Treasure Hunters Destroy Ancient Roman Bridge near Bulgaria’s Drangovo in Search of Legendary Gold Treasure
An old arch bridge located in the picturesque Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria, which was built by the Ancient Romans back at the time of the Roman Empire, has been shattered by ruthless modern-day Bulgarian or Greek treasure hunters who have been targeting it for years.
The destruction was caused as the treasure hunters have been scouting and digging in the area in search of a gold treasure allegedly hidden there during the time of the Ottoman Empire (known in Bulgarian history as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), reports local news site Rodopi24.
The destroyed bridge is located in the Peshterska River, a tributary of the Drangovska River, near the town of Drangovo, Kirkovo Municipality, in Bulgaria’s Kardzhali District, very close to the border with Greece, and the Makaza Pass and the Makaza border crossing point.
The formerly fully preserved bridge was described in the book “Old Bridges in the Kardzhali District” by Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Balkanski back in 1978.
Said to be one of the most beautiful old bridges in the Rhodope Mountains, the Roman arch bridge on the Peshterska River was 32.45 meters long and 4.3 meters wide. Its sole arch was 13 meters long and 5.9 meters tall.
Another Roman Era arch bridge still survives in the center of Drangovo, on the Drangovska River. It is 5 meters tall, and used to have five arches. However, it too has been damaged by treasure hunters over the years, who compromised the structure of two of the arches and they were washed away by the river.
Both of these bridges are believed to have been built almost 2,000 years ago (the Roman Empire conquered all of Ancient Thrace in 46 AD).
The Ancient Roman bridge on the Peshterska River seems to have been completely destroyed over the past weekend when local residents have seen evidence of treasure hunting raids all over Drangovo, the report says.
A 2014 report of another local news site, Perperikon.info, says that the Roman Bridge on the Peshterska River has been repeatedly targeted by treasure hunters who kept removing stones from its foundations and arch for years.
As a result, back in 2014, the bridge collapsed partly, along the length of the Roman road, with half of the road lane disappearing. However, the arch still survived at less than half of its original width, and could have been rebuilt, as visible from the 2014 photos.
Now the some 2,000-year-old Roman arch bridge has been completely destroyed by the ruthless treasure hunting looters.
The treasure hunters are believed to be searching for a treasure consisting of eight loads of gold hidden somewhere near Drangovo by a wealthy man from the city of Komotini (today in Northern Greece) located about 20 km to the south.
According to local legends, the precise location of the gold treasure was recorded in an inscription in Arabic on a stone buried on the bottom of a local pond. Another version says that the location of the treasure was noted with a sign on a tombstone.
In addition to the destruction of the Roman arch bridge on the Peshterska River, the treasure hunters have left behind several fresh pits from their recent digs in the area.
One of them is a pit that is three meters deep at a local cemetery near the nearby town of Mogilyane.
The pit is located 20 meter away from the grave of the 17-month-old girl Tyurkyan killed in 1984 during a protest rally of the local ethnic Turks against the assimilation campaign of the communist regime in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria known as the “Revival Process” (or “Regeneration Process”), in which the Muslims minorities in Bulgaria were forced to adopt Slavic / Christian sounding names instead of their Arabic / Turkish sounding names.
Locals think that the huge pits in the cemetery might mean the treasure hunters might have discovered the legendary (tomb) stone with the directions to the gold treasure.
The local police have been alerted about the latest treasure hunting raids near Dragnovo and Mogilyane.
However, there is no way of knowing what the treasure hunters might have found, especially in the ruins of the Ancient Roman bridge that they have destroyed.
It is also unclear whether the treasure hunters in question were from Bulgaria, or came from Greece, since treasure hunters from both countries are known to have been scouting the area.
Locals are quoted as saying they recently saw treasure hunters driving cars with license plates from the Greek city of Xanthi.
They point out that ancient roads from the Rhodope Mountains down to the Aegean (Mediterranean) Sea Coast went nearby, and that the old arch bridges are just as old.
They have proven extremely durable because of the construction technique employing river stones, gravel, and limestone. Until now, when one of the two ancient arch bridges in Drangovo has been fully destroyed by treasure hunters (and the other has been damaged badly, as noted above).
The report reminds that the local police have recently arrested in Drangovo a treasure hunter who raided an Ancient Thracian temple dating back to the 3rd-2nd century BC, located right on the Bulgarian-Greek border.
The police have seized from him a total of 61 bronze statuettes, including 17 statuettes of the Thracian Horseman (Heros), the supreme deity in the Thracian mythology, and 8 Ancient Greek coins with images of Zeus and Apollo.
Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking.
An estimate made in November 2014 by the Forum Association, a NGO, suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.
According to an estimate by Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Dochev, head of the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the Sofia-based National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, up to USD 1 billion worth of archaeological artifacts might be smuggled out of Bulgaria annually.
One of the most compelling reports in international media on Bulgaria’s treasure hunting plight is the 2009 documentary of Dateline on Australia’s SBS TV entitled “Plundering the Past” (in whose making a member of the ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com participated). Focusing on the fate of the Ancient Roman colony Ratiaria in Northwest Bulgaria, the film makes it clear that treasure hunting destruction happens all over the country on a daily basis.