Archaeologists Find Early Bronze Age Home inside Ancient and Medieval Fortress Rahovets near Bulgaria’s Gorna Oryahovitsa

Archaeologists Find Early Bronze Age Home inside Ancient and Medieval Fortress Rahovets near Bulgaria’s Gorna Oryahovitsa

These ceramic vessels discovered in a home found inside the ancient and medieval fortress Rahovets near Bulgaria's Gorna Oryahovisa have led experts to date the home to the Early Bronze Age. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

These ceramic vessels discovered in a home found inside the ancient and medieval fortress Rahovets near Bulgaria’s Gorna Oryahovisa have led experts to date the home to the Early Bronze Age. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

A home dating back to the Early Bronze Age period has been found during the 2015 summer excavations of the ancient and medieval fortress Rahovets near the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa in Central North Bulgaria, which have been the first digs on the site since 1991.

The discovery has been announced by the archaeologists at the opening of an exhibition at the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History showcasing the latest artifacts discovered during the 2015 summer archaeological excavations of the Rahovets Fortress.

The artifacts on display included, among other things, the Early Bronze Age ceramic vessels found inside the Rahovets Fortress which are what the experts are basing their dating of the Bronze Age home on.

“The most interesting thing we have discovered is a residence inside the fortress which is dated to the Early Bronze Age. At first, we thought that it dates back to the Early Iron Age – the 12th-6th century BC. However, the experts who examined the ceramic vessels that we found there decided that the finds are from the Early Bronze Age, i.e. the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC," explains archaeologist Maya Ivanova from the Museum of History in Gorna Oryahovitsa, who was the deputy head of the 2015 summer excavations at Rahovets.

“As a whole, the [Bronze Age] period has not been fully researched in Bulgaria, and especially in Northern Bulgaria where we don’t have much data," adds Ivanova, as cited by the press service of Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality.

In addition to the Early Bronze Age home found inside the fortress, the 2015 summer excavations of Rahovets, which has been best known for its prominence at the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), have also yielded Ancient Thracian finds.

These have led the archaeologists from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History to hypothesize that Rahovets may in fact have been the Ancient Thracian fortress Zikideva.

The recent excavations have also indicated that during the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), it was the main garrison protecting the then Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo) from the north.

The resumed excavations of Rahovets have been led by Iliyan Petrakiev, an archaeologist from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, and Maya Ivanova from the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History, and have been consulted by Prof. Dr. Hitko Vatchev who participated in the original archaeological digs at Rahovets back in the late 1980s.

Lead archaeologist Iliyan Petrakiev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History at the opening of the exhibition of the new finds from the ancient and medieval fortress Rahovets. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

Lead archaeologist Iliyan Petrakiev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History at the opening of the exhibition of the new finds from the ancient and medieval fortress Rahovets. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

During the 2015 summer archaeological season, the Rahovets Fortress was excavated for the first time since 1991 at the initiative and with funding from Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality which provided from its budget the entire funding for the renewed excavations amounting to BGN 20,000 (app. EUR 10,200).

The 2015 digs focused on three sections of Rahovets – the southeast gate, the northern gate, and the areas around them.

The archaeologists hope that in the years to come they will be able to excavate fully the inside area of the Rahovets Fortress. They also have plans for the conservation of the site, and turning part of into an archaeology training center for children.

The exhibition of the 2015 finds from the Rahovets Fortress will be on display at the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History until the end of 2015, Museum Director Plamen Mademov has announced.

Rahovets Latest Finds 5

The advertising poster for the exhibition of the latest finds from the Rahovets Fortress in the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

Rahovets Latest Finds 3

Visitors viewing the exhibition of the 2015 finds from the Rahovets Fortress at the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

Last month, the ancient and medieval fortress Rahovets located near Gorna Oryahovitsa and the city of Veliko Tarnovo was granted by the Bulgarian government the status of a “monument of culture of national importance".

The long-anticipated “monument of culture" status for the Rahovets Fortress has been a major prerequisite for its further archaeological research, and for its potential restoration and development as a cultural tourism destination, Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality points out.

Rahovets existed as a settlement and later as a fortress from the 6th century BC until the 15th century AD, and was used consecutively by the Ancient Thracians, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.

The fortress was destroyed only in 1444 AD by the forces of Polish King Vladislav (Wladyslaw) III ((r. 1424-1444 AD) who launched two unsuccessful Crusades against the Ottoman Empire in 1443 AD and 1444 AD (he is also known as Vladislav Varnenchik (Vladislav of Varna) because he was killed in the Battle of Varna in 1444 AD). After 1444, the Ottoman Turks abandoned the Rahovets Fortress completely.

The Rahovets Fortress was first mentioned in historical sources by Byzantine chronicler George Pachymeres (1242-1310) in 1304 AD, and again in 1460 AD by German wandering singer Michael Beheim (1416-ca. 1472) in a poem based on the story of a crusader knight from the second Crusade of Polish King Vladislav (Wladyslaw) III against the Ottoman Empire aiming the liberation of Bulgaria and the other Balkan Christian nations in 1444 AD.

In the early 20th century, Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil drafted a blueprint of the preserved ruins of the Rahovets Fortress, which, however, were destroyed further by an earthquake in 1913.

The Early Bronze Age ceramics vessels found at the Rahovets Fortress will be on display at the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History until the end of 2015. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

The Early Bronze Age ceramics vessels found at the Rahovets Fortress will be on display at the Gorna Oryahovitsa Museum of History until the end of 2015. Photo: Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality

Also check out our recent stories about the 2015 summer excavations of the Rahovets Fortress:

Bulgaria’s Government Grants ‘Monument of Culture’ Status to Ancient, Medieval Fortress Rahovets near Gorna Oryahovitsa

Rahovets Fortress Was Ancient Thracian City Zikideva, Bulgarian Archaeologist Hypothesizes

Medieval Rahovets Fortress in Central Bulgaria Was Also Thracian Rock Shrine, Archaeological Excavations Reveal

Ancient, Medieval Fortress Rahovets near Bulgaria’s Gorna Oryahovitsa Promised ‘Monument of Culture’ Status

Background Infonotes:

The ancient and medieval settlement and fortress of Rahovets is located near the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa and the city of Veliko Tarnovo, in Veliko Tarnovo District, Northern Bulgaria. It existed as a settlement and later as a fortress from the 6th century BC until the 15th century AD, and was used consecutively by the Ancient Thracians, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. The Rahovets Fortress is located at a curve of the Yantra River, on a hill towering about 100 meters over the surrounding area.

The site of the Rahovets Fortress was inhabited by the Ancient Thracians, during the Iron Age, as early as the 6th century BC. Some Bulgarian scholars have hypothesized that the settlement that later became known as the Rahovets Fortress was part of a huge regional fortification system in Thracian times, and/or that Rahovets was in fact the ancient city Beripara, the alleged capital of the Thracian tribe Krobyzoi (which might have belonged to the Thracian tribes of the Gets (Getae) or the Dacians), or that it was the legendary Thracian fortress Zekideva. However, these hypotheses have not been proven. The Roman Fortress of Rahova, later called Rahovets, was built in the 3rd-4th century AD as part of the fortification system guarding the roads in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior (later divided into Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor).

Rahovets remained an important fortress during the period of the Early Byzantine Empire (Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages), during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), then again during the period of Byzantine domination over Bulgaria (1018-1185 AD). It became especially important during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396), which was created after the Uprising of Asen and Petar (later Tsar Asen I and Tsar Petar IV) against the Byzantine Empire in 1185-1186 AD when Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo) was declared capital of Bulgaria.

It became part of a set of fortifications which protected Tarnovgrad from the north. There are hypotheses that Rahovets used to be the locations of the coin mint of the Tsars from the Second Bulgarian Empire, and while these hypotheses have not been confirmed, Bulgarian archaeologists have indeed discovered there evidence of metal smelting during the Middle Ages. They have also found a residential area outside of the fortress, between the fortress wall and the Yantra River, known as the Dark City, meaning that it might have been the site of a large medieval city, where the Rahovets Fortress had the role of a citadel.

After the invading Ottoman Turks conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century, they continued to use the Rahovets Fortress. The fortress was destroyed only in 1444 AD by the forces of Polish King Vladislav (Wladyslaw) III ((r. 1424-1444 AD) who launched two unsuccessful Crusades against the Ottoman Empire in 1443 AD and 1444 AD (he is also known as Vladislav Varnenchik (Vladislav of Varna) because he was killed in the Battle of Varna in 1444 AD).

After that, the Turks abandoned the Rahovets Fortress completely. While much of the archaeological structures at the Rahovets Fortress had survived until the beginning of the 20th century (including fortress walls, towers, and gates described by Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil), those were destroyed in 1913 by a strong earthquake with an epicenter in the nearby town of Gorna Oryahovitsa.

The Rahovets Fortress was first mentioned in historical sources by Byzantine chronicler George Pachymeres (1242-1310) in 1304 AD, and again in 1460 AD by German wandering singer Michael Beheim (1416-ca. 1472) in a poem based on the story of a crusader knight from the second Crusade of Polish King Vladislav (Wladyslaw) III against the Ottoman Empire aiming the liberation of Bulgaria and the other Balkan Christian nations in 1444 AD. In the early 20th century, Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil drafted a blueprint of the preserved ruins of the Rahovets Fortress, which, however, were destroyed further by an earthquake in 1913.

The Rahovets Fortress was excavated only between 1985 and 1991 by Veliko Tarnovo archaeologists Yordan Aleksiev, Ivan Bachvarov, and Hitko Vatchev. They excavated partly the western, northern, and eastern fortress wall, which were about 3 meters thick. The archaeological digs at the fortress confirmed not only its significance during the Second Bulgarian Empire but also the fact that as a settlement it is really ancient: the Bulgarian archaeologists found a large amount of Ancient Thracian ceramics, and amphora seals testifying about the connections with the Hellenic world. They also discovered the nearby remains of a rural Ancient Roman villa (known as villa rustica) from the 3rd-4th century AD, ancient coins, decorations, and tools as well as artifacts and arms from the Second Bulgarian Empire.