Bulgarian Treasure Hunters Raiding Western Thrace in Greece in Search of Legendary Freedom Fighter’s Treasure

The St. John Church in the town of Maroneia in the Greek province of East Macedonia and Thrace which was the hometown of 19th century Bulgarian freedom fighter and national hero Petko Kiryakov, popularly known as Captain Petko Voyvoda. Photo: Mbp eu, Wikipedia Page

The St. John Church in the town of Maroneia in the Greek province of East Macedonia and Thrace which was the hometown of 19th century Bulgarian freedom fighter and national hero Petko Kiryakov, popularly known as Captain Petko Voyvoda. Photo: Mbp eu, Wikipedia Page

Treasure hunters from Bulgaria have started raiding archaeological sites in the historical region of Western Thrace in Greece in search of a huge treasure allegedly buried there by Captain Petko Voyvoda, a Bulgarian “haidutin", freedom fighter, and national hero who fought against the Ottoman Empire for the liberation of the Bulgarians in what is today Northern Greece.

Voivode (“war leader" or “warlord") was a medieval title for a military commander from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) which during the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) was assumed by the leaders of Bulgarian haiduti, Robin Hood-style rebel bands robbing rich people and employing guerilla warfare against the Ottoman forces (for more detailed explanations see the Background Infonotes below).

Petko Kiryakov Kaloyanov (1844-1900), also known as Captain Petko Voivoda, was a Bulgarian voivode, revolutionary leader who fought the Ottoman Turks for the liberation of the Bulgarians in the region of Western Thrace (today’s Greek province of East Macedonia and Thrace), and especially in the region of the town of Maroneia. He fought the Ottoman Turks from 1861 until 1878 when the northern part of the Bulgarian-populated regions in the Balkans was liberated in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 but the southern regions such as Western Thrace were left under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Captain Petko Voivoda started out as a “haidutin" (or haidut), i.e. a guerilla band leader, and later become a full-fledged revolutionary and a Bulgarian national hero who fought for the liberation of Bulgaria but also for the unification and liberation of Italy and Greece. He became a close friend with Italian revolutionary leader Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1866, with whom he organized the so called Garibaldi Battalion of 220 Italians and 67 Bulgarians who fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Cretan Revolt of 1866-1869, on the island of Crete.

During the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878, even though his region was far away from the Russian forces, Captain Petko Voivoda managed to liberate it, defend the local Bulgarian and Greek Christians from Ottoman atrocities, and participate in the liberation of the Rhodope Mountains. After the war, however, Western Thrace and all of Southern Bulgaria were left in the Ottoman Empire, and Captain Petko Voivoda lived in Bulgaria’s Varna for the rest of his life. His native region of Western Thrace was part of Bulgaria only in 1913-1918 (after the Balkan Wars and during the First World War; it was taken away from Bulgaria by the Treaty of Neuilly-Sur-Seine and later transferred to Greece), and in 1941-1945, during the Second World War.

With treasure hunting and the looting of archaeological sites being an outrageous but rampant crime all over Bulgaria, now some Bulgarian treasure hunters appear to have “moved" to Northern Greece, and more specifically in Maroneia’s region.

They are searching for a huge gold treasure which was allegedly buried there by Captain Petko Voivoda, reports local Greek newspaper Chronos, as cited by the Bulgarian news site Rodopi24.

Rodopi24 points out that the opening of new crossings on the Bulgarian-Greek border in the region of the Rhodope Mountains at Zlatograd – Thermes and Makaza – Nymfeia in the recent years has allowed lots of Bulgarian treasure hunters to start raiding archaeological sites on Greek territory.

Only now, however, has it been revealed by the Greek daily’s report what they have been searching for – Captain Petko Voivoda’s alleged treasure, which, according to one legend, was buried under his house in Maroneia.

However, the Bulgarian treasure hunters are said to be raiding various archaeological ruins and remains because they have no map, and nobody knows for sure where the home of Captain Petko Voivoda was once located.

Meanwhile, in Central Northern Bulgaria, around the town of Vetrintsi, Veliko Tarnovo District, Bulgarian treasure hunters are known to be searching for the treasure of another legendary Bulgarian haidutin (rebel leader), Valchan Voyvoda, whose life in the 19th century, however, was less documented than the life and deeds of Captain Petko Voyvoda, and is therefore shrouded in mystery.

Rodopi24 points out that according to the Greek newspaper report, the Greeks living in Maroneia harbor no sympathies for Captain Petko Voivoda deeming him a Bulgarian nationalist who wanted his native region to become part of Bulgaria.

For example, Greek writer Pantelis Atanasiadis is said to have described him as a “bloody bandit" based on consular reports from the 19th century. Apparently, such descriptions hold no regard for the fact that the Bulgarian national hero Petko Kiryakov fought for the freedom of Greece together with his band of Bulgarians and Italians during the Cretan Revolt, and protected the local Christians, Bulgarian and Greek alike, from the Ottoman Turkish atrocities; not to mention his countless other noble causes and deeds. He also had a Greek wife, and, respectively, a half-Greek son.

Momument of Bulgarian freedom fighter Captain Petko Voyvoda (Petko Kiryakov) in the Gianicolo Park in Rome, Italy, where it stands together with the monument of his friend, Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. Photo: Amaunet, Wikipedia Page

Momument of Bulgarian freedom fighter Captain Petko Voyvoda (Petko Kiryakov) in the Gianicolo Park in Rome, Italy, where it stands together with the monument of his friend, Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. Photo: Amaunet, Wikipedia Page

This map shows the area of rebel activity of Bulgarian freedom fighter Captain Petko Voyvoda (Petko Kiriyakov); the regions today are mostly in Greece, and Turkey, Map: Mbp eu

This map shows the area of rebel activity of Bulgarian freedom fighter Captain Petko Voyvoda (Petko Kiriyakov); the regions today are mostly in Greece, and Turkey, Map: Mbp eu, Wikipedia Page

Background Infonotes:

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the majority of whom appear to be impoverished low-level diggers.

Haiduti were irregular rebel bands in Bulgaria (as well as elsewhere in Southeast Europe) during the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) who robbed the rich and fought the Ottoman forces employing guerilla warfare. They have been likened to legendary English outlaw Robin Hood, the difference being that in the case of Bulgaria and other Balkan countries the rich were also the foreign (Ottoman) occupants. While during the entire period of the Ottoman Yoke, the haiduti engaged in robberies and banditry, in the 17th, 18th and especially the 19th century they became actively involved in the fight for Bulgaria’s National Liberation, their cheti (bands) and guerilla warfare supporting Russian and Austrian forces fighting the Ottoman Empire. In the second half of the 19th century, the haiduti with their hit-and-run guerilla tactics often stood in contrast to the modern nationalist Bulgarian movement whose apostles, as they are known, advocated all-out mass Bulgarian uprisings against the Ottoman Empire such as the April Uprising (1876) and the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising (1903). The known names of haiduti leaders, or voivodes, are in the hundreds, and even though historical documents about many of them are scarse, the exploits of pretty much all of them have been perpetuated in legends, folklore songs, and folklore tales.

Voivode (voivoda in Bulgarian) meaning “war leader" or “warlord" is a Slavic title of a military commander used in the medieval Bulgarian Empires as well as in other Eastern European and Slavic countries. After the demise of the Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century, the title “voivoda" (voivode) was assumed by the leaders of haiduti bands which were Robin Hood-style outlaws robbing the rich and attacking the Ottoman occupants at the same time.

Petko Kiryakov Kaloyanov (1844-1900), popularly known as Captain Petko Voivoda, was a Bulgarian voivode, revolutionary leader who fought the Ottoman Turks for the liberation of the Bulgarians in the region of Western Thrace (today’s Greek province of East Macedonia and Thrace), and especially in the region of the town of Maroneia. He fought the Ottoman Turks from 1861 until 1878 when the northern part of the Bulgarian-populated regions in the Balkans were liberated in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 but the southern regions such as Western Thrace were left under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Captain Petko Voivoda started out as a “haidutin" (or haidut), i.e. a guerilla band leader, and later become a full-fledged revolutionary and a Bulgarian national hero who fought for the liberation of Bulgaria but also for the unification and liberation of Italy and Greece. He became a close friend with Italian revolutionary leader Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1866, with whom he organized the so called Garibaldi Battalion of 220 Italians and 67 Bulgarians who fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Cretan Revolt of 1866-1869, on the island of Crete. During the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878, even though his region was far away from the Russian forces, Captain Petko Voivoda managed to liberate it, defend the local Bulgarian and Greek Christians from Ottoman atrocities, and participate in the liberation of the Rhodope Mountains. After the war, however, Western Thrace and all of Southern Bulgaria were left in the Ottoman Empire, and Captain Petko Voivoda lived in Bulgaria’s Varna for the rest of his life. His native region of Western Thrace was part of Bulgaria only in 1913-1918 (after the Balkan Wars and during the First World War; it was taken away from Bulgaria by the Treaty of Neuilly-Sur-Seine and later transferred to Greece), and in 1941-1945, during the Second World War. In addition to having a sizable Bulgarian population (of both Christians and Muslims), the region of Western Thrace was also important because it provided Bulgaria with direct access to the Mediterranean. In the last years of his life, during the term of Prime Minister Stefan Stambolov (1887-1894), Captain Petko Voyvoda suffered political persecution in Bulgaria because of his pro-Russian stance. Nonetheless, however, he remains one of the most well known Bulgarian freedom fighters against the Ottoman Yoke, and one of Bulgaria’s most popular heroes.