Archaeologists Find Main Gate, Fully Preserved 14th Century Cobblestone Road in Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria

A number of previously unknown structures have been unearthed in the Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria by the archaeologists from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A number of previously unknown structures have been unearthed in the Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria by the archaeologists from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The main gate as well as a fully preserved cobblestone road from the 14th century has been discovered by archaeologists excavating the major medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress and city of Rusocastro.

The archaeological team hypothesizes that major rulers of late medieval Europe such as Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422) and Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (r. 1328-1341) may have walked on the newly discovered 700-year-old cobblestone road inside the Rusocastro Fortress, the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas has announced.

The Rusocastro Fortress is best known for the Battle of Rusocastro in 1332 AD. It was the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

It was also the last major battle of the seven-century-long Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars for domination of the Balkan Peninsula (lasting from the 7th until the 14th century), which ended when, weakened by their hostilities against one another, among other factors, Bulgaria and Byzantium were both conquered by the Ottoman Turkish invaders at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.

During the 1332 Battle of Rusocastro, the then still young Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) led personally his troops against the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD). As a result, the Second Bulgarian Empire forced Byzantium to rescind its claims to the rich medieval cities on the southwestern Black Sea coast which remained parts of Bulgaria for a few more decades.

In addition to the “extremely well preserved cobblestone road", the 2016 summer excavations of Rusocastro have also led to the partial excavation of the main gate of the fortress, the western fortress wall, and one of the fortress towers which has been preserved up to a height of 3 meters.

The excavations of the Rusocastro Fortress are being led by archaeologists Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, and Doroteya Gyurdzhiyska as the deputy head of the digs.

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Milen Nikolov (right), lead archaeologist of the Rusocastro excavations and Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, shows the newly excavated main entrance of the medieval fortress. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Milen Nikolov (right), lead archaeologist of the Rusocastro excavations and Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, shows the newly excavated main entrance of the medieval fortress. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Rusocastro 5 Rusocastro 4 For the remainder of its field research, the archaeological team is going to focus its efforts on the further exposure of the main entrance of the fortress as well as the inside of the newly found fortress tower and the citadel of the fortress.

The 2016 excavations of the Rusocastro Fortress аre funded with a total of BGN 38,000 (app. EUR 19,000) of which BGN 33,000 (app. EUR 16,500) come for the first time from the budget of Kameno Municipality, and another BGN 5,000 (app. EUR 5,000) come from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture. The digs are scheduled to last for 35 days, i.e. until the end of August 2016.

After the excavations are completed, the Burgas Museum archaeologists are going to work on the conservation and restoration of the newly uncovered structures.

The Museum has expressed its gratitude to Kameno Municipality for repairing the road leading up to the Rusocastro Fortress, and to the residents of the towns of Rusocastro and Zhelyazovo who have been helping out in the excavations.

It notes that its team has been working consistently on the research of the archaeological site since 2006, and has thus managed to unearth the largest medieval fortress in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, with a total fortified area of 50 decares (app. 12.5 acres), double fortress walls, and a citadel. Rusocastro was mentioned numerous times in historical sources from the 12th-14th century which was the period of its greatest importance.

The Rusocastro Fortress made news headlines in Bulgaria recently with bogus reports about the “discovery" of giant skeletons which had to be explicitly disproved by Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Museum and lead archaeologist of the Rusocastro digs.

The Rusocastro Fortress has been found to have been the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria as a result of consistent field research since 2006. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The Rusocastro Fortress has been found to have been the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria as a result of consistent field research since 2006. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

For more details and photos of the Rusocastro Fortress and the Battle of Rusocastro check out the Background Infonotes below and our other articles:

Bulgaria’s Kameno, Burgas Museum to Excavate Rusocastro Fortress Known for Last Big Victory of Medieval Bulgarian Empire

Burgas Museum Disproves Reports of Discovery of ‘Giants’ Skeletons’ in Bulgaria’s Medieval Fortress Rusocastro

Bulgarian Archaeologists Come Across Late Antiquity Toilet at Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Bulgarian Royal Seal at Rusocastro Fortress

10th Century Lead Seal of Bulgarian Tsar Petar I Discovered by Locals in Field near Medieval Fortress Rusocastro

Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity (Early Byzantine) and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine fortress of Rusocastro (Rusocastron) is located in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas. Rusocastro was also known as “The Red Fortress" because of the red stones it was built of.

In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Thracians set up a shrine of the Sun God, the Mother Goddess, and the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, near the legendary cave known today as Rusina Cave or Rusa’s Hole. Its site was settled in the period of Ancient Thrace, and was an important center in the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom.

The fortress itself was built in the 5th century AD on a strategically located hill. The Early Byzantine fortress was most probably destroyed in the Slavic and Avar invasions in the 7th century. The Rusocastro Fortress was rebuilt by the Bulgars in the 9th century, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD), at the time of the construction of the Bulgarian border rampart known as Erkesiya (in use in the 9th-11th century), and was a major stronghold in the geographic region of Thrace during the High Middle Ages.

The earliest written information about the Rusocastro Fortress comes from a 6th century epigraphic monument dedicated to Byzantine military commander Justin, who, according to some Bulgarian scholars, was the great-grandson of Byzantine Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), the uncle of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). The name Rusocastro was first used in the 12th century by Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the World", where Rusocastro is described as a large and crowded city. The fortress was also mentioned in a number of Byzantine sources from the 14th century relevant to current events.

The Rusocastro Fortress is famous in Bulgarian history for the Rusocastro Battle in which the army of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), defeated the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD) in 1332 AD.

The Battle of Rusocastro is often referred to as the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

Tsar Ivan Alexander’s victory at Rusocastro is considered the last major military victory of the Bulgarian Empire before its decline in the second half of the 14th century, and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks that ushered in the darkest page in Bulgaria’s history, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). The Rusocastro Fortress was ultimately destroyed in Ottoman campaigns in 1443.

Rusocastro has been excavated by archaeologists Milen Nikolov and Tsanya Drazheva from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The Bulgarian archaeologists have excavated several churches there including a monastery named after St. George, which existed in the 11th-14th century. Unfortunately, a Christian necropolis in the Rusocastro Fortress was partly destroyed in the largest military drills dubbed “Shield" of the countries from the former Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact that took place in Eastern Bulgaria in 1982.

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