Bulgaria’s Karlovo Municipality to Turn 6th Century BC Ancient Thracian City with Royal Residence into Cultural Tourism Site

This photo shows a view of the archaeological excavations of the Ancient Thracian city near Bulgaria's Vasil Levski, Karlovo Municipality, back in 2006. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

This photo shows a view of the archaeological excavations of the Ancient Thracian city near Bulgaria’s Vasil Levski, Karlovo Municipality, back in 2006. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

An Ancient Thracian city from the 6th-5th century BC containing the royal residence of a Thracian king, whose ruins are located near the town of Vasil Levski in Central Bulgaria, is to be restored and opened for visitors by Karlovo Municipality.

The Municipality has the ambition to turn the Ancient Thracian archaeological site into the largest cultural tourism landmark in the Karlovo Valley, reports the Plovdiv-based daily Maritsa.

The Thracian city near Vasil Levski and Karlovo is seen as intriguing because it reveals the transition of the Ancient Thracians from paganism to Christianity.

This is testified by the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to a pagan deity, and the ruins of a large Early Christian church from the 4th century AD, with some surviving murals, which are located right next to them.

The Early Christian church had a baptistery where the local Thracians were baptized as Christians leading to hypotheses that it was also the seat of a bishop.

Ancient Thrace was Christianized in the 4th-5th century AD, as part of the Roman Empire (later the Eastern Roman Empire, i.e. Byzantium) (all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Romans in 46 AD).

The Thracian city in Karlovo Municipality had an area of 35 decares (app. 9 acres); only about 1.5 decares have been excavated by archaeologists so far but the excavated section does include the ruins of the ancient pagan temple.

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian town near Vasil Levski are located at the foot of the southern slopes of the Balkan Mountains, and are to become accessible for tourists with two projects which are to be realized consecutively by Karlovo Municipality and the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

The first project worth app. EUR 220,000 will seek funding from the EU Operational Program for rural development, says Karlovo Deputy Mayor Stoyo Karagenski, adding that the project has been drafted under the leadership of Assoc. Prof. Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

The initial project is to start at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017, and will provide for constructing a road to the Thracian town and some basic visitors’ infrastructure. The settlement itself is yet to be granted the highest status of monument of culture “of national importance”.

The first project will also fund partial archaeological excavation and conservation efforts.

The second project, which is estimated to cost BGN 3.5 million (app. EUR 1.8 million) will provide for in-depth excavations, restoration, and proper exhibition of the Ancient Thracian archaeological structures. Karlovo Municipality is considering various options for its funding.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian city near the town of Vasil Levski, Karlovo Municipality, Plovdiv District, in Central Bulgaria, dates back to the end of the 6th century – the beginning of the 5th century BC. It is said to be one of the oldest known cities of Ancient Thrace.

It is located at the foot of the southern slopes of the Balkan Mountains, on an area of about 35 decares (app. 9 acres), of which only about 1.5 decares have been excavated.

The site of the Thracian city contains the ruins of a citadel, the royal residence of a Thracian king, and ancient temple dedicated to a pagan deity.

The Thracian city near Vasil Levski and Karlovo is seen as intriguing because it reveals the transition of the Ancient Thracians from paganism to Christianity. This is testified by the ruins of a large Early Christian church from the 4th century AD, with some surviving murals.

The Early Christian church had a baptistery where the local Thracians were baptized as Christians leading to hypotheses that it was also the seat of a bishop.

Ancient Thrace was Christianized in the 4th-5th century AD, as part of the Roman Empire (later the Eastern Roman Empire, i.e. Byzantium) (all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Romans in 46 AD).

The Ancient Thracian city near Vasil Levski was discovered in 1993. Regular archaeological excavations started there in 2005, and have been conducted depending on the available funding; the digs have been led by Assoc. Prof. Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

The excavations have exposed part of the fortress wall of the Thracian city – a 50-meter long fortress wall section which has been preserved up to a height of 1 – 1.7 meters, and which is 2 meters wide. It was built with massive stone blocks (quadrae), river stones, and clay.

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian temple have been found at a depth of 2.2 meters; inside the pagan temple there was a 1-meter tall triangle obelisk which has also been discovered. The temple itself was a rectangular building built with stone quadrae, wood, and large tiles; this specific technique is said to have been rare, and typical only for royal institutions in Ancient Thrace.

The artifacts discovered at the Thracian city near Bulgaria’s Vasil Levski include local Thracian-made pottery as well as black figure ceramic vessels and vine amphorae imported from the Greek islands of Thasos and Samos.

According to lead archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov, the Thracian city was probably the political and administrative center of the some of the earliest kings of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom.

According to Ancient Greek chronicles, the first Odrysian King to establish official relations with ancient Athens was Sitalces (r. 431-424 BC) who did so in 431 BC. However, the finds from the Thracian city near Vasil Levski indicate a commercial and political exchange of the Odrysian Kings with Athens and other Ancient Greek cities existed even before that.

For the time being, the name of the Thracian city near today’s town of Vasil Levski remains unknown.

The settlement which succeeded what once was a major Thracian city with a royal residence survived into the Middle Ages, all the way until the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). Its population is believed to have put up fierce resistance again the Ottoman Turkish invasion at the end of the 14th century, and was completely wiped out by the Ottoman invaders leading the survivors and their descendants to shift its location several times during the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. The modern-day location of the town of Vasil Levski was established in the 18th century.

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The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.

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The Odrysian Kingdom was a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrusai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD), was the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.