The Bulgarian archaeologists hypothesize that the sunken glass vessels were from a luxury shipment made in Italy in the 17th century. Photo: Burgas Municipality
A sunken treasure of luxury glass vessels and other artifacts from the 17th century has been discovered in the Black Sea off the coast of Bulgaria’s Burgas in an underwater archaeology expedition.
The Bulgarian archaeologists hypothesize that the luxury glass artifacts were transported by a wooden ship which seems to have hit a reef and sunk somewhere near the Chiroza Cape, in the Chengene Skele Bay, in Burgas District, the Burgas Regional Museum of History and Burgas Municipality have announced.
The actual shipwreck has not been located yet. The hoard of various luxury glass items discovered at the site include wine glasses, jars, and various other vessels, with the researchers hypothesizing that they were made in Italy in the 17th century.
“A few centuries ago, glass items with a high level of craftsmanship were extremely expensive luxury goods. They could only be found on the tables of the aristocracy, the rich merchants, and high clergy in medieval Europe," the Burgas Museum of History says.
Luxury glass vessels have been found by divers off the coast of Burgas for years now but in summer 2020 for the first time a special underwater archaeology expedition targeted the presumed site of the shipwreck as part of research efforts covering several sunken ancient sites.
The luxury Western European glass vessels were likely transported by a wooden ship which sank near Bulgaria’s Burgas in the 17th or 18th century. Photos: Burgas Municipality
Part of the dozens of recovered glass vessels as well as more ancient artifacts were presented last week at a news conference in the Burgas Ethnographic Museum, part of the Regional Museum of History, by Museum Director Milen Nikolov, Prof. Ivan Hristov, Deputy Director of the National Museum of History in Sofia, and Dr. Nayden Prahov, Director of the Center for Underwater Archaeology in Sozopol.
Thanks to the discovery, the Burgas Museum already has a collection of luxury glass vessels that is larger than those of many major museums throughout Europe, Burgas Municipality points out in a release.
It cites the archaeologists involved in the research as saying that the actual shipwreck and more of the goods that it transported could be discovered swiftly once the underwater research continues.
In addition to the 17th century Western European luxury glass vessels, during their 2020 underwater research near Burgas, the Bulgarian archaeologists recovered several hundred ancient artifacts.
Those include Ancient Thracian, Ancient Greek, and Ancient Roman items.
The 17th century glass items have been presented together with more ancient underwater archaeology finds from the time of Ancient Thrace, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome. Photo: Burgas Municipality
Burgas Museum Director Milen Nikolov (left), archaeologist Prof. Ivan Hristov (middle), and Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov (right) are seen here presenting the latest underwater archaeology finds in Burgas. Photo: Burgas Municipality
The luxury glass vessels and other artifacts are going to be displayed in the Chengene Skele fishing village, a quarter of the city of Burgas where Burgas Municipality is presently creating an ethnographic complex.
“Only about 3-4% of the territory of the Chengene Bay have been explored [by underwater archaeology research]. We are going to continue to support the archaeologists financially and logistically," Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov is quoted as saying.
“We suspect that part of the interesting finds from the Chengene Skele Bay have already been extracted by divers over the years. That is why I urge people who keep such artifacts at home to return them to the museum so that we can put together an impressive exposition. I declare officially that Burgas Municipality will provide money to buy back such artifacts," the Mayor has added.
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".