Ancient Tomb from Thracian-Roman Period Discovered during Construction Works in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Ancient ruins made of bricks and mortar, most probably the walls of a Thracian tomb from the Roman period, have been stumbled upon by construction workers in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv24

Ancient ruins made of bricks and mortar, most probably the walls of a Thracian tomb from the Roman period, have been stumbled upon by construction workers in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv24

An Antiquity tomb which is most probably from the Thracian – Roman period, i.e. 1st-4th century AD, seems to have been discovered during construction works in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv.

During the rehabilitation of water supply pipes along the Vasil Aprilov Blvd in Plovdiv, construction workers have hit what have been found to be ancient ruins made of bricks and mortar.

The ruins are thought to be of an Ancient Thracian tomb from the Roman period (all of Ancient Thrace was conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD) which may be part of the western necropolis of ancient Philipopolis, as Plovdiv was known in the Antiquity (or Trimontium, as Plovdiv was known specifically in the Roman period).

The site where the construction workers have unearthed the ancient ruins has been inspected by experts from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture who have put all rehabilitation works on hold in preparation of expected permit the local archaeologists to carry out rescue excavations, reports local news site Plovdiv24.

The newly discovered ancient ruins are already being explored by archaeologist Maya Martinova from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

“Roman graves from the 3rd century AD were found in the area of the Plovdiv Medical University back in the 1960s,” Martinova says regarding the location where the ruins have been found.

“Here we are sitting on the territory of the western necropolis of Philipopolis. That is why we presume that we have stumbled upon a grave. However, it is impossible to tell for sure until it has been thoroughly excavated,” she adds.

The lead archaeologist also says that an Ancient Roman aqueduct was built nearby but because of its depth it is less likely that the newly found structure is connected with it; also, its known route lies further to the north of the present location.

Plovdiv Ruins 3

There is also a possibility that the ancient ruins might be connected with an Ancient Roman aqueduct. Photos: BGNES

Plovdiv Ruins 5The archaeological discovery made by accident by the construction workers in Plovdiv has caused some turmoil since it led to water supply restrictions for the entire neighborhood of the Plovdiv Medical University, whose hospital has a total of 22 clinics.

The experts from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture arrived only on the third day after the ancient structures were unearthed leading to criticism of the institution.

The construction firm was allowed to complete partly their work in order to ensure a proper water supply for the neighborhood but the overall rehabilitation, which is scheduled to be done by the end of March 2016, has been put on hold to make room for the archaeologists.

In one of the Roman Era graves discovered near the Plovdiv Medical University in the 1960s by archaeologist Liliya Botusharova, who was the first to excavate the Ancient Stadium of Philipopolis, the researchers found parts of an ancient chariot. However, the find could not be unearthed in full because it was located under an electrical substation of the university hospital.

Ministry of Culture experts Stoilka Ignatova and Slavi Slavov are supposed to file a report about their inspection within seven days. After that, Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov is supposed to approve the carrying out of rescue excavations.

The rescue digs will be funded by Plovdiv Municipality, Deputy Mayor Dimitar Katsarski has promised.

The precise nature of the newly found ruins is yet to be established but the site of their location is known to have been the western necropolis of the ancient city of Philipopolis (Plovdiv). Photos: Plovdiv24

The precise nature of the newly found ruins is yet to be established but the site of their location is known to have been the western necropolis of the ancient city of Philipopolis (Plovdiv). Photos: Plovdiv24

Plovdiv 4Plovdiv Ruins 4Ancient archaeological structures are often discovered by accident during construction works in major Bulgarian cities. A recent case in hand in Plovdiv was the discovery of a medieval child grave. Similarly, the Black Sea city of Varna made international headlines last year with the discovery of a skeleton under the fortress wall of Ancient Odessos (later three more skeletons were found).

In 2012, a Thracian tomb from the Roman period discovered by accident in Plovdiv revealed Early Christian murals with Biblical motifs.

Part of the newly revealed ancient ruins. Photo: EKSA (the construction firm carrying out the rehabilitation)

Part of the newly revealed ancient ruins. Photo: EKSA (the construction firm carrying out the rehabilitation)

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.

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The Odrysian Kingdom, a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrusai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD)), was the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.

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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.