Bulgaria’s Black Sea Town Pomorie Claims Ownership of Famous Roman Era Ancient Thracian Tomb

The entrance of the Roman Era Ancient Thracian tomb and mausoleum near Bulgaria's Black Sea town of Pomorie. Photo: Pomorie Municipality

The entrance of the Roman Era Ancient Thracian tomb and mausoleum near Bulgaria’s Black Sea town of Pomorie. Photo: Pomorie Municipality

The municipal authorities of the Black Sea resort town of Pomorie in Southeast Bulgaria is planning to claim the ownership rights of a huge Ancient Thracian tomb from the Roman Era famous for its absolutely unique architecture in order to facilitate its restoration and develop it further as a cultural tourism site.

The archaeological landmark in question is located 4 km away from the town of Pomorie, which is itself a successor of the Ancient Greek colony of Anchialos. It is a beehive tomb or tholos (tholus) (referred to in Bulgarian as a “dome tomb”).

The Thracian Tomb near Pomorie, which might have also been a mausoleum and/or a heroon (a shrine dedicated to a deceased Ancient Thracian, Greek, or Roman hero), dates back to the 2nd-3rd century AD.

(In 46 AD, the Roman Empire conquered all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube integrating the Thracians into the Roman society.)

The Pomorie Tomb is best known for its mixed Thracian and Roman architecture and construction techniques, for its size (with its main chamber being 11.6 meters in diameter, and 5.5 meters tall), and especially for the large hollow supportive column in its middle which used to have a spiral staircase inside it. Because of that, the column has been compared to a giant mushroom, and the local residents of Pomorie call the Thracian tomb “the hollow mound”.

Pomorie Municipality has announced its plans to claim the ownership of the beehive tomb (tholus) from Bulgaria’s central government at a forum entitled “The Wonders of Pomorie”, the Standart daily has reported citing Pomorie Mayor Ivan Aleksiev.

The forum organized by the Standart daily has brought together representatives of the central government, the local authorities and cultural heritage experts.

The claim is expected to be approved by the town councilors of Pomorie in September, and afterwards to be tabled to Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, which technically owns the Thracian tomb, and the Ministry of Agriculture, which owns an agricultural institute with orchards in the plots surrounding the tomb.

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The inside of the Ancient Thracian tomb near Pomorie, with the niches in its round wall. Photo: Pomorie Municipality

The inside of the Ancient Thracian tomb near Pomorie, with the niches in its round wall. Photo: Pomorie Municipality

Pomorie Municipality has also made it clear that its immediate goal would be the rescue of the Thracian beehive tomb since large cracks have appeared in the monument’s dome and niches.

It has alerted the Ministry of Culture which has already sent a team to review the condition of the Ancient Thracian and Roman structure, and is expected to come up with a position very soon.

“To us, this is a site of extreme importance, and we are going to do everything in our power to preserve it. However, we are also relying on the support of the Bulgarian government,” the Mayor.

Aleksiev has made it clear that his administration would like develop the land around the tomb as a botanical garden in order to make the place even more attractive for visitors.

“We also need the adjacent terrains to build proper tourist infrastructure. This will allow us to seek funding from various EU programs,” he is quoted as saying.

The Mayor and other participants in the forum, including Bulgaria’s Environment Minister Ivelina Vasileva have pointed out that Pomorie Municipality has been managing the Pomorie Lake, a major natural landmark, since 2012, and has been successful in its efforts to promote it.

Mariya Demireva, the region’s inspector from the Cultural Heritage Protection Inspectorate of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, has stated that the Ministry would likely be willing to renounce its rights over the Pomorie Tomb in favor of Pomorie Municipality. She says the institution tends to agree to similar requests by local authorities in 90% of all cases because the municipalities and the local museums are successful in the management of cultural tourism sites.

The initiative to grant the ownership or management of the truly unique Roman Era Ancient Thracian tomb to Pomorie Municipality has also been supported by archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, who took part in the forum in his capacity as an advisor to Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Vezdhi Rashidov, and by Bozhidar Dimitrov, Director of the National Museum of History in Sofia.

Dimitrov, who is often criticized by the liberal media and fellow experts with respect to his statements and restoration initiatives, has proposed the construction of a monument in Pomorie for the 1100th anniversary since the Battle of Anchialus (or the Battle of the Achelous River) in 917 AD, one of Bulgaria’s greatest military victories of all time in which the forces of Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927) of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) annihilated 60,000 troops of the Byzantine Empire.

According to Prof. Violeta Nesheva, an expert in medieval archaeology and history, the Roman Era Thracian beehive tomb in the Black Sea town of Pomorie is worthy of inclusion in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Learn more about the Pomorie Tomb in the Background Infonotes below!

The hollow 3.3-meter-wide column in the middle of the Pomorie Tomb had a spiral staircase in it leading outside of the tomb through its roof. Photo: Pomorie Muicipality

The hollow 3.3-meter-wide column in the middle of the Pomorie Tomb had a spiral staircase in it leading outside of the tomb through its roof. Photo: Pomorie Muicipality

Background Infonotes:

The Pomorie Tomb is an Ancient Thracian Tomb from the Roman period located 4 km away from the Black Sea resort town of Pomorie, off the BurgasPomorie road. It is famous because of its architecture which is truly unique for the entire Balkan Peninsula. It is a beehive tomb or tholos (tholus) (referred to in Bulgarian as a “dome tomb”).

The Pomorie Tomb is best known for not just for its mixed Thracian and Roman architecture and construction techniques, or its size, but also especially for the large hollow supportive column in its middle which used to have a spiral staircase inside. Because of that, the column has been compared to a giant mushroom, and the local residents of Pomorie call the Thracian tomb “the hollow mound”

The Thracian Tomb near Pomorie dates back to the 2nd-3rd century AD. In 46 AD, all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Roman Empire, and was ruled by it for the next few centuries, with the Thracians becoming well integrated in the Roman society. Today’s Black Sea town of Pomorie itself is a successor of the Ancient Greek colony of Anchialos.

The Tomb near Bulgaria’s Pomorie is considered unique precisely because it seems to combine the architectural traditions of the Ancient Thracian tombs found underneath burial mounds (tumuli) (dotting the landscape in much of Southern and Northeast Bulgaria) and Roman mausoleums. It is also said to be the latest or one of the latest Ancient Thracian tombs to have been discovered in today’s Bulgaria.

The archaeologists have hypothesized that the Beehive Tomb near Pomorie was a mausoleum of a rich Thracian family from the ancient Black Sea city of Anchialos where sun cult rituals were performed, and that it was also a heroon (a shrine dedicated to a deceased Ancient Thracian, Greek, or Roman hero).

The Thracian burial mound (tumulus) covering the tomb is 8 meters tall, and has a diameter of 60 meters. The tomb itself consists of two partly destroyed antechambers, a 22-meter-long corridor (dromos) and a round chamber which has a diameter of 11.6 meters and is 5.5 meters tall. It is built of both stone (typical of Thracian architecture) and brick (typical of Roman architecture).

The main chamber of the tomb is supported by a hollow round column with a diameter of 3.3 meters located right in its middle which is merged with the arched ceiling reminiscent of a mushroom. The arched ceiling also has three “ventilation shafts”.

Inside the hollow column there used to be a spiral staircase leading up to the top of the burial mound. There circular wall of the tomb has five symmetrically located niches where are believed to have contained the urns with the ashes of the buried and/or their sculptures. The wall was decorated with murals but only fragments of green plaster have survived.

The entrance of the tomb is from the south. It features traces of the frequent opening of a double door which has led to the conclusion that it might have been a heroon or another type of frequently visited place of worship. During the excavations, a stone slab was discovered which features the images of a young man with a tiara or a crown, victory goddess Nike with a palm branch over a fortress wall and two musicians playing pipes. Today, the stone relief can be seen at the entrance of the Pomorie tomb. It has been hypothesized that the man depicted in the relief is probably the heros (eponym) of the ancient city of Anchialos, or that this could be some of the rulers of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom.

Because of its unusual architecture, the precise purpose of the ancient beehive tomb near Pomorie has been a matter of dispute among scholars. Some have hypothesized that it was in fact a temple because no urns, sarcophagi, or bones have been found inside it. The burial mound where the tomb is found is typical of Ancient Thrace. Others have stressed its similarity to mausoleums in Rome with “mushroom” columns in the middle such as the Mausoleum of Roman Emperor Maxentius. The main difference is that no Roman mausoleum of this type features a hollow column.

The Ancient Thracian beehive tomb in Bulgaria’s Pomorie was first explored by Czech-Bulgarian brothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil, the fathers of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. According to their records, they identified a total of nine Thracian burial mounds in the region of the ancient Black Sea city of Anchialos (today’s Pomorie).

Not all of these appear to have been researched. Yet, in 1975, during the excavations of a mound in the area, archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Petar Balabanov discovered the rich funeral of Thracian priestess Leseskepra from the end of the 1st century BC containing a treasure of gold jewels (Leseskepra’s Treasure). Another tomb with partly preserved murals was also found in the region.

The Pomorie Tomb was partly restored in 1957-58. It was first granted the status of an architectural monument back in 1965. It has been recognized by the Bulgarian government as a monument of culture of national importance.

Also check out this YouTube video providing a virtual tour of the Pomorie Tomb!

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