Wooden Buildings from Ancient Thrace, Colorful Roman Building Discovered at Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Wooden Buildings from Ancient Thrace, Colorful Roman Building Discovered at Nebet Tepe Fortress in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Traces from the Ancient Thracian wooden buildings from the 1st millenium BC have been found in the eroded rock, in the deepest archaeological layer at the Nebet Tepe Fortress in Plovdiv’s Old Town. Photo: PodTepeto

The foundations of wooden buildings from Ancient Thrace dating to the 1st millennium BC and a colorful Ancient Roman building above them have been discovered by archaeologists excavating a private property at the Nebet Tepe Fortress, a prehistoric, ancient, and medieval site in Plovdiv in Central South Bulgaria.

Today’s Plovdiv is located on seven hills known as “tepeta” (from the Turkish word “tepe”, a leftover from the Ottoman period) but three of those – Nebet Tepe, Dzhambaz Tepe, and Taksim Tepe – were the site where the city first developed in the Antiquity, and going even as far back as the Prehistory.

Nowadays, the Three Hills are also the location of Plovdiv’s Old Town famous for its architecture from Bulgaria’s National Revival period (18th – 19th century).

The wooden Thracian buildings and the richly decorated Roman building have been discovered during rescue excavations at 16 Chomakov Street in Plovdiv’s Old Town by a team led by archaeologist Sofiya Hristeva from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

The property was occupied by a house from Bulgaria’s National Revival period, which, however, was in such a bad condition resulting for later reconstructions that it had to be torn down, and is to be built anew under the supervision of Bulgaria’s National Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties, reports local news site PodTepeto.

The site is located right before reaching the top of the Nebet Tepe Hill with its Antiquity fortress.

While it is noted that ruins from buildings dating before the Roman conquest of Philipopolis – as Plovdiv was known in the Antiquity – are rare at the said location, the archaeological team has found the foundations of wooden buildings from the 1st millennium BC.

The Ancient Thracian wooden buildings were rectangular. They are hypothesized to have had shallow cellars designed for the storage of food products.

In the archaeological layer above the one with the traces of wooden Thracian structures, Hristeva’s team has discovered the ruins of a very large Ancient Roman building.

The rescue excavations in the spot of the demolished house from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (18th – 19th century) have found structures from the Thracian Antiquity, the Roman Era, the Late Antiquity, the High Middle Ages, and the Late Middle Ages. Photos: PodTepeto

It is described as “impressive” because its colorful decoration with red, white, black, yellow, and other colors. The archaeologists have unearthed some of its architectural details made of white mortar.

According to Hristeva, the Roman structure found on the private property at the Nebet Tepe Fortress may have been a large monumental public building.

The Late Antiquity layer on top of the colorful Roman building has revealed the ruins of another large building from the time of the Early Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, which had two entrances.

The archaeologists have discovered that subsequently, in the 12th century, two medieval buildings were constructed on top of its ruins.

In the 12th century, Philipopolis (Plovdiv) was once again part of the Byzantine Empire, after it managed to destroy the First Bulgarian Empire in 1018, and rule its territories until 1185 when Bulgaria was destroyed under the Second Bulgarian Empire.

Parts of two medieval streets have also been dug up together with the two buildings from the High Middle Ages. The medieval buildings themselves have been found to contain no murals, mosaics, or any other notable decorations.

The uppermost archaeological layer found underneath the Bulgarian Revival Period house on the Nebet Tepe Hill in Plovdiv’s Old Town has been found to contain an adobe wall from the Early Ottoman period, the 14th – 15th century (after the Ottoman Turks conquered the remains of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The Ottoman Era adobe wall has been preserved up to a height of 1 meter.

The house that is to be rebuilt on the excavated plot is supposed to be in the architectural style of the Bulgarian National Revival in order to fit with the rest of Plovdiv’s Old Town. It is going to operate as a small hotel offering accommodation to tourists, and should be completed by the end of 2019.

A restored house in Plovdiv’s Old Town where the architecture is from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (18th – 19th) century. Photo: Wikipedia

Because of previous excavations on the Nebet Tepe Hill in the 1970s, Plovdiv used to claim the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

However, the latest excavations of the Ancient Thracian and Roman Nebet Tepe Fortress carried by archaeologist Sofiya Hristeva have revealed issues with earlier archaeological research casting doubt on whether Plovdiv indeed was the oldest city in Europe, while not denying the exquisite historical, archaeological, and cultural value of the site.

Nonetheless, Prehistoric, Antiquity, and medieval finds keep springing up across Plovdiv as the city’s vast cultural heritage is still being researched.

Most recently, the Plovdiv archaeologists have discovered that the site of the 2nd century AD Eastern Gate of Philipopolis had been inhabited as early as the 4th century BC, the Early Hellenistic period.

Other recent excavations from the area at the foot of the Three Hills have revealed that in the Roman period, i.e. after the 1st century AD, there were six luxury residential quarters there with a number of urban style public venues such as a temple for multiple deities, an inn with a tavern, and even a brothel resembling the Lupanar in Pompeii in Southern Italy.

In just some of the 2018 archaeological excavations in Plovdiv, the archaeologists have discovered a 1st century AD Roman triumphal arc;

They have found traces from the Goth invasion of the Roman Empire in 251 AD during rescue digs at the city’s Antiquity Odeon;

A Roman tomb from the western necropolis of Philipopolis has been unearthed by accident on the campus of Plovdiv Medical University;

Near the St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch) Church in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, an archaeological team has found an ancient inscription from 303 AD glorifying Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284 – 305 AD) after he introduced the so called Tetrarchy system of government in the Roman Empire;

This is also the same site where the archaeological team has found a very rare piece of lusterware pottery from medieval Egypt in a richly decorated medieval building.


Relevant Books:

Ancient Rome: A Complete History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chronicling the Story of the Most Important and Influential Civilization the World Has Ever Known

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Top 12 Places to Visit in Bulgaria – Top 12 Bulgaria Travel Guide (Includes Sofia, Sunny Beach, Nessebar, Plovdiv, Belogradchik & More)

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

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


Background Infonotes:

According to the pre-1980 excavations, the history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta”, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.


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