A building the remnants of which were found near the Trapezitsa Fortress site in Bulgaria’s north-western city of Veliko Turnovo in 2014 and which had been believed to have been a church may in fact have been a synagogue, archaeologists told a news conference on November 11.
The building, officially termed “church 21” since it was found, is estimated to date from some time around the middle of the 13th century CE.
Excavations carried out from September 2019 had established that the building was large, 21 metres on the east-west axis and 11.5 metres on the north-south axis.
The building was lined with stone slabs, with the entrance from the west. In two parts, the building had an eastern apse, built of stone and mortar, while the western end was constructed of stone and mud.
There were two columns and an arch over the apse. The building had a massive, single-leaf door.
According to a report from Veliko Turnovo by Bulgarian website Focus, archaeologist Associate Professor Mirko Robov said his reasons for believing that the building was a synagogue included that it was in what had been a Jewish neighbourhood of Turnovo.
Many coins from the 13th and 14th centuries had been found in the area, including Byzantine coins from the Paleologian dynasty.
Mediaeval Turnovo, which was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, is known to have had a Jewish quarter, founded by migrants from other cities including Constantinople and Venice.
The Jewish community enjoyed protection during the 13th century reign of Tsar Assen II, but in the 14th century, there was persecution of Jews in Turnovo during the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander – who had married a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity. Some historical traditions claim that Jews were expelled from Turnovo from 1360 onwards, but this remains a matter of dispute.
Jews are known to have lived in Bulgaria for at least 2000 years. Archaeological evidence of Jewish life in Bulgaria in ancient times include the remnants of a synagogue found in Plovdiv, estimated to date to the third century CE.
(Photo of Trapezitsa: AlexFilipov85, via Wikimedia)