Archaeologists Find Silver Cross in Medieval Christian Necropolis in Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo
A silver cross with a crucifixion image from the Late Middle Ages has been discovered by the archaeologists excavating a Christian necropolis on the Trapesitsa Hill, one of the two main citadels, together with the Tsarevets Hill Fortress, of Tarnovgrad, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), in today’s city of Veliko Tarnovo.
The silver cross has been found on the chest of a middle-aged woman buried in Grave No. 314 in the medieval Christian necropolis near Church No. 2 on the Trapesitsa Hill, Prof. Dr. Kostantin Totev from the Veliko Tarnovo Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences has announced.
The silver cross is 8 cm long, and was designed according to the Byzantine tradition but was made by a local jeweler from Tarnovgrad, the arcbhaeologist has told Radio Focus Veliko Tarnovo.
The cross is said to be especially interesting because of its iconographic relief depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ which makes it a very rare find.
Totev notes that the necropolis at Church No. 2 on the Trapesitsa Hill in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo has been excavated for the past years, and that only in 2015 so far the archaeologists have explored about 20 graves.
“Different parts of the necropolis have been excavated, and [over the years we have found] graves with very precious inventory – gold-thread textiles, gold and silver decorations and rings. But this season the Christian cult items are very few which is why we’ve decided to announce this newly found silver cross even though the excavations are not over yet,” explains the archaeologist.
He says the 2015 summer excavations are focused on a limited plot near the imperial palace of the Bulgarian Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the northern part of the Trapesitsa Hill.
The archaeologists have discovered a number of coins and over 20 ceramic vessels, some of which have monograms and inscriptions from the time of the Bulgarian state in the High and Late Middle Ages. Totev’s team has also explored further part of the northern and main gate of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress.
Unfortunately, because of the meager government funding – a mere BGN 10,000 (app. EUR 5,100), part of which has to be spent on the conservation of the uncovered archaeological structures, the 2015 summer excavations on the Trapesitsa Hill in Veliko Tarnovo have employed only about a dozen diggers, and are very limited in scope.
“We have achieved results but we cannot compare to [what we achieved] last year when our team operated with BGN 50,000 (app. EUR 25,500) working on Church No. 20, and the palace ensemble. But have no claims for more excavations because a lot has been excavated but nothing has been conserved yet,” Totev states.
“We have no reason to be unhappy with this year’s archaeological season. We cannot find excuses in the lack of money since when we uncover new things, we actually unearth more structures for conservation. The funding for Trapesitsa is needed mostly for conservation. We have found a lot of things but since the funding is limited we focus on certain spots in the northern section where we know what we are looking for. So we are expecting more results,” he adds.
The Trapesitsa Hill is one of two main fortified historic hills in the medieval city of Tarnovgrad, today’s Veliko Tarnovo, in Central Northern Bulgaria, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1185 and 1396 AD. Together with the Tsarevets Hill, Trapesitsa was one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo). The Trapesitsa Hill is a natural fortress on the right bank of the Yantra River, and is surrounded by it on three sides. It is located northwest of the Tsarevets Hill. The Trapesitsa Fortress had four gates, the main one being its southern gate, which was also connected with the Tsarevets Fortress with a bridge across the Yantra River. There are two hypotheses about Trapesitsa’s name. The first one is that it comes from the Bulgarian word “trapeza” meaning a “table” or “repast”, possibly referring to the receptions of the medieval Bulgarian Tsars; the second hypothesis is that the word comes from “trapezium” because the hill is in fact is a trapezoidal plateau.
The first archaeological excavations on the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo between 1884 and 1900 revealed the foundations of 17 medieval Bulgarian churches with fragments of rich murals, colorful mosaics, and beautiful floor tiles. The documented artifacts discovered there include crosses, necklaces, coins, rings, earrings, vessels. The churches on Trapesitsa were richly decorated with various architectural forms such as pilasters, niches, blind arches, colored slabs, among others.
The largest preserved church on the Trapesitsa Hill known as “Church No. 8” is named after the 10th century AD Bulgarian saint, St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila) (876-946 AD); it was surrounded with other buildings which are believed to have been part of a monastery complex. It is known that in 1195 AD, Bulgaria’s Tsar Asen I (r. 1189-1196 AD) transported the relics of St. Ivan Rilski from the city of Sredets (today’s Sofia) to Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), and had them placed in the specially constructed church on the Trapesitsa Hill. The Bulgarian archaeologists believe that a room in the southern part of Church No. 8 was the reliquary for St. Ivan Rilski’s relics. The relics of St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila), who is Bulgaria’s patron saint, were kept in Veliko Tarnovo until 1469 AD when they were transported to the Rila Monastery where they are kept to this day in what became a major event for the Bulgarians during the early period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), as the Second Bulgarian Empire had been conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1396 AD. The numerous and richly decorated small churches indicate that the Trapesitsa Hill harbored the homes of the medieval Bulgarian nobility, the boyars, and the supreme clergy. More recent excavations, however, also indicate that the imperial palace of the early Bulgarian Tsars from the House of Asen (the Asen Dynasty, r. 1185-1257 AD) was in fact located on the Trapesitsa Hill, and the imperial seat was possibly moved to the nearby Tsarevets Hill only later, during the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD). In the recent years, the Trapesitsa Hill has been excavated by Prof. Konstantin Totev from the Veliko Tarnovo Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and by Prof. Hitko Vatchev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.