Bulgarian Archaeologists Launch Rescue Excavations of Ancient Black Sea Port, Fortress Caria near Shabla

This 2014 photo shows the ruins of the Caria Fortress on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, with the top of the 32-meter-tall Shabla Lighthouse visible in the background. Photo: BGNES

This 2014 photo shows the ruins of the Caria Fortress on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, with the top of the 32-meter-tall Shabla Lighthouse visible in the background. Photo: BGNES

A team of archaeologists from the Regional Museum of History in the northeastern Bulgarian city of Dobrich has launched rescue excavations of the Caria Fortress, an ancient Black Sea port near today’s town of Shabla, much of which is under water.

The ancient city and fortress of Caria (also known as Caron Limen / Karon Limen / Portus Caria) lies to the north of the Kaliakra Cape Fortress and the Yailata Fortress & Archaeological Preserve, other major archaeological landmarks on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast.

The site of the Caron Limen / Portus Caria near today’s Shabla was first settled by Ancient Thracians (from the tribe of the Getae). The name Caria is internationally associated with an ancient region in southwestern Anatolia (today’s Turkey), and there are hypotheses that the ancient port in today’s Northeast Bulgaria of the same name was established in the 6th-5th century BC precisely by settlers from Caria in Anatolia.

Caron Limen / Portus Caria was a major Antiquity port on the Black Sea coast for about 1000 years. A small Late Roman / Late Antiquity fortress, the Caria Fortress, was built there to protect the port in the early 4th century AD, and survived into the Early Byzantine period.

Today the ruins of ancient city of Caria are found right next to another unique landmark, the 32-meter-tall Shabla Lighthouse which was first built in the 18th century by the authorities of Ottoman Turkey, including by extracting construction material from the Caria ruins.

Learn more about the history of ancient Caria in Northeast Bulgaria in the Background Infonotes below!

The Caria Fortress attracted public attention in 2014 when a news agency report raised alarm that the archaeological site kept “sinking” into the Black Sea, with the authorities doing nothing to prevent its natural destruction.

The new rescue archaeological excavations of the Caria Fortress and the ancient port city near it have been launched at the request of Maritime Infrastructure Jsc, a company owned by the Bulgarian government, which is building a new port ramp in Shabla, Kostadin Kostadinov, Director of the Dobrich Regional Museum of History, has announced, as cited by BTA.

After starting the ramp construction, the state-owned company stumbled upon ruins of ancient Caria, and had to inform the archaeologists. It has provided a total of BGN 32,000 for the rescue excavations, which have been launched earlier in May and to be completed in mid July 2016.

These will be followed up by underwater exploration of the ancient city and port of Caria which is to take place in July and August 2016.

The underwater archaeology efforts are necessary in this case because many parts of the ancient city of Caria and the Caria Fortress have been engulfed by the Black Sea over time, including as a result of the collapsing of the coast into the sea.

The underwater archaeological exploration will be funded by Shabla Municipality with a total of BGN 10,000 (app. EUR 5,000). In it, the Dobrich archaeologists will be joined by the “Friends of the Sea” Diving Club, which is to provide diving equipment free of charge, with about 10 divers expected to participate in the effort.

These will be the first underwater archaeological efforts to be conducted by the Dobrich Regional Museum of History.

The fortress of Caria was built by the Ancient Romans in the 4th century, and was destroyed several times by barbarian invasions in the Early Byzantine period. Photos: BGNES

The fortress of Caria was built by the Ancient Romans in the 4th century, and was destroyed several times by barbarian invasions in the Early Byzantine period. Photos: BGNES

Caria Fortress 4 Caria Fortress 5“A huge part of the ancient city Caria is under water, only about 2-3 decares (app. 1 acre) of it have survived on land. The land section, however, contains impressive fortifications, and we hope to be able to expose all of them by the end of the season,” Kostadinov says, as cited by Dobrich TV.

The underwater exploration will be led by Asen Salkin, former director of the Museum of History in the Black Sea town of Kavarna.

“All artifacts that we discover will be used to boost the archaeological collection of the Green Training Center in Shabla,” Kostadinov notes.

In his words, the Caria Fortress is unique because many of the other ancient fortresses and settlements along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast were fully submerged into the Black Sea over the centuries, while many other remained under modern-day towns and cities such as Odessos (Varna), Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol), Messembria (Nessebar), etc., which has complicated their exploration and exhibition.

He adds that the picturesque region of Shabla, with the Shabla Lighthouse and Cape Shabla, which is usually lesser known with Bulgarians and foreign tourists alike, has a great potential for cultural tourism.

“When we are done, and the construction of the ramp is over, I think this place will become one of Bulgaria’s largest cultural tourism attractions because this is the easternmost point of the country, it has Bulgaria’s oldest operational lighthouse, and there will be a properly excavated fortress,” Kostadinov states.

He has also explained that during the 2016 summer archaeological season, in addition to Caria, the archaeologists from the Dobrich Museum will also continue their excavations in the Ancient Roman and Byzantine city of Zaldapa near the town of Abrit, Krushari Municipality (where a Roman water reservoir and pipeline will be researched), and will excavate for the first time the ancient fortress of Palmatis near today’s town of Onogur, Tervel Municipality.

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Caria in Northeast Bulgaria was a major ancient Black Sea port for roughly 1,000 years - from the 6th century BC until the 6th century AD. Photo: BGNES

Caria in Northeast Bulgaria was a major ancient Black Sea port for roughly 1,000 years – from the 6th century BC until the 6th century AD. Photo: BGNES

While its region was inhabited by Ancient Thracians, the port of Caria was probably established by settlers from Ancient Caria in Anatolia (today's Turkey). Photos: BGNES

While its region was inhabited by Ancient Thracians, the port of Caria was probably established by settlers from Ancient Caria in Anatolia (today’s Turkey). Photos: BGNES

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the initially Ancient Thracian Black Sea settlement Caria (also known as Caron Limen / Karon Limen, Portus Caria, and Careia / Careas), which had a fortress with the same name in the Late Antiquity, are located on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, near the town of Shabla, and the country’s eastern-most point, Cape Shabla. The ancient city and fortress of Caria lies to the north of the Kaliakra Cape Fortress and the Yailata Fortress and Archaeological Preserve, other major archaeological landmarks on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast.

The site of the Caron Limen / Karon Limen / Portus Caria near today’s Shabla was first settled by Ancient Thracians (from the tribe of the Getae (Gets)). The name Caria is internationally associated with an ancient region in southwestern Anatolia (today’s Turkey), and there are hypotheses that the ancient port in today’s Northeast Bulgaria was established in the 6th-5th century BC by settlers from Caria in Anatolia.

Caron Limen / Portus Caria emerged as a major Antiquity port on the Black Sea coast for a period of about 1000 years, up until the 6th century AD. During the Late Roman / Late Antiquity period, a small fortress of the quadriburg type was built there to protect the port. It was constructed in the early 4th century AD, and survived into the Early Byzantine period.

Portus Caria was mentioned in a number of ancient sources, including by Roman geographer Pomponius Mela (d. ca. 45 AD) in his work “Geography” who recorded that Caria was located between Calatis (today’s Mangalia in Romania) and Tiristis (Tirizis, later the Kaliakra Fortress on Cape Kaliakra). According to Roman historian of Greek origin, Arrian (ca. 86-ca. 160) the hinterland of Portus Caria / Caron Limen was also known as “Caria” (again, not to be confused with the ancient region in Anatolia of the same name). This is a coastal terrace which today features numerous archaeological remains from the ancient settlement, including its necropolises, with a total area of about 25 hectares (app. 10 acres).

The site of Caria (Portus Caria / Caron Limen) was first explored and described in the late 19th century by Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil. Later, archaeological excavations in 1976-1979, and underwater archaeological explorations in 1962 and 1979-1980 confirmed the identification of the site the ancient port city of Caria. Today, much of the eastern parts of the settlement and fortress of Caria is under water. (Further off the coast of Shabla, explorations have located a submerged Bronze Age settlement, an Antiquity necropolis, sunken ancient boats, and several sunken late medieval ships.)

Ancient authors mention that the port of Caria (Portus Caria / Caron Limen) was established artificially, by building upon existing natural reefs to the north, south, and east to create efficient breakwaters.

The Caria Fortress was built on Cape Shabla which at the time reached 40 meters further east into the sea than it does today. It was a quadriburg (rectangular fortress), which, according to Karel Skorpil’s description, was 67 steps long and 40 steps wide, and had four corner towers. Its walls are about 1.6 meters wide, and parts of its western wall have survived up to 1.9 meters in height.

The Late Antiquity Caria Fortress was used by the Roman and Byzantine authorities for military and policing purposes such as protection of the port and monitoring of the maritime traffic and trade, and for tax and customs activities. There are hypotheses that it was destroyed in the 440s during the invasions of Attila’s Huns, together with the city of Caria. Archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia has found that the Late Antiquity / Early Byzantine fortress of Caria was rebuilt about a century later, during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

It was built up together with three other similar fortresses in the region as part of a defensive network of Early Byzantine forts against the barbarian invasions. It had some modifications of the original fortifications, with thicker walls (1.9-2.0 meters wide). The rebuilt Caria Fortress was destroyed once again in a barbarian invasion in 563-564 AD; it was briefly restored once again, and was ultimately destroyed in another invasion at the end of the 6th century.

In the 18-19th century, during the Ottoman period, material from the Late Antiquity fortifications was used for the construction of Shabla Lighthouse. The Shabla Lighthouse, towering at 32 m, is the oldest and tallest lighthouse along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It was built in its present form in 1856, 22 years before Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman Turkey, to replace an older lighthouse built some time between 1756 and 1786.

By the early 20th century, the ruins of the eastern part of the Caria Fortress and the port city of Portus Caria / Caron Limen were destroyed because of the coast’s collapsing into the Black Sea.

Artifacts discovered during the land and underwater archaeological exploration of the port of Caria and the Caria Fortress are part of the collection of the Regional Museum of History in the northeastern city of Dobrich.