Archaeologists Find Early Byzantine Fortress near Bulgaria’s Banya Was Rebuilt and Used by Second Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages

A poster of the 2015 archaeological excavations of the Early Byzantine and medieval fortress near Bulgaria's Banya from the exhibition of the Panagyurishte Museum of History. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

A poster of the 2015 archaeological excavations of the Early Byzantine and medieval fortress near Bulgaria’s Banya from the exhibition of the Panagyurishte Museum of History. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

The first ever archaeological excavations of the Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine fortress known as “Kaleto" near the town of Banya, Panagyurishte Municipality, in Central Bulgaria, have found that the fortress was rebuilt and used in the 12th-14th century by the Second Bulgarian Empire (1186-1396 AD).

The 2015 excavations of the fortress near Banya were conducted by Assoc. Prof. Valeri Grigorov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, together with Lyubka Todorova, archaeologist from the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History, Georgi Abdulov, former Director of the Panagyurishte Museum of History, and Vasil Katsarev, curator at the same museum.

The artifacts discovered during the digs have now been showcased in a special exhibition of the Panagyurishte Museum of History entitled “Banya’s Kale – Archaeological Summer 2015", which was opened on March 1 in the Museum’s Archaeology Hall.

“The construction was made with crushed stones and mortar. We have found two construction periods. The first period is the 5th-6th century AD, which coincides with the time when a lot of fortresses were rebuilt [in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire] under Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). This was connected with Byzantium’s defense policy against the invading barbarian tribes," explains curator Vasil Katsarov, as cited by Radio Focus Pazardzhik.

It was previously found that the Early Byzantine fortress near Banya was restored in the 11th century but was destroyed by the the crusader knights from the Third Crusade (1189-1192 AD).

Now the archaeologists’ findings indicate that the fortress was rebuilt and remained in use during the entire time period of the Second Bulgarian Empire, i.e. until the 14th century.

“It had only military and defensive functions. The artifacts we’ve discovered are mostly arrow tips and armaments from," Katsarov says, adding that the fortress has a total territory of about 7 decades (nearly 2 acres), and only a small portion of it has been researched.

He adds that Kaleto, which was inhabited in the 5th-6th and 12th-14th century, is located close to the town of Banya, and can be used for the development of cultural tourism because its fortress walls are well preserved.

“The fortress is turning into an archaeological source because it adds to the picture of the settlements and the construction of fortresses during the Late Antiquity," Katsarov says.

The most interesting artifacts discovered at Kaleto near Banya have been showcased at “Bulgarian Archaeology 2015" exhibit at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

Some of the most interesting artifacts found at the fortress near Banya, mostly arrow tips, have been included in the Bulgarian Archaeology 2015 exhibit of the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia whose catalog is pictured here with newly found artifacts on display at the Panagyurishte Museum. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

Some of the most interesting artifacts found at the fortress near Banya, mostly arrow tips, have been included in the Bulgarian Archaeology 2015 exhibit of the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia whose catalog is pictured here with newly found artifacts on display at the Panagyurishte Museum. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

A poster from the exhibit showing the location of the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress overlooking the town of Banya. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

A poster from the exhibit showing the location of the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress overlooking the town of Banya. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

The advertising poster for the exhibition of the first ever finds from the Banya fortress. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

The advertising poster for the exhibition of the first ever finds from the Banya fortress. Photo: Panagyurishte Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine fortress known as Kaleto is located near the central Bulgarian town of Banya, Panagyurishte Municipality, Plovdiv District. The archaeological excavations of the Kaleto Fortress near Banya (“kale" is a Turkish word meaning “fortress" left over from the Ottoman period commonly used for the numerous ruins of ancient and medieval fortresses all over Bulgaria, whose proper names are sometimes unknown) were held for the first time in April-May 2015.

Historians and archaeologists think that the fortress Kaleto near Banya was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement. The first stone masonry on the site and the construction of the fortress wall date to the 5th century AD, and there are indications that it was destroyed during the barbarian invasion of Attila’s Huns. After that, the fortress near Banya was rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD). It was restored in the 12th century AD but fell prey to an invasion once again – this time it was destroyed by the crusader knights from the Third Crusade (1189-1192 AD). However, it remained in use during the entire period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396), until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

The Kaleto fortress near Banya was important in ancient and medieval times because of its strategic location between the Valley of Zlatitsa and Pirdop, and the Upper Thracian Plain (in today’s Southern Bulgaria). Different archaeological artifacts such as tools, arrows, and spears have been found by locals on the site of the Kaleto Fortress. Its first excavations were led by Assoc. Prof. Valeri Grigorov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, together with Lyubka Todorova, archaeologist from the Pazardzhik Regional Museum of History, Georgi Abdulov, former Director of the Panagyurishte Museum of History, and Vasil Katsarev, curator at the same museum.