Bulgaria’s Shkropilovtsi Seeks to Resume Excavations of Early Byzantine Fortress, Ancient Bulgar Rampart on Black Sea Coast

Bulgaria’s Shkropilovtsi Seeks to Resume Excavations of Early Byzantine Fortress, Ancient Bulgar Rampart on Black Sea Coast

The ruins of the Late Antiquity fortress near Bulgaria's Shkorpilovtsi have been covered with grass and trees. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

The ruins of the Late Antiquity fortress near Bulgaria’s Shkorpilovtsi have been covered with grass and trees. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

The town of Shkorpilovtsi on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast and archaeologists from the Varna Museum of Archaeology want to resume the archaeological excavations of a long-abandoned Late Antiquity Early Byzantine fortress, and an Ancient Bulgar wall (rampart) located nearby as a means of developing cultural tourism.

The so called archaeological complex near the town of Shkorpilovtsi in Dolni Chiflik Municipality, Varna District, consists of a Late Antiquity Early Byzantine fortress (Quadriburg), an Early Christian basilica, an Early Christian tomb, and part of an Ancient Bulgar wall (rampart).

In May 2015, a commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture visited the archaeological sites near Shkorpilovtsi, and decided to propose that the Ministry grant them the status of monuments of culture.

However, the sites themselves are in a deplorable condition since they were last excavated in the 1970s, and have not been conserved and rehabilitated ever since.

The Late Antiquity fortress and the Early Christian basilica, which date to the second half of the 4th century AD, are actually located right next to one of the most beautiful beaches on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, which gets visited by thousands of tourists every summer.

“The fortress itself, the so called quadriburg, contains a basilica which is typical of the Early Christianity. It is a three-nave basilica. During the excavations, [Christian] mosaics were found there. They were documented, but, unfortunately, we don’t know their present condition," explains Prof. Valentin Pletnyov, Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology (Varna Regional Museum of History), as cited in a report of Bulgarian state TV channel BNT 2.

The walls of the Late Antiquity fortress near Shkorpilovtsi are said to have been almost destroyed, with locals stealing stones from them, apparently for other construction “projects", and with trees and grass covering the site. An Early Christian tomb as well as part of a 7th century AD Ancient Bulgar wall, or a rampart, have also been preserved but they, too, are in a bad condition.

“We at the municipality and our town hall have made a commitment to clearing the site," says Atanas Kateliev, Mayor of Shkorpilovtsi.

The local authorities hope that archaeological excavations at Shkorpilovtsi may start in 1-2 years so that they can combine the local summer tourism with the development of cultural tourism.

The ruins of the Late Antiquity Early Byzantine fortress near Bulgaria's Shkorpilovtsi have been covered with grass and trees. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

The ruins of the Late Antiquity Early Byzantine fortress near Bulgaria’s Shkorpilovtsi have been covered with grass and trees. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

The ruins of an Early Christian tomb near Bulgaria's Shkorpilovtsi have been relatively well preserved. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

The ruins of an Early Christian tomb near Bulgaria’s Shkorpilovtsi have been relatively well preserved. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

Background Infonotes:

The archaeological complex near the town of Shkorpilovtsi, Dolni Chiflik Municipality, Varna District, on Bulgaria’s Northern Black Sea coast consists of a Late Antiquity Early Byzantine fortress (Quadriburg), an Early Christian basilica, an Early Christian tomb, and part of an Ancient Bulgar wall (rampart). The town is named after Czech-Bulgarian brothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil who founded modern-day Bulgarian archaeology at the end of the 19th century, and who discovered and were the first to excavated the archaeological complex near it. The archaeological sites near Shkorpilovtsi were last excavated in the 1970s, and have been largely abandoned ever since. In the spring of 2015, a commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture decided to propose granting a “monument of culture" status to the archaeological complex.

The Late Antiquity Roman and Early Byzantine fortress, which is part of the archaeological complex near Shkorpilovtsi, is lcoated 1.4 km southeast of the town, and has the shape of a rectangle with sides 100 m (north-south) x 70 m (east-west). The small but robust fortress was built in the second half of the 4th century AD; it had strong round fortress towers. A large Early Christian basilica was built in its easten section. The excavated elements of the fortification, buildings, and facilities attest to a very important archaeological monument of culture of Early Christian art and architecture, and define its high scientific, cultural, and historic value. The region of today’s town of Shkorpilovtsi was of great importance for the Roman Empire in the 1st-4th century AD, and later for the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, because it was part of the route of a strategic road going from Constantinople to the mouth of the Danube River along the Black Sea coast. The fortress was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by a barbarian invasion.

The Ancient Bulgar wall (rampart) found near Shkorpilovtsi is located 1.25 km east of the town on both banks of the Fandakliyska River all the way to its mouth where it flows into the Black Sea. The preserved section of the earthwork is long 2.125 km, it is up to 3 meters tall, and 10-15 metes wide, and has no moat. It is from the period of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) was constructed after the Ancient Bulgars moved the center of their state from the so called Old Great Bulgaria founded in 632 AD in the today’s Ukraine and Southwest Russia to the region of the Lower Danube around 680 AD. The rampart was built on top of the ruins of of Late Antiquity structures from the 4th-5th century AD. Explorations of such earthwork ramparts shows that all of them are built on low terraces on the sea coast, on both banks of a certain river, or between two rivers. Everywhere they follow the local terrain using natural defenses such as rocks, hills, and swamps, and sometimes a moat was added. The Ancient Bulgar wall section near Shkorpilovtsi is the second monument of its kind explored near Bulgaria’s Northern Black Sea coast after the Wall of Khan Asparukh (r. 680-700 AD) near the city of Varna. The rampart section near Shkorpilovtsi was built using clay, sand, and stones mixed with fragmented bricks and mortar on the southern (right) bank of the Fandakliyska River. On the northern bank of the river its construction is more similar to Khan Asparukh’s wall where clay sand was mixed with mortar to create an increadibly strong structure. Where the rampart follows a terrace edge it has a wide stone wall in its middle to prevent the earthwork from sliding down the steep slopes.