Ancient Thracian city near Vasil Levski – Vasil Levski, Karlovo, Bulgaria

The Ancient Thracian city near the town of Vasil Levski, Karlovo Municipality, Plovdiv District, in Central Bulgaria, dates back to the end of the 6th century – the beginning of the 5th century BC. It is said to be one of the oldest known cities of Ancient Thrace.

It is located at the foot of the southern slopes of the Balkan Mountains, on an area of about 35 decares (app. 9 acres), of which only about 1.5 decares have been excavated.

The site of the Thracian city contains the ruins of a citadel, the royal residence of a Thracian king, and ancient temple dedicated to a pagan deity.

The Thracian city near Vasil Levski and Karlovo is seen as intriguing because it reveals the transition of the Ancient Thracians from paganism to Christianity. This is testified by the ruins of a large Early Christian church from the 4th century AD, with some surviving murals.

The Early Christian church had a baptistery where the local Thracians were baptized as Christians leading to hypotheses that it was also the seat of a bishop.

Ancient Thrace was Christianized in the 4th-5th century AD, as part of the Roman Empire (later the Eastern Roman Empire, i.e. Byzantium) (all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Romans in 46 AD).

The Ancient Thracian city near Vasil Levski was discovered in 1993. Regular archaeological excavations started there in 2005, and have been conducted depending on the available funding; the digs have been led by Assoc. Prof. Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

The excavations have exposed part of the fortress wall of the Thracian city – a 50-meter long fortress wall section which has been preserved up to a height of 1 – 1.7 meters, and which is 2 meters wide. It was built with massive rectangular stone blocks (“quadrae”), river stones, and clay.

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian temple have been found at a depth of 2.2 meters; inside the pagan temple there was a 1-meter tall triangle obelisk which has also been discovered. The temple itself was a rectangular building built with stone quadrae, wood, and large tiles; this specific technique is said to have been rare, and typical only for royal institutions in Ancient Thrace.

The artifacts discovered at the Thracian city near Bulgaria’s Vasil Levski include local Thracian-made pottery as well as black figure ceramic vessels and vine amphorae imported from the Greek islands of Thasos and Samos.

According to lead archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov, the Thracian city was probably the political and administrative center of the some of the earliest kings of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom.

According to Ancient Greek chronicles, the first Odrysian King to establish official relations with ancient Athens was Sitalces (r. 431-424 BC) who did so in 431 BC. However, the finds from the Thracian city near Vasil Levski indicate a commercial and political exchange of the Odrysian Kings with Athens and other Ancient Greek cities existed even before that.

For the time being, the name of the Thracian city near today’s town of Vasil Levski remains unknown.

The settlement which succeeded what once was a major Thracian city with a royal residence survived into the Middle Ages, all the way until the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). Its population is believed to have put up fierce resistance again the Ottoman Turkish invasion at the end of the 14th century, and was completely wiped out by the Ottoman invaders leading the survivors and their descendants to shift its location several times during the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. The modern-day location of the town of Vasil Levski was established in the 18th century.

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