Bulgaria’s Burgas to Support Underwater Archaeology Efforts for Further Exploration of Burgos (Poros) Fortress

The ruins of the ancient city of Burgos (Poros) on the Black Sea in today's Bulgarian city of Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The ruins of the ancient city of Burgos (Poros) on the Black Sea in today’s Bulgarian city of Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The municipal administration in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas has vowed to begin supporting underwater archaeology efforts in order to help for the further exploration of the ancient port and fortress Burgos (Poros) on Cape Foros.

The pledge has come from Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov who took part in a news conference presenting the latest archaeological finds in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress.

These include an Early Christian and Early Byzantine medallion with crosses from the 6th century AD.

The medallion in question is the second notable Early Christian artifact discovered in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress in 2015, after in the spring the local archaeologists found there a lead reliquary containing ashes from the grave of St. John the Baptist.

Mayor Dimitar Nikolov who spoke alongside the Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History (unrelated), has made it clear that the municipality will support the further exploration of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress, including, potentially, any underwater archaeology projects.

With quality underwater archaeology we expect to find information and artifacts connected with the fortress that no one has ever touched,” the Mayor has said, as cited by the press service of Burgas Municipality.

“We know that in ancient times the water [of the Black Sea] was much further [from the present-day coast]… Underwater archaeology is considerably more expensive which is why we need to review our budget to get our financial indicators straight,” Nikolov has added, as cited by the local news site BurgasNews.

The Burgas Mayor did note that the site of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress has been affected badly by different types of projects during Bulgaria’s communist period (1944/48 – 1989), including collectivized agriculture and military drills and fortifications from the Cold War.

His words were supported by the local archaeologists who have recently found a Cold War Ear five-pointed star badge in a trench dug up during the communist period.

The Mayor also says his administration has started a procedure for the expropriation of private properties in the area of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress, and the compensation of their owners, in order to be able to establish the archaeological site as a destination for cultural tourism, the way it has been doing with the other ancient and medieval settlement in the Burgas urban area, Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis.

Nikolov has once again slammed the perception of Burgas as having emerged as a major urban center only recently in Bulgaria’s history, and having existed previously only as a “small fishing settlement”. He has pointed out the historical and archaeological significance of both Burgos (Poros) and Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis as evidence against this image.

“The perception that Burgas was a town of fishermen must stop. So many archaeological discoveries have been made in the recent years that I don’t even know how that is still a question. It is obvious that Burgas has a very ancient history,” argues the Mayor.

“We have very serious indications that the port on Cape Foros was very large, and was probably connected with Deultum (i.e. the nearby Ancient Roman city whose ruins are located in the town of Debelt – editor’s note). It is precisely Poros (Burgos) that was its connection to the sea, and through which Deultum was supplied with goods,” says in turn Milen Nikolov, the Director of the Burgas Museum of History.

“We are surprised to be finding so few household artifacts in Poros (Burgos). This leads us to believe that [this was a port] connected with very serious commercial activity,” he adds.

Milen Nikolov points out that the ruins of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress are situated just 4 km away from the city of Burgas, and that it can be turned into a major archaeological park not unlike the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve.

Also check out our stories about the archaeological discoveries in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress in Bulgaria’s Burgas:

Archaeologists Discover Early Christian Medallion in Burgos (Poros) Fortress in Bulgaria’s Black Sea City Burgas

Bulgarian Archaeologists Come Across Late Antiquity Toilet at Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Bulgarian Royal Seal at Rusocastro Fortress

Bulgarian Archaeologists Find Lead Reliquary with Ashes from John the Apostle’s Grave during Excavations of Ancient Fortress Burgos (Poros)

The ruins of the ancient city of Burgos (Poros) on the Black Sea in today's Bulgarian city of Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The ruins of the ancient city of Burgos (Poros) on the Black Sea in today’s Bulgarian city of Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

The ancient and medieval fortress and port of Burgos (Poros) is located on the Cape of Foros in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas. It was first excavated in 2008 by archaeologists Milen Nikolov (currently Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History), Dr. Tsonya Drazheva, and Konstantin Gospodinov, after access to its site was denied for decades because of the existence of a nearby military base which has been closed down in recent years. Part of its fortress wall was first discovered in 1989 during the construction of a cow farm. Even though there have been traces of ancient life, the fortress and port city of Burgos (Poros) on the Cape of Foros in Bulgaria’s Burgas is dated back to the Late Antiquity / Late Roman period, with the Bulgarian archaeologists uncovering a large number of buildings, artifacts, and pottery vessels dating back to the 4th-6th century AD.

Their excavations have revealed a complex set of fortifications, including walls, ramparts, and towers, which were rebuilt and reorganized multiple times from the 4th until the middle of the 15th century, and were in use throughout this entire period by different states: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire. Some of the more interesting finds including a stone block with an Ancient Roman inscription in Greek mentioning the name of Roman Emperor Gordian III (r. 238-244 AD); a 2nd century AD inscription carved into stone stating that “burgi” (fortifications) were built on the border of the Roman colony of Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt) – hence, possibly, the name Burgos; a basilica; the remains of a small monastery called “St. George” which is described in a 13th century Byzantine source; the 6th century lead tube reliquary containing ashes from the grave of John the Apostle in Ephesus, Anatolia.

The Foros pennisula was marked on Italian and Catalan maps from the 13th-17th century as an old fortress and port under the name Poro (strait) or Poros, which means that the fortress defended the waterway entry point of the nearby Lake Mandra which flows out into the Black Sea. A stone inscription dating back to the 2nd century AD (presently exhibited in the Burgas Regional Museum of History) discovered on the site states that “burgi” (fortifications) were built on the border of Roman colony Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt). Historians believe that there used to be a large fortified port along the waterway between Lake Mandra and the Black Sea which served and protected the Roman city of Deultum. The Roman road station called Pudizo marked in the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia) has been discovered in this same area.

The area of the Burgos (Poros) fortress and the Cape of Foros is also famous for being the site of a major battle during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). The so called Battle of Skafida (named after the Skafida River and the Skafida Fortress, another medieval fortress located nearby) took place in 1304 AD when the forces of Bulgarian Tsar Theodore Svetoslav (r. 1300-1322 AD) defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Michael IX Palaiologos (Palaeologus) (r. 1294-1320), after having reconquered earlier the nearby Black Sea cities of Rusocastro, Mesembria, Anchialos, Sozopolis and Agathopolis. The victory in the Battle of Skafida helped the Second Bulgarian Empire regain most of the region of Thrace from Byzantium bringing it a period of relative stability at the beginning of the 14th century, after feudal strife had put it in a state of permanent dynastic crisis at the end of the 13th century.

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The ruins of the Ancient Thracian settlement of Debelt (Develt) and the Ancient Roman city of Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium), which was also a medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress in the Middle Ages, are located near today’s town of Debelt, Sredets Municipality, Burgas District (17 km east of the city of Burgas), near the Black Sea coast of Southeast Bulgaria. The Roman city of Deultum itself was founded during the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD) on the northern bank of the Sredetska River, near the Mandra Lake (today the Mandra Water Reservoir) where it also had a port connecting it to the Black Sea. Deultum was a Roman colony, which according to Roman law signified a status equal to that of Rome itself. In today’s Bulgaria, there are only three Roman cities which enjoyed this status – Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) near Burgas, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria) near Archar, Ulpia Oescus near Gigen. Deultum was settled by Roman military veterans from the Augustus’ Eight Legion (Legio VIII Augusta). On the 30th anniversary since the founding of the Roman colony Deultum, then Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) minted a special emission of bronze coins. There are indications that at some point between the 130s and the 150s Deultum was seriously damaged by a barbarian invasion. The Roman city was further strengthened during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD); its limits were marked by inscriptions at two points – in today’s southern suburbs of Burgas, and at the ancient fortress in the town of Golyamo Bukovo.

Deultum thrived during the reign of the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD), at the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century AD, when it had an area of about 250 decares (app. 62 acres), and a sophisticated urban infrastructure. Its residents had temples of ancient god of medicine Asclepius and goddess Cybele, and also worshiped the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, and Hercules (Heracles). In the second half of the 3rd century AD, Deultum was ransacked by the Goths; however, it was restored shortly after that. The city’s thermae (public baths) were re-built with a complex water supply and sewerage system, and a hypocaust (underfloor heating). It is possible that during a visit to Deultum in November 296 AD Roman Emperor Diocletian also visited the thermae. In the 4th century, the city was known again with its Thracian name, Develt, and it was reinforced because of its new strategic role of supplying and protecting the new capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople (as of 330 AD). In the 370s, there was a major battle near Develt between the Roman forces and the Goths who prevailed and burned down the city. It was restored once again but on a smaller area. In the 5th century, Develt was the center of a bishopric.

In the second half of the 6th century, the city was affected by the barbarian invasions of the Slavs and Avars. Debelt (Develt) was conquered from Byzantium for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) by the Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD who exiled the city’s population in the Bulgarian territories north of the Danube, and settled it with Bulgarians. Thus, during the Middle Ages, Debelt was a major strategic fortress in the frontier region between Bulgaria and Byzantium. Debelt is also the starting area of the Erkesiya, a huge earthen wall (rampart) with a moat built by the Ancient Bulgars in the 8th century, as early as the reign of Khan Tervel (700-721 AD), after in 705 AD the Byzantine Empire ceded to Bulgaria the Zagore Region, which covers much of today’s Southeast Bulgaria. The Erkesiya Wall spanned 142 km going all the way from the lakes around the city of Burgas in the east to the Sakar Mountain in the west. The Erkesiya Wall was made the official border between the First Bulgarian Empire and Byzantium in a peace treaty signed in 815 AD by the Bulgarian Khan Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD) and the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian (r. 813-820 AD), and, in addition to serving a defense purpose for Bulgaria, it became a major customs facility facilitating the trade relations between the two empires all the way to the 14th century. By the end of the 14th century AD, Debelt waned, when the Ottoman Turks conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire, and the name of the city was no longer mentioned in historical sources after that period.

The Ancient Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian archaeological city of Debelt (Develt) / Deultum was first explored and described at the end of the 19th century by Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Jirecek and Czech-Bulgarian archaeologists Karel and Hermann Skorpil. It was further explored in the first half the 20th century but major archaeological excavations near Debelt started in the 1980s because of the construction of a large metallurgical factory there. The excavations were led by late archaeologist Stefan Damyanov from the National Museum of History in Sofia, and Petar Balabanov from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. Later, the excavations were led by Tsonya Drazheva from the Burgas Museum, and then by Lyudmil Vagalinski from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia. Debelt – Deultum was declared an archaeological monument in 1965, and in 1988, the Bulgarian authorities set up the Debelt – Deultum Archaeological Preserve which covers an area of about 3 square km, and features over 25 archaeological sites dating back to different time periods – from the prehistory to the Late Middle Ages. Those include a medieval fortress called Malko Gradishte (“Small Fortress”) which existed between the 4th and the 7th century AD as an Early Byzantine fortification, and in the 12th-14th century AD, as a fortress in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD); and a 9th century church in an area called Kostadin Cheshma where the archaeologists found a total of 34 Christian funerals, and a total of 64 lead seals (most of them belonging to Byzantine dignitaries from the Iconoclastic Period (726-843 AD)) including three seals of the Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Michael (r. 852-889; 893 AD) with the images of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God (Virgin Mary). Since Knyaz Boris I was the ruler who made Christianity the official religion of Bulgaria, scholars have hypothesized that Debelt is where he might have been baptized by the Byzantine clergy.