Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s Bath in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas Causes Political Tension
The restored 16th century bath of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566), which is part of the ancient and medieval Archaeological Preserve Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas has caused political tension in the local city hall.
The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve is supposed to be opened for visitors over the next month, and Burgas Municipality has the ambition to make it a top destination for cultural tourism.
The site is an ancient spa resort known as Aquae Calidae in the Antiquity, and as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages, and features structures and artifacts from all major civilizations that inhabited the territory of modern day Bulgaria – from Ancient Thrace and Greece to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Bulgarian Empire, and Ottoman Empire.
The restoration of a bath used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent there, however, has enraged Georgi Drazhev, a Burgas city councilor from the nationalist party “National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria”.
“Why isn’t the bath named after Tsar Simeon the Great (r. 893-927 AD) or Khan Krum the Fearsome (803-814 AD) but after Suleiman?”, Drazhev has asked, as cited by local news site BurgasNews, referring to some of the most notable rulers of the medieval Bulgarian Empire.
“We’ve just rid Burgas of two mosques, and you are screwing us up with this now. Are you crazy or insane? A foreign conqueror used to rinse his butt in our mineral baths. We are firmly opposed to this name. The baths have been there since the time of the Ancient Thracians, we cannot establish monuments of conquerors,” he has declared.
“This country is called Bulgaria, and it had existed long before Suleiman. If you wish to change your faith and values, that’s your problem. We cannot strike out the Bulgarian leaders and use the name of a foreign one,” Drazhev has added.
While his statements could be construed as extreme, they appear based on the fact that after their atrocious and bloody invasion of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) at the end of the 14th century, the Ottoman Turks set Bulgaria back several centuries in its development, while keeping the Bulgarian population under a subservient status and subjecting it to constant abuses and oftentimes outright terror for the entire Ottoman period, which is known in Bulgaria as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912).
Drazhev’s statements have been countered by Burgas city councilors from Bulgaria’s ruling center-right party GERB, which also enjoys a majority in the city council.
“It would be nice if Mr. Drazhev goes [to the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve] and checks it for himself. The Roman and Thracian baths are right there, as is Suleiman’s bath. The fact that it has been restored doesn’t mean that we are changing our history here. Countries all over the world have archaeological finds from different peoples. Does this mean that the Turks should destroy the ancient city Troy simply because it is on their territory,” Ruslan Karagyozov, a city councilor from the ruling party GERB has retorted.
After the political tension and some more rhetoric as part of the dispute, the Burgas City Council eventually voted to set a ticket price of BGN 6 (EUR 3) for adults and BGN 3 (EUR 1.5) for children, students, and retirees visiting “The Bath of Suleiman the Magnificent” which is just one of the cultural tourism attractions in the soon-to-be-opened Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve.
Burgas Municipality has recently made it clear that it is going to target local and foreign tourists with three major archaeological attractions in summer 2015: the newly found lead reliquary with ashes from the grave of John the Apostle in Ephesus; the ancient and medieval port and fortress of Burgos (Poros) on Cape Foros where the reliquary was found; and the ancient and medieval Aquae Calidae – Thermpolis Archaeological Preserve.
While the excavation and rehabilitation of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve is said to be going as planned, there had been expectations that it might be opened for visitors as early as June 2015. However, the deadline has been pushed back until the end of July 2015.
The municipal authorities in Burgas have announced that in addition to the other cultural tourism attractions in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve, there will be 3D projections inside the restored bath of Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).
The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) is an archaeological site located on the territory of Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, on the site of today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo.
It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).
Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.
The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs” by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there.
The name “Aquae Calidae” comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times.
The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.
In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city” in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort” for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.
After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground.
The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.
Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Senior Fellow Tsonya Drazheva and Ass. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve”.