Bulgaria’s Burgas Wins EU Funding with Turkey’s Kirklareli to Develop Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve

Part of the restored Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria's Burgas. Photo: Burgas Municipality

Part of the restored Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae, known as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages, whose ruins lie in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas, will be developed further as a cultural tourism site with EU funding under the Interreg Program for Bulgaria and Turkey.

The archaeological preserve “Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis” located near today’s Burgas Mineral Baths resort was an ancient spa resort known as Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) in the Antiquity, and as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages.

It features structures and artifacts from all major civilizations that inhabited the territory of modern day Bulgaria – from Ancient Thrace and Greece to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Bulgarian Empire, and Ottoman Empire.

It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).

A joint project entitled “Together: Common Cultural Heritage without Border” of the Burgas Regional Museum of History and the Regional Culture and Tourism Directorate in Kirklareli, Turkey, has won a grant of almost BGN 1 million (app. EUR 500,000) under the EU Cross Border Cooperation Program Interreg – Bulgaria – Turkey IPA 2014 – 2020, the Burgas Museum and Burgas Municipality have announced.

A total of 39 projects have been approved for funding by the third meeting of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Bulgaria – Turkey Interreg Program, out of a total 195 submissions, including the Burgas – Kirklareli project.

The project is designed to invest in improvements of two respective major cultural tourism sites – the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas, and the Early Byzantine St. Nicholas rock monastery in Kiyiköy, Turkey.

In Bulgaria, the project is to support the second phase of the conservation and restoration of the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress Aquae Calidae – Therma.

This includes the construction of new alleys, passageways, and lighting, the introduction of latest information and communication technologies for the management of the site as well as the conservation of the eastern Early Byzantine section of the thermae, ancient and medieval water pipelines, frigidarium (pool with cool water), a small Early Byzantine pool, and parts of the fortifications.

In Turkey, the Interreg funding is to provide for the rehabilitation of road leading up to the Early Byzantine monastery near Kiyiköy.

The project is also going to pay for an international science conference on archaeology, conservation, and restoration of cultural heritage sites.

The Burgas Regional Museum of History has been researching Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis, the largest archaeological site in Burgas Municipality, uninterruptedly since 2005.

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The ruins of the ancient and medieval city of Aquea Calidae - Thermopolis in Bulgaria's Burgas. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The ruins of the ancient and medieval city of Aquea Calidae – Thermopolis in Bulgaria’s Burgas. Photos: Burgas Municipality

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Also check out our recent articles about the archaeological excavations of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis:

Goths Burned Down Ancient City Aquae Calidae in 4th Century AD, Bulgarian Archaeologists Conclude

Archaeologists Find Structures, Artifacts from Iron Age to Late Middle Ages in Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Preserve in Bulgaria’s Burgas

Bulgaria’s Burgas to Show Medieval Bulgarian, Byzantine Gold Rings at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve

Background Infonotes:

The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) is an archaeological site located in Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, in today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo.

It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).

Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.

The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs” by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there.

The name “Aquae Calidae” comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times.

The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.

In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city” in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort” for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.

After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground.

The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.

Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Tsonya Drazheva and Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve.

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