Archaeologists Find Structures, Artifacts from Iron Age to Late Middle Ages in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas

The Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria's Burgas has been partly restored, and is open for visitors but there is still much to be excavated and researched. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas has been partly restored, and is open for visitors but there is still much to be excavated and researched. Photo: Burgas Municipality

A wide range of archaeological structures and artifacts from the periods between the Early Iron Age until the Late Middle Ages have been discovered during the ongoing 2016 excavations of the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae, known as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages, in the Vetren Quarter of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas.

The diverse newly discovered items date back to the times of Ancient Thrace, Ancient Macedon, and Ancient Greece; the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and the Ottoman Empire, Burgas Municipality has announced.

The discoveries have been made during the first three weeks of the excavations of the ancient and medieval “Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis" Archaeological Preserve, which existed as a spa resort and a city for more than 2,000 years, with five more weeks of exploration to go.

The digs are led by Assoc. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov from the Burgas Regional Museum of History, with Miroslav Klasnakov as his deputy, and are funded by Burgas Municipality.

The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve was formally opened for visitors at the end of September 2015. Together with the ancient port of Burgos (Poros) on Cape Foros, Aquea Calidae – Thermopolis is one of the predecessors of today’s Burgas, Bulgaria’s fourth largest city.

The archaeological preserve located near today’s Burgas Mineral Baths resort was an ancient spa resort known as Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters" in Latin) in the Antiquity, and as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages. It features structures and artifacts from all major civilizations that inhabited the territory of modern day Bulgaria – from Ancient Thrace and Greece to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Bulgarian Empire, and Ottoman Empire.

It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).

The finds include nearly 70 coins from different time periods indicating uninterrupted life in Aquea Calidae – Thermopolis in the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. These include coins of King Philip II of Macedon (r. 352-336 BC) and his son Alexander the Great (336-323 BC), of Roman Emperors, Byzantine Emperors, of the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-1261, set up after the Western European knights of the Fourth Crusade captured the Byzantine capital), and the Ottoman Empire.

Other artifacts found in the ancient and medieval spa resort in Bulgaria’s Burgas include a ring with a gemma (engraved gem), a bronze book lock, various architectural fragments, and fragments from stone sculptures.

Numerous fragments from pottery vessels from as early as the Early Iron Age, and as late as the 17th century have also been found, including black varnish ceramics, a fully preserved bowl from the Roman period, a 12th century bowl with sgraffito decoration, among others. The uppermost archaeological layer is filled with pottery from the Late Ottoman period – 18th-19th century.

The Burgas archaeologists have also unearthed unknown large-scale archaeological structures at Aquae Calidae Thermopolis, including a stone wall from the 5th century AD, which was part of farm buildings. They were destroyed by a large fire, with parts of the collapsed roofs still preserved. They buildings are yet to be studied in detail.

Another very massive wall which is as thick as 3.6 meters has also been found. It is believed to have been part of a monumental administrative building.

The partial restoration and continued archaeological excavation of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis has been carried out by Burgas Municipality and the Burgas Regional Museum of History.

Parallel to the restoration works, the Burgas archaeologists have kept working on their excavations and making new discoveries such as the newly found Ancient Thracian inscription shedding new light on the last years of the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom before its ultimate conquest by the Roman Empire.

Earlier in June 2016, the Museum of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis exhibited gold rings of Bulgarian and Byzantine aristocrats discovered in the ancient spa resort in the early 20th century.

In the fall of 2015, the Museum showcased another intriguing item – the famous votive tablet of “The Shrine of the Three Nymphs", as the site was known in the Ancient Thracian period.

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Coins from different time periods discovered during the present archaeological excavations of Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis. Photos: Burgas Municipality

Coins from different time periods discovered during the present archaeological excavations of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis. Photos: Burgas Municipality

Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve 3 Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve 4 Also check out our recent stories about archaeological discoveries at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis in Bulgaria’s Burgas:

Bulgarian Archaeologists Find Inscription at Aquae Calidae Revolutionizing Knowledge about Last Years of History of Ancient Thrace

‘Bulgarian Science’ Forum Tackles Translation of Newly Found Ancient Thracian Inscription from Aquae Calidae

Archaeologists Find Byzantine Coins, Roman Inscription in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas

Archaeologists Discover Ancient, Medieval Coins, Ceramics at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas

…and our recent stories about the development of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve as a cultural tourism destination:

‘Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis’ Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas Shows Votive Tablet of ‘The Three Nymphs’

4,000 Tourists Visit Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas in Week after Opening

Bulgaria’s Burgas to Offer Spa Treatments in Roman Bath Replica at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve

Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s Bath in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas Causes Political Tension

Background Infonotes:

The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters" in Latin) is an archaeological site located on the territory of Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, on the site of today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo.

It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).

Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.

The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs" by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there.

The name “Aquae Calidae" comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times.

The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.

In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city" in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort" for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.

After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground.

The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.

Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Senior Fellow Tsonya Drazheva and Ass. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve".

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