Ancient Roman, Early Byzantine Fortress Zaldapa in Northeast Bulgaria Granted Highest Status for Cultural Heritage Monuments
The Ancient Thracian, Ancient Roman, and Early Byzantine fortress Zaldapa located between the towns of Abrit and Dobrin, Dobrich District, in Northeast Bulgaria, has been granted the country’s highest status for cultural monuments.
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture has now classified Zaldapa as an archaeological monument of “national importance”, Zhelka Velikova, Deputy Mayor of Krushari Municipality, has announced, as cited by Darik Dobrich.
The newly acquired status of what was the largest fortified settlement in the geographic region of Dobrudzha (covering much of Northeast Bulgaria) in ancient times has paved the way for its development as a major destination for cultural tourism.
Zaldapa (meaning “yellow water”) was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement founded in the 8th century BC. Its ruins covering a total of about 35 hectares (app. 86 acres) are located on a high plateau overlooking the picturesque hills and plains all around it.
Archaeological observations indicate that in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine city of Zaldapa was densely built-up and populated. The fortress, which was most probably built in the second half of the 4th century AD, boasted a total of 32 towers of various shape and size, as well as 3 main and 2 smaller gates.
Deputy Mayor Velikova says the municipal administration is still researching the advantages that the new status provides for the tourist development of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine fortress such as applying for funding from the EU and other sources.
The re-evaluation of the status of Zaldapa, which saw its first regular archaeological excavations for the first time only in 2014, was initiated by Krushari Municipality which asked the National Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties to review the site based on the archaeological discoveries in 2014 and 2015.
Over the past two archaeological seasons, the digs at Zaldapa revealed a large Early Christian bishop’s basilica, a saint’s crypt inside the basilica, more than 500 marble and limestone architectural fragments, and over 800 Roman and Byzantine coins, mostly from the 4th century AD.
Krushari Municipality intends to apply for including the Zaldapa Fortress in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
It plans to sponsor the 2016 archaeological excavations, with additional funding expected from the Ministry of Culture.
The 2016 digs at Zaldapa are expected to begin in the second half of June, and to last for three months.
In 2014, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture provided BGN 40,000 (app. EUR 20,000) for the excavations; however, in 2015, the sum was only BGN 8,000 (app. EUR 4,000).
With the newly acquired national status of the fortress, the Director of the Dobrich Regional Museum of History, Kostadin Kostadinov, hopes that the Ministry will provide BGN 50,000 (app. EUR 25,000) for the 2016 season.
Krushari Municipality has been funding the digs with BGN 10,000 (app. EUR 5,000) each year, and plans to allocate the same amount of money in 2016 as well.
“Zaldapa is a very promising fortress. I think the [archaeological] results [from its excavations] will continue to surprise and bring joy to all people who are tempted by history and Bulgaria’s cultural heritage,” Kostadinov is quoted as saying.
Before Zaldapa was declared an archaeological monument of national importance, the District of Dobrich in Northeast Bulgaria had only two other archaeological sites with the highest status, both on the Black Sea coast: the Kaliakra Fortress on the Cape of Kalikra, near the town of Kavarna, and the prehistoric settlement near the town of Durankulak.
Also check out the other stories from the 2015 summer excavations of the Ancient Thracian, Roman, and Byzantine fortress Zaldapa in Northeast Bulgaria:
The Ancient Thracian, Ancient Roman, and Early Byzantine fortress Zaldapa located between the towns of Abrit and Dobrin, Dobrich District, Northeast Bulgaria, is said to be the largest fortified settlement in the geographic region of Dobrudzha (covering much of Northeast Bulgaria). Because of the name of the town of Abrit, for a long time, in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the Bulgarian archaeologists and historians thought the Zaldapa Fortress was in fact the legendary ancient city of Abritus – until the ruins of Abritus were discovered some 100 km to the southwest, near the city of Razgrad, in 1953.
Zaldapa (meaning “yellow water”) was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement founded in the 8th century BC. It is located on a large peninsula-shaped plateau with a length of 1.2 km and a width of 500 meters (totaling 0.6 square km). Archaeological observations indicate that Zaldapa was densely built-up and populated. The entire settlement covered an area of 35 hectares (app. 86 acres). Zaldapa’s fortress wall appears homogenous meaning it was probably constructed in a single campaign, without major reconstructions in subsequent periods. It has a lot of straight sections as well as a total of 32 fortress towers of various shape and size, as well as 3 main and 2 smaller gates. The type of the fortification indicates that it was built in the Late Antiquity, i.e. the Late Roman period, most probably in the second half of the 4th century AD.
Zaldapa was first explored in 1906-1910 by Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil, one of the founders of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology. Later archaeological exploration has been reduced to terrain observations. Between World War I and World War II, when the region of Southern Dobrudzha was part of Romania, Zaldapa was also researched by Romanian archaeologists any findings they might have had have not made it to the Bulgarian archaeologists. Proper archaeological excavations at Zaldapa were carried out for the first time in 2014 by archaeologists from the Silistra Regional Museum of History, the Dobrich Regional Museum of History, and the Varna Museum of Archaeology (Varna Regional Museum of History). Unfortunately, since the end of the 19th century the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Zaldapa has been targeted by looters and treasure hunters. All archaeological explorations there to date have studied part of the fortifications, a Roman civic basilica, an Early Christian basilica, and a huge water reservoir.
The so called Roman civic basilica was explored by Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil in the first decade of the 20th century. It is located in the center of Zaldapa, and has dimensions of 101 by 18 meters. Its walls are constructed according to the Roman style opus implectum, and its floor is tiled with bricks. According to Bulgarian archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, the basilica was probably an entire architectural complex consisting of two basilicas with a common entryway; it was a Roman public building with judicial and commercial functions.
In 1906, Karel Skorpil also explored an Early Christian church, a three-nave, one-apse basilica with dimensions 27 meters by 16 meters, situation in the east-west direction. It was built in the same style as the fortress wall and the civic basilica, most probably at the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 6th century AD, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD). A bishop’s basilica was discovered at Zaldapa in the first regular excavations in 2014 by archaeologists from the Silistra Regional Museum of History, the Dobrich Regional Museum of History, and the Varna Museum of Archaeology (Varna Regional Museum of History) led by Prof. Georgi Atanasov and Prof. Valeri Yotov.
The water reservoir of the Zaldapa fortress was discovered in 1949 by Bulgarian archaeologist M. Mirchev. It is located northwest of the fortress itself. It was a rather complex engineering facility consisting of two spaces. The water reservoir was connected with the fortress with a secret passage, a rock tunnel which is 3 meters wide and 3 meters tall. The Bulgarian archaeologists believed that because of its vulnerable location outside the fortress wall and the secret passage, it was covered with earth immediately after its construction to hide it from the enemy forces. The water reservoir was likely constructed in the second quarter of the 4th century AD together with other Late Roman urban infrastructure in the city of Zaldapa.
According to the works of 7th century AD Byzantine chronicler John of Antioch, the city of Zaldapa was the birthplace of Byzantine general Vitalian (d. 520) who led a rebellion against Byzantine Emperor Anastasius which grew into a 5-year civil war. The city of Zaldapa is also found in the list of fortifications renovated during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD) where it was also mentioned as the seat of a Christian bishop under the diocese of the metropolitan in Tomis (today’s Constanta in Romania). The fortress of Zaldapa was in use by the Later Roman Empire and Early Byzantine Empire (i.e. the Eastern Roman Empire) for about 250 years – between the second half of the 4th century AD, and the end of the 6th century AD when the city of Zaldapa was depopulated as a result of the great barbarian invasion of the Avars in 585 AD.