60th Anniversary since Start of Excavations of Shumen Fortress Celebrated in Bulgaria’s Shumen

The southeastern tower of the Shumen Fortress. Photo: Shumen Regional Museum of History

The Regional Museum of History in the city of Shumen in Northeast Bulgaria has celebrated the 60th anniversary since the beginning of the regular archaeological excavations of the ancient and medieval Shumen Fortress.

The anniversary was celebrated on April 19, 2017, on which the Shumen Museum also marked the 100th birthday of late archaeologist Vera Antonova (1917-2002), the long-time researcher of the Shumen Fortress, the museum has announced.

Antonova worked on the excavations of the Shumen Fortress between 1957 and 1987, and its all-out exploration is considered her greatest archaeological achievement.

The Shumen Fortress is located on a tall plateau towering above the modern-day Bulgarian city of Shumen.

It was first settled and fortified by the Ancient Thracians in the Antiquity period, later build-up further by the Romans in the Late Antiquity, and by the early Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.

The Shumen Fortress was especially important at the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) emerging as a major medieval city, partly because of its proximity to the first two Bulgar capitals south of the Danube – Pliska (680-893 AD) and and Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) (893-970 AD).

In the 9th-10th century, the Bulgarian Empire built there a citadel that was used as a governors’ residence.

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A model of the Shumen Fortress in the Middle Ages. Photo: Shumen Regional Museum of History

Learn More about the Shumen Fortress in the Background Infonotes below!

The dual anniversary of the 60th year since the start of archaeological excavations at the Shumen Fortress, and late archaeologist Vera Antonova’s 100th birthday was celebrated with two events.

The first one was a round table at the Shumen Regional Museum of History entitled “The Shumen Fortress in the Research of Vera Antonova and Her Followers.”

The second was a historical reenactment in the citadel of the fortress based on a 1392 inscription left behind by Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395), shortly before the rump state of the Second Bulgarian Empire was fully conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks.

The so called Shishman’s Shumen Inscription reveals that the Shumen Fortress was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD, but that in 1392, Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395), the last ruler of the Tarnovo Tsardom, the largest remnant of the Second Bulgarian Empire, managed to reconquer Shumen.

There are hypotheses that the reconquest of Shumen may have led Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402) to launch a final campaign against the Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo).

The 1392 inscription in the Shumen Fortress by Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Shishman in which he tells about what turned out to be his short-lived reconquest of the fortress from the invading Ottoman Turks. Photo: Shumen Regional Museum of History

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).

The Shumen Regional Museum of History goes back to a museum collection started by Bulgarian National Revival figure Sava Dobroplodni in 1857, 20 years before Bulgaria’s Liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

In November 2016, the Shumen Museum celebrated the 35th anniversary since the opening of its modern-day building and its permanent exhibition.

In 2016, the Shumen Fortress and a number of other top archaeological and historical sites in Bulgaria’s Shumen District, attracted a combined total of over 140,000 tourists.

Those include the Pliska Historical and Archaeological Preserve and the Veliki Preslav Historical and Archaeological Preserve, 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).

A poster by the Shumen Museum of History for the celebration of the 60th anniversary since the start of the archaeological excavations at the Shumen Fortress. 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 previously existing fortress towers into triangular towers.

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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