The Nesebur Peninsula – the ancient Mesambria, which was called Mesemvria in the Early Middle Ages and later – Nesebur, was populated more than three millenniums ago, at the end of the Bronze Age. The ancient Thracians named it Melsambria, what in their language means “the town of Melsa” – the legendary founder of the settlement.

About the end of the VI century BC, the first Greek colonizers arrived in the settlement – they were Dorians by origin. The settlement was gradually fortified; temples, gymnasium and theater were built. The settlement transformed itself in a classical polis – a town with the respective structure, functions and administration.

Ships were built in the town and a number of handicrafts were developed – mainly processing metal. Mesambria began making its own coins around 440 B.C.
The town has reached its boom during the III – II centuries BC when gold coins were also emitted. It maintained busy trade relations with the towns along the Black and Aegean Seas, as well as those on the Mediterranean coast.

In year 72 BC the town was conquered by the Roman army. After a short period of occupation, around the beginning of the first century AD, it was permanently included in the Roman Empire. Mesembria, as it was called at this time, has preserved its fortress walls and the big public buildings. It kept making own bronze coins and remained an important commercial and cultural center on the Black Sea coast of the Roman Thrace.

After the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to Constantinople and Christianity was adopted as an official religion, favorable conditions for the revival of the Black Sea towns were created. In Mesembria new Christian temples – basilicas were built as well as new water – supply system and town’s thermae. All construction work was performed under the supervision of leading empire’s architects and builders, following the pattern of the capital’s prototypes… [Read more]

The Ancient Nessebar

NesebarWiki

Nessebar on UNESCO’S WHC site
See also:

Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari
Date of Inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: 1985

Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak
Date of Inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: 1979