Bulgaria’s Burgas to Offer Spa Treatments in Roman Bath Replica at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve

Part of the ruins of the ancient and medieval Aquae Calidae - Thermpolis Archaeological Preserve, an ancient spa resort in Bulgaria's Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Part of the ruins of the ancient and medieval Aquae Calidae – Thermpolis Archaeological Preserve, an ancient spa resort in Bulgaria’s Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

One of the many attractions in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas, which is soon to be opened for visitors as a cultural tourism site, will be the opportunity to have spa treatments in a genuine replica of the ancient resort’s Roman baths (thermae).

The ‘Roman’ spa treatments will be offered at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis as of 2016, Burgas Deputy Mayor Yordanka Ananieva has told local news site Kmeta.bg.

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, which is located near today’s Burgas Mineral Baths resort, 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.

According to Ananieva, the future exact replica of the Roman thermae of Aquae Calidae, where visitors will be able to have spa treatments, will be located in the basement of a new building whose upper floor will host a museum exhibition of all artifacts discovered at Aquae Calidae – Thermpolis over decades of archaeological excavations.

The municipal authorities in Bulgaria’s Burgas have already restored the bath of Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD) (which has become a bit of a political issue). 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 Suleiman the Magnificent.

“We need to built new mineral baths which will be a replica of the [Roman] ones since the bath of Suleiman the Magnificent, which has already been restored, cannot meet the contemporary requirements for a [spa] facility. The new [replica] baths will feature everything that is necessary for spa treatments with mineral water," the Burgas Deputy Mayor is quoted as saying.

The project for building a Roman bath replica for spa procedures at Aquae Calidae – Thermpolis has already been approved by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

“If it turns out that there is some archaeological structure on the spot of [the Roman baths replica] construction, we are going to change its location. That is why the archaeologists will be excavating this spot throughout the entire summer," Ananieva adds.

Burgas Municipality has recently made it clear that it will 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.

Background Infonotes:

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".