6th Century AD Secret Passage of Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven Sheltered over Restoration Plans

The newly built shelter protecting the entrance of the 6th century AD secret tunnel of the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria's Sliven. Photo: GERB Sliven

The newly built shelter protecting the entrance of the 6th century AD secret tunnel of the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven. Photo: GERB Sliven

The entrance of a secret passage from the 6th century AD in the Tuida Fortress in the Eastern Bulgarian city of Sliven has been sheltered in order to protect the intriguing facility and to provide for its future restoration.

Tuida was originaly an Ancient Thracian settlement which grew into a Late Roman, Early Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian fortress. The Roman fortress itself was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD.

The 6th century AD secret passage of the Tuida Fortress, was in use between the 4th and the 13th century AD, is an arched tunnel leading from inside of the fortress to the bank of the Novoselska River, a tributary to the Tundzha River, outside the fortress walls.

Now the entrance of the Tuida secret passage has been protected with a newly built shelter, announced the local office of Bulgaria’s ruling center-right party GERB which has provided the funding to complete the structure.

It is noted that the existence of the secret passage has been known since archaeological excavations in the 1960s when a small section of the tunnel exit at the river bank was explored.

Back then the archaeologists unearthed its stone steps and wooden beams, and found that the passage had air vents about every two meters.

Since then, the tunnel has not been excavated further, and its entrance or exit have not been protected or restored, and have been exposed to weather damage.

The organizers say the construction of the shelter is a first step for the preservation of the secret tunnel dating back to the Early Byzantine period of the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven.

A project for the partial excavation and restoration of the secret passage is about to be drafted in order to apply for public funding.

The office of GERB Sliven has pledged to also support financially the future restoration project.

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The Early Byzantine secret tunnel led outside the fortress wall of Tuida, to a nearby river bank. Photos: GERB Sliven

The Early Byzantine secret tunnel led outside the fortress wall of Tuida, to a nearby river bank. Photos: GERB Sliven

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The ruins of the Tuida Fortress itself were partly restored by Sliven Municipality back in December 2014 to promote cultural tourism.

The restoration of the Tuida Fortress was part of a project for the restoration of three key medieval Bulgarian fortresses that were crucial for the defense of Bulgaria in the later years of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) – namely, Tuida in Sliven; the medieval Bulgarian fortress of Velbarzhd known in the Antiquity period as Pautalia, in today’s Western Bulgarian city of Kyustendil, and the Stipon Fortress in the Trajan’s Gate Pass near the southern Bulgarian town of Ihtiman (the Trayanovi Vrata Pass).

The project for the restoration of the fortresses Tuida, Velbazhd (Pautalia), and Stipon (also called the Fortress of Trajan’s Gate Pass) was financed with EU funding and by the local municipalities of Sliven, Kyustendil, and Ihtiman, respectively, and was dedicated to the remembrance of the 1,000th year since the death of Bulgarian Tsar Samuil (r. 971/997-1014 AD) who defended Bulgaria for more than 40 years against the Byzantine Empire led by Emperor Basil II Boulgaroktonos, i.e. “the Bulgar-slayer” (r. 976-1025 AD).

Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria died, allegedly of a heart attack, in 1014 AD, after the Byzantine Emperor Basil II captured some 14,000 Bulgarian soldiers in the Battle of Belasitsa (Battle of Kleidion / Clidium) and blinded them. However, Tsar Samuil defended Bulgaria successfully against Byzantium for several decades. In the Battle of the Trajan’s Gate Pass in 986 AD his forces annihilated the entire Byzantine army, with Emperor Basil II himself barely escaping death.

The three fortresses of Tuida, Velbazhd (Pautalia), and Stipon (Trajan’s Gate Pass), which were key in Bulgaria’s defense under Tsar Samuil, are just a tiny percentage of the some 6,000 fortresses that existed in medieval Bulgaria, and most of which were razed to the ground by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century, and after that, during the Early Ottoman period.

Learn more about the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven in the Background Infonotes below!

The potential excavation and restoration of the secret passage will build upon Tuida's partial restoration completed in 2014. Photos: GERB Sliven

The potential excavation and restoration of the secret passage will build upon Tuida’s partial restoration completed in 2014. Photos: GERB Sliven

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Background Infonotes:

Тhe Tuida Fortress is a Late Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress located on the Hisarlaka Hill in the eastern Bulgarian city of Sliven.

It was first excavated in 1982 by archaeologists from the Sliven Regional Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The archaeologists have discovered there remains of a Late Iron Age Ancient Thracian settlement (6th-1st century BC) which in the Roman period turned into a market place; a 2nd-4th century Thracian settlement is cited in written sources as Tuida, Suida, or Tsoida. The name is believed to be of Thracian origin, though its precise ethymology is still unclear.

The Tuida Fortress was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD. It is known to have had a secret tunnel built in the 6th century AD leading to the Novoselska River located to the west, a tributary of the Tundzha River.

The Tuida Fortress avoided destruction during the invasion of the Goths in 378 AD but was destroyed in the invasions of the Huns in the 5th century AD. It was rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518 AD), preserving but also enhancing the original architecture of the fortress. The Tuida Fortress was ultimately destroyed around 598-599 AD, most probably during an invasion of Avars and Slavs.

The territory around today’s Bulgarian city of Sliven was made part of Bulgaria, i.e. of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), around 705 AD when Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel gained the Zagore Region south of the Balkan Mountains after he helped Byzantine Emperor Justinian II the Slit-nosed (Rhinotmetos or Rhinotmetus) (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) regain his throne in Constantinople. Thus, a Bulgarian settlement, whose name remains unknown, was built on the place of the Tuida Fortress. A lead seal of Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Mihail (r. 852-889 AD) has been found there.

The Bulgarians rebuilt the fortress walls and the aquaduct of Tuida, and erected new buildings inside the fortress that were covered with marble slabs produced by stone cutters in the then Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav”). Several bricks with an Ancient Bulgar sign (resembling “|Y|) have been found there. Written sources indicated that Tuida was the seat of a bishop from the 4th century AD onwards.

After the original excavations of the Tuida Fortress first started in 1982, they were resumed in 2004. The archaeological finds there include, in addition to Knyaz Boris I’s lead seal, a number of iron tools, ceramic vessels, ornaments, coins, and bones from 14 species of wild and domesticated birds including Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), great bustard (Otis tarda), and common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).

The archaeological excavations have revealed the fortress walls of Tuida, fortress towers and gates, remains of buildings, two marble pedestals dedicated to gods Apollo and Zeus which contain the name of the fortress as Tuida or Suida (known in written sources as Tsoida), a 3rd century AD inscription describing the settlement as a market place, a cult complex used between the 4th and the 13th century consisting of a three-nave one-apse Early Christian basilica and a unique baptistery decorated with murals and mosaics.

The ruins of a larger basilica have been found outside the fortress walls (which encompassed an area of about 40 decares (app. 10 acres)) which is taken to mean that the settlement was not confined by the fortified area but spanned outside of it.

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