Bulgaria’s Varna Municipality Ridiculed over Reburial of Late Antiquity Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos

Newly placed information signs in Bulgarian and English in the downtown of Bulgaria's Varna denote the location of the ruins of the Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos discovered in 2015. However, nothing of the ruins is actually visible since the archaeological structures were reburied immediately after their rescue excavations as the local authorities have not figured out a way to display them and to fund a potential restoration project. Photo: BGNES

Newly placed information signs in Bulgarian and English in the downtown of Bulgaria’s Varna denote the location of the ruins of the Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos discovered in 2015. However, nothing of the ruins is actually visible since the archaeological structures were reburied immediately after their rescue excavations as the local authorities have not figured out a way to display them and to fund a potential restoration project. Photo: BGNES

Newly placed information signs about the Late Antiquity fortress wall of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos (Odessus) has led to media reactions ridiculing the way the municipal administration in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna has handled the archaeological site.

The Late Antiquity fortress wall, which was one of a total of three different fortress walls of Ancient Odessos dating to three different time periods, was discovered by accident in March 2015 by construction workers during the rehabilitation of a downtown boulevard.

The discovery even made international headlines with the finding of a tall man’s skeleton buried right under the Late Antiquity fortress wall of Odessos. Later, it turned out that the ancient man was only 165 cm (about 5 feet 4 inches) tall.

Three more skeletons were also found in what turned out to have been a small Early Christian necropolis.

Unfortunately, Varna Municipality had neither the funding, nor the flexibility to figure out quickly a way to exhibit the newly discovered ruins of the Late Antiquity fortress wall of Odessos in spite of the ideas of the archaeologists from the Varna Museum of Archaeology.

Once the rescue excavations were completed, the ruins were reburied with hopes that they will be re-excavated and exhibited once the proper funding and the goodwill of local and central government are secured.

However, now Varna Municipality has placed information signs on the spot of the reburied Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos. This has led BGNES, one of Bulgaria’s top private news agencies, to publish a sarcastic commentary on the issue.

“A new way to view the Varna archaeological excavations is the latest surprise for the residents and guests of Varna. The ancient artifacts and the Roman fortress wall, which were discovered during the renovation of the Varna Largo, have been completely reburied, and only information signs show what can be found under the pavement," writes BGNES.

“Hopefully, the genius who created this way of viewing won’t figure out that the other historical monuments could also be reburied, and an information sign could be placed on top of that. This way the City Hall can expect to reduce their maintenance cost," the report adds.

Despite this criticism, Bulgaria’s Varna has recently been working to exhibit more of the city’s invaluable archaeological heritage, with the Varna Museum of Archaeology spearheading the efforts.

Varna Municipality has completed the new visitors’ center of the Large (North) Roman Thermae (public baths) (which has also been criticized for “resembling a gas station”.

It has also been granted management rights by the Bulgarian Cabinet for six top archaeological sites: the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis (known for the Varna Gold Treasure, i.e. the world’s oldest gold; the Large Roman Thermae; the Small Roman Thermae; the Bishop’s Basilica of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos (Odessus); the Knyazheski (Royal) Monastery; and the Aladzha Rock Monastery.

Also check out our stories about the Spring 2015 rescue excavations of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna (in reverse chronological order):

Skeletons Found under Late Antiquity Fortress Wall of Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna Were Buried in Early Christian Necropolis, Archaeologist Reveals – June 9, 2015

Archaeological Monuments from Ancient Odessos Hold Great Potential for Cultural Tourism in Bulgaria’s Varna, Museum Director Says – June 2, 2015

Archaeologists Discover Main Aqueduct of Ancient Odessos during Rescue Excavations in Bulgaria’s Varna – April 28, 2015

Flooding Ruins Newly Found Late Antiquity Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna – March 30, 2015

Water Utility in Bulgaria’s Varna Cracks 5th Century Earth Jar, Submerges Ancient Odessos ‘Like Atlantis’ – March 28, 2015

‘Giant’ Man’s Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Turns Out to Be ‘Only’ 165 cm Tall – March 28, 2015

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Varna Unearth 3 More Skeletons, Identify Necropolis under Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos – March 28, 2015

Giant’ Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Not Fully Dug Up, Measured Yet, Archaeologists Inform – March 26, 2015

Archaeologists Dig Up Ancient Skeleton from under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna – March 17, 2015

Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Hand Mill, Odessos Fortress Wall in Varna – March 13, 2015

Workers Stumble Upon 1500-Year-Old Earthen Jar in Odessos Archaeology Preserve in Bulgaria’s Varna – January 22, 2015

Background Infonotes:

The dawn of Varnas history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts which date back to the 5th millenium BC (the Varna Gold Treasure).

Ancient Odessos (known as Odessus in Roman times) is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC. However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia. Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Romes successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century. It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos. The wall (rampart) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing. Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna. It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.