Ancient Settlement Adjacent to Philipopolis Discovered in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv in Rescue Digs

Ancient Settlement Adjacent to Philipopolis Discovered in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv in Rescue Digs

The newly discovered settlement could have been a village, mansion, or even a shrine located right outside of Philipopolis, the major city of Roman Thrace. Photo: Radio Plovdiv

A small settlement located outside the urban area of ancient Philipopolis, today’s Plovdiv in Central South Bulgaria, has been found by archaeologists conducting preliminary rescue excavations as part of a major railway rehabilitation project.

The settlement in question is located next to Plovdiv’s Lauta Hill, and could also turn out to be a mansion or a shrine, reports local news and culture site Plovdiv Time.

In the Antiquity period, Plovdiv was known as Philipopolis as it was named after King Philip II of Macedon. After Ancient Thrace’s conquest by the Romans in the 1st century AD, it was also called Trimontium because of the three hills on which the ancient city was located.

The newly discovered settlement features archaeological material from various historical periods – from Ancient Thrace (Early Iron Age and Late Iron Age) to the Late Antiquity, and all the way to the time of the Ottoman Empire.

The rescue digs at the Lauta Hill in Plovdiv are part of a project for the rehabilitation of the railway from Plovdiv to the Black Sea city of Burgas, and the construction of a railroad junction.

The rescue excavations are funded by the Bulgarian State Railways company, which has set aside BGN 500,000 (appr. EUR 250,000) for archaeological research as part of the Plovdiv – Burgas railroad project.

The first time archaeologists explored the area in question ahead of the railway rehabilitation project was two years ago.

“In 2017, our colleagues who explore the terrain registered a large concentration of archaeological material beneath the surface,” says lead archaeologist Assist. Prof. Milena Raycheva from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

Lead archaeologist Milena Raycheva is seen here at the site of the rescue excavations. Photo: Radio Plovdiv

The Lauta Hill, or Lauta Mound, in Plovdiv’s outskirts. Photo: Radio Plovdiv

The rescue excavations encompass a rectangle on both sides of the Plovdiv – Burgas Railroad that is 1 kilometer long and 40 meters wide. Photos: Radio Plovdiv

Appr. 10% of the total area has been explored in the rescue digs, with the results set to be used to determine whether full-fledged excavations are warraned. Photos: Plovdiv Time

The preliminary rescue excavations of the settlement at Plovdiv’s Lauta Hill lasted from March 18 until April 20, 2019, and covered 10% of the plot which is 1 kilometer long and 40 meters wide on both sides of the already existing Plovdiv – Burgas railroad.

Based on their findings, the archaeologists are going to decide whether the site warrants full-fledged archaeological excavations.

The site of the ancient settlement near Plovdiv’s Lauta Hill, however, is fertile agricultural land that has always been cultivated, meaning that remains from different ages have been mixed in the upper layers.

“We’ve discovered remains from the time of the Thracians, i.e. the Early Iron Age and the Late Iron Age, as well as from the Ottoman period,” Raycheva says.

“Everything has been mixed up and moved by the machines used to cultivate the land. There are several Iron Age pits, and several walls which date to the Roman or Late Antiquity period,” she adds.

The archaeological team has found various artifacts such as fragments from pottery, including pithoi (large pottery storage vessels), a bronze key from the Roman period, and Ottoman smoking pipes.

Fragments from the bottom of a large pithos (pottery storage vessel) and other archaeological structures and artifacts found on the site. Photos: Radio Plovdiv

“It’s a very large site. It’s always been known that there’s something here. People cultivating the land, or those walking around, have always been noticing ceramic fragments on the ground. Others walking on the Lauta Hill have also said they had found certain things. Years ago, people found on this site five votive tables with different deities and inscriptions in Ancient Greek,” the lead archaeologist explains.

If the bulk of the remains are proven from the Roman Era, the settlement in question would likely be a rural mansion.

“Here we are outside the ancient Philipopolis, so this could be a mansion, a villa, a shrine. Or it could be a village,” the archaeologist says.

It is known that during the Ottoman Era the site was part of a village with a chiflik, an Ottoman non-hereditary feudal mansion, suggesting that the place has always been inhabited because of the fertile soil.

The archaeological excavations are made harder by the fact that the site is located on both sides of a major railroad that remains in use.

Today’s city of Plovdiv is located on seven hills known as “tepeta” (from the Turkish word “tepe”, a leftover from the Ottoman period).

Three of those – Nebet Tepe, Dzhambaz Tepe, and Taksim Tepe – were the site where the city developed in the Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

The Lauta Mound or Lauta Hill is not one of the seven main hills of Plovdiv but is also classified as a “tepe”.

Yet, unlike the seven hills historical hills of the city which mostly consist of syenite, Lauta is made up of andesite. In the early 20th century, andesite from the Lauta Hill was mined for the construction of the road from Plovdiv to the town of Asenovgrad in the Rhodope Mountains.

The excavated site has been inhabited throughout the ages, starting with Ancient Thrace in the Iron Age, and ending with the Ottoman Empire. Photos: Plovdiv Time

Because of previous excavations on the Nebet Tepe Hill in the 1970s, Plovdiv used to claim the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

However, the latest excavations of the Ancient Thracian and Roman Nebet Tepe Fortress have revealed issues with earlier archaeological research casting doubt on whether Plovdiv indeed was the oldest city in Europe, while not denying the exquisite historical, archaeological, and cultural value of the site.

Prehistoric, Antiquity, and medieval finds keep springing up across Plovdiv as the city’s vast cultural heritage is still being researched.

In just some of the 2018 archaeological excavations in Plovdiv, the archaeologists have discovered six luxury Antiquity quarters which had a brothel likened to Pompeii’s Lupanar, and a 1st century AD Roman triumphal arc;

They have found traces from the Goth invasion of the Roman Empire in 251 AD during rescue digs at the city’s Antiquity Odeon;

A Roman tomb from the western necropolis of Philipopolis has been unearthed by accident on the campus of Plovdiv Medical University;

Near the St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch) Church in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, an archaeological team has found an ancient inscription from 303 AD glorifying Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284 – 305 AD) after he introduced the so called Tetrarchy system of government in the Roman Empire;

This is also the same site where the archaeological team has found a very rare piece of lusterware pottery from medieval Egypt in a richly decorated medieval building.


Relevant Books:

Ancient Rome: A Complete History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chronicling the Story of the Most Important and Influential Civilization the World Has Ever Known

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Top 12 Places to Visit in Bulgaria – Top 12 Bulgaria Travel Guide (Includes Sofia, Sunny Beach, Nessebar, Plovdiv, Belogradchik & More)

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

Bulgaria History, Early Settlement and Empire: Pre-Bulgarian Civilizations, Communism, Society and Environment, Economy, Government and Politics


Background Infonotes:

According to the pre-1980 excavations, the history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta”, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.


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