An aerial view of the ruins of the Shumen Fortress towering above the modern-day city of Shumen in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: BNR
The city of Shumen in Northeast Bulgaria has completed the restoration of the Shumen Fortress and several other archaeological, historical, and cultural sites in the region with funding from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants.
The restoration project worth BGN 3.2 million (app. EUR 1.6 million) started in 2012. The construction works were completed in the spring of 2015 but the restored archaeological sites have been inspected and approved by the respective government authorities only in early January 2016.
The restorationproject entitled “Bulgaria Begins Here", a name referring to the fact that today’s Northeast Bulgaria is where the Ancient Bulgars first established their empire south of the Danube in the 7th century AD, provided for the partial archaeological restoration of several major historical and cultural monuments.
These include the Shumen Fortress, the National Historical and Archaeological Preserve “Madara" (known as the site of the Madara Horseman, a huge Ancient Bulgar rock relief), the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument, and four homes with unique architecture from the Bulgarian National Revival Period (18th-19th century): the Doctor Verbi House, the Bratya Srebrovi (Srebrov Brothers) House, the Stoyka Milanova House, and the Buchevinov House.
A commission from the Bulgarian government has now inspected the restoration of the ancient and medieval Shumen Fortress, a major cultural landmark which was used as a stronghold in Ancient Thrace, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.
The Shumen Fortress is located on a plateau 2 km west of the modern-day city of Shumen in Northeast Bulgaria at a junction of a number of Ancient Roman north-south and east-west routes linking the Danube cities of Durostorum (Drastar / Silistra) and Sexaginta Prista (Ruse) with Adrianople and Constantinople, and Odessus (Odessos – Varna) on the Black Sea coast with the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula.
The location of the Shumen Fortress was first settled around 1200 BC by Ancient Thracians, most probably from the tribe of the Getae (Gets) making it a contemporary of Ancient Troy (more specifically of layer VIIb). Initially, the Thracian settlement there was not fortified.
It is believed that the first fortress wall of the settlement was built around the 5th century BC. Remains of the Thracian fortification from the 5th-2nd century BC have been discovered at a depth of 4 meters.
The Danube Plain in today’s Northern Bulgaria was conquered by the Roman Empire in 15 AD, making the Shumen Fortress a Roman stronghold. There are hypotheses that at the time the Shumen Fortress was called Dausdava but this name has not been confirmed.
The Romans built a new fortress wall with towers that were rectangular or U-shaped. The Shumen Fortress was overrun ca. 250 AD by the Goths but was rebuilt shortly after the invasion. It was affected by the second wave of Gothic invasions in the 4th century AD.
During the Roman period, the Shumen Fortress had primarily military functions, unlike the nearby Roman cities in today’s Northeast Bulgaria, Marcianople (Marcianopolis) (today’s town of Devnya) and Abritus (today’s city of Razgrad) which had a greater intensity of economic life.
After the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire built a new wall of the Shumen Fortress as an outer rim of the Roman wall, with pentagonal towers in order to make them more invincible to catapult attacks.
During the Early Byzantine period the Shumen Fortress began to emerge as a more significant commercial and economic center. It is from this period that the archaeologists have found the ruins of two Christian basilicas, one of them 30 meters long. However, the barbarian invasions from the second half of the 5th century until the second half of the 7th century AD resulted in the destruction and depopulation of the Roman and Byzantine city. The fortress was burned down and destroyed by the Slavs and Avars at the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th century AD.
The Shumen Fortress became part of the First Bulgarian Empire ca. 680 AD, as the Ancient Bulgars became conquering the lands south of the Danube. Archaeological excavations have revealed that in the 8th century Slavs who were part of the Bulgarian Empire settled there building dugouts among the ruins of the fortress whereas the restoration of the fortress itself happened gradually at the height of the First Bulgarian Empire, in the 9th-10th century AD when the Bulgars built a citadel that they used as a governors’ residence. The other major modification that they made to the Shumen Fortress was to transform some of the fortress towers into triangular.
The modern-day name of the city of Shumen emerged during the settlement of the Ancient Bulgars in today’s Northeast Bulgaria. The fortress had a very important role in the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) because of its proximity to the first two Bulgar capitals south of the Danube – Pliska (680-893 AD) and Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) (893-970 AD).
The Shumen Fortress was conquered by Byzantium in 1001 AD, shortly before all of Bulgaria was conquered and ruled by the Byzantines in 1018-1185 AD. In the 1030s-1040s, the fortress was destroyed during the invasions of the Pecheneg tribes, and was later rebuilt.
It was after the restoration of Bulgaria and the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) that Shumen became one of medieval Bulgaria’s most prominent cities, with well developed agriculture, crafts, and trade, and a royal mint in the 14th century.
During the Late Middle Ages, the Bulgarian city of Shumen had three fortress walls protecting its inner city, which itself had several main streets (2.5 meters wide) and a total of 27 smaller streets. The fortress walls from this period have been preserved up to a height of 5 meters. Inside the citadel, there was a 3.4 meters deep water reservoir built with stone blocks.
The Shumen Fortress was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD. An inscription indicates that in 1392, Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395), the last ruler of the Tarnovo Tsardom, which was the largest remnant of the Second Bulgarian Empire, managed to reconquer Shumen, a move which may have led Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402) to launch a final campaign against the Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo).
The Shumen Fortress survived until 1444 AD, when it was conquered after a fierce three-day siege by the troops from the Crusade against the Ottoman Empire of the King of Poland and Hungary Vladislav (Wladyslaw) III, also known as Varnenchik because he found his death in the Battle of Varna shortly after that. After the ShumenFortress was burned down by the Christian knights, it was never rebuilt.
The Shumen Fortress was turned into the Shumen Fortress Historical and Archaeological Preserve in 1957. It is one of Bulgaria’s most thoroughly researched archaeological monuments. It was first explored in the first half of the 20th century by archaeologists Rafail Popov and Ivan Mollov. The bulk of the excavations took place between 1957 and 1987 under the leadership of late archaeologist Vera Antonova (1917-2002) from the Shumen Regional Museum of History. The excavations revealed a total of three fortress walls – from the Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian periods, with typical fortress towers for each one of them; a citadel; Byzantinethermae (public baths); a total of 12 churches, including a religious center of four churches built in close proximity; the inscription of Tsar Ivan Shishman; another short inscription which could be the first ever known inscription in the Cyrillic (Bulgaric) Alphabet; belt applications; gold liturgical vessels; ceramic vessels from the period after 1,200 BC; a large number of coins from all time periods.
The Shumen Fortress has a total territory of 32 decares (app. 8 acres) but much of its medieval population lived in a suburb outside the fortress walls.
In 2012-2015, Shumen Municipality restored partly the Shumen Fortress and other sites with funding from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants worth BGN 3.2 million (app. EUR 1.6 million).