Reports of Submerged Ancient Thracian Capital Seuthopolis’s ‘Resurfacing’ in Koprinka Water Reservoir in Central Bulgaria Prove False

This computer generated image shows the location of the Ancient Thracian capital Seuthopolis on the bottom of the Koprinka Water Reservoir, and what the ancient city will look like if the project for its walling off and exhibiting in situ gets realized. Photo: Seuthopolis Project

This computer generated image shows the location of the Ancient Thracian capital Seuthopolis on the bottom of the Koprinka Water Reservoir, and what the ancient city will look like if the project for its walling off and exhibiting in situ gets realized. Photo: Seuthopolis Project

Reports by some Bulgarian media that the ruins of the Ancient Thracian city of Seuthopolis which lies on the bottom of the Koprinka Water Reservior near the town of Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria have “resurfaced” have proven to be false.

Seuthopolis, the city founded by legendary Thracian King Seuthes III, was the capital of the Odrysian Kingdom in the 4th-3rd century BC. 

It was discovered and fully excavated during the construction of the Koprinka Water Reservoir near Kazanlak in the 1940s and the 1950s.

However, the communist authorities in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944/48 – 1989) decided to leave it on the bottom of the artificial lake despite its archaeological, historical, cultural, and potential touristic value.

Earlier this week, the Bulgarian daily Monitor reported that the hot summer has left the Koprinka Reservoir nearly empty (down to 28 million cubic meters of water from over 140 million cubic meters), and that as a result of that the ruins of Seuthopolis, the once glorious capital of the Odrysae, had emerged from the waters.

The report also reminded that the Koprinka Water Reservoir was last emptied out in the mid 1980s.

Back then the archaeologists from the Kazanlak Museum of History “Iskra” found that the walls of the structures in Seuthopolis had been preserved on the bottom of the artificial lake.

An inquiry by local news site DarikNews, however, has found the initial reports about the resurfacing of Seuthopolis to be completely untrue, with experts from the Kazanlak Museum of History confirming there is no information about the reemerging of the ruins.

“What is left of Seuthopolis are not buildings but ruins of buildings which stand at no more than 60-70 cm, and those must be covered by mud,” Miglena Parvin from the Kazanlak Museum is quoted as saying.

She notes that the deposits on the bottom of the Koprinka Reservoir are actually of help because they hinder the decay of the Ancient Thracian ruins.

Local residents from the town of Kazanlak have indeed recalled that more than 30 years ago when the wall of the Koprinka Dam was being repaired, and the entire reservoir was emptied out, the locals could not only catch lots of fish with their bare hands, but they could also see the contours of the ruins of Seuthopolis.

Local fishermen are quoted as confirming that the water level in the Koprinka Reservoir stands at its lowest for the past 10-15 years.

However, none of them has seen any part of the ruins of the Thracian Odrysian capital which cover an area of about 50 decares (app. 12.5 acres).

While what may have been the most impressive Ancient Thracian city has had a deplorable fate in the Modern Era as a result of the decisions of the communist regime, today Seuthopolis is also intriguing because of a project for “freeing” it from the water by walling it off with a round concrete wall and making it a top-notch site for cultural tourism with its ruins exhibited in situ.

This map shows the location of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian capital Seuthopolis left by the Bulgarian communist regime on the bottom of the Koprinka Reservoir in the 1950s. Photo: Seuthopolis Project

This map shows the location of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian capital Seuthopolis left by the Bulgarian communist regime on the bottom of the Koprinka Reservoir in the 1950s. Photo: Seuthopolis Project

This map shows the 4th century BC urban planning of Seuthopolis, and how it will fit inside an artificial bottom island walling it off from the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir. Photo: Seuthopolis Project

This map shows the 4th century BC urban planning of Seuthopolis, and how it will fit inside an artificial bottom island walling it off from the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir. Photo: Seuthopolis Project

The so called Seuthopolis Project was invented in 2005 by Bulgarian architect Zheko Tilev. Its realization is estimated to cost about EUR 50 million.

However, while the local authorities from Kazanlak Municipality have been enthusiastic about making Seuthopolis accessible for visitors, they have been unable to raise the necessary funding.

While the project for the resurfacing of the ancient city has been a matter of controversy, its realization cannot be ruled out because thanks to the detailed archaeological excavations in the early 1950s, modern-day Bulgarian archaeologists have all the necessary information to restore the ancient city.

If it is ever accomplished, the exhibition in situ of the ruins of the submerged city of Seuthopolis will be an integral part of the so called Valley of Thracian Kings – the area of the Kazanlak Valley which is dotted with Ancient Thracian tombs, including the tomb of the Golyama Kosmatka Mound where the founder of Seuthopolis, the Thracian King Seuthes III, was buried.

More computer-generated images showing what the potential walling off of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian city of Seuthopolis from the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir would look like. Photos: Seuthopolis Project

More computer-generated images showing what the potential walling off of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian city of Seuthopolis from the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir would look like. Photos: Seuthopolis Project

Seuthopolis 2

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian city of Seuthopolis (today under water) was established by King Seuthes III (r. ca. 331 – ca. 330 BC), ruler of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD), the most powerful state of Ancient Thrace. It was founded around 325 – 315 BC, after the breakup of the Empire of Emperor Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC), on top of an earlier Thracian settlement which is believed to have been burned down.

For several decades, Seuthopolis was the mighty capital of the Odrysian Kingdom. In 281 BC, Seuthopolis was sacked by the Celts, and by 270 BC, it is believed to have waned. Today, the ruins of Seuthopolis are located near the town of Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria, on the bottom of the Koprinka Water Reservoir where it ended up as a result of a decision of the communist regime in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.

Seuthopolis was an Early Hellenistic city with active relations to other major centers of the Hellenistic World. The palace of King Seuthes III was also a shrine of the Cabeiri, ancient deities worshiped in a number of Thracian and Greek cities in the Hellenistic World, which indicates that Seuthes might have been a priest-king, the high priest of the Cabeiri among the Odrysian Thracians. The cult for the Cabeiri was associated with fire and metallurgy, and the smith-god Hephaestus.

Seuthopolis was located on elevated ground with natural defenses as it was surrounded on three sides by the Tundzha River. It had a fortified area of about 50 decares (app. 12.5 acres), and much of its territory was occupied by public buildings, rather than homes, with additional population living in suburbs outside of the fortress wall, and in nearby settlements. Its fortress wall was about 890 meters long, and it had the shape of a pentagon, with thorough urban planning similar to that of a Greek polis, and with streets crossing at right angles, and forming rectangular quarters. The city was inhabited by about 50 aristocratic families.

The name of the Odrysian Thracian capital became known thanks to an inscription found in the residence of King Seuthes III which stated in Greek: “This inscription [is] to be engraved on two tablets, and to be placed in Seuthopolis, in the temple of the Great Thracian Gods”. The city also had a temple of ancient god Dionysus.

As part of their excavations in the 1950s, the Bulgarian archaeologists also excavated the necropolis of Seuthopolis, with three burial mounds, which, however, had been raided back in the Antiquity. The fact that many of the graves were found in brick tombs is something untypical of the Ancient Thracians because bricks were not used as construction materials in other parts of Thrace.

King Seuthes III was also the first Thracian ruler to mint his own coins. During the excavations of Seuthopolis, the archaeologists found over 2,000 coins, including about 800 coins of Seuthess III.

The King’s residence was in the northeast corner of Seuthopolis; it had a 40-meter-long façade, and was richly decorated.

The ruins of Seuthopolis were first discovered in 1948 by Bulgarian archaeologists carrying out rescue excavations for the construction of the Koprinka Water Reservoir. The Ancient Thracian capital was fully excavated by 1953. In spite of the value of the archaeological site, the communist government of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944/8-1989) decided to go ahead with the water reservoir project, leaving the ruins of Seuthopolis under 20 meters of water.

In 2005, Bulgarian architect Zheko Tilev proposed a project to make the submerged Ancient Thracian capital Seuthopolis accessible for visitors by building a round dam around the city walling it off from the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir right in the middle of the artificial lake. The project for making a top-notch archaeological and cultural tourism destination out of Seuthopolis by building a wall around it with a circumference of almost 1.3 km is estimated to cost about EUR 50 million. Walled off from the water, the Ancient Thracian city would be visited by tourists by traveling to its wall by boats, and then descending by four panoramic elevators.

The project has been supported by Kazanlak Municipality which has been fundraising to finance it but appears to be nowhere near securing the necessary sum. Yet, there are great hopes for the “resurfacing” of Seuthopolis, including because thanks to the detailed archaeological excavations in the early 1950s, modern-day Bulgarian archaeologists have all the necessary information to restore the ancient city.

If it is ever accomplished, the exhibition in situ of the ruins of the submerged city of Seuthopolis will be an integral part of the so called Valley of Thracian Kings – the area of the Kazanlak Valley which is dotted with Ancient Thracian tombs, including the tomb of the Golyama Kosmatka Mound where the founder of Seuthopolis, the Thracian King Seuthes III, was buried.