14th Century ‘Poor People’s Quarter’ Discovered in Ancient, Medieval Rock City Perperikon in Southern Bulgaria
A quarter containing the homes of the then “poor people” from the first half of the 14th century, the last decades of the Second Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, has been discovered by archaeologists excavating the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval rock city of Perperikon in Southern Bulgaria.
The quarter is more widely dated to the 13th – 14th century; however, based on the discovered pottery, crosses, and the size of the homes, the archaeological team has narrowed down the dating to 1320 – 1350.
This period partly coincides with first half of the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), the last long-standing ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422) before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in the second half of the 14th century.
The archaeological team has excavated a total of 11 homes in the poor people’s quarter, which was fortified and also had a small square.
The late medieval quarter in question is located in the southern part of the rock city, at the foot of its acropolis (citadel), and close to the ruins of a palace shrine from the time of Ancient Thrace.
It was inhabited by “a poor Christian population”, according to lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov.
“We can see here how a regular person, how ordinary families lived in the 14th century, in the age of Tsar Ivan Alexander,” Ovcharov says as cited by bTV.
“The “proper” life was led up there, in the castle of the city [of Perperikon], while the suburbs were naturally inhabited by the poorer folk,” he adds.
The homes of Perperikon’s poor were made of stone and dug into the ground. Some were as tiny as 2 by 2 meters (6 by 6 feet), or 4 square meters (36 square feet). The archaeologists have described them as semi-dugouts.
The newly discovered medieval buildings are roughly from the time when Bulgaria’s Tsar Ivan Alexander reconquered Perperikon, the rocky stronghold in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains also known as Perperik or Perperek, from Byzantium, and appointed there a Bulgarian governor.
Just decades later both the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire fell prey to the Ottoman Turks, who in turn established their own Ottoman Empire.
Many of the 14th century poor folk’s homes were connected with one another. The inventories of artifacts discovered in them are very meager.
“Literally in the old ruins of the Antiquity city, they build semi-dugouts. They were roofed with straw, the homes didn’t even have hearths inside them. That is, we can witness the life of Perperikon’s poorest possible population,” Ovcharov told BNT.
“The discovery of the “ghetto”, so to say, helps clarify the structure of layout of Perperikon in the 13th – 14th century. We already know the acropolis, we know that it had a strong medieval castle, which was the residence of the archon, i.e. governor. All around it was the rest of the fortress which featured some fairly decent [medieval] buildings,” Ovcharov elaborates.
“The poor people’s quarter was very close to the large necropolis where over 200 graves have been exposed. Apparently, this graveyard actually was used by the population of this same quarter,” he adds.
In addition to the poor people’s quarter from the 14th century, the researchers have also found a total of four tombs from the Early Christian and Early Byzantine period, the 5th – 6th century AD, which have not been destroyed by old-time or modern-day treasure hunters.
However, in spite of the big expectations, the Early Christian tombs have been found to contain no burial artifacts.
Yet, their discovery is also valuable from a historical point of view, according to the lead archaeologist.
“Until recently, we thought that all the rock graves in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains were from the time of Ancient Thrace. These here, however, are certain to be Early Christian graves from the 5th – 6th century AD,” Ovcharov explains.
Visitors of the rock city of Perperikon will be able to see the newly discovered poor people’s residential quarter from the 14th century for several more months, until the 2019 archaeological season.
After that, the archaeologists are going to dismantle the structures that were built by the wretched folk of the Late Middle Ages in order to reach the deeper archaeological layers below.
“[The ruins of] of large Antiquity buildings are supposedly below. But that’s how it is here at Perperikon with its long history, things on top have to be removed so we can get to the earlier periods,” Ovcharov concludes.
In August 2018, he announced the discovery in Perperikon of an Early Christian bishop’s residence from the 5th century AD and a bronze engolpion cross depicting the crucified Jesus Christ, among numerous other finds.
As an archaeological site, Perperikon is an 8,000-year-old prehistoric megalithic shrine of an advanced unnamed prehistoric civilization, which was later built upon by the Thracians, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the medieval Bulgarian Empire, and was destroyed as a city and fortress by the invading Ottoman Turks in the 14th century.
Two years ago, back in 2016, Ovcharov announced the discovery in the rock city of Perperikon of what might have been the largest Early Christian temple in Bulgaria’s Eastern Rhodope Mountains, and the subsequent discovery of a senior clergyman’s tomb.
Perperikon (also called Perperek or Perperik) is an ancient rock city located in the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria, 15 km away from the city of Kardzhali.
It is a large-scale archaeological complex including historical monuments from different ages. Those include a megalithic shrine dating back to the Neolithic Age, the 6th millennium BC, a Bronze Age settlement, and a holy rock city established by the Ancient Thracians later taken over by the Romans, Goths, and Byzantines, respectively.
In the Middle Ages, especially during the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), it was the site of a strong fortress and a royal palace that Bulgaria and Byzantium fought over numerous times.
Perperikon has been excavated since 2000 by Bulgarian archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov who has found evidence that the mythical ancient Temple of Dionysius was located there. The rock city and fortress at Perperikon, not unlike the vast majority of the medieval Bulgarian fortresses, were destroyed by the invading Ottoman Turks in the 14th century.
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