Bulgarian Archaeologists Unearth Turkish Cemetery in 15th Century Ottoman Mosque in Karlovo

Bulgarian Archaeologists Unearth Turkish Cemetery in 15th Century Ottoman Mosque in Karlovo

The Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya) in Bulgaria's Karlovo was built by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 15th century, about a century after they conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396 AD. Photo: bTV

The Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya) in Bulgaria’s Karlovo was built by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 15th century, about a century after they conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396 AD. Photo: bTV

A Turkish cemetery, i.e. a Muslim necropolis, from the 18th-19th century has been unearthed by Bulgarian archaeologists after the municipal authorities in the central town of Karlovo initiated the archaeological excavations in the Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya), a 15th century historical monument from the period of Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire.

The long-awaited archaeological excavations of the Lead Mosque, which are expected to reveal important information about the history of the Bulgarian town of Karlovo and to pave the way for turning the mosque into a museum, have become possible after in May 2015 the Sofia Appellate Court ruled in favor of Karlovo Municipality and against the Bulgarian Chief Mufti’s Office which had sought to gain ownership of a number of inactive mosques and former Ottoman properties in municipalities with little or no Muslim population. (See the Background Infonotes below for details.)

The excavations of the Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya) built by a local Ottoman Turkish governor in 1485 AD started three days ago, reports local TV channel Karlovo.tv.

They are led by Prof. Margarita Vaklinova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, with the participation of the Director of the Klisura Museum of History Stoyan Ivanov.

Karlovo Deputy Mayor Anton Minev has told reporters that after the complete archaeological research of the Lead Mosque (its name is owing to its lead roof) it will be turned into a museum of history and archaeology.

Before that, however, the local authorities will ask Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture to change the status of the Ottoman mosque from a “monument of culture of local significance" to a “monument of culture of national significance", which will allow Karlovo Municipality to seek EU funding for the future museum.

Vaklinova has pointed out that the Lead Mosque in Karlovo has never been excavated before.

In the three days of archaeological excavations so far, the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered a large Turkish cemetery (a Muslim necropolis), including a Turkish gravestone of a local Muslim woman dated to 1807-1808.

Other finds include glass parts from a large chandelier which used to hang under the dome of the mosque as well as small metal artifacts.

The archaeological excavations of the site of Kurshum Dzhamiya are planned to continue for a month; during that time, the archaeologists expect to reach the archaeological layer from the Early Christian period.

The archaeologists are digging both inside and inside the building of the mosque. Once they are done, the building will be restored and ready to house museum exhibitions.

According to Vaklinova, Karlovo has enough archaeological finds to fill up the future museum of history and archaeology.

“There are many legends about this place: that the mosque was built on the outskirts of the town, that it was built on top of an older necropolis, that it was built on top of a church called St. Catherine… We are supposed to answer these questions," says the archaeologist.

Prof. Margarita Vaklinova (left) from Bulgaria's National Institute and Museum of Archaeology is in charge of the archaeological excavations of the 15th century Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya) in Bulgaria's Karlovo. Photo: Karlovo.tv

Prof. Margarita Vaklinova (left) from Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology is in charge of the archaeological excavations of the 15th century Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya) in Bulgaria’s Karlovo. Photo: Karlovo.tv

Background Infonotes:

The Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya) is a 15th century mosque from the period of Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire located in the central Bulgarian town of Karlovo, Plovdiv District. The Lead Mosque was built by Ottoman Turkish governor Karluzade Ali Bey in 1485 AD. It is the oldest standing archaeological, architectural, and historical monument in Karlovo. Its name comes from its lead roof. The Lead Mosque was last used for Muslim services at the end of the 19th century. It has the status of “a monument of culture of local importance" granted by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.

The mosque was supposed to be turned into a museum but in November 2013 the Regional Court in Plovdiv started a controversy by ruling to transfer the ownership of the mosque from Karlovo Municipality to the Bulgarian Chief Mufti’s Office. The case was just one of many cases in which the Chief Mufti’s Office tried to gain ownership over long-inactive mosques and former Ottoman waqf estates with the status of cultural monuments all over Bulgaria in municipalities with little or no Muslim population. Many in Bulgaria saw these attenots as an outside Islamist or Neo-Ottomanist conspiracy against the country. The case with the Lead Mosque and other long- inactive mosques in Stara Zagora, Kyustendil, and other Bulgarian cities was resolved in May 2015 when the Sofia Appellate Court ruled in favor of Karlovo Municipality, and against the Chief Mufti’s Office arguing that the present religious leadership of the Muslims in Bulgaria cannot be considered an heir to the institutionalized Muslim communities since Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, i.e. the Muslim communities in the Principality (Knyazhestvo) of Bulgaria (1878-1908), the Tsardom of Bulgaria (1908-1944), and the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944-1989). This decision has allowed Karlovo Municipality to initiate the archaeological excavations of the Lead Mosque (Kurshum Dzhamiya) in order to have it researched and to turn it into a museum.