Archaeologists Find 6th Century AD Brazier in Kalyata Fortress near Bulgaria’s Yakoruda
A ceramic brazier, a container for hot coal typically used for heating, which dates back to the 6th century AD, i.e. the Early Byzantine period, has been discovered by archaeologists excavating the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress of Kalyata near the town of Yakoruda in Southwest Bulgaria.
The Kalyata Fortress is located in the Valley of the Mesta River, on one of the westernmost ridges of the Western Rhodope Mountains.
It was first built in the late 4th – early 5th century, i.e. the Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine period, and saw its height in the High Middle Ages, more precisely in the 12th-13th century, when it was first part of Byzantium, and then of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422).
The Kalyata Fortress was burned down twice – once in the second half of the 6th century, probably in the barbarian invasions of Slavs and Avars, and again in the late 12th century, probably in the wars between Byzantium and Bulgaria after the latter’s restoration in 1185.
The 2016 archaeological excavations of the fortress near Bulgaria’s Yakoruda have been carried out by a team led by Assist. Prof. Mariela Minkova from the National Museum of History in Sofia, Plamen Ivanov from the Ministry of Culture, and Plamen Doychev from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”. The digs have been funded by the Museum and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.
The excavations have focused on a two-floor building located at the highest point inside the Kalyata Fortress which was used for animal breeding and residential purposes. The second floor which was a residential unit has not survived.
It is in one of the building’s rooms that the archaeologists discovered fragments from a ceramic brazier, a vessel used for placing hot coal for heating purposes, the National Museum of History in Sofia has announced.
The vessel in question has the form of a cone with a cylindrical neck with a diameter of about 60 cm. Based on its shape and comparison to other known artifacts, the researchers have concluded that it was used as brazier back in the 6th century.
The Museum notes that clay braziers, albeit with a different shape, are known to have existed as early as the Bronze Age, while Late Antiquity finds from Bulgaria reveal that metal braziers were more common in this period. Dugouts from the period of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) were heated with open hearths or stone masonry heaters. No braziers have been preserved from the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422), whereas items from the 18th and 19th century (the Late Ottoman period) also reveal that metal braziers were more common than ceramic ones.
It is also noted that discoveries of chimney structures from an Early Byzantine fortress located near the town of Dichin, Veliko Tarnovo District, in Northern Bulgaria, show the use of open hearths, which would warrant the use of braziers. Based on bricks found inside the excavated building, the researchers speculate that the heating system in the Early Byzantine fortress Kalyata near Yakoruda might have been based on brick heaters built on the second floor.
The archaeologists and restorers of the National Museum of History in Sofia are yet to restore the newly found early medieval brazier from Kalyata.
Another intriguing discovery from the latest excavations in the fortress near Yakoruda is two large pithoi, ceramic vessels for grain, found in a room next to the one where the brazier was discovered.
The Museum says the future excavations in Kalyata are going to focus on the southern section of the fortifications where the main gate of the fortress was located, with the possible exposure of a second gate and one more fortress tower.
Kalyata is a Late Antiquity and medieval (Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine) fortress located near the town of Yakoruda, in the Western Rhodope Mountains in Southwest Bulgaria.
The word “kalyata” is the local dialect pronunciation of the word “kale” or “kaleto”. (“Kale” is a Turkish word meaning “fortress” left over from the Ottoman period commonly used for the numerous ruins of ancient and medieval fortresses all over Bulgaria, whose proper names are sometimes unknown.)
The Kalyata Fortress near Bulgaria’s Yakoruda was inhabited between the 4th and the 14th century. It was first built in the 4th-6th century AD, and was first burned down by attackers in the 5th-6th century, probably during the invasions of Slavs and Avars. One of the original structures unearthed by the archaeologists is a small Late Antiquity fortress tower which was burned down, and was rebuilt later. The fortress walls have been preserved up to a height of 3.2 meters.
Finds of 10th century pottery indicate that the Kalyata Fortress was part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) at least in the late 9th and early 10th century (before Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium in 1018).
The second, outer fortress wall of the Kalyata dates back to Byzantium in the period of the High Middle Ages. It expanded the fortified area a little to the east and south. A triangular tower from this period has been unearthed in the northern section of the fortress.
Inside the fortress, the archaeologists have discovered various residential buildings as well as 6th century AD coins of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), and Byzantine coins from the 12th-13th century.
The Kalyata Fortress near Yakoruda was burned down a second time in the second half of the 12th century (i.e. before the emergence of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422).
Inside the archaeological layer containing traces of the fire, which is about 50 cm wide, the archaeologists have discovered a collective find of five medieval crosses from the 12th-13th century. Two of the crosses were also reliquaries, with inscriptions in Greek dedicated to St. George and St. Blaise (who is worshipped by the locals as a patron of livestock breeders). One of the reliquaries contained holy relics.
Other finds include Byzantine coins from the 12th-13th century, and a pair of earrings hidden in a pottery vessel containing wheat. It has been speculated that the population was forced to flee the fortress, and that this probably happened during the wars between Byzantine and Bulgaria after the latter’s restoration in 1185.
There are hypotheses that in the early 13th century, the Kalyata Fortress was part of the estate of independent Bulgarian feudal lord Despot Aleksiy (Alexius) Slav (r. 1207-1230), mostly because it is located between his two main strongholds, Melnik and Tsepina.
The Kalyata Fortress saw its height precisely in the 12th and 13th century. It was only sparsely populated in the 14th century, and at the beginning of the Ottoman period, i.e. after the invasion of the Ottoman Turks in the late 14th century, and was abandoned after that.
Inside the fortress, the archaeologists have found a lot of household pottery and artifacts leading them to hypothesize that in both the Late Antiquity, and the Middle Ages, Kalyata was probably used as a fortress that provided a safe haven to the local population. While homes have been found inside the fortress, no traces of a town or another type of settlement have been detected in the immediate vicinity outside its walls.
The ruins of another similar fortress which also had a settlement have been identified about 7-8 km away from the Kalyata Fortress. This fortress is known among the local population as “Gradishte”, another generic word used in Bulgarian for fortresses with unknown names. However, the Kalyata Fortress is located on one of the last (westernmost) ridges of the Western Rhodope Mountains, the Gradishte Fortress near today’s town of Yakuruda is located on one of the easternmost ridges of the Rila Mountain.
In addition to the pottery from the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, at the Kalyata Fortress, the archaeologists have also found prehistoric and Ancient Thracian ceramics. Another interesting find is the footprint of a two-year-old child on one of the Late Antiquity roof tiles.
The Kalyata Fortress is yet to be researched more thoroughly by archaeologists because it remains rather unknown, not unlike the other archaeological sites along the Valley of the Mesta River in Southwest Bulgaria.
The Kalyata Fortress near Bulgaria’s Yakoruda was first excavated by archaeologists in 2007, with EU funding. It has been researched by archaeologists Mariela Minkova from the National Museum of History in Sofia and Plamen Ivanov.