Caria Port & Fortress (Portus Caria, Caron Limen) – Shabla, Bulgaria

The ruins of the initially Ancient Thracian Black Sea settlement Caria (also known as Caron Limen / Karon Limen, Portus Caria, and Careia / Careas), which had a fortress with the same name in the Late Antiquity, are located on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, near the town of Shabla, and the country’s eastern-most point, Cape Shabla. The ancient city and fortress of Caria lies to the north of the Kaliakra Cape Fortress and the Yailata Fortress and Archaeological Preserve, other major archaeological landmarks on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast.

The site of the Caron Limen / Karon Limen / Portus Caria near today’s Shabla was first settled by Ancient Thracians (from the tribe of the Getae (Gets)). The name Caria is internationally associated with an ancient region in southwestern Anatolia (today’s Turkey), and there are hypotheses that the ancient port in today’s Northeast Bulgaria was established in the 6th-5th century BC by settlers from Caria in Anatolia.

Caron Limen / Portus Caria emerged as a major Antiquity port on the Black Sea coast for a period of about 1000 years, up until the 6th century AD. During the Late Roman / Late Antiquity period, a small fortress of the quadriburg type was built there to protect the port. It was constructed in the early 4th century AD, and survived into the Early Byzantine period.

Portus Caria was mentioned in a number of ancient sources, including by Roman geographer Pomponius Mela (d. ca. 45 AD) in his work “Geography” who recorded that Caria was located between Calatis (today’s Mangalia in Romania) and Tiristis (Tirizis, later the Kaliakra Fortress on Cape Kaliakra). According to Roman historian of Greek origin, Arrian (ca. 86-ca. 160) the hinterland of Portus Caria / Caron Limen was also known as “Caria” (again, not to be confused with the ancient region in Anatolia of the same name). This is a coastal terrace which today features numerous archaeological remains from the ancient settlement, including its necropolises, with a total area of about 25 hectares (app. 10 acres).

The site of Caria (Portus Caria / Caron Limen) was first explored and described in the late 19th century by Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil. Later, archaeological excavations in 1976-1979, and underwater archaeological explorations in 1962 and 1979-1980 confirmed the identification of the site the ancient port city of Caria. Today, much of the eastern parts of the settlement and fortress of Caria is under water. (Further off the coast of Shabla, explorations have located a submerged Bronze Age settlement, an Antiquity necropolis, sunken ancient boats, and several sunken late medieval ships.)

Ancient authors mention that the port of Caria (Portus Caria / Caron Limen) was established artificially, by building upon existing natural reefs to the north, south, and east to create efficient breakwaters.

The Caria Fortress was built on Cape Shabla which at the time reached 40 meters further east into the sea than it does today. It was a quadriburg (rectangular fortress), which, according to Karel Skorpil’s description, was 67 steps long and 40 steps wide, and had four corner towers. Its walls are about 1.6 meters wide, and parts of its western wall have survived up to 1.9 meters in height.

The Late Antiquity Caria Fortress was used by the Roman and Byzantine authorities for military and policing purposes such as protection of the port and monitoring of the maritime traffic and trade, and for tax and customs activities. There are hypotheses that it was destroyed in the 440s during the invasions of Attila’s Huns, together with the city of Caria. Archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia has found that the Late Antiquity / Early Byzantine fortress of Caria was rebuilt about a century later, during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

It was built up together with three other similar fortresses in the region as part of a defensive network of Early Byzantine forts against the barbarian invasions. It had some modifications of the original fortifications, with thicker walls (1.9-2.0 meters wide). The rebuilt Caria Fortress was destroyed once again in a barbarian invasion in 563-564 AD; it was briefly restored once again, and was ultimately destroyed in another invasion at the end of the 6th century.

In the 18-19th century, during the Ottoman period, material from the Late Antiquity fortifications was used for the construction of Shabla Lighthouse. The Shabla Lighthouse, towering at 32 m, is the oldest and tallest lighthouse along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It was built in its present form in 1856, 22 years before Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman Turkey, to replace an older lighthouse built some time between 1756 and 1786.

By the early 20th century, the ruins of the eastern part of the Caria Fortress and the port city of Portus Caria / Caron Limen were destroyed because of the coast’s collapsing into the Black Sea.

Artifacts discovered during the land and underwater archaeological exploration of the port of Caria and the Caria Fortress are part of the collection of the Regional Museum of History in the northeastern city of Dobrich.

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