Bulgaria’s Burgas to Attract Tourists with John the Apostle Reliquary, Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve

Bulgaria’s Burgas to Attract Tourists with John the Apostle Reliquary, Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve

This 2012 archive photo shows excavations of the ancient and medieval spa resort of Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis. Photo: Burgas Municipality

This 2012 archive photo shows part of the ruins  of the ancient and medieval spa resort of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis. Photo: Burgas Municipality

Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas will target local and foreign tourists with three major archaeological attractions in summer 2015: the newly found lead reliquary with ashes from the grave of John the Apostle in Ephesus; the ancient and medieval port and fortress of Burgos (Poros) on Cape Foros where the reliquary was found; and the ancient and medieval Aquae Calidae – Thermpolis Archaeological Preserve.

“The cliché about the young fishing and “proletarian” city of Burgas is rapidly and completely justifiably becoming obsolete,” Burgas Municipality says in a statement referring to the perception established in Bulgaria during the communist period (1944/48-1989) that that was when Burgas emerged as a major city, largely thanks to the migration of working class families.

Instead, the Municipality points out that the recent and not so recent archaeological discoveries have proven the long history of Burgas as a major urban center.

“The active work of the archaeologists in recent years supported by Burgas Municipality has brought to the surface, literally and figuratively speaking, irrefutable evidence for ancient civilization traditions. It turns out that the geographical location of the city between the East and the West has been and will be an engine for its demographic, economic, and cultural development,” notes Burgas Municipality.

It also announces in its statement that the lead tube reliquary containing ashes from the grave of John the Apostle known in Bulgarian (Eastern) Orthodox Christianity as St. John the Apostle, which was discovered during the 2014 excavations of the ancient and medieval port and fortress of Burgos (Poros) on Cape Foros but was made public in March 2015, will be exhibited by the Burgas Regional History Museum starting May 18, 2015.

The municipal authorities point out that the two other archaeological attractions that will seek to interest local and international travelers are the ruins of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress itself, and the other ancient and medieval city on the territory of today’s Burgas – the ancient spa center of Aquae Calidae known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis, which is presently being restored.

In addition to its account about the exhibition of the John the Apostle reliquary, Burgas Municipality explains that Cape Foros on the Black Sea coast used to have a large Ancient Roman settlement and port as early as the 3rd century AD, even before the construction of the fortress wall of Burgos (Poros).

The excavations have revealed a number of Roman artifacts at Burgos (Poros) including coins, pottery, parts of bronze and marble statues, and a large 3rd century AD Roman villa.

The Roman villa in question is said to have been a luxury property with hypocaust (an Ancient Roman system of underfloor heating), marble tiles and marble window frames. It was covered with a fine plaster colored in a particular nuance of red known as “Pompeian red”, not unlike the rich buildings painted the same way in the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii in Italy.

Later, in the 6th century AD, the fortress wall of Burgos (Poros) was built; it measured 285 meters in length, 2.9 meters in width, and had 4 rectangular towers. This is when the port complex of Poros was built, too; it consisted of many storage, residential, and administrative buildings. The Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered a 6th century Early Christian basilica with three naves and one apse whose floor was tiled with large ceramic slabs.

The Burgos (Poros) Fortress has also yielded numerous Late Antiquity (4th-6th century AD) archaeological finds such as gold and bronze coins, a very rare lead seal from the early 7th century AD, intact ceramic vessels, a marble column, clay lamps, among others.

In March 2015, the Burgas Museum also announced another interesting Late Antiquity find from Burgos – a 6th century latrine (toilet).

In the 13th-14th century Poros was mentioned in written sources, and was marked on almost all known medieval maps from the 14th until the 18th century.

In addition to Burgos (Poros), the other ancient and medieval city located on the territory of today’s Burgas is the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) known in the Middle Ages as Therma or Thermopolis (meaning “warm city” in Greek).

Burgas Municipality points out that at the present moment the archaeological monument looks like a construction site because of the project for its restoration and rehabilitation, and the construction of tourist infrastructure. However, the entire Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve is expected to be ready to welcome its first visitors in summer 2015.

The Municipality notes that one of the archaeological components found at Aquae Calidaethe bath of Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566) used by him in 1562 – has already been fully restored.

It was built in the center of the Ancient Roman thermae (public baths) of Aquae Calidae. It is a rectangular structure with a marble pool in the center which collected hot mineral water for treatment purposes, with numerous washing basins on the walls.

According to the travelogue of Ottoman Turkish chronicler Evliya Celebi, Sultan Suleiman I found cure in the healing mineral waters of Aquae Calidea – Thermopolis. In a show of gratitude he built a new bath there and founded an annual fair that led to economic development in the region.

The sultan’s bath has been renovated with the restoration of the marble tiling of the walls and the pool, and the Ottoman Turkish murals in their typical 15th-16th style.

The tourist infrastructure at the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve – such as a visitor center, a child care center, a cafeteria, and an exhibition, and a information billboards – is still under construction.

Background Infonotes:

The ancient and medieval fortress and port of Burgos (Poros) is located on the Cape of Foros in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas. It was first first excavated in 2008 by archaeologists Milen Nikolov (currently Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History), Dr. Tsonya Drazheva, and Konstantin Gospodinov, after access to its site was denied for decades because of the existence of a nearby military base which has been closed down in recent years. Part of its fortress wall was first discovered in 1989 during the construction of a cow farm. Even though there have been traces of ancient life, the fortress and port city of Burgos (Poros) on the Cape of Foros in Bulgaria’s Burgas is dated back to the Late Antiquity / Late Roman period, with the Bulgarian archaeologists uncovering a large number of buildings, artifacts, and pottery vessels dating back to the 4th-6th century AD. Their excavations have revealed a complex set of fortifications, including walls, ramparts, and towers, which were rebuilt and reorganized multiple times from the 4th until the middle of the 15th century, and were in use throughout this entire period by different states: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire. Some of the more interesting finds including a stone block with an Ancient Roman inscription in Greek mentioning the name of Roman Emperor Gordian III (r. 238-244 AD); a 2nd century AD inscription carved into stone stating that “burgi” (fortifications) were built on the border of the Roman colony of Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt) – hence, possibly, the name Burgos; a basilica; the remains of a small monastery called “St. George” which is described in a 13th century Byzantine source; the 6th century lead tube reliquary containing ashes from the grave of John the Apostle in Ephesus, Anatolia.

The Foros pennisula was marked on Italian and Catalan maps from the 13th-17th century as an old fortress and port under the name Poro (strait) or Poros, which means that the fortress defended the waterway entry point of the nearby Lake Mandra which flows out into the Black Sea. A stone inscription dating back to the 2nd century AD (presently exhibited in the Burgas Regional Museum of History) discovered on the site states that “burgi” (fortifications) were built on the border of Roman colony Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt). Historians believe that there used to be a large fortified port along the waterway between Lake Mandra and the Black Sea which served and protected the Roman city of Deultum. The Roman road station called Pudizo marked in the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia) has been discovered in this same area.

The area of the Burgos (Poros) fortress and the Cape of Foros is also famous for being the site of a major battle during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). The so called Battle of Skafida (named after the Skafida River and the Skafida Fortress, another medieval fortress located nearby) took place in 1304 AD when the forces of Bulgarian Tsar Theodore Svetoslav (r. 1300-1322 AD) defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Michael IX Palaiologos (Palaeologus) (r. 1294-1320), after having reconquered earlier the nearby Black Sea cities of Rusocastro, Mesembria, Anchialos, Sozopolis and Agathopolis. The victory in the Battle of Skafida helped the Second Bulgarian Empire regain most of the region of Thrace from Byzantium bringing it a period of relative stability at the beginning of the 14th century, after feudal strife had put it in a state of permanent dynastic crisis at the end of the 13th century.


The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) is an archaeological site located on the territory of Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, on the site of today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo. It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD). Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.

The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs” by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there. The name b comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times. The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.

In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city” in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort” for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople. After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground. The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.

Aquae Calidea – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan FIlov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Senior Fellow Tsonya Drazheva and Ass. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve”.