Bulgaria’s Black Sea City Burgas Starts Restoration of 120-Year-Old Cathedral with EU Funding

Bulgaria’s Black Sea City Burgas Starts Restoration of 120-Year-Old Cathedral with EU Funding

The restoration of the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral in the Black Sea city of Burgas has started. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The largest and oldest church in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas, the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral, is undergoing long-awaited restoration.

The church widely known as the Burgas Cathedral was constructed between 1895 and 1907, and was designed by Italian architect Ricardo Toscani (1857 – 1928), who also designed a wide range of other buildings in the Black Sea city in the decades after Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.

The St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral (named after the authors of the original Slavic alphabet, the Glagolithic, later used as the basis for the Bulgaric (Cyrillic) alphabet by their disciples, St. Kliment and St. Naum) in Burgas is one of the largest temples of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

It is comparable with the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the Bulgarian capital Sofia (originally also called “St. Cyril and St. Methodius") and the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God Cathedral in the Black Sea city of Varna.

Unlike the other two temples mentioned above, however, the Burgas Cathedral does not have gold-plated domes, and its architecture has certain features that are reminiscent of Roman Catholic cathedrals.

The project for the restoration of the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral in Burgas is being carried with EU funding under Operational Program “Regions in Growth" 2014-2020, Burgas Municipality has announced.

The Burgas Cathedral is being restored with EU funding. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The scaffold for the renovation of the façade has already been erected, and the restorers are first expected to diagnose its condition in order to plan their subsequent operations.

The Burgas Cathedral received cracks in its foundations back in 2011 as a result of the construction of a nearby underground parking lot. This even led to its temporary closure, and its partial reinforcement in 2015.

The restoration projects provides restoring the original outside plaster and ornaments of the façade made from stone extracted from the region of the town of Aytos in the eastern part of the Balkan Mountain (Stara Planina), northwest of Burgas.

In addition to the restoration of the façade, the project provides for new outside lighting and an outside sound system for the holding of church events.

The St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral in Bulgaria’s Burgas designed by Italian architect Ricardo Toscani is a three-nave cross-dome basilica with one large central dome and ten smaller domes.

Its construction was aided by famous builders Mityo Tsanev and Kuzman Dimitrov. Its rich iconostasis (icon stand) was created in 1930 by carpenter and iconographer Krum Kosharevski.

Many of the original murals of the Burgas Cathedral were damaged by a fire in 1953. It was not renovated before the end of the communist period in 1989. The restoration of the murals began only in 1994, took 14 years, and the temple was fully reopened only in 2008.

The Black Sea city of Varna has also just begun the restoration of its main cathedral, the Varna Cathedral “Dormition of the Holy Mother of Good”.

The Burgas Cathedral was designed by Italian architect Ricardo Toscani at the end of the 19th century. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

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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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