Bulgaria’s Aquae Calidae, ‘Most Visited Spa Resort in Eastern Europe in Past 2,000 Years’, to Mark 10 Years of Archaeological Excavations

Burgas Museum of History Director Milen Nikolov (left) shows the restoration works at the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis archaeological preserve to Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov (right). Photo: Burgas Municipality

The ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae (called Thermopolis in the Middle Ages) in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas – described as “Eastern Europe’s most visited spa resort in the past 2,000 years – marks this summer the 10th anniversary since the start of its archaeological excavations.

The archaeological preserve “Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis" located near today’s Burgas Mineral Baths resort was an ancient spa resort known as Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters" in Latin) in the Antiquity, and as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages.

It features structures and artifacts from all major civilizations that inhabited the territory of modern day Bulgaria – from Ancient Thrace and Greece to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Bulgarian Empire, and Ottoman Empire.

It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).

As it is about to celebrate the 10th anniversary since the start of its archaeological excavations to be celebrated in September 2018, Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis is nearing the completion of the second stage of its partial conservation and restoration, the Burgas Regional Museum of History has announced.

The restoration is being carried out by the Burgas Museum of History and Burgas Municipality with under an EU funded project.

The project entitled “Together: Common Cultural Heritage without Borders" of the Burgas Regional Museum of History and the Regional Culture and Tourism Directorate in Kirklareli, Turkey, won back in 2016 a grant of almost BGN 1 million (app. EUR 500,000) under the EU Cross Border Cooperation Program Interreg – Bulgaria – Turkey IPA 2014 – 2020.

“Before and after”: The above photo shows the August 2018 look of the partially restored Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis ruins, the photo below shows what the ruins looked like 10 years, before the archaeological excavations, conservation, and restoration started. Photos: Burgas Municipality

The local authorities are presently installing transition bridges as well as special lighting all over the ancient ruins of Aquae – Calidae Thermopolis to provide the tourists with the best possible views.

The funding has also been used to drain and restore the cold water pool of the Roman thermae (public baths), and conserve and seal structures in the entire southern part of the ancient and medieval spa resort, between the apodyterium, i.e. the entrance of the Roman baths, and the 16th century bathhouse of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

A collection of selected finds from Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis is to be digitized and showcased on screens at the archaeological preserve itself as well as in the Archaeological Department of the Burgas Regional Museum of History.

“This year’s archaeological excavations were concentrated in the northern part of the site. In the next stage, the structures in the eastern part will be conserved, and above them an educational museum will be built, featuring an exact replica of the Roman thermae," the Burgas Museum reveals.

It points out that the healing qualities of the mineral waters of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis were well known to “Thracians, Byzantines, Bulgarians, and Ottomans."

“The Ancient Thracians knew the site thanks to the healing qualities of the mineral spring. In the 1st century AD, the Roman thermae were built, and after that they were used and expanded by Byzantines, Bulgarians, Ottomans," the Museum points out.

Photos showing the restoration of the ancient and medieval ruins at the Aquae Calidae Archaeological Preserve as of August 2018. Photos: Burgas Municipality

It has also announced that it is going to publish the first book about the history of the ancient and medieval spa resort on the occasion of the 10th anniversary since the start of the archaeological excavations there.

The book is to be presented on September 14, 2018, during the annual Days of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis.

In another announcement on the same occasion, Burgas Municipality says that it has been allocating funding for the research, conservation, and development of the archaeological preserve of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis in each of the past 10 years.

“The result from these investments is becoming more and more visible," Burgas Municipality says, pointing out it is releasing photos from 10 years ago that allow a comparison of what the archaeological site used to look like.

It has described the site as “the most visited baths in Eastern Europe for the past 2,000 years".

In March 2016, the Museum of Aquae Calidae showcased a small hoard of Byzantine gold coins, from the 7th – 9th century which was discovered there back in 2012.

Learn more about the history of the ancient and medieval spa resort Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis in the Background Infonotes below!

Photos showing what the ruins of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve looked like in 2008, 10 years ago, when the excavations, conservation, and restorations started. Photos: Burgas Municipality

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

Bulgars: Webster’s Timeline History, 354 – 2007

A history of the first Bulgarian empire,

2: Byzantium, Pliska, and the Balkans (Millennium Studies)

Bulgaria History, Early Settlement and Empire: Pre-Bulgarian Civilizations, Communism, Society and Environment, Economy, Government and Politics

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

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Background Infonotes:

The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters" in Latin) is an archaeological site located in Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, in today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo.

It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).

Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.

The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs" by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there.

The name “Aquae Calidae" comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times.

The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.

In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city" in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort" for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.

After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground.

The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.

Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Tsonya Drazheva and Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve".

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