ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com is an online English-language portal founded by Bulgarian journalist Ivan Dikov in order to provide in-depth coverage of the latest news and developments about Bulgarian archaeology and archaeological discoveries, and to promote Bulgaria’s exceptional archaeological heritage.
About Bulgaria’s Archaeological Heritage
Bulgaria is a truly inspiring place for a number of reasons – because of its people, because of its nature, but also because of its history!
Bulgaria has had a very turbulent history thanks to its geographic location in Southeast Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula which bridges Europe to Asia and Africa (in fact, in ancient times, it was the Balkans that were originally known as “Europe”), and bordering the Black Sea and the Mediterranean region.
This has often been viewed as a curse because the crossroads have assigned the Bulgarians a tough historical fate ever since they settled the Lower Danube Valley some 1,400 years ago. Yet, nowadays this curse can also be seen as a blessing because as a result of that Bulgaria boasts a very rich historical, archaeological, and cultural heritage. What appears as a corner of Europe has in fact been a continental highway for peoples, empires, religions, goods, ideas, since the dawn of human civilization.
Thus, Bulgaria features a rich archaeological heritage from the Prehistory (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic); the Iron Age / Antiquity – Ancient Thrace, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome / the Roman Empire, Early Christianity; the Middle Ages – the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the Ancient Bulgars and the Slavs, and the Bulgarian Empire (including the First and the Second Bulgarian Empires); the Bulgarian-Slavic Christian civilization; the Crusaders and the Latin Empire; the Ottoman Empire and Islam; and even the Modern Era from the late 19th and 20th century when Bulgaria was reborn into the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (which, technically, also means “empire” though the term doesn’t seem appropriate for Bulgaria in that time period).
Just Some Quick Facts
To give you a quick overview we will just mention that:
- (all or part of) Bulgaria’s territory was the home of seven major civilizations – Prehistoric, Thracian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian (Bulgar – Slavic – Christian), and Ottoman (Islamic)
- Bulgaria has the oldest city in Europe (Plovdiv)
- Bulgaria has the oldest gold in the world (found in Varna)
- Bulgaria had some 6,000 fortresses and fortified settlements in the Middle Ages, many of them existing since prehistoric and ancient times
- Bulgaria has more than 40,000 cultural monuments today
- Bulgaria can be ranked third in Europe – after Italy and Greece – in terms of its archaeological heritage
- Today’s Bulgarians are seen as a synthesis of the Ancient Bulgars and the Slavs as well as the local Thracian population – though recent genetic studies also indicate a strong lineage to the indigenous Southeast Europeans, i.e. the people of Europe’s first prehistoric civilizations.
So if you want to explore the heritage of the Olmecs, Mayas, Incas, Aztecs, go to the Americas; of Ancient China, Angkor Watt, Harapa, Mohenjo Daro, the Moghul Empire – go to Asia; of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and the Arab Caliphate, go to the Middle East. But if you are interested in any or all of the following: Prehistory, Ancient Thrace, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Byzantium, the Bulgars and the Bulgar-Slavic civilization, the Crusaders’ Latin Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, you won’t err to go to Bulgaria.
Bulgaria the Unknown
Unfortunately, for historical and political reasons which we will discuss below, Bulgaria has remained rather unknown to the international reader interested in archaeological and history.
Thus, you may know little or nothing of Ancient Thrace (whose area largely corresponds to Bulgaria’s modern-day territory) which shaped much of the Antiquity world side by side with the Greeks and Romans (remember Orpheus and Spartacus?).
Or you may have not heard of the Ancient Bulgars, the Slavs, the Bulgarian Empire, and its Christian civilization which flourished during the Middle Ages, spreading its influence north and east with the Bulgaric (Cyrillic) script. For example, it will hardly be an exaggeration to say that in the 9th-10th century, culturally the Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav was for Eastern Europe what Charlemagne’s court in Aachen was for Western Europe – except it developed its own alphabet and literary language, Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic).
(Interestingly enough, this fact is recognized today by the European Union: the name of the euro banknotes is printed on them in Latin, Greek, and Bulgarian, the same written languages that dominated Europe in the Middle Ages.)
Or you probably know all about the 14th-15th century Renaissance in Italy but have no idea about the (Pre-)Renaissance or Renaissance-like art in 13th and 14th century Bulgaria.
And Here’s Why
Unfortunately, the bad news for Bulgaria’s archaeological heritage started after the period of medieval might and glory – in the late 14th century the Ottoman Turks invaded the Balkans and Bulgaria (which by that time had broken into a number of fragmented feudal states often warring with one another), and not only annihilated entire cities, towns, and villages but also very often burned them down and razed them to the ground.
This had not happened even during the eight centuries of constant Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars – even though those often were all-out medieval wars of attrition, the victor usually refitted the captured fortresses and settlements for their own use. The Ottomans, however, wiped out entire cities, build mosques on top of churches, and burned down century-old monasteries.
This destruction of the monuments of the conquered Bulgarians (which also included lots of Antiquity monuments, for that matter) continued during the entire period known as Ottoman Yoke, i.e. when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. For example, much of what was left of the medieval Bulgarian capitals Pliska and Veliki Preslav was destroyed only in the 1860s for the construction of the first railway line in the Ottoman Empire.
Of course, the Ottomans, introducing Islam into one part of Europe at about the same time another part of Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, repulsed it, created their own historical monuments which are also recognized today as part of Bulgaria’s archaeological heritage.
Bulgaria’s liberation and re-creation as a nation state in the late 19th century saw the emergence of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology. While this was good news, it did not last long as at the end of World War II Bulgaria was occupied by the Soviet Union which imposed on it a brutal communist dictatorship turning it into the “People’s Republic of Bulgaria”.
The Bolsheviks did promote science but only if it was “the right kind”. They distorted history deliberately to serve the Stalinist propaganda, invented a Macedonian nation in the geographic region of Macedonia whose population until then had seen itself as part of the Bulgarian nation, elevated the role of the Slavs in the formation of the Bulgarian nation in order to prove Bulgaria’s closeness to Russia (Russia’s own “slavicness” is a whole other story), and declared the Ancient Bulgars “a small nomadic Mongol tribe” for the same reason, and completely isolated Bulgaria from the West and the wider international community.
These criminal distortions of history certainly affected negatively the field of archaeology in Bulgaria despite the communist regime’s support for science and research. What is more, however, their isolation left Bulgaria’s rich archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage completely unknown to the West and the rest of the world (even to the Russians who could not accept that the beginning of their civilization had to do what was now a small country that they had occupied; this is also probably the reason the Bulgaric alphabet is internationally known as Cyrillic).
Unfortunately, in the so called post-communist era starting with the orchestrated collapse of the communist regime in 1989 by the communists themselves, Bulgaria, while technically a free liberal democracy, continues to be dominated by the offsprings of the communist elite. The newly established clueless post-communist oligarchy oftentimes devastates both Bulgaria’s nature and cultural heritage. At the same time, the lawlessness and institutional failure in the post-communist years have paved the way for large-scale treasure hunting and an antique trafficking mafia that pose a great danger for Bulgaria’s archaeological, historical, and cultural treasures.
Luckily, an entire new generation of Bulgarian archaeologists, historians, public figures, civil society activists, and NGOs has emerged, and they are working really hard to explore, preserve, and protect Bulgaria’s archaeological monuments and heritage, with great progress being made in the recent years in terms of science, research, conservation, and promotion.
Still a Treasure to Be Discovered!
It is safe to say that Bulgaria, which once had a thriving medieval civilization of its own built upon a rich heritage from the Antiquity, has suffered pretty much the worst historical fate in Europe because it was first conquered, devastated, and set back in its development hundreds of years by the Ottoman Turks, and was then occupied by the Russian communists who deliberately distorted its history, and made it a dark spot on the map by isolating it from the free world.
Yet, the bulk of Bulgaria’s archaeological heritage has still survived, and the good news is that much of it has hardly been explored, and is yet to yield exciting discoveries! Bulgarian archaeologists and their international colleagues working with them keep unearthing new pieces of Bulgarian, European, and global history every day! And while they encounter many grave difficulties in their work, they have the scientific freedom that was not in place just decades earlier.
ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com was launched precisely to give the international readers a coverage of these exciting times when Bulgarian archaeology is answering more and more questions about local and global history, and when more and more of Bulgaria’s prehistoric, ancient, and medieval sites are re-emerging, and can be visited, touched, and felt!
In order to get in touch with us, check out our Contact Us page.
We hope that you will enjoy the journey in prehistoric, ancient, medieval, and modern archaeology and history that ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com offers you, and that perhaps, as international travelers, you can then make that journey literally by checking out Bulgaria’s archaeological treasures firsthand.
Because in terms of archaeology (and not only) Bulgaria indeed is a treasure to be discovered! 🙂