Locals in Bulgaria’s Orehovo Raise Alarm over Municipal Construction Project on Top of Alleged Ancient Thracian Mound, Shrine

Locals in Bulgaria’s Orehovo Raise Alarm over Municipal Construction Project on Top of Alleged Ancient Thracian Mound, Shrine

A view of the Koloto Mound near the town of Orehovo, Chepelare Municipality, in Southen Bulgaria, which hides an Ancient Thracian shrine or temple underneath, according to local legends. Photo: TV grab from BNT

A view of the Koloto Mound near the town of Orehovo, Chepelare Municipality, in Southen Bulgaria, which hides an Ancient Thracian shrine or temple underneath, according to local legends. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Local residents of the town of Orehovo, Chepelare Municipality, in the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria have launched protests against a municipal project for the construction of a fire safety tower which they believe lies on top of an Ancient Thracian mound and shrine.

The residents of Orehovo insist that the authorities in Chepelare Municipality move the site of the future fire safety tower which is supposed to help protect the area from the frequent forest fires, reports the private Bulgarian TV channel bTV.

The construction of the fire safety tower in question is a part of project worth BGN 1.2 million (app. EUR 600,000) for building a total of three towers around the municipality, which is financed with EU funding.

A view of the construction site of the fire safety tower on top of the Koloto Mound which the locals believe is a man-made structure hiding a Thracian monument underneath. Photo: TV grab from bTV

A view of the construction site of the fire safety tower on top of the Koloto Mound which the locals believe is a man-made structure hiding a Thracian monument underneath. Photo: TV grab from bTV

The locals, however, claim that the mound known as “Koloto" where the future fire safety tower near Orehovo is already being built is not natural but is a man-made structure, i.e. a mound built in the Antiquity by the Ancient Thracians.

There are also local legends that the mound in question used to be an Ancient Thracian shrine or a temple.

The residents of Orehovo support their claims by revealing that over the years some of them have found ancient coins, ceramic vessels, and parts of an ancient statue at the foot of the Koloto Mound.

The landscape in the valleys and plains in Southern Bulgaria (such as the Valley of Thracian Kings near Kazanlak or the Upper Thracian Plain near Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, or Yambol) is dotted with Ancient Thracian burial mounds, while the Rhodope Mountains and the Strandzha Mountain (also in Southern Bulgaria) are known to contain a large number of Ancient Thracian rock shrines.

“This used to be a Thracian shrine. We know that the Thracians lived in these places. Thracian shrines have been found in [the area known as] Ravnishta where chapels have been built in recent times," alleges Elena Payovich, a local activist.

“As far as we know, this is a project of Chepelare Municipality but it has never been referred to us, the residents of Orehovo," she is quoted as saying.

The locals suspect that the existence of an Ancient Thracian monument may be concealed by the authorities so that any potential archaeological treasures that may be found there can be stolen.

They have accused the municipal administration of going behind their backs with respect to the fate of other local cultural monuments.

Homes built in the architectural tradition of the 19th century Bulgarian National Revival can still be seen in the town of Orehovo in the Rhodope Mountains. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Homes built in the architectural tradition of the 19th century Bulgarian National Revival can still be seen in the town of Orehovo in the Rhodope Mountains. Photo: TV grab from BNT

The residents of Orehovo say other peaks in the area are more suitable for a fire safety tower but construction on any one of them would be more expensive.

The municipal authorities in Bulgaria’s Chepelare, however, claim that there is no Thracian burial mound or shrine on the site where a fire safety tower is being erected.

“So far we have had not data indicating that there is something out there. There is only a legend," says Orehovo Mayor Pavlina Petkova.

“We have all the necessary paperwork and permits in order to start the construction of these towers," argues in turn Todor Bozukov, Mayor of Chepelare Municipality.

“We approached the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and we have received an answer from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology on September 14, 2015, signed by its director Lyudmil Vagalinksi. The presented information contains no data about the existence of an archaeological site on this place," he explains.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian National Television has reported that an archaeological expedition will be set up at the end of October 2015 to explore the territory around the town of Orehovo in the Rhodope Mountains in order to examine the locals’ claims about Ancient Thracian monuments.

The last time the area of Orehovo saw any archaeological exploration was in the 1960s, and any new finds might lead to the organizing of excavations.

Another view of the Koloto Mound near Orehovo, which, according to local legends, used to be an Ancient Thracian shrine or temple which was buried when the local population adopted Christianity in the Late Antiquity. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Another view of the Koloto Mound near Orehovo, which, according to local legends, used to be an Ancient Thracian shrine or temple which was buried when the local population adopted Christianity in the Late Antiquity. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Zlatka Churtova, another local activist, has pointed out to local myths and legends that the Koloto Mound was in fact an Ancient Thracian temple which was buried after the local population converted to Christianity in the Late Antiquity.

The construction works for the fire safety tower so far have reached a depth of 1.5 meters, and no archaeological artifacts have been found.

Churtova, however, believes the construction works have provided evidence that the Koloto Mound was formed as man-made earthenwork which means that there could be a Thracian shrine hidden underneath.

Unlike the other locals, she says that the construction of the fire tower will not do any damage to a potential Thracian archaeological monument that might be hidden beneath the mound.