Medieval Fortress Wall, Lady’s Ring with Crystal Discovered in Rescue Digs in Bulgaria’s Asenovgrad

A lady’s ring from the High Middle Ages made of copper and crystal has been discovered in Bulgaria’s Asenovgrad. Photo: TV grab from BNT

A fortress wall from the medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian town of Stanimachos / Stanimaka has been discovered in the southern Bulgarian town of Asenovgrad, together with luxury sgraffito ceramics and lady’s ring with a crystal.

The picturesque town of Asenovgrad in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv District is located on the northern slope of the Rhodope Mountains.

Today’s Asenovgrad is deemed as successor of several ancient and medieval settlements, including Stanimachos (meaning a “pass guardian”), which developed in the 12th-14th century, and was part of the Byzantine Empire and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422), where it was known as Stanimaka.

The best known of those, however, is the well preserved medieval Asen’s Fortress (“Asenova Krepost"), one of Bulgaria’s most well-known archaeological, historical, and cultural tourism landmarks.

A previously unknown part of the fortress wall of medieval Stanimachos has been found stumbled upon by workers renovating today’s water supply system in Asenovgrad.

Subsequently, the medieval structures have been studied on a plot of 77 square meters in rescue excavations carried out by the Asenovgrad Museum of History, Radio Plovdiv reports.

The finds are roughly dated to the time of Gregory Pakourianos (Gregorius Pacurianus), an 11th-century Byzantine politician of Georgian origin who is said to have been the second most powerful man in the Byzantine Empire after the Emperor himself.

Gregory Pakourianos is known as the founder of the Monastery of the Mother of God Petritzonitissa in Bachkovo, known as the Bachkovo Monastery, one of the most revered monasteries in today’s Bulgaria also located near the town of Asenovgrad.

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The newly discovered parts of the fortress wall of the medieval Stanimachos / Stanimaka, a town in the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires in the High Middle Ages. Photos: Radio Plovdiv

The fortress wall of medieval Stanimachos was first discovered in the late 1970s during the construction of an apartment building. It walled off a hill where today a local high school is located.

The newly discovered part of Stanimaka’s fortress wall is 3 meters tall, and approximately 2 meters wide.

“It walled off the hill where the castle of the fortress was located. It was mentioned by Gregory Pakourianos," Ivan Dukov, Director of the Asenovgrad Museum of History is quoted as saying.

Walls of three additional structures on the inside of the fortress wall have also been discovered.

The main fortress wall was built of crushed river stones and white mortar, while two of the walls found on the inside of the fortress, which might be from a slightly later period, were built of crushed river stones and mud.

Household sgraffito pottery discovered at the newly found fortress wall section in Bulgaria’s Asenovgrad. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

During the rescue excavations, the archaeologists have discovered a large amount of construction and household pottery, including the luxury ceramics decorated with the sgraffito technique.

“The kitchen pottery is typical of the 12th-14th century. It can noted that the sgraffito pottery was one of the most luxurious types of ceramics in the High Middle Ages," lead archaeologist Zapryanka Krasteva is quoted as saying.

One of the most interesting finds from the newly exposed part of the fortress wall of medieval Stanimachos / Stanimaka is an encrusted lady’s ring.

The type of crystal the newly found medieval lady’s ring is decorated with could not be determined immediately. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

The ring has been discovered among fragments of household pottery vessels on the inside of the fortress wall.

The medieval lady’s ring is made of copper and is decorated with a mountain crystal. The exact type of the stone is yet to be identified.

Unfortunately, much of the archaeological structures from the High Middle Ages in Bulgaria’s Asenovgrad were damaged in the 1960s during the laying of the modern-day town’s water supply pipes.

“Everything is mixed up, we even find glass from modern-day old bottles and jars which are at a depth where much older finds are supposed to be found," Museum Director Dukov has told BNT.

The news finds, including the lady’s ring, from the rescue excavations of medieval Stanimachos / Stanimaka will become part of the collection of the Asenovgrad Museum of History.

Background Infonotes:

Asen’s Fortress (Asenova Krepost) is a medieval Bulgarian fortress near the southern Bulgarian town of Asenovgrad (which takes its name from the fortress). It dates back to the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) and the Asen Dynasty (1185-1256 AD).

Asen’s Fortress is located on a 300-meter-high isolated rock, on the northern slope of the Rhodope Mountains. Its location features traces of Neolithic, Ancient Thracian, and Byzantine settlements. It was mentioned as Petrich (not to be confused with today’s town in Southwestern Bulgaria) in an 11th century statute of the nearby Bachkovo Monastery. Asen’s Fortress was conquered by crusaders from the Third Crusade.

It was renovated in 1231 AD during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241) as a stronghold against the Crusaders’ Latin Empire (1204-1261). It is best known for the well preserved 12th-13th century Church of the Holy Mother of God, a two-storey cross-domed single-nave church with a wide narthex and a large rectangular tower, with 14th century murals.

Asen’s Fortress was captured by Byzantium after Tsar Ivan Asen II‘s death, and regained by Bulgaria in 1344 under Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). It was conquered by the Ottomans Turks during their invasion of Bulgaria at the end of the 14th century even though the church remained in use during the following centuries. According to some sources, the fortress was destroyed in the Ottoman Interregnum when Ottoman princes fought for the succession of the Ottoman throne (1402-1413 AD).

View here a photo gallery of Asen’s Fortress and its 12th-13th century Church of the Holy Mother of God

Check out our news stories about Asen’s Fortress here
: Asen’s Fortress

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Gregory Pakourianos (Gregorius Pacurianus) was an 11th-century Byzantine politician of Georgian origin who is said to have been the second most powerful man in the Byzantine Empire after the Emperor himself. Gregory Pakourianos is known as the founder of the Monastery of the Mother of God Petritzonitissa in Bachkovo, one of the most revered monasteries in today’s Bulgaria also located near the town of Asenovgrad. It was established by him in 1083 AD. Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos appointed him “megas domestikos of All the West" meaning he was the supreme commander of Byzantine forces in Europe. He died in 1086 AD fighting the Pechenegs at the Battle of Beliatoba (today’s Bulgarian town of Belyatovo).

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