Archaeologists Find Roman Fortress, Early Christian Church at Prehistoric, Thracian Rock Shrine near Buglaria’s Angel Voyvoda

The prehistoric and Ancient Thracian rock shrine near Bulgaria's Angel Voivoda had a Roman fortress and an Early Christian church in the Late Antiquity, archaeologists have found. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The prehistoric and Ancient Thracian rock shrine near Bulgaria’s Angel Voyvoda had a Roman fortress and an Early Christian church in the Late Antiquity, archaeologists have found. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The ruins of an Ancient Roman fortress have been discovered by archaeologists at a prehistoric and later Ancient Thracian rock shrine near the town of Angel Voyvoda, Mineralni Bani Municipality, Haskovo District, in Southern Bulgaria.

The discovery has been made by a team of archaeologists led by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zdravko Dimitrov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Mineralni Bani (“Mineral Baths") Municipality has announced.

The shrine near Angel Voyvoda in the northern part of the Rhodope Mountains is well known as one of the numerous prehistoric and/or ancient rock shrines in Bulgaria.

While further research is still needed, it is believed that these shrines were first built and used in the Prehistory, by what was Europe’s first civilization, the population inhabiting today’s Bulgaria’s as early as the Neolithic and Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), and were later adopted by the Ancient Thracians as well.

Just recently, a couple of Bulgarian archaeologists specializing in prehistoric shrines discovered the “Orlovi Skali" (meaning “Eagles’ Rocks") Shrine, also located in the Mineralni Bani Municipality, which includes not just rock niches and altars but also huge human faces hewn high into the rocks, and dates back to the 4th millennium BC. The shrine at “Eagles’ Rocks" has been likened to that in Angel Voyvoda.

Niches hewn up into the rocks at the prehistoric and ancient rock shrine near Bulgaria's Angel Voivoda. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

Niches hewn up into the rocks at the prehistoric and ancient rock shrine near Bulgaria’s Angel Voyvoda. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The archaeological team led by Zdravko Dimitrov started the first ever archaeological excavations at the Angel Voyvoda shrine, in an area called Hasara or Hisara, on May 30, 2016, Mineralni Bani Municipality informs in its release.

The result has been the discovery of the ruins of a Roman fortress and an Early Christian church dating back to the 4th-5th century AD, i.e. the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period.

“We have exposed a Roman fortress, with lots of rock niches, a symbolic grave, and a church whose existence is indisputably evidenced by an altar," Dimitrov is quoted as saying.

“The altar can be restored because it is well preserved. The church dates back to the end of the 4th – the [beginning of the] 5th century AD which is the earliest period of the adoption of Christianity," explains the lead archaeologist.

The fortified Roman settlement had a territory of about 6-7 decares (app. 3 acres), with well preserved remains of a Late Antiquity fortress wall found right on the shrine’s peak.

Amidst the ruins of the Early Christian church, the archaeological team has discovered ceramic vessels and glass cups that were used for church rituals and services.

Other discovered artifacts include several coins, marble architectural fragments, iron fibulas and pieces of window glass whose presence is construed as evidence that the Early Christian church probably had glass windows.

The exposed ruins also indicate that the Late Roman / Early Byzantine temple was 5 meters wide and 20 meters long.

Near the ancient temple, the archaeologists have found what has been described as a “symbolic grave" which can be reached by climbing up stairs that were hewn into the rock.

Right nearby are located numerous rock niches which are similar to those of other well known prehistoric and/or Ancient Thracian rock shrines in Bulgaria. Underneath them, the researches have identified a stone disc which is believed to have been used as a sun clock.

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The first ever professional archaeological excavations near Angel Voivoda started at the end of May 2016. Photos: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The first ever professional archaeological excavations near Angel Voyvoda started at the end of May 2016. Photos: Mineralni Bani Municipality

Angel Voivoda rock shrine Roman fortress 2 “The Ancient Thracian [religious] complex near Angel Voyvoda is huge, and is yet to be excavated but this will be connected with a lot of work over the coming years," says Dimitrov.

He adds that he agreed to start the “first ever professional archaeological excavations" of the site at the end of May seeing the project as a challenge.

“I accepted the challenge because I had information about the site from the Mayor of Mineralni Bani Municipality, Myumyun Iskender," notes the archaeologist who is known as one of Bulgaria’s top experts in Roman archaeology, and has also participated in the excavations of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval rock city of Perperikon situated further to the south, near the city of Kardhzali, in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains.

Based on the potential scope and importance of the archaeological site near the town of Angel Voyvoda, it has been suggested that it is comparable to Perperikon (also known as Perperek or Perperik) and the Tatul Shrine, which, too, is located a few dozen kilometers to the south.

Prof. Ana Raduncheva and Assoc. Prof. Stefanka Ivanova, also from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, who recently found the “Eagle’s Rocks" shrine, have explained that the prehistoric civilization which established the numerous rock shrines in Bulgaria created an entire system of shrines spanning what was a huge holy territory.

Later, the Ancient Thracians used parts of these shrines, though not the entire holy territory. In later periods, such as the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the shrines were no longer used as originally intended, and a number of them were turned into fortresses.

This explanation appears to be relevant to the present discovery of a Roman fortress at the shrine near Bulgaria’s Angel Voyvoda (the Roman Empire conquered all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube in 46 AD).

The existence of an Early Christian church there also seems logical since it is known that after the adoption of Christianity in the Late Antiquity, numerous Christian temples were built on the spots of ancient and possibly even prehistoric pagan shrines on the territory of today’s Bulgaria.

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Archaeologist Zdravko Dimitrov on the site near Bulgaria's Angel Voivoda, with the rock shrine niches visible in the background. Photo: BGNES

Archaeologist Zdravko Dimitrov on the site near Bulgaria’s Angel Voyvoda, with the rock shrine niches visible in the background. Photo: BGNES

Angel Voivoda rock shrine Roman fortress 5

Archaeologist Zdravko Dimitrov speaking on the site of the prehistoric/ Thracian shrine near Angel Voyvoda where his team found the ruins of a Roman fortress. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality