Archaeological Landmarks in Bulgaria’s Shumen District Attracted over 140,000 Tourists in 2016

The Madara Horseman (or Madara Rider), a large Ancient Bulgar rock relief near the town of Madara, is one of Bulgaria’s top historical symbols, and the most visited cultural landmark in the Shumen District. Photo: Batr41, Wikipedia

The archaeological, historical, and cultural landmarks in the District of Shumen in Northeast Bulgaria, which include the most important cities and monuments from the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) have been viewed by more than 140,000 tourists in 2016.

The exact number of visitors announced by Shumen’s Municipal Tourism Company on Christmas Day 2016 is 141,484, including both foreign and Bulgarian tourists, reports local news site Forum24.

The impressive archaeological and historical monuments in the Shumen District include two of the capitals of the First Bulgarian Empire, Pliska (capital in 680-893) (which was also the first Ancient Bulgar capital south of the Danube, had the largest church in medieval Europe, the Great Basilica, and was allegedly the largest medieval European city by territory) and Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav") (capital in 893-970).

Today, the two medieval capitals have become the Pliska Historical and Archaeological Preserve and the Veliki Preslav Historical and Archaeological Preserve.

A fortress wall in the Veliki Preslav Archaeological Preserve, the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 893-970 AD. Photo: Shumen’s Municipal Tourism Company

The other top landmarks in the region are the Madara Historical and Archaeological Preserve featuring the world-famous Madara Horseman (or “Madara Rider"), a huge Ancient Bulgar rock relief which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Founders of the Bulgarian State Memorial (a Communist Era Concrete Monument designed to celebrate the alleged 1,300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state back in 1981, respectively, its “formal foundation" in 680-681 AD, an interpretation of early Bulgarian history which is increasingly being repudiated by historians); and the ancient and medieval Shumen Fortress (the Shumen Fortress Historical and Archaeological Preserve).

The most popular landmark in Bulgaria’s Shumen District over the past year has once again been the Madara Preserve and the Madara Horseman. The Ancient Bulgar relief from the late 7th – early 8th century AD has been visited by a total of 61,634 tourists (compared with 61,055 in 2015).

The Pliska Historical and Archaeological Preserve has welcome a total of 58,244 tourists in 2016 so far, a more tangible increase year-on-year (it had 55,179 visitors in 2015).

The Communist Era Memorial of the “Founders of the Bulgarian State" has been seen by 21,609 tourists, a notable growth in visitor numbers compared with 2015, when it was viewed by 17,085. The Memorial has thus made an additional BGN 20,000 from admission tickets.

It is also noted that a total of 80 couples have chosen to get married there in 2016 so far compared with 68 couples in 2015.

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The “Founders of the Bulgarian State” Memorial in Shumen is a massive Communist Era monument promoting the increasingly repudiated notion that Bulgaria (that is, the First Bulgarian Empire) was formally established in 680-681 AD as a result of a war with Byzantium, and had not existed as a “state” beforehand. Photo: Shumen’s Municipal Tourism Company

Background Infonotes:

Pliska and Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) are two of the capitals of the First Bulgarian Empire. Pliska was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680-893 AD, and Veliki Preslav in 893-970 AD, at the height of the Bulgarian state. The state capital was moved from Pliska to Veliki Preslav, a new medieval city nearby, in 893 AD in order to seal Bulgaria’s adoption of Christianity and the Bulgarian (Slavic, Cyrillic) script (in 865 and 886 AD, respectively). The ruins of both Pliska and Veliki Preslav can be seen today in the Shumen District in Northeast Bulgaria.

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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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