Bulgaria’s Black Sea Resort Primorsko Opens Brand New History Museum with Rich Archaeological Collections

The newly opened Museum of History in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Primorsko. Photo: Primorsko Municipality

The newly opened Museum of History in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Primorsko. Photo: Primorsko Municipality

Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort town of Primorsko has opened its own museum of history which features rich collections of archaeological finds including artifacts dating back to 5,000 BC, and items derived from underwater archaeology explorations along Bulgaria’s southern coast.

The new Primorsko Museum of History has been opened by the Mayor of Primorsko Municipality Dimitar Germanov, the Director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History Bozhidar Dimitrov, and the Director of Bulgaria’s Executive Agency on Fisheries and Aqua Cultures Yancho Yanev.

The establishment of the newest history museum in Bulgaria has been funded with an EU grant of BGN 580,000 (app. EUR 297,000) from the Program for Sustainable Development of Fishing Regions administered by the Fisheries Agency.

The Primorsko Museum of History has been organized by curators from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia.

It is located in the building of the town’s former public baths on two floors, one of which hosts an ethnographic collection, and the other – diverse collections of archaeological artifacts dating from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages. Some of the exhibited artifacts have been found in the Primorsko region by archaeologists from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History while others have been donated to it by the Burgas Regional Museum of History and by private collectors.

The Director of the Primorsko Museum of History Daniel Pantov has pointed out that the archaeological artifacts on display include 7,000-year-old Neolithic finds and artifacts from the Bronze Age discovered in the submerged settlements along the Black Sea coast off Kiten, Ropotamo, and Maslen Nos (Oil Cape), the fortress on the Urdoviza Peninsula, the Chenger Burial Mound (tumulus), the Thracian shrine Beglik Tash and the dolmens around it.

Primorsko is not a new town, as some people mistakenly tend to believe. It used to be a small but strong fortress (Ranuli), and there were several large ancient and medieval cities in its region,” points out the Director of Bulgarian National Museum of History Bozhidar Dimitrov.

“Of those, the most interesting one is the Urdoviza Peninsula near today’s town of Kiten. [Historical sources] mention it as early as the time of the Greco-Persian Wars, as a base for the Persian navy. It existed also as a Bulgarian fortress in the Middle Ages. In the recent years, we have excavated this peninsula and have discovered the fortress wall which is nearly intact,” he adds.

Dimitrov also says that another ancient city called Chersonesus (just like the Ancient Greek colony on the Crimean (Taurica) Peninsula) was located on the Cape of Maslen Nos (Oil Cape) nearby. It has not been excavated to date because the Cape of Maslen Nos is still part of a military base but Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry is expected to allow archaeological probes there.

He reminds of the Malamirovo (or Hambarli) Inscription of Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814), ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), which says that Ranuli was part of Bulgaria together with other fortresses in the region.

Primorsko Mayor Dimitar Germanov has announced that the municipal authorities have started a procedure for changing the ownership of the land property where the fortress wall of Urdoviza has been found in order to be able to restore it. He even adds that since part of the wall was brought down by an earthquake, it can be rebuilt with its original stones lying nearby.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian city of Ranuli is located 5 km north of the modern-day Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Primorsko, Burgas District. It is on the Beglik Tash plateau, which is also the site of an Ancient Thracian megalithic shrine, and 1 km away from the mouth where the Ropotamo River flows into the Black Sea. Its fortress is located on a rocky hill known today as “The Lion’s Head”, which was created by the paleo-vulcano “Rosen” some 70-65 million years ago. The ancient city Ranuli had not been excavated until the beginning of the 21st century because it is located in the Ropotamo Nature Preserve.

The structure of Ranuli’s fortress wall has led the archaeologists to date it to the era of the Crete-Mycenaean Civilization, 1,600-1,400 BC, which is about the same period when the Ancient Thracian megalithic rock city of Perperikon (Perperik) in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria flourished; it certainly was a thriving city at the time of the Trojan War, ca. 1,300-1,200 BC. Traces of prehistoric life have also been discovered but the fortress construction destroyed much of the earlier remains. During the time of the Roman Empire Ranuli is believed to have been one of the major cities on the Western Black Sea coast. Ruins of a medieval church indicate that the Ranuli Fortress was also used by the Byzantine Empire and the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages.

According to the Malamirovo (or Hambarli) Inscription of Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814), ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), which was recorded in stone in 813 AD, and in the Greek language, the fortress of Ranuli, together with other fortresses on the western Black Sea coast were part of Bulgaria.

Legends from the 19th century have it that Bulgarian Voevode Valchan, a guerrilla fighter against the Ottoman Empire, used the fortress as a hideout, and hid a treasure of gold coins down a well there after robbing a Turkish ship in the mouth of the Ropotamo River. That is why it is also known as “Valchan’s Kale” (“kale “is the Turkish word for fortress).

Bulgarian archaeologists have explored the Ancient Thracian shrine of Beglik Tash since 2002. Archaeologist Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov has discovered there a second “womb-case” located under the Lion’s Head hill, after having found one in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. The cave goes down to a depth of five meters. Inside, Ovcharov has found ceramics from the Early Iron Age (10th-6th century BC), the Antiquity, and the Middle Ages, as well as a man-made stone altar at the end of the natural cave which proves that it was used as a shrine. Every day at noon, a ray of sunlight enters the narrow entrance of the cave, and projects itself on the back of cave. This is precisely the concept of the Ancient Thracian womb-caves described by late Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Alexander Fol, the founder of thracology, the study of Ancient Thrace. Fol hypothesized that some caves in Bulgaria where the sunlight entered only at certain times of the day where seen by the Thracians as acts of symbolic fertilization of the Earth womb or the Mother Goddess by the sun phallus of the Sun God creating fertility.

In the vicinity of the cave under the Lion’s Head hill at Beglik Tash archaeologist Tsonya Drazheva has discovered over 15 dolmens from the Early Iron Age (10th-6th century BC) as well as the famous megalithic shrine of Beglik Tash where she has found two giant stone circles created humans.

The Iron Age and Early Antiquity Ancient Thracian settlement and Late Antiquity and medieval fortress of Urdoviza (or Urdovisa) is located in today’s Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Kiten, on the Urdoviza Peninsula. Its name has Thracian etymology, and means “a stronghold located on a tall place”.

During his exploration of a 5,000-4,000-year-old now sunken Early Bronze Age settlement at the Urdoviza Peninsula, Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev has discovered bones from at least 25 species of birds most of which were hunted by the local residents. Those include: mute swan (Cygnus olor), great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus), common pochard (Aythya ferina), great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca), European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), among others. All of these are species of waterfowl which were hunted with traps, nets, bows and arrows, and boats.

Historical sources indicate that the Urdoviza stronghold existed as early as the Greco-Persian Wars (499-449 BC). Some researchers have identified the fortress on the Urdoviza Peninsula as the port fortress Boriza mentioned by Ancient Greek historian Hecataeus of Miletus (ca. 550-ca. 476 BC) where the Persian Empire set up a port base during the campaign of Persian Emperor Darius I the Great (r. 522-486 BC); according to Hecataeus, it was located between Apollonia (today’s Sozopol) and the Cape of Igneada (today in Turkey).

In 1973-1980, during underwater archaeology explorations in the bays on both sides of the Urdoviza Peninsula, Bulgarian archaeologists found plentiful Late Bronze Age and Iron Age ceramics (mostly fragments of amphorae), as well as parts of red gloss Roman pottery, and Iron Age stone anchors. The Urdoviza Peninsula is long 120 meters, and wide 60-80 meters, with a narrower neck with a width of about 40 meters connecting it to the continent. It used to be larger and wider in ancient times, however, as the soft coast continues to slide into the sea.

The founders of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology, Czech-Bulgarian brothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil explored the site more than 100 years ago writing that the fortress on the Urdoviza Peninsula had a strong wall defending it from the land with two semi-circular fortress towers, and a gate in between them. At the end of the 19th century the wall from the side of the land bridge was in a very good condition while the weaker walls on the side of the sea had nearly disappeared. They also recorded the ruins of a rectangular church which was 10 meters long and 5 meters wide.

The Urdoviza Peninsula Fortress was the site of an important sea port during the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when it was an important fortress in the Medieval Bulgarian Empire. In 2006-2008, and again in 2012, it was excavated by archaeologists Prof. Dr. Krastina Panayotova and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Metodi Daskalov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. They have established that the Late Antiquity fortress on the Urdoviza Peninsula existed between the 6th and the 15th century AD, and was reconstructed several times during this period. It was built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 492-518 AD). The archaeologists have found there imported artifacts from places such as Constantinople and Trebizond (today’s Trabzon in Turkey), an amphora from North Africa and lamps from Asia Minor as well as Roman and Byzantine coins from the reign of the Emperors Arcadius (r. 395-408 AD), Theodosius II (r. 408-450 AD), Marcian (r. 450-457 AD), Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 492-518 AD), Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886 AD), Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912 AD), and Alexius I Comnenus (Alexios I Komnenos) (r. 1092-1118 AD). The most substantial archaeological layer is from the end of the 11th-13th century AD. One historical source from 1453 AD says that the Urdoviza Fortress (named as Vordovaska) is one of the Byzantine fortresses conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in the spring of 1453 AD before they captured the Byzantine capital Constantinople.