Thracian Shrine with Newly Discovered Roman Fortress Dates Back to Trojan War Period, Archaeologists Find

Lead archaeologist Zdravko Ivanov shows a large stone altar found outside the walls of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress built on the Thracian shrine. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

Lead archaeologist Zdravko Ivanov shows a large stone altar found outside the walls of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress built on the Thracian shrine. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The Ancient Thracian rock shrine in the area known as Hasara near the town of Angel Voyvoda in Southern Bulgaria dates back to the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, i.e. roughly the period of the Trojan War, the archaeologists exploring the site for the first time have established.

They have also discovered that the entire Ancient Thracian archaeological complex near Bulgaria’s Angel Voyvoda, Mineralni Bani Municipality, Haskovo District, covers a total area of 50 decares (app. 12.5 acres), the Municipality has announced.

After the start of the excavations of the shrine at the end of May 2016, the team of archaeologists led by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zdravko Dimitrov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences discovered there the ruins of an Ancient Roman fortress and an Early Christian church.

The archaeologists have wrapped up the first stage of their digs, having discovered not just the true scope of the Thracian rock shrine in the area known as Hasara, but also a number of rock structures and artifacts.

The stone altars and a rock tomb that they have found are dated to the period between 1,200 BC and 900 BC, i.e. roughly the period of the war for Ancient Troy (13th-12th century BC) described by Ancient Greek poet Homer in the Illiad.

A view of the mount near Bulgaria's Angel Voyvoda where the ancient rock shrine is located on an area of more than 12 acres. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

A view of the mount near Bulgaria’s Angel Voyvoda where the ancient rock shrine is located on an area of more than 12 acres. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The first ever archaeological excavations of the Hasara / Angel Voyvoda Shrine took place in May and June 2016. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The first ever archaeological excavations of the Hasara / Angel Voyvoda Shrine took place in May and June 2016. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

The Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress dates back to the Late Antiquity, i.e. the 4th-5th century AD, and has a total area of 6-7 decares (app. 1.5 acres).

It was a military frontier fortification with a robust fortress wall which was up to 2.5 meters wide, and between 4 and 7 meters tall.

The archaeological team says that the “Hasara” fortress has some of the best preserved fortress walls in the region of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, and compares it to the nearby medieval fortresses Lyutitsa near the town of Ivaylovgrad, and Mezek near Svilengrad.

The researchers have found no evidence that the fortress was burned down or captured in military action, and believe that it was probably abandoned by the Byzantine forces at the time of the barbarian invasions of the Slavs in the Early Middle Ages.

The Early Christian church discovered on the site is a single nave temple with high arches and large windows. In its ruins, the archaeologists have even unearthed pieces of green stained glass and also pieces from glass cups that were used for church services.

Outside the walls of the Late Antiquity fortress, a large rock altar and a sun clock have been found.

“This is a truly unique site. Not unlike [the rock city] Perperikon, here we also have a church, a fortress, and a shrine. In Tatul, we have a shrine and a rock tomb. Here all components – a fortress, a church, a shrine, and a rock tomb – can be observed together in a single complex,” says lead archaeologist Zdravko Dimitrov.

“This place has a huge tourism potential. However, a lot of money will be needed for its research and for building the tourist infrastructure,” he adds thanking Myumyun Iskander, the Mayor of Mineralni Bani Municipality, a well-known spa resort, for initiating the first archaeological excavations on the Hasara / Angel Voyvoda Shrine.

Iskander in turn adds that the most important task for the local administration at the moment is to achieve the change in the status of the archaeological site is presently part of Bulgaria’s Forestry Fund.

By securing for it a monument of culture status from the Ministry of Culture, Mineral Bani Municipality will be able to develop the rock shrine near Angel Voyvoda as a major cultural tourism site, including by seeking funding from the EU and the Norway / EEA Grants.

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The Ancient Thracian rock shrine near Angel Voyvoda has been compared to other rock cities and shrines in Bulgaria's Eastern Rhodope Mountains such as Perperikon and Tatul. Photos: Mineral Bani Municipality

The Ancient Thracian rock shrine near Angel Voyvoda has been compared to other rock cities and shrines in Bulgaria’s Eastern Rhodope Mountains such as Perperikon and Tatul. Photos: Mineral Bani Municipality

Thracian Shrine Hasara Angel Voyvoda

Thracian Shrine Hasara Angel Voyvoda 3

Lead archaeologist Zdravko Dimitrov (right) believes the rock shrine near Angel Voyvoda could become a major cultural tourism site. Photo: Mineralni Bani Municipality

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.

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 could 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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