Archaeologist Urges New Excavations of Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv over Scandalous Restoration Project

An aerial view of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress on the Nebet Tepe hill in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo by Stroitelstvo Gradat

An aerial view of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress on the Nebet Tepe hill in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo by StroitelstvoGradat

The archaeological excavations of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress Nebet Tepe in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv must be completed, Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, has urged after an architectural project for the fortress’s restoration caused a public scandal last week.

The excavations of Nebet Tepe, one of the seven historic hills of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, whose oldest settlement dates back to the 6th millennium BC, allegedly making Plovdiv the oldest city in Europe, were terminated in 1980, Kisyov reveals, as cited by local news city Plovdiv 24.

“Back then the [lead] archaeologist destroyed on purpose several parts of the facilities and did not draft scientific paperwork which would have been of use now. That is why, the excavations were terminated, he was dispossessed of his right to conduct excavations, and nothing more has been done ever since," explains the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

He says two more zones of the Nebet Tebe hill and the other historic hill nearby, Rahat Tepe, with a total area of 5 decares (1.25 acres) might be excavated but that they must first be monitored with a ground penetrating radar first in order to find out if there are stone structures underground.

“If we discover that ancient structures have been preserved underground, we will go for excavations. We are also going to use ground penetrating radar inside the Nebet Tepe fortress where in the 1980s ancient and early medieval homes were rebuilt with contemporary materials. In case we get to carry out excavations, we will recruit a large team of experts on prehistory, Thracian, Roman, and medieval archaeology," Kisyov says.

The first public discussion of the proposed project for the archaeological restoration of the Nebet Tepe fortress ended with a scandal last week after the local community overwhelmingly opposed the project of architect Yuliy Farkov, and booed the Director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History Bozhidar Dimitrov who supported it publicly.

The project worth EUR 2 million is entitled “Nebet Tepe – the Citadel of the Odrysae" referring to the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians, providing, among other things, for rebuilding part of the preserved fortress wall to a height of 4 meters, and re-erecting the remains of the preserved fortress tower to a height of 8 meters. It also provides for exposing the Roman or Byzantine underground secret passage found at Nebet Tepe (see the Background Infonotes below).

One of the major conclusions of the heating public discussion has been that there is no proper paperwork for the archaeological excavations of Plovdiv’s Nebet Tepe fortress carried out between 1930 and 1980 which means that there is insufficient archaeological evidence that can be used as a basis for architectural projects for the proposed restoration.

A second public hearing for the controversial project for Nebet Tepe is expected to be held in Plovdiv at the end of April or in early May, 2015.

This May 2014 image shows the initial (and most scandalous) project of architect Yuliy Farkov for the restoration of the fortress on the Nebet Tepe Hill in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. The dark colored part shows the preserved fortress wall and the lighter colored part shows the massive fortress wall that was supposed to be rebuilt. After last year's public outrage, the scale of the rebuilding has been reduced. Photo by Plovdiv Municipality

This May 2014 image shows the initial (and most scandalous) project of architect Yuliy Farkov for the restoration of the fortress on the Nebet Tepe Hill in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. The dark colored part shows the preserved fortress wall and the lighter colored part shows the massive fortress wall that was supposed to be rebuilt. After last year’s public outrage, the scale of the rebuilding has been reduced. Photo by Plovdiv Municipality

Background Infonotes:

The ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe" is the Turkish word for “hill") is one of the seven historic hills where today’s Bulgarian city of Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times. The hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi. During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills") as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire. In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills. Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis. Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD. In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.