Archaeologists to Probe 3 Unexplored Sections of Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv in 2016

Part of the visible ruins of the Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

Part of the visible ruins of the Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

The prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv will be probed by the local archaeologists in 2016 in order to determine where and/or whether to organized large-scale excavations in the next few years.

The archaeological probes will target three sections of the Nebet Tepe Fortress which have never been explored by the researchers before, Assoc. Prof. Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, has announced, as cited by BNT 2.

The settlement on Nebet Tepe, one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times, is the reason it is known as Europe’s oldest city.

Plovdiv’s seven hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period.

Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, (and allegedly the oldest city in Europe).

Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

Later, in the Antiquity period, the city was known as Philipopolis (named after King Philip II of Macedon), and Trimontium (after its conquest by the Roman Empire). Read more about the history of Plovdiv and Nebet Tebe in the Background Infonotes below.

The 2016 archaeological excavations, or probes, of the Nebet Tepe Fortress will be funded by Plovdiv Municipality in order to figure out whether the still unexplored archaeological structures there will warrant large-scale digs for the next 3-4 years, or only partial digs will do.

Kisyov has reminded that in September 2015, his colleagues carried out geophysical explorations in three sections of Nebet Tepe: the area of the medieval water reservoir, the site near the Rahat Tepe Restaurant, and the southern periphery of the hill.

All three sections have showed the presence of archaeological structures underground which has led the archaeologists to plan for next year’s probes.

“The goal of the probes in these areas will be to find out if the [underground] anomalies that we have detected are not fortress walls, for example," Kisyov says.

“We need to go in-depth in order to figure out the archaeological structure of the tepe (i.e. hill)," he adds.

In addition to helping decide whether new large scale excavations will be carried out, the results from the 2016 archaeological probes will also determine whether the controversial project for the archaeological restoration of the Nebet Tepe Fortress will be reconsidered.

In the past, the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology has urged new excavations on Nebet Tepe precisely because of the proposed restoration project.

Visible ruins of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photos: TV grabs form BNT 2

Visible ruins of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photos: TV grabs form BNT 2

Background Infonotes:

The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe" is the Turkish word for “hill"), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

The hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills") as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills").

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.