‘Unseen Treasures’ Showcased for 35th Anniversary of History Museum in Bulgaria’s Shumen

A collage showing various artifacts from the permanent collection of the Shumen Regional Museum of History in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Shumen Regional Museum of History

A collage showing various artifacts from the permanent collection of the Shumen Regional Museum of History in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Shumen Regional Museum of History

A new exhibition entitled “Unseen Treasures” has been opened by the Regional Museum of History in the northeastern Bulgarian city of Shumen to celebrate the 35th anniversary since the opening of its present building and permanent display.

The exhibition of the Shumen Museum features a wide range of archaeological artifacts which have never been shown to the public before, the Museum has announced.

These include Late Chalcolithic finds from settlement mounds located near the towns of Ivanovo and Sushina, Antiquity artifacts discovered near the town of Lovets in 2009, as well as items from the so called small wooden rampart in Pliska, the first capital of the Ancient Bulgars south of the Danube and capital of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) between 680 and 893 AD.

Other previously unseen items now on display in the Shumen Museum of History include collective coin finds from different ages as well as artifacts from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (18th-19th) century such as icons and crosses.

The then new building of the Shumen Regional Museum of History with its permanent display was formally inaugurated on November 28, 1981.

The event was part of the celebrations for the alleged 1,300th anniversary of Bulgaria which is based on the highly questionable interpretation of Ancient Bulgar / early Bulgarian history assuming that Bulgaria as a country was formally founded in 680-681 AD as a result of a peace treaty with the Byzantine Empire.

This was the dominant interpretation during Bulgaria’s communist period (along with other highly questionable and politically motivated claims that the Ancient Bulgars were of Turkic origin – an allegation that has been disproved, with possibly the most plausible hypothesis being that they were of Iranian (Persian) origin).

This interpretation was made mainstream during the communist period despite common knowledge of the fact that the so called Old Great Bulgaria, a state union of Ancient Bulgars, was organized by Khan Kubrat ca. 632 AD in today’s Ukraine and Southwest Russia, and then shifted its center towards the Balkans, essentially given the start of the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

Just recently, a number of top Bulgarian historians demanded changes in history books to reflect new findings and the freedom from ideological indoctrination, indicating, among other things, that the history of the Ancient Bulgar state goes back to 165 AD.

The collection of the Regional Museum of History in Shumen features over 150,000 archaeological and historical artifacts. About 10% of those are part of the permanent display in the museum whereas the rest are often made public through temporary exhibitions.

Even though it has exhibits from all time periods since the Chalcolithic, the Shumen Museum is also rich in artifacts from medieval Bulgarian history as two of the early Bulgarian capitals, Pliska and Veliki Preslav (893-970) are located in the Shumen District. The city of Shumen is also home to the partly restored medieval Shumen Fortress.

The Unseen Treasures exhibitions can be seen in the Shumen Museum of History from November 28 until December 28, 2016. It can be viewed for free by December 2.

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The official poster for the 'Unseen Treasures' exhibition of the Shumen Regional Museum of History. Photo: Shumen Regional Museum of History

The official poster for the ‘Unseen Treasures’ exhibition of the Shumen Regional Museum of History. Photo: Shumen Regional Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

The Shumen Fortress is located on a plateau 2 km west of the modern-day city of Shumen in Northeast Bulgaria at a junction of a number of Ancient Roman north-south and east-west routes linking the Danube cities of Durostorum (Drastar / Silistra) and Sexaginta Prista (Ruse) with Adrianople and Constantinople, and Odessus (Odessos – Varna) on the Black Sea coast with the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

The location of the Shumen Fortress was first settled around 1200 BC by Ancient Thracians, most probably from the tribe of the Getae (Gets) making it a contemporary of Ancient Troy (more specifically of layer VIIb). Initially, the Thracian settlement there was not fortified.

It is believed that the first fortress wall of the settlement was built around the 5th century BC. Remains of the Thracian fortification from the 5th-2nd century BC have been discovered at a depth of 4 meters.

The Danube Plain in today’s Northern Bulgaria was conquered by the Roman Empire in 15 AD, making the Shumen Fortress a Roman stronghold. There are hypotheses that at the time the Shumen Fortress was called Dausdava but this name has not been confirmed.

The Romans built a new fortress wall with towers that were rectangular or U-shaped. The Shumen Fortress was overrun ca. 250 AD by the Goths but was rebuilt shortly after the invasion. It was affected by the second wave of Gothic invasions in the 4th century AD.

During the Roman period, the Shumen Fortress had primarily military functions, unlike the nearby Roman cities in today’s Northeast Bulgaria, Marcianople (Marcianopolis) (today’s town of Devnya) and Abritus (today’s city of Razgrad) which had a greater intensity of economic life.

After the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire built a new wall of the Shumen Fortress as an outer rim of the Roman wall, with pentagonal towers in order to make them more invincible to catapult attacks.

During the Early Byzantine period the Shumen Fortress began to emerge as a more significant commercial and economic center. It is from this period that the archaeologists have found the ruins of two Christian basilicas, one of them 30 meters long. However, the barbarian invasions from the second half of the 5th century until the second half of the 7th century AD resulted in the destruction and depopulation of the Roman and Byzantine city. The fortress was burned down and destroyed by the Slavs and Avars at the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th century AD.

The Shumen Fortress became part of the First Bulgarian Empire ca. 680 AD, as the Ancient Bulgars became conquering the lands south of the Danube. Archaeological excavations have revealed that in the 8th century Slavs who were part of the Bulgarian Empire settled there building dugouts among the ruins of the fortress whereas the restoration of the fortress itself happened gradually at the height of the First Bulgarian Empire, in the 9th-10th century AD when the Bulgars built a citadel that they used as a governors’ residence. The other major modification that they made to the Shumen Fortress was to transform some of the fortress towers into triangular.

The modern-day name of the city of Shumen emerged during the settlement of the Ancient Bulgars in today’s Northeast Bulgaria. The fortress had a very important role in the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) because of its proximity to the first two Bulgar capitals south of the DanubePliska (680-893 AD) and Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) (893-970 AD).

The Shumen Fortress was conquered by Byzantium in 1001 AD, shortly before all of Bulgaria was conquered and ruled by the Byzantines in 1018-1185 AD. In the 1030s-1040s, the fortress was destroyed during the invasions of the Pecheneg tribes, and was later rebuilt.

It was after the restoration of Bulgaria and the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) that Shumen became one of medieval Bulgaria’s most prominent cities, with well developed agriculture, crafts, and trade, and a royal mint in the 14th century.

During the Late Middle Ages, the Bulgarian city of Shumen had three fortress walls protecting its inner city, which itself had several main streets (2.5 meters wide) and a total of 27 smaller streets. The fortress walls from this period have been preserved up to a height of 5 meters. Inside the citadel, there was a 3.4 meters deep water reservoir built with stone blocks.

The Shumen Fortress was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD. An inscription indicates that in 1392, Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395), the last ruler of the Tarnovo Tsardom, which was the largest remnant of the Second Bulgarian Empire, managed to reconquer Shumen, a move which may have led Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402) to launch a final campaign against the Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo).

The Shumen Fortress survived until 1444 AD, when it was conquered after a fierce three-day siege by the troops from the Crusade against the Ottoman Empire of the King of Poland and Hungary Vladislav (Wladyslaw) III, also known as Varnenchik because he found his death in the Battle of Varna shortly after that. After the Shumen Fortress was burned down by the Christian knights, it was never rebuilt.

The Shumen Fortress was turned into the Shumen Fortress Historical and Archaeological Preserve in 1957. It is one of Bulgaria’s most thoroughly researched archaeological monuments. It was first explored in the first half of the 20th century by archaeologists Rafail Popov and Ivan Mollov. The bulk of the excavations took place between 1957 and 1987 under the leadership of late archaeologist Vera Antonova (1917-2002) from the Shumen Regional Museum of History. The excavations revealed a total of three fortress walls – from the Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian periods, with typical fortress towers for each one of them; a citadel; Byzantine thermae (public baths); a total of 12 churches, including a religious center of four churches built in close proximity; the inscription of Tsar Ivan Shishman; another short inscription which could be the first ever known inscription in the Cyrillic (Bulgaric) Alphabet; belt applications; gold liturgical vessels; ceramic vessels from the period after 1,200 BC; a large number of coins from all time periods.

The Shumen Fortress has a total territory of 32 decares (app. 8 acres) but much of its medieval population lived in a suburb outside the fortress walls.

In 2012-2015, Shumen Municipality restored partly the Shumen Fortress and other sites with funding from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants worth BGN 3.2 million (app. EUR 1.6 million).

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