Bulgaria’s Kaliakra Fortress, Yailata Preserve on Picturesque Black Sea Coast Seeing More Tourists, Mostly Romanian

A restored fortress gate at the Kaliakra Cape Fortress as viewed from the inside, in the northern direction, with the clearly visible rocky Black Sea coast. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

A restored fortress gate at the Kaliakra Cape Fortress as viewed from the inside, in the northern direction, with the clearly visible rocky Black Sea coast. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

The the Kaliakra Fortress, which is located on the extremely picturesque Cape Kaliakra, on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast, and the Yailata Archaeological Preserve (with Yailata Fortress), which is right nearby, have already seen more visitors in the first months of the 2016 summer season.

The fortress on the picturesque Kaliakra Cape has been a major stronghold throughout all historical periods ever since the Ancient Thracians first inhabited the site in the 4th century BC. Today, it is one of Bulgaria’s best known cultural attractions in combination with the beautiful Black Sea coast scenery.

The Yailata Archaeological Preserve which is located along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, to the north of Cape Kaliakra, features archaeological and historical monuments from different time periods, from the 5th millennium BC until the middle of the 11th century AD, including an Early Byzantine fortress whose archaeological restoration has been notoriously botched.

The growth in the number of tourists visiting the Kaliakra Fortress is in April and the first half of May 2016 is 6% year-on-year, reports local news site Top Novini Dobrich, citing Darina Mircheva, Director of the Museum of History in the nearby Black Sea town of Kavarna.

In her words, the growth is mostly the result of a higher number of foreign tourists from Romania.

After the start of the summer tourist season at the beginning of April, the Kavarna Museum of History has registered increased revenue from the Kaliakra Fortress (which is also a preserve) and the Yailata Archaeological Preserve.

The Kaliakra Fortress is open for visitors every day from 9 am until 8 pm, and in July and August it will be open until 9 pm.

Mircheva says the Museum in Kavarna has a rising number of partnerships with tourist operators which is a prerequisite for a boost of cultural tourism in Kaliakra and Yailata.

Recently, the Museum and Kavarna Municipality received state funding for additional employment in order to improve the maintenance of the two major archaeological sites and cultural tourism attractions on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast – the Kaliakra Cape Fortress and the Yailata Archaeological Preserve.

Learn more about the Kaliakra Cape Fortress and the Yailata Fortress and their respecitve archaeological preserves in the Background Infonotes below!

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Background Infonotes:

The Kaliakra Fortress is located on Cape Kaliakra on the Black Sea coast in Northeast Bulgaria (the region known as Dobrudzha). Cape Kaliakra is a 2 km long narrow headland towering about 70 meters above the sea level. The Kaliakra Fortress is part of the Kaliakra Archaeological Preserve, whereas the cape, the coast, and their hinterland are a nature preserve, home to rare birds and fish. It is located in Kavarna Municipality, near the towns of Kavarna, Balgarevo, and Sveti Nikola (St. Nicholas).

The earliest traces of human settlement on the territory of Cape Kaliakra and the Kaliakra Fortress date back to the 4th century BC when the region was inhabited by the Ancient Thracian tribe Tirizi or Tirici, a subgroup of the Getae (Gets); respectively, the earliest known name of the settlement was Tirizis (Tirissa in Latin). The name “Kaliakra” is believed to come from the Byzantine period and is translated from Greek as meaning “beautiful headland” (or “beautiful fortress”).

Ancient Greek geographer Strabo (64 BC – ca. 24 AD) wrote that Kaliakra was the capital of Lysimachus (r. 306-281 BC), one of Alexander I the Great’s generals, and one of his diadochi (successors) who became King of Macedon, Thrace, and Asia Minor, and used the caves of Cape Kaliakra to hide treasures that he amassed during the campaigns against Persia.

The first fortifications on Cape Kaliakra were built by the Ancient Thracians, with a second fortress wall added during the Hellenistic Period (3rd-1st century BC). Another expansion of the Kaliakra Fortress was made during the Roman Period. By the middle of the 4th century AD, the fortress already had an inner and outer city, with round fortress towers built in 341-342 AD. A third and stiller outer fortress wall was built in the second half of the 4th century AD. It was 10 meters tall about almost 3 meters wide.

According to 6th century AD Byzantine geographer Hierocles (author of the Synecdemus), in the 5th-6th century, the Kaliakra Fortress was a major stronghold of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire against the barbarian peoples invading from the north.

In 513 AD, Kaliakra was the site of a battle between the forces of Byzantine general Vitalian (d. 520), a native of the city of Zaldapa (in today’s Krushari Municipality in Northeast Bulgaria) and Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD). Vitalian’s rebellion grew into a 5-year civil war.

At the end of the 7th century, the region of the Kaliakra Fortress was conquered by the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD). Sources from the 10th century mention the fortress with the Slavic name Tetrasida.

The earliest Western European source to mention the Kaliakra Fortress is a map by Italian cartographer Petrus Visconte from 1318 AD. The city of the Kaliakra Fortress saw its height in the second half of the 14th century, the same period that saw the demise of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396)

Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD) lost his two eldest sons (Ivan in 1349 AD and Mihail in 1355 AD) in battles with the Ottoman Turks, failed to prevent a number of Bulgarian feudal lords from seceding, and on top of that divided the remainder of the Second Bulgarian Empire between his two surviving sons.

His third son Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) received the smaller so called Vidin Tsardom, with the Danube city of Bdin (Vidin) as its capital, and his fourth son Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) received the rest, the so called Tarnovo Tsardom, with the capital proper of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo).

Bulgarian boyar Balik (r. ca. 1337-1366 AD), a powerful feudal lord, acquired independence from the Bulgarian Tsars setting up the so called Dobrudzha Despotate, also known as the Principality of Karvuna, in the region of Dobrudzha, today’s Northeast Bulgaria and Southeast Romania, which included the city and fortress of Kaliakra. He was succeeded by his co-ruler and brother, Despot Dobrotitsa (r. 1347-1385 AD).

The Dobrudzha Despotate itself was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD. The name of the region of Dobrudzha is believed to have stemmed from the Turkish pronunciation of the name of Despot Debrotitsa.

The Despots of the Principality of Karvuna were the first Bulgarian rulers to build a major (Black Sea) navy.

Wallachian Voivode Mircea the Elder, whose documents were written in Bulgarian, in the Bulgaric (Cyrillic) alphabet, was first an ally of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Shishman, with whose aid he even came to control briefly parts of the Dobrudzha Despotate, styling himself “master of Silistra and the lands of Despot Dobrotitsa” in 1390-1391. He regained the region around Kaliakra in 1402 but lost it again to the Ottoman Turks in 1403.

In 1444, the crusaders of Vladislav (Wladyslaw) III Jagello, also known as Varnenchik, King of Poland and Hungary, camped near the Kaliakra Fortress during his second campaigns against the Ottoman Empire (a few decades after it had conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire), shortly before the Battle of Varna.

The Kaliakra Fortress and Cape Kaliakra are also known as the site of the largest naval battle to ever take place in the Black Sea – the Battle of Cape Kaliakra in the summer of 1791. It was the last naval battle of the Russian-Turkish War of 1787-1792, in which the Russian Navy under Admiral Fyodor Ushakov won a victory against the Ottoman Navy led by Hussein Pasha.

During the period of the Ottoman Empire, a place at the Kaliakra Cape connected with the legend of St. Nicholas (see below) is believed to have been the site of a dervish monastery keeping the relics of Muslim Bektashi Saint Sari Saltik.

The first modern lighthouse on Cape Kaliakra was built in 1866 by the Compagnie des Phares de l’Empire Ottomane; the present lighthouse was erected in 1901, during the period of the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1946).

Cape Kaliakra and the fortress are connected with a lot of legends. The most famous is the one about the 40 Bulgarian maidens who tied their hair together, and committed suicide by jumping into the Black Sea off the 70-meter-tall cliffs in order to avoid being captured and raped by the Ottomans. An obelisk called “The Gate of the Forty Maidens” has been erected at the entrance of the cape in dedication of this legend.

According to another major legend, Cape Kaliakra was created by God in order to rescue St. Nicholas from the Ottomans by extending the ground under his feet while he was running from them. He was eventually caught, and a chapel exists today on the alleged spot of his capture.

A third major legend about Kaliakra has it that Lysimachus perished there with his entire fleet, having escaped there with the treasure of Alexander the Great.

The archaeological excavations on Cape Kaliakra have also revealed ancient and Early Christian necropolises.

The Late Antiquity fortress on Cape Kaliakra had a territory of about 250 decares (app. 62 acres). The third and outermost fortress wall is 1.25 km away from the end of the cape, and is 422 meters long; it had 5 fortress towers. The middle fortress wall is located 400 meters away, and is 162 meters long, and also had a moat. The innermost fortress wall is located 325 meters away from the middle wall, and is 30 meters long.

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Bulgaria’s National Archaeological Preserve “Yailata” (“Yaila” is a Turkish word left over from the Ottoman Yoke period meaning “a high pasture”) is located on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast, 18 km northeast of the town of Kavarna, and 2 km south of the town of Kamen Bryag (“Rocky Coast”). It is a rocky coastal terrace towering 50-60 meters above the Black Sea level, and has a total territory of 300 decares (app. 75 acres).

The Yailata Archaeological Preserve features archaeological and historical monuments form different time periods – from the 5th millennium BC until the middle of the 11th century AD.

The archaeological sites in the Preserve include a “cave town” of 101 dwellings from the 5th millennium BC; three necropolises (family tombs) from the 3rd-4th century AD which, too, were carved into the rocks; a small Early Byzantine fortress, i.e. the Yailata Fortress, dating back to the 5th century AD which features four partly preserved towers and a gate tower; an ancient rock shrine, wineries, four ancient tombs; in the Middle Ages, the caves in Yalata housed a medieval monastery; some of the caves feature Ancient Bulgar runic signs, crosses, and stone icons.

The Yailata Archaeological Preserve was formally established by the Bulgarian government in 1989. It has been excavated and studied by archaeologists since 1980, with the digs focusing mostly on the Early Byzantine fortress Yailata dating back to the  the reign of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD), the rock necropolises, and the cave homes.

A substantial part of the marvelous archaeological and historical heritage of the Yailata Archaeological Preserve and the nearby Kaliakra Cape and the Kaliakra Fortress is believed to be underwater, a future matter of interest for underwater archaeology.

The area is known to have been a harbor in ancient and medieval times, and local fishermen have found there debris from ancient and medieval ships when fishing at a depth of 60 meters. (What is more, the Black Sea is unique because below 200 meters (60 meters in some parts) it has no oxygen but only hydrogen sulfide, therefore any underwater archaeology sites or sunken ships at greater depths are supposed to have been perfectly preserved.) In 1791, in the Battle of Cape Kaliakra, the Navy of the Russian Empire commanded by Admiral Ushakov defeated the Ottoman Turkish Navy at Kaliakra which was an event when a lot of vessels were sunk.

There is also a legend that Yailata is where Ancient Roman poet Ovid spent his last days, after he was exiled by Emperor Octavian August to the Black Sea port of Tomis (today’s Constanta in Romania). According to the legend, Ovid managed to sneak out of Tomis aboard a ship, and found refuge in the Bay of Yailata where he was hidden by the locals.

The Early Byzantine fortress of Yailata is located in the northern part of the Archaeological Preserve. To the north and east, the fortress is protected by high rocks, which is why it had fortress walls only to the west and the south. The walls have a combined length of 130 meters, and are 2.6 meters wide. The walls, the four towers, and the tower gate are made up of large stone blocks which are up to 2 meters long and 0.7 meters high. Inside the fortress, the archaeologists have unearthed several staircases and buildings. The gate at the fifth tower was 2.6 meters wide.

The archaeological artifacts made of copper, bronze, bone, and clay which have been discovered at the Yailata Fortress indicate that it was built at the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 6th century AD, and was short-lived. It was destroyed during the barbarian invasions at the end of the 6th century AD.

It remained uninhabited for three centuries, until the 9th century AD, the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) when it was reformed into an Ancient Bulgar settlement which had a small Christian chapel. The medieval Bulgarian settlement there was destroyed by the Pecheneg tribes in the middle of the 11th century; after that, the Yailata Fortress never recovered.

The Yailata Archaeological Preserve also features a large number of man-made caves located on several levels. They were used for thousands of years as dwellings, tombs, or rock churches (a rock monastery in the Early Byzantine period).

Over 120 funeral facilities have been found in the three necropolises in the Yailata Archaeological Preserve which feature a variety of rock graves and tombs. Most of the tombs were robbed in the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. However, the discovered funeral inventories including clay bowls, cups, and lamps, bronze and iron buckles, glass beads, and coins have indicated that the tombs date back to the 2nd-5th century.

These were family tombs that were in use for a long period of time, and in some of them the archaeologists have found up to 15 skeletons. Because of their specific features, the rock tombs in the Yailata Archaeological Preserve are believed to have been connected with the arrival of barbarian tribes which were most likely of Sarmatian origin.

According to archaeoastronomers who explored the ancient rock shrine at Yailata, it was built in the 6th-5th century BC. The shrine located in the northern part of the Preserve has been likened to a shrine described by Ancient Greek poet Pindar (ca. 522 – ca. 443 BC) from Thebes as a shrine on the Black Sea coast visited by the Argonauts where their offered a sacrifice.

According to other Antiquity authors, the region around today’s Cape of Shabla located to the north of Yailata was known as Caria, with the so called Carian Port.

Caria is also the name of an ancient region in southwestern Anatolia (today’s Turkey) implying some sort of a connection, possibly the arrival of Carian settlers.

The Ancient Thracian tribes that inhabited what is today Bulgaria’s Northern Black Sea coast, i.e. the so called region of Dobrudzha, are denoted in scientific literature as Getae-Dacians or Thraco-Getae.

In 2013-2014, Kavarna Municipality completed an EU funded project entitled “Yailata – the Ancient Door of [the Region of] Dobrudzha” for the archaeological restoration of the Early Byzantine fortress in the Yailata Preserve. A total of BGN 2.2 million (app. EUR 1.1 million) of EU money from Operational Program “Regional Development” were invested in the project.

However, the restoration of the Yailata Fortress has been vehemently criticized as one of Bulgaria’s botched archaeological restorations because of the used construction materials, and because for some reason the restorers installed a glass banister on top of the fortress wall.

Local civil society activists launched numerous protests against the Yailata Fortress project taking the case even to the European Commission in Brussels. However, according to the inspections carried out by the Bulgarian government, no violations have been found.