Archaeological Monuments from Ancient Odessos Hold Great Potential for Cultural Tourism in Bulgaria’s Varna, Museum Director Says

Part of the ruins of the Large Ancient Roman Thermae in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. Photo by Extrawurst, Wikipedia

Part of the ruins of the Large Ancient Roman Thermae in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. Photo: Extrawurst, Wikipedia

The numerous archaeological monuments from the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos, including the recently revealed ones, hold a great potential for cultural tourism in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna, according to Prof. Valentin Pletnyov, Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology (Varna Regional Museum of History).

Pletnyov says that after the recent rehabilitation of the Varna downtown – which has also revealed a lot of new finds including a previously unknown section of one of the fortress walls of the ancient Odessos (known as Odessus in Roman times) from the Late Antiquity – the Black Sea resort city “looks better”.

To promote Varna’s museums with the foreign and Bulgarian tourists, the local authorities plan placing information billboards all over the city center, he adds, as cited by Radio Focus Varna.

Pletnyov points out that last summer the local authorities created a new route for cultural tourism in Varna called “The Roman Thermae of Odessos", including the so called Large (North) Ancient Roman Thermae from the 2nd century AD, and the Small (South) Ancient Roman Thermae from the 5th-6th century AD.

He stresses that the Large and Small Roman Thermae are located 300 meters away from one another allowing tourists to visit both on a walking tour, without the need to drive, and if they need to drive, they can use a conveniently located parking lot nearby.

Pletnyov adds that the Small Thermae of Odessos have been rehabilitated, and feature a buffet, a performance stage, and night lighting, as do the Large Thermae where a visitors’ center is also supposed to be built.

What is more, one of halls inside the Large Thermae is to be renovated and used for performances and movie projections.

Prof. Plevnyov hopes that the ownership of one of the major historical attractions of Varna, the Aladzha Rock Monastery, as well as of other archaeological sites will soon be transferred from the Bulgarian government to Varna Municipality, which will allow the local authorities to apply for funding from different donors in order to rehabilitate and promote them, and maybe set up a new route for cultural tourism.

“If this initiative materializes, Varna will become the only place on [Bulgaria’s] Black Sea coast which will have projects for Christian tourism," concludes the Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology.

Organization of the Large Roman Thermae in Ancient Odessos / Odessus, in Bulgaria’s Varna. Photo: Varna Museum of Archaeology

Organization of the Large Roman Thermae in Ancient Odessos / Odessus, in Bulgaria’s Varna. Photo: Varna Museum of Archaeology

Check out our stories about the Spring 2015 rescue excavations of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna (in reverse chronological order):

Archaeologists Discover Main Aqueduct of Ancient Odessos during Rescue Excavations in Bulgaria’s Varna

Flooding Ruins Newly Found Late Antiquity Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna – March 30, 2015

Water Utility in Bulgaria’s Varna Cracks 5th Century Earth Jar, Submerges Ancient Odessos ‘Like Atlantis’ – March 28, 2015

‘Giant’ Man’s Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Turns Out to Be ‘Only’ 165 cm Tall – March 28, 2015

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Varna Unearth 3 More Skeletons, Identify Necropolis under Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos – March 28, 2015

Giant’ Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Not Fully Dug Up, Measured Yet, Archaeologists Inform – March 26, 2015

Archaeologists Dig Up Ancient Skeleton from under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna – March 17, 2015

Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Hand Mill, Odessos Fortress Wall in Varna – March 13, 2015

Workers Stumble Upon 1500-Year-Old Earthen Jar in Odessos Archaeology Preserve in Bulgaria’s Varna – January 22, 2015

Background Infonotes:

The Large (North) Ancient Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna are the ruins of the first and larger public baths that functioned in the Ancient Roman city of Odessus (known as Odessos in Thracian and Greek times). They are located in the southeastern part of today’s Varna. With a total of area of 7000 square meters, and a height of 20-22 meters, the thermae in Varna are the largest public building from the Antiquity period unearthed in Bulgaria.

The Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Varna are ranked as the fourth largest preserved Roman thermae in Europe after the Baths of Caracalla and Baths of Diocletian in the imperial capital Rome and the baths of Trier, and the largest in the Balkans. They were built in the 2nd century AD, after the previously Ancient Thracian town and then Greek colony of Odessos was made part of the Roman province of Moesia in 15 AD, and were in use for about 100 years. Coins of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193–211) have been found among their ruins. The Thermae featured facilities such as an apodyterium (changing room), a frigidarium (cold pool), a tepidarium (warm pool), and a caldarium (hot pool) as well as a palaestra (a space with social and athletic functions). They were heated with a hypocaust, an underfloor heating system of pipes.

The Roman Thermae in Varna were first seen an archaeological site by Austro-Hungarian researcher E. Kalinka in 1906, and were later excavated by Czech-Bulgarian brothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil, who are known as the founders of Bulgarian archaeology. They were also excavated in 1959-1971 by a team led by Bulgarian archaeologist M. Mirchev. In 2013, Varna Municipality allocated BGN 150,000 (app. EUR 75,000) for the rehabilitation of the Large Roman Thermae. ***

The Small (South) Ancient Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna are the ruins of the later and smaller public baths that functioned in the Ancient Roman city of Odessus (known as Odessos in Thracian and Greek times). They are located in the southeastern part of today’s Varna but further south than the Large Roman Thermae. They were built in the 5th-6th century AD as the city of Odessus experienced a decline (at the time the entire Roman Empire was in decline), after the Large Thermae were abandoned and partly destroyed in the 3rd-4th century AD.

The Small Roman Thermae were erected on top of an Ancient Thracian temple or sanctuary that honored Ancient Greek god Apollo as well as a female deity that the Varna achaeologists at first believed was Ancient Thracian goddess Bendis but have recently changed their interpretation to believe that it was in fact Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite that the Thracian had worshipped. In 2013, Varna Municipality allocated BGN 130,000 (app. EUR 65,000) for the rehabilitation of the Small Roman Thermae.

***

The dawn of Varnas history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts dating back to the 5th millenium BC.

Ancient Odessos is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC.

However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia. Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Romes successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century. It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos.

The wall (rampart) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing. Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna.

It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.