Bulgaria’s Burgas Opens for Tourists Partly Restored Ancient and Medieval Archaeological Preserve ‘Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis’

A view of the newly opened cultural tourism site in Bulgaria's Black Sea city of Burgas - the ancient and medieval Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Burgas Municipality

A view of the newly opened cultural tourism site in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas – the ancient and medieval Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Burgas Municipality

Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea city of Burgas has finally opened for visitors the partly restored Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve which features both ancient and medieval historical monuments and cultural attractions as well as a number of other activities for tourists.

The archaeological preserve is located near today’s Burgas Mineral Baths resort, is an ancient spa resort known as Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) 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.

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).

The partial restoration and continued archaeological excavation of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis has been carried out by Burgas Municipality and the Burgas Regional Museum of History with a total of BGN 500,000 (app. EUR 255,000) in funding from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

While the rehabilitation of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve had been 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 several times.

Parallel to the restoration works, the Burgas archaeologists have kept working on their excavations and making new discoveries such as the newly found Ancient Thracian inscription shedding new light on the last years of the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom before its conquest by the Roman Empire.

Thus, the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve was formally opened for tourists on Friday, September 18, 2015, with an afternoon of various activities for visitors of all ages.

These have included the showing of a 3D movie explaining the history of Aquea Calidae, concerts, performances, puppet shows, and a fire show.

A view inside the restored bath of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificient who sought treatment in the Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis spa resort in the 16th century. Photo: Burgas Municipality

A view inside the restored bath of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificient who sought treatment in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis spa resort in the 16th century. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The main archaeological attractions at the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve, which is still a work in progress, are the restored bath of Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD) and a museum exhibition of all the archaeological artifacts from all time periods which have been discovered during the excavations of Aquae Calidae and Themopolis so far.

The restored bath of Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD) (which has become a bit of a political issue) has actually been ready for a few months, including for 3D projections, but Burgas Municipality has been working on the other cultural tourism attractions in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve.

A 3D movie showing the history of the archaeological site which, together with the ancient port of Burgos (Poros) on Cape Foros, is one of the two predecessors of today’s city of Burgas, features scenes from the time of Ancient Thracians and the legend about “The Spring of the Three Nymphs”, the age of the Roman Empire and Byzantium, the medieval Bulgarian Empire, the Crusades, and the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent.

The wider green park in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve offers a number of recreational opportunities for the residents of Burgas and its Bulgarian and international guests, Burgas Municipality points out.

Starting in 2016, one of the many attractions in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas will be the opportunity to have spa treatments in a genuine replica of the ancient resorts Roman baths (thermae).

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 the museum exhibition of all artifacts discovered at Aquae Calidae – Thermpolis over decades of archaeological excavations.

Also check out our recent stories about archaeological discoveries at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis in Bulgaria’s Burgas:

Bulgarian Archaeologists Find Inscription at Aquae Calidae Revolutionizing Knowledge about Last Years of History of Ancient Thrace

‘Bulgarian Science’ Forum Tackles Translation of Newly Found Ancient Thracian Inscription from Aquae Calidae

Archaeologists Find Byzantine Coins, Roman Inscription in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas

Archaeologists Discover Ancient, Medieval Coins, Ceramics at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas

…and our recent stories about the development of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve as a cultural tourism destination:

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

Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s Bath in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas Causes Political Tension

Bulgaria’s Burgas to Open for Visitors Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve by End July 2015

Bulgaria’s Burgas to Attract Tourists with John the Apostle Reliquary, Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve

Bulgaria’s Burgas to Offer 3D Projections in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Bath of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent

Flooding Damages Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas, Hinders Excavations

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”.