Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress Could Attract Hundreds of Thousands of Tourists Per Year, Bulgaria’s Tourism Minister Says

Bulgaria's Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova (middle) with Burgas Reigonal Museum of History Director Milen Nikolov (right) during her visit to the Rusocastro Fortress. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Bulgaria’s Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova (middle) with Burgas Reigonal Museum of History Director Milen Nikolov (right) during her visit to the Rusocastro Fortress. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The major medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress and city of Rusocastro in Southeast Bulgaria could get tens, even hundreds of thousands of visitors per year with the proper promotion, according to Bulgaria’s Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova.

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.

Bulgaria’s Tourism Minister Angelkova has visited the archaeological site near the modern-day town of Rusocastro, Kameno Municipality, Burgas District, which is presently being excavated by the team of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, the Museum has announced.

Only several days ago, the Museum made public the discovery of the main gate as well as a fully preserved cobblestone road from the 14th century in Rusocastro, noting the massive scale of the fortifications of what was the largest medieval fortress in today’s Southeast Bulgaria.

During her visit, Bulgaria’s Tourism Minister was shown around the archaeological site by Kameno Mayor Zhelyo Vardunski and the Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History Milen Nikolov, who is also the lead archaeologist for the Rusocastro Fortress.

“This place harbors a great potential not just because of its scale but also because of its location. It is in close proximity to some of [Bulgaria’s] most popular Black Sea resorts, and, given active advertising, it could be welcoming tens or even hundreds of thousands of tourists per year," Angelkova is quoted as saying.

She has emphasized the preparedness of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Tourism to help promote the Rusocastro Fortress but has urged its further research and conservation as well as the establishment of additional tourist services and infrastructure.

Angelkova is often criticized by the liberal media and commentators in Bulgaria with respect to events and initiatives organized by the Ministry of Tourism. She recently made headlines with a controversial statement that the graves of 17 “vampires" (i.e. people buried with rituals against vampirism in the Late Antiquity) are to be used to promote the Deultum – Debelt Archaeological Preserve, another major archaeological landmark in Southeast Bulgaria.

Regarding her visit to Rusocastro, the Burgas Museum notes that for the first time the excavations of the fortress are being conducted with target funding by Kameno Municipality amounting to BGN 33,000 (app. EUR 16,500), plus another BGN 5,000 (app. EUR 2,500) contributed by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.

The Museum plans to work on the conservation and restoration of the newly discovered structures immediately after the end of the present digs. It reminds that at the beginning of summer 2016, Kameno Municipality revamped the road leading up to the Rusocastro Fortress, while the residents of the towns of Rusocastro and Zhelyazovo have been contributing to the archaeological work.

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Part of the ruins of the Rusocastro Fortress, the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Part of the ruins of the Rusocastro Fortress, the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Bulgaria's Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova (right) with Burgas Reigonal Museum of History Director Milen Nikolov (middle) during her visit to the Rusocastro Fortress. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Bulgaria’s Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova (right) with Burgas Reigonal Museum of History Director Milen Nikolov (middle) during her visit to the Rusocastro Fortress. 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:

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

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 near the modern-day towns of Rusocastro and Zhelyazovo, Kameno Municipality, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas, in Southeast Bulgaria.

Rusocastro means “The Red Fortress" because of the red rocks around it, and the respective material it was built of. With a territory of 50 decares (app. 12.5 acres), it is the largest medieval fortress known in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, featuring a double fortress wall and a citadel.

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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