Belovo Basilica – Leuka (Leuke) Fortress – Golyamo Belovo, Bulgaria

The Belovo Basilica is a partly preserved Early Christian church from the Late Antiquity / Early Byzantine period located on the northern slopes of the Rhodope Mountains (at the foot of St. Spas Mount) near the town of Golyamo Belovo, Belovo Municipality (10 km south of the town of Belovo), Pazardzhik District, in Southwest Bulgaria.

The basilica complex was an Early Christian monastery surviving until the 17th century, which was part of the large Late Antiquity and medieval city and fortress of Leuka (Leuke) (not to be confused with the smaller Old Levka (Leuka) Fortress near the town of Levka, Svilengrad Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria near the border with Turkey). Leuka had a territory of about 80 decares (app. 20 acres), and was the center of an (Early) Christian parish. While Leuka has not been sufficiently researched by archaeologists, partly preserved fortress walls, building walls, a large round water reservoir, and various archaeological artifacts have been found where it once stood.

The Belovo Basilica was built at the end of the 5th – the beginning of the 6th century. It is a three-nave temple with three apses, and also had a baptistery. It was 28 meters long and 17 meters wide. Still surviving are western wall, the southern wall of its narthex, and an arcade in its northern section.

The basilica had a vaulted roof rather than domes which is considered a major difference from most other Early Christian basilicas in Bulgaria and the Balkans. It has thus been compared to Roman / Byzantine Mediterranean basilicas, especially in Asia Minor.

While the city of Leubka was destroyed by the invading Ottoman Turks in the 14th-15th century, the Belovo Basilica and its monastery is believed to have survived until the 17th century when it was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks during the Islamization of the Velingrad region.

The basilica was first described in the 19th century by Bulgarian educators Stefan Zahariev and Petko Slaveykov. The first scientific publication about it was authored by historian Petar Mutafchiev in 1915. It was first excavated in 1924 by French-Ukrainian archaeologist Andre Grabar with funding by American scholar Thomas Whittemore.

The archaeological monument first received protected status in 1927, and in 1966 it was declared a monument of culture of national importance. In 1994, the Belovo Basilica was partly restored.

A small church was built near the basilica’s ruins in 1999. The Belovo Basilica is hard to access much of the year but is still popular for both tourists and locals.

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Archaeology in Bulgaria. and Beyond