Bulgaria’s Heraclea Sintica Sees Influx of Tourists Interested in Ancient Archaeology

Part of the ruins of Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Bulgaria's Petrich. Photo by Petrich Museum of History

Part of the ruins of Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Bulgaria’s Petrich. Photo by Petrich Museum of History

The ancient city of Heraclea Sintica located near the town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria has seen its number of visitors double in the recent year.

In 2014, the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica was visited by 20 000 tourists, which is twice more than the number of visitors it got in 2013, Sotir Ivanov, director of the Petrich Museum of History, has announced, as cited by the Bulgarian daily Standart.

Ivanov sees a number of factors contributing to the boom of tourists coming to Heraclea Sintica, including the fact that the ancient archaeological site is situated near Rupite, which is famous as the hometown of Bulgarian clairvoyant Baba Vanga (Vangeliya Gushterova) (1911-1996).

“We launched a website [last year] to promote Heraclea Sintica where visitors can submit the time of their visit so that we can provide a guide to meet them. The ancient city is just 1 km away from Vanga’s church, and many people visiting this temple also come here. We also placed information billboards in Bulgarian and English. The main road to Greece is nearby, and the Struma Highway is under construction,” elaborates the director of the Petrich Museum of History.

He points out that many people are impressed by the photos of Heraclea Sintica they see online, and decide to visit it.

“We see the number of visitors growing constantly. This is emerging as a very popular [archaeological] site. Our goal is to turn it into an open-air museum. The most important thing is that we are seeing growing interest in cultural and historical tourism in the region,” Ivanov says.

He also mentions that the installation of surveillance cameras in the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica by the Petrich Museum of History earlier in January has had an effect by keeping treasure hunters and illegal antique traffickers at bay.

“We have seen almost no treasure hunters around the ancient city recently. That’s because there are tourists all the time. We have also installed security cameras,” Ivanov adds.

Background Infonotes:

Heraclea Sintica is an Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city located near the town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria. It was the center of the ancient region of Sintica along the Struma River, which was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the Sintians. The ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was mentioned by Homer, Herodotos, and Thycudides in their works. It was founded around 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon (r. 305-297 BC), who also founded Thessaloniki. In the not so distant past, the location of the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was a matter of contention between archaeologists from Bulgaria and Greece. In 2002, Bulgarian archaeologists managed to identify the city for sure after they found a Latin inscription dated back to 308 AD, in which Roman Emperor Galerius (r. 293-305 AD as Caesar, 305-311 AD as Augustus) addressed the local urban citizens of Heraclea Sintica responding to a plea to restore their lost civil rights. In the late Antiquity, the city of Heraclea Sintica gradualy waned and was replaced by nearby Sveti Vrach (today’s town of Sandanski) as a regional center. In recent years, Heraclea Sintica has been excavated by Ass. Prof. Dr. Lyudmil Vagalinski, director of Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Sotir Ivanov, director of the Petrich Museum of History.

Bulgaria’s Struma Highway, currently under construction, is going to connect the Bulgarian capital Sofia to the border with Greece in Southwest Bulgaria. It runs through the picturesque Kresna Gorge along the Struma River. The Sofia-Thessaloniki railway line and the E-79 road also run through the Kresna Gorge, the route being the busiest one between Bulgaria and Greece, and part of the Pan-European Transport Corridor No. 4. During the recent construction of the Struma Highway Bulgarian archaeologists have conducted rescue excavations uncovering a number of exciting archaeological sites from different time periods.

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the fall of communism in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved vary range from 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are low-level impoverished diggers.

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