Bulgaria’s Belovo Seeks to Promote Impressive Early Christian Basilica as Archaeology, Cultural Tourism Site

The Belovo Basilica was built at the end of the 5th – the beginning of the 6th century. It is 28 meters long and 17 meters wide. Photo: National Museum of History via Belovo’s municipal newspaper

Promotion of the rather well preserved but unknown ruins of an impressive Early Christian basilica (the Belovo Basilica) from the long defunct Late Antiquity and medieval city of Leuka (Leuke) is a main objective of the authorities in Belovo Municipality, Southwest Bulgaria.

The Belovo Basilica was built in Early Byzantine period, in the late 5th-early 6th century AD, in the Late Antiquity and medieval city of Leuka (Leuke).

Leuka was eventually destroyed by the invading Ottoman Turks in the late 14th century, and was never rebuilt.

The Belovo Basilica itself was part of an Early Christian monastery which survived until the 17th when it, too, was destroyed by the Ottomans.

“The Belovo Basilica as well as the inner fortress of this Antiquity city known as Leuka should be developed so they can become a [cultural] tourism site, and so we can learn more about the history of our region,” Sevdalina Popova, Director of the Belovo Museum of History, has told Radio Focus Pazardzhik.

She points out that now there are wonderful aerial photographs of Early Christian Belovo Basilica which were made by experts from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia.

The aerial photos were made for the “2000 Years of Christianity in Bulgaria” exhibition which was organized in Russia’s capital Moscow by the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Moscow, the Bulgarian Embassy in Moscow, and Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia.

“The pictures are very beautiful, and before they were made the basilica had had no aerial photos,” Popova says.

She points out that the inclusion of the generally not very well known but impressive Early Christian basilica from the now defunct ancient and medieval city of Leuka in the Bulgarian exhibition in Moscow has already helped a great deal to make the archaeological monument more popular.

“[Bulgaria’s lands] were part of the two great [Early Christian] empires, the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, which were centers of Christianity, and the Belovo Basilica was an important place for the spreading of the Christian religion,” the historian emphasizes.

The Belovo Basilica was part of Leuka (Leuke), a major Late Antiquity and medieval city in Byzantium and Bulgaria destroyed during the Ottoman invasion of the 14th century. Photos: National Museum of History via Belovo’s municipal newspaper

The Belovo Basilica is increasingly becoming known as one of the most interesting Early Christian landmarks even though it is hard to access by tourists, being located at the foot of Mount Spas on the northern slopes of the Rhodope Mountains.

However, Belovo Municipality has gradually been improving the infrastructure of its cultural tourism sites with EU funding.

Learn more about the Belovo Basilica in the Background Infonotes below!

Background Infonotes:

The Belovo Basilica is a partly preserved Early Christian church from the Late Antiquity / Early Byzantine period located on the northern slopes of the Rhodope Mountains (at the foot of St. Spas Mount) near the town of Golyamo Belovo, Belovo Municipality (10 km south of the town of Belovo), Pazardzhik District, in Southwest Bulgaria.

The basilica complex was an Early Christian monastery surviving until the 17th century, which was part of the large Late Antiquity and medieval city and fortress of Leuka (Leuke) (not to be confused with the smaller Old Levka (Leuka) Fortress near the town of Levka, Svilengrad Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria near the border with Turkey). Leuka had a territory of about 80 decares (app. 20 acres), and was the center of an (Early) Christian parish. While Leuka has not been sufficiently researched by archaeologists, partly preserved fortress walls, building walls, a large round water reservoir, and various archaeological artifacts have been found where it once stood.

The Belovo Basilica was built at the end of the 5th – the beginning of the 6th century. It is a three-nave temple with three apses, and also had a baptistery. It was 28 meters long and 17 meters wide. Still surviving are western wall, the southern wall of its narthex, and an arcade in its northern section.

The basilica had a vaulted roof rather than domes which is considered a major difference from most other Early Christian basilicas in Bulgaria and the Balkans. It has thus been compared to Roman / Byzantine Mediterranean basilicas, especially in Asia Minor.

While the city of Leubka was destroyed by the invading Ottoman Turks in the 14th-15th century, the Belovo Basilica and its monastery is believed to have survived until the 17th century when it was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks during the Islamization of the Velingrad region.

The basilica was first described in the 19th century by Bulgarian educators Stefan Zahariev and Petko Slaveykov. The first scientific publication about it was authored by historian Petar Mutafchiev in 1915. It was first excavated in 1924 by French-Ukrainian archaeologist Andre Grabar with funding by American scholar Thomas Whittemore.

The archaeological monument first received protected status in 1927, and in 1966 it was declared a monument of culture of national importance. In 1994, the Belovo Basilica was partly restored.

A small church was built near the basilica’s ruins in 1999. The Belovo Basilica is hard to access much of the year but is still popular for both tourists and locals.

Check out this YouTube video showing the ruins of the Belovo Basilica.

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