Archaeologists are opening the 2018 summer dig season at the Kastritsi fortified settlement site at Euxinograd Palace, just north of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna.
In previous years, about half of the 1.5 hectare site has been excavated, leading to the finding of about 2500 ancient coins, including gold coins that date to the time of Tsar Ivan Alexander, the 14th Century ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Numerous ceramic and metal objects have been found. Archaeologists have uncovered features typical of a mediaeval fortified town – narrow streets but large houses and storehouses.
The Kastritsi site exists in a secure environment. The Euxinograd Palace was built in the late 19th century and for decades has been used as a state seaside residence, meaning that its grounds are guarded by the National Protection Service, reducing the possibility to loot archaeological treasures.
A harbour settlement is known to have developed in late antiquity, during the fourth to fifth centuries CE, which by the middle ages had become a city involved in shipping and trade. By the 15th century, however, only the port and fortress remained.
A 15th century chronicle mentions a fortress called Macropolis, presumably Kastritsi fortress. By the 16th century, the settlement was a harbour called Kersic, though the settlement would disappear in the ensuing centuries. However, in the 19th century the ruins of the fortress wall were still clearly visible. The site was examined and measured by Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Škorpil in 1899.
In mediaeval times, the settlement had a mixed population, of Greeks, Bulgarians, Genoese and Venetians, among others, a sign of its place in trade and commerce along the Black Sea coast at the time.
Excavations in the modern era were done by a team headed by Professor Valentin Pletnyov of the Varna Museum from 2004 to 2011. Examined was a large part of the north-facing fortification wall, which was 200m in length, 1.8 to two metres thick and which had been three metres high. There were five round bastion towers.
There is evidence of additions and modifications to the structure by the Ottomans in the 15th to 16 centuries.
The archaeological team found the street network clearly outlined in the excavated area of the city, with parts of pavements of stone slabs. Also found was a small single-nave church, with later monastery buildings. Foundations of residential buildings were found.
A second church was excavated in 2014 and was found to have been a residential building converted into a church. To the west of the church was a necropolis with 20 Christian burials. Archaeologists believe that the church was, in effect, a family chapel.
The coins found date from no later than the early 15th century, leading to the conclusion that the city was gradually abandoned after that date, and only the fortress used as part of a system to guard the harbour.
The site made headlines in 2016 when archaeologists found an inn that they suspected was, in fact, a brothel.
The archaeological excavation project at the site in 2018 is one of six in the Varna district this year, funded with 90 000 leva (about 45 000 euro) from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.
(Photo of Euxinograd Palace: Dimcho Panayotov)