The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas features an observation platform from where visitors can enjoy the excavations of ancient thermae (public baths). Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History
The Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas has invited history and archaeology lovers to observe some of its 2016 archaeological excavations in progress.
“The archaeologist’s profession is a dream for many people, especially for children. For them, it is clouded in the mysticism of the unknown, the adventure of touching the knowledge of the ancient people, and the luck of discovering a priceless artifact. However, all of this is connected with lots of excavations, team coordination, and consistent work methodology," says the Museum.
Its team has announced that its visitors and history and archaeology enthusiasts are welcome to observe some of its archaeologists at work during the excavations of the ancient spa resortAquae Calidae, known as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages, which is located in the Vetren Quarterof Burgas.
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 dayBulgaria – 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 the Great (r. 527-565 AD), 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).
In its invitation to view in progress the 2016 excavations in the ancient and medieval“Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis" Archaeological Preserve, the Museum points out that the cultural tourism site features a specially built atrium allowing tourists to sit, relax, and enjoy the view of the archaeologists researching the ancient thermae (public baths) nearby.
Presently, the excavations are in progress in the northern section of the ancient and medieval spa resort. They are led by Assoc. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov from the Prof. Dr. Asen Zlatarov University in Burgas, with Miroslav Klasnakov from the Burgas Museum and Yavor Rusev from the Yambol Regional Museum of History as deputy lead archaeologists.
Their team is excavating archaeological layers from the Late Antiquity (4th-6th century AD) which are found at a depth of 4-6 meters, and contain ceramics and coins from the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), among other artifacts.
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 asTherma 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".