Archaeologists Discover Necropolis in Ancient, Medieval Fortress Nebet Tepe in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Lead archaeologist Sofiya Hristova showing the site of the ongoing excavations on the northern slope of the Nebet Tepe Hill in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo: BGNES

Lead archaeologist Sofiya Hristova showing the site of the ongoing excavations on the northern slope of the Nebet Tepe Hill in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: BGNES

A necropolis and a large amount of marble fragments, among numerous other finds, have been discovered by the archaeologists excavating Nebet Tepe, the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress, to which the city of Plovdiv owes the title of “Europe’s oldest city”.

Bulgaria’s Plovdiv has seven historic hills, not unlike Rome. They are still known as “tepeta”, i.e. by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period.

Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe (and the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

Later, in the Antiquity period, the city was known as Philipopolis (named after King Philip II of Macedon), and Trimontium (after its conquest by the Roman Empire).

Learn more about the history of Plovdiv and Nebet Tebe in the Background Infonotes below.

Human remains from the newly exposed medieval necropolis near the cistern of the Nebet Tepe Fortress in Plovdiv. Photo: BGNES

Human remains from the newly exposed medieval necropolis near the cistern of the Nebet Tepe Fortress in Plovdiv. Photo: BGNES

The present archaeological excavations on Nebet Tepe started a month ago, and have one more week to go, reports the private Bulgarian news agency BGNES.

They are led by archaeologist Sofiya Hristova from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, and are conducted on the northern slope of the Nebet Tepe Hill.

Part of the respective section of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement had been excavated by archaeologists only once before – about 40 years ago, back in the 1970s.

Because of the rocky terrain, the latest discoveries have been made with probes drilling through the archaeological layers.

The archaeologists’ goal has been map a section of the wall of the Nebet Fortress and to discover structures from different time periods based on the archaeological probes conducted there at the end of 2015.

“We are researching a spot which has never been excavated before so this gives us an opportunity to refine [our knowledge of the] stratigraphy of the site,” lead archaeologist Hristova has told the Bulgarian National Television.

Next to an ancient rock cistern (used as a water tank for collecting rain water) which was restored and reused in modern times, the archaeologists have discovered several graves from a medieval necropolis. Some of the human remains have been found under the bottom of a lime pit (which was itself used for the restoration of the cistern).

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Numerous fragments of colored marble have been found in the latest digs in the Nebet Tepe Fortress. Photo: BGNES

Numerous fragments of colored marble have been found in the latest digs in the Nebet Tepe Fortress. Photo: BGNES

Other intriguing finds are numerous fragments of colored marble, including the most expensive kind, green marble. The green marble and a fully preserved marble column have been interpreted to mean that a very rich building had existed in the area.

Hristova’s team has also found several coins and a votive tablet featuring an image of deity believed to be Mithra, an eastern god also worshiped in the Roman Empire. Yet, the researchers are yet to attempt to find out for certain which deity is depicted on the tablet because it is only partly preserved.

Another important discovery is the ruins several other walls inside the fortress which were built in different periods of the civilized life on Nebet Tepe in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv.

The reports note that much of the fortifications were buried with rubble during the previous archaeological excavations of the respective section back in 1974, and were not documented back then.

The archaeological exploration of the Nebet Tepe Fortress, technically the site of Europe’s earliest city, began with the first proper digs carried out in the 1920s by archaeologist Dimitar Tsonchev when the existence of Ancient Thracian layers was established.

Further excavations, which were led by archaeologist Petar Detev in 1960, used probes to discover more finds from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, and by archaeologist Lilyana Botusharova shortly afterwards. Detev confirmed the stratigraphy of four archaeological layers in 1969.

Large-scale excavations (of which no paperwork has been preserved) were carried out in 1974 by archaeologist Atanas Peykov. In 1994, a clay altar was discovered close to the top of the Nebet Tepe Hill.

While the spot which is presently being excavated by the team of Sofiya Hristova has been inhabited since the Prehistory, the present digs have reached only the archaeological layer of the Roman period.

It is expected that after their completion in a week, the excavations in the same section of the Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv are going to continue in 2016.

The archaeological site on the northern slope of the Nebet Tepe Hill, with Plovdiv's Old Town visible in the background. Photos: BGNES

The archaeological site on the northern slope of the Nebet Tepe Hill, with Plovdiv’s Old Town visible in the background. Photos: BGNES

Nebet Tepe 4Also check out our other recent stories about the archaeological heritage and discoveries in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv:

Newly Restored Floor Mosaics from Antiquity Synagogue in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Unveiled for the First Time

Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Launches Norway/EEA-Funded ‘Digitization’ of Its Archaeological, Historical, and Cultural Monuments

Bulgaria’s Plovdiv to Restore Marble Seats during Reconstruction of Antiquity Odeon

Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Granted Permission for Restoration of Antiquity Odeon after Year-Long Delay

Ancient Tomb from Thracian-Roman Period Discovered during Construction Works in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Nominated Among Top 20 ‘European Best Destinations’ 2016

Background Infonotes:

The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta”, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.

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