10 Stunning Facts about the Archaeology and History Riches of Bulgaria
We at ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com have been on a mission for a while now to acquaint readers around the world the incredible archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage of Bulgaria (as well as other, global topics) in a journalistic fashion that is both easily accessible and in-depth.
Given the popularity of listicle articles in the social media age, we thought we would also offer our readers this type of concise, bulleted articles, hopefully to serve as a gateway to exploring further Bulgaria’s archaeology and history.
Following is a list of 10 stunning facts about the tremendous heritage in terms of archaeology and history harbored by Bulgaria, nowadays a medium-sized country by both European and global standards.
1. Seven Major Historical Civilizations
Bulgaria’s territory was the home of seven major historical civilizations: Prehistoric “Old Europe” (Europe’s oldest civilization from 8,000 – 6,000 years ago, which was substantially oldest than Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia); Ancient Thrace; Ancient Greece – on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast as well as in emporium Pistiros; Ancient Rome, more specifically in its imperial period, i.e. the Roman Empire; the Eastern Roman Empire today known as the Byzantine Empire, or simply Byzantium; the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages (with its own Christian and literary Old Bulgarian tradition); the Islamic Ottoman Empire.
2. Over 40,000 Archaeological and Historical Monuments
Today’s Bulgaria has more than 40,000 registered “cultural monuments”, that is, archaeological and historical sites. These are just the officially registered ones, there are new archaeological sites that are being discovered all the time, and also known countless known sites that have not been explored yet.
3. Ranked alongside Italy and Greece in Archaeological ‘Wealth’
It has become an often mentioned statement in Bulgaria that it could be ranked third in Europe, after Italy and Greece, in terms of the scope of its archaeological and historical heritage. However, the argument can also be made that Bulgaria’s heritage is certainly more diverse that those of Italy and Greece – going back to the seven major historical civilizations mentioned in 1. above, partly as a consequence of Bulgaria’s location at a continental crossroads.
4. ‘World’s Oldest Gold’, i.e. Oldest Gold Treasures and Oldest Human-Made Gold Artifacts
The world’s oldest gold dates back to the 5th millennium BC is the work of the people of Europe’s first human civilization, which developed in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic in today’s Bulgaria and other parts of the Balkan Peninsula. There are five or six such prehistoric gold treasures that claim the title of the “world’s oldest gold” but all of them have been found in Bulgaria. The Varna Gold Treasure is the largest and most famous of those, but it is still just one of them.
5. World’s Oldest Writing – ‘Pre-Alphabetic Writing’, That is
Nobody knows for sure which the world’s oldest writing, i.e. the earliest form of writing by humans is – but Bulgaria might one day be proven to be the site where it developed – at least with respect to what is called “pre-alphabetic writing”. For the time being, there have been several cases of slabs, tablets, pottery fragments, clay altars, etc., with symbols identified as likely pre-alphabetic writing, which have been found in both Northern and Southern Bulgaria. The latest example in hand has been a slab found in Bulgaria’s Nova Zagora.
6. Oldest Town in Europe. And It Grew Rich on Rock Salt Bullions
Bulgaria is proven to have the settlement that can be described as the “oldest town in Europe”: the Provadiya – Solnitsata Settlement Mound – “Solnitsata” meaning “the salt pit”.
The people of the Salt Pit Town in what is today Provadiya in Northeast Bulgaria, not far from the Black Sea and the site of the Varna Gold Treasure, made a fortune exporting bullions of rock salt all over Southern and Central Europe in the 5th millennium BC, and also built Europe’s first stone fortifications to protect their wealth. It also had some of the world’s oldest gold. Its is a fabulous story.
7. (Formerly) Oldest City in Europe – But Still Invaluable
For a long while the marvelous city of Plovdiv, the successor of the Antiquity city of Philipopolis, in Central South Bulgaria has been known as “the oldest city in Europe”. Some of the latest excavations of its earliest historical core, the Nebet Tepe Fortress, have brought that into question. Nonetheless, Plovdiv remains one of the earliest cities in Europe, and its archaeological and historical heritage from the prehistory to this day is flabbergasting. It just has the best stuff in there.
8. Only European Country ‘Founded’ (in Early Middle Ages) under Name It Bears Today.
Bulgaria was “founded” with that same name as early as the Early Middle Ages. This is another claim that has become somewhat of a “national pride” cliché, in Bulgaria at least – and, yet, it is not wrong, technically, it is entirely correct – when Ancient Bulgaars established a state of their own, most probably in 632 AD, the so called Old Great Bulgaria of Khan Kubrat, and when the center of that state was shifted under his son Khan Asparuh towards the Valley of the Lower Danube and the Balkan provinces of the Roman Empire – around the time of the Ongal Battle of 680 AD – the country in question was known as Bulgaria, the same name it bears today. That can hardly be said of any other European nation – unless you count countries “founded” in the Modern Era (from the 18th century onwards).
9. 6,000 Fortresses
In the Middle Ages, Bulgaria’s territory (which was larger than today’s) has some 6,000 fortresses and fortified settlements, many of them existing since prehistoric and Antiquity times. That claim is taken to refer primarily to the Bulgarian-populated territories on the Balkan Peninsula – that is, south of the Danube River and the period of the High and Late Middle Ages, although in the Early to High Middle Ages, the First Bulgarian Empire controlled substantially larger territories north of the Danube than it had south of the Danube. That seems to have been the case for a brief period also in the 13th century, in the early period of the Second Bulgarian Empire. While a few of these fortified medieval cities are famous in Bulgaria and beyond, most remain an entirely unknown but a more in-depth look at them often reveals stunning facts. Unfortunately, a large part of these fortress were destroyed by the Ottomans after they conquered the Balkans in the 14th – 15th century but many impressive structures have nonetheless survived, while others lie buried awaiting the archaeologists.
10. Best of the Black Sea
Bulgaria has got the Black Sea, and perhaps “the best” part of its coast, and in particular, of the Black Sea coast, and even some islands. “The best” in that case would refer to archaeology and history (as well as nature). It was the Western Black Sea coast that the earliest prehistoric civilization of Europe emerged (the one mentioned above, with the Varna Gold Treasure and all), the site is also connected with stories about the Biblical Deluge, submerged cities and marvelous ports throughout the Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
The fact that due to its coast and water conditions, the Black Sea is an incredible time machine of sunken ships and cities was revealed like never before by the recent Black Sea MAP underwater archaeological expedition in Bulgaria’s Black Sea zone which discovered the world’s first known pre-Columbian “round ship”, a 2,000-year-old Roman ship, the world’s oldest shipwreck – a 2,400-year-old Ancient Greek ship, and evidence as to whether the Biblical Deluge actually occurred or not.
This article includes information mentioned in the book “Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria” by ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com founder Ivan Dikov – available on Amazon.com.
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