Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Moves to Begin Much Anticipated Exploration of Ancient, Medieval Fortress of Nebet Tepe
Plovdiv Municipality in Southern Bulgaria and the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology have signed the contract for the much anticipated resumption of the archaeological exploration of Nebet Tepe, the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress, to which the city of Plovdiv owes the title of “Europe’s oldest city”.
Under the contract, Plovdiv Municipality is going to fund the archaeological probes of three sections of the Nebet Tepe fortress and settlement in order to determine whether and/or where to carry out large-scale excavations in the next few years.
The sections of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement to be probed have never been explored by archaeologists before.
The new archaeological excavations at Nebet Tepe will start at the medieval water reservoir of the settlement; the project also provides for clearing the vegetation, and clearing and exhibiting the already exposed ruins of the northern fortress wall, including by installing special lighting from below, reports BGNES.
Part of the fortress wall has collapsed but for the time being the stone material from it will not be returned to its original place until a restoration project is agreed upon by the authorities and the public.
In September 2015, Plovdiv archaeologists carried out geophysical explorations in the three sections of Nebet Tepe: the area of the medieval water reservoir, the site near the Rahat Tepe Restaurant, and the southern periphery of the hill.
The geophysical scanning indicated that there are archaeological structures underground in all of the three sections surveyed.
Bulgaria’s Plovdiv has seven historic hills, not unlike Rome. They are still known as “tepeta”, i.e. 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 (and the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).
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.
Later, in the Antiquity period, the city was known as Philipopolis (named after King Philip II of Macedon), and Trimontium (after its conquest by the Roman Empire).
Learn more about the history of Plovdiv and Nebet Tebe in the Background Infonotes below.
The 2016 archaeological excavations, or probes, of the Nebet Tepe Fortress are to be funded by Plovdiv Municipality in order to figure out whether the still unexplored archaeological structures there will warrant large-scale digs for the next 3-4 years, or only partial digs will do.
“By the end of the year, we will have a clear idea of what exactly Nebet Tepe contains. This has been the big question of the public hearings [on the restoration project], i.e. that we don’t have up-to-date information that we can build upon for such a [restoration] project,” Plovdiv Mayor Ivan Totev has told BNT.
His statement is in reference to the public scandal that broke out in Plovdiv last spring during the public discussion of a highly questionable project for the archaeological restoration of the Nebet Tepe Fortress.
In the past, the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology urged new excavations on Nebet Tepe precisely because of the proposed restoration project.
Totev adds that the archaeologists hypothesize that the Nebet Tepe Fortress had a keep, i.e. the main tower fortified as part of a castle or fortress, dating back to the period of the Middle Ages, and will be looking for its foundations.
The potential discovery of the keep will pave the way for the out-all restoration of the archaeological structures, the Mayor thinks.
The results from the new archaeological exploration of Nebet Tepe which is about to start now are supposed to be presented in the fall of 2016.
Also check out our other recent stories about the archaeological heritage and discoveries in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv:
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 Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.
Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).
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.