Veliko Tarnovo Archaeologists Seek EUR 90,000 in State Funding to Excavate 6 Sites in Northern Bulgaria

The two major fortified hills of Tarnovgrad (today's Veliko Tarnovo), capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185-1396 AD - Trapesitsa (left) and Tsarevets (right) with the Yantra River flowing inbetween. Photo: Izvora, Wikipedia

The two major fortified hills of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185-1396 AD – Trapesitsa (left) and Tsarevets (right) with the Yantra River flowing inbetween. Photo: Izvora, Wikipedia

The archaeologists from the Regional Museum of History in the northern Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo have requested a total of BGN 175,000 (app. EUR 90,000) in government funding in order to carry out excavations of 6 major archaeological sites in the region.

Three of the sites that the Veliko Tarnovo archaeologists hope to be able to excavate further are from the Prehistory period, one is from the time of the Roman Empire, and two have to do with Tarnovgrad in the Middle Ages (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), which was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185-1396 AD).

The local archaeologists say they hope to receive the full amount of the requested sum, as in 2014 when they got all of the BGN 200,000 (EUR 102,000) that they had asked the government for, reports the Bulgarian daily Trud.

More specifically, the sites that the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History is planning to excavate over the summer of 2015 are the prehistoric settlement near the town of Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality; two prehistoric mounds near the town of Petko Karavelovo, Polski Trambesh Municipality; the Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum near the town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality; the Trapesitsa Hill in the medieval Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad; and a previously unknown monastery discovered in 2014 at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill (Trapesitsa and Tsarevets were the two main fortified hills of medieval Tarnovgrad).

The major Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis Ad Istrum will be excavated by archaeologists Ivan Tsarov, Director of the Regional Museum of History in Veliko Tarnovo, and Assoc. Prof. Pavlina Vladkova.

They are planning to excavate the Roman water supply network and some of the large public buildings whose foundations they have discovered over the last two years.

The Trapesitsa Hill in the medieval Bulgarian capital of Tarnovgrad will be excavated by four teams of archaeologists who will be searching for remains of the buildings of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire as well as churches, and fortifications.

The previously unknown medieval Bulgarian monastery of the House of Asen (Asen Dynasty) at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill will also be excavated further. It was found in 2014 by the team of Prof. Hitko Vachev where he also discovered the funeral of a Veliko Tarnovo metropolitan from the Middle Ages.

Background Infonotes:

Nicopolis ad Istrum (also known as Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum) was an Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city (not to be confused with Nicopolis Ad Nestum in today’s Southwest Bulgaria).

Its ruins are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central Northern Bulgaria. Its name means “Victory City on the Danube River”. It was founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Dacian tribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) on a plateau on the left bank of the Rositsa River. This is where the two main roads of the Danubian Roman provinces intersected – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

(Ulpia) Nicopolis ad Istrum was first part of the Roman province of Thrace but after 193 AD it was made part of the province of Moesia Inferior. Nicopolis ad Istrum flourished in the 2nd-3rd century, during the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (96-192 AD) and the Severan Dynasty (193-235 AD). It further developed as major urban center after the reforms of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). Its organization was similar to that of Roman cities in Thrace and Asia Minor such as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon. It was ruled by a council of archons, a city council and an assembly, with local priests worshipping Ancient Roman and Greek deities such as Zeus, Hera, Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, Mithras. At the time, Nicopolis ad Istrum was inhabited by Thracians, Roman military veterans, and settlers from Asia Minor. Nicopolis ad Istrum is known to have minted 900 different emissions of bronze coins. The city had orthogonal planning, with an agora (city square), a cardo maximus and a decumanus maximus (main streets), a market place, other public buildings and residential areas, limestone-paved streets and underground sewerage, as well as three aqueducts and several water wells, many of which has been unearthed in archaeological excavations.

The fortress walls of Nicopolis ad Istrum were erected only after the city was ransacked by a barbarian attack of the Costoboci, an ancient people possibly linked to the Getae (Gets) inhabiting an area in today’s Western Ukraine. The city square (agora) featured a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan mounted on a horse, a number of other marble statues, a Ionic colonnade, a three-nave basilica, a bouleuterion (a public building housing the boule – council of citizens), a building to the cult of goddess Cybele, a small odeon (theater), thermae (public baths) as well as a building which according to an inscription was a “termoperiatos” which can be likened to a modern-day shopping mall – a heated building with shops and closed space for walks and business meetings. A total of 121 stone and brick tombs and sarcophagi have been found by the Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the city’s necropolis. Some villas and other buildings in the residential parts of Nicopolis ad Istrum have also been excavated.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD. The Early Byzantine fort covered one about one forth of the Ancient Roman city – 57.5 decares (app. 14.2 acres) out of a total of 215.5 decares (app. 53.2 decares), and was also the center of a bishopric. The Early Byzantine fort was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval city in the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

Nicopolis ad Istrum was visited in 1871 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz who found there a statue of the wife of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD). The city was first excavated in 1900 by French archaeologist J. Seur whose work, however, was not documented, and in 1906-1909 by Czech archaeologist B. Dobruski. In 1945 and 1966-1968, there were partial excavations led by T. Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Systematic excavations were started in 1970 and were led again by T. Ivanov. Between 1985 and 1992, Nicopolis ad Istrum was excavated by a joint Bulgarian-British expedition from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and a team of the University of Nottingham. The joint Bulgarian-British excavations were resumed in 1996. The Nicopolis ad Istrum archaeological preserve is managed by the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. In 1984, the Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was put on the Tentative List for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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